Skip to content
dc inkstick media

Diplomacy Dies in Darkness

Trump's preference for military men could leave the State Department dead and bleeding on the floor.

Pictures: Holson House

In case you hadn’t noticed, the United States isn’t exactly on friendly terms with North Korea. The US has claimed that Kim Jong Un is “begging for war,” promising an ‘effective and overwhelming’ military response to any aggression. President Donald Trump has even appeared to threaten the use of nuclear weapons against North Korea, vowing to meet aggression with “fire and fury.” In response, last night North Korea fired a second missile over Japan. But these threats aren’t surprising. They fit perfectly with all the administration has done to cripple the nation’s other levers of power.

Trump’s first year in office has, so far, demonstrated a clear preference for the use of military force. His inner circle is inundated with military men: Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Chief of Staff John Kelly were general officers in the US Marine Corps; National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster is an Army three-star lieutenant general.

As noted by Inkstick’s own Mieke Eoyang, these men are likely to fall back on the instrument of national security with which they are most familiar: military force. But even if they were inclined to think outside the box, the president seems ready to encourage their instincts, lumping them in with current officers and adding yet another layer of military thinking to the mix.

And, right now at least, there doesn’t seem to be a counter. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is an ‘unmitigated disaster’. He has been cast as out of the loop on a range of subjects, including US policy toward North Korea. White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, among others, left the White House following clashes over policy with the Mattis-Kelly-McMaster trio.

The administration’s preference for the military-minded has also made its way into the administration’s budget blueprint. Even as the Department of Defense was slated to have its budget grow by $52 billion, the administration proposed cutting the State Department’s budget by 32%. Fortunately, Congress has thus far resisted the administration’s efforts to cripple American diplomacy, labeling the proposed cuts to State ‘dead on arrival.’ But the administration’s apparent disdain for the work of the State Department has already driven an exodus of career diplomats. And the cancelation of an incoming class of Foreign Service Officers and suspension of fellowship programs designed to attract top foreign policy talent make sure there is no one lined up to replace them.

The hollowing out of the country’s diplomatic corps will do lasting damage to US diplomatic capabilities. If State can’t stop the bleeding, the military will be increasingly called upon to contain international crises — already a concern as the Department of Defense takes on responsibilities increasingly divorced from anything resembling a traditional military mission. Not only will this create a self-reinforcing cycle wherein diplomacy is abandoned because the resources are needed for the military that was called in when diplomacy failed, but other nations may follow the US toward more liberal use of military force. That, I trust, we can all still agree runs counter to US interests.

Cameron Trainer


Cameron Trainer is a Research Associate at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies. He is a graduate of the University of St Andrews, where he studied International Relations and Russian.


Hey there!

You made it to the bottom of the page! That means you must like what we do. In that case, can we ask for your help? Inkstick is changing the face of foreign policy, but we can’t do it without you. If our content is something that you’ve come to rely on, please make a tax-deductible donation today. Even $5 or $10 a month makes a huge difference. Together, we can tell the stories that need to be told.