Diplomacy: The U.S. Department of State at Work (2023)

Bureau of Public Affairs
June 2008

Diplomacy: The U.S. Department of State at Work (1)Diplomacy in Action
The U.S. Department of State manages America’s relationships with foreign governments, international organizations, and the people of other countries. The management of all of these relationships is called diplomacy. State Department diplomats carry out the President’s foreign policy and help build a more free, prosperous, and secure world. The State Department is a vital part of the U.S. Government because it:

  • Represents the United States overseas and conveys U.S. policies to foreign governments and international organizations through American embassies and consulates in foreign countries and diplomatic missions;
  • Negotiates and concludes agreements and treaties on issues ranging from trade to nuclear weapons;
  • Coordinates and supports international activities of other U.S. agencies, hosts official visits, and performs other diplomatic missions;
  • Leads interagency coordination and manages the allocation of resources for foreign relations; and
  • Promotes mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries around the world.

There are more than 190 countries in the world, and the United States maintains diplomatic relations with some 180 of them, as well as with many international organizations. Advances in travel, trade and technology have made the world more interconnected today than ever before, making interactions with other countries and their citizens more important for the United States.

The State Department has four main foreign policy goals:

  • Protect the United States and Americans;
  • Advance democracy, human rights, and other global interests;
  • Promote international understanding of American values and policies; and
  • Support U.S. diplomats, government officials, and all other personnel at home and abroad who make these goals a reality.

Protecting America
Diplomacy: The U.S. Department of State at Work (2)Diplomacy is one of the best ways to protect the United States and the American people. We use diplomacy with other nations to successfully deal with many challenges that cross national boundaries and affect us here in the United States, including:

  • Terrorism;
  • The threat of weapons of mass destruction;
  • HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases;
  • Illegal drug trafficking and crime;
  • Humanitarian needs of migrants and refugees; and
  • Environmental degradation.

Americans at home and abroad face threats to their physical and economic well-being. The State Department protects our nation, its people, and our prosperity by helping to:

  • Prevent terrorist attacks and strengthen international alliances to defeat global terrorism;
  • Ensure America’s homeland security by promoting policies and practices to keep travel, trade, and important infrastructure safe;
  • Serve on the front line of America’s borders, facilitating the entry of legitimate visitors to the United States while denying visas to those who do not qualify or would do us harm;
  • Promote stability in all regions of the world;
  • Prevent enemies from threatening the United States or our allies with weapons of mass destruction;
  • Reduce the impact of international crime and illegal drugs on Americans;
  • Protect and assist American citizens who travel, conduct business, and live abroad; and
  • Nurture common interests and values between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.

Following are a few of the many ways the State Department uses diplomacy to protect America:

Fighting Terrorism
International terrorism threatens the United States, its allies and interests, and the world community. Defeating international terrorism requires sound policies, concerted U.S. Government effort, and international cooperation.

Our work reflects the goals of the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism:

  • Defeat terrorists and their organizations;
  • Deny sponsorship, support, and sanctuary to terrorists;
  • Diminish the underlying conditions that terrorists seek to exploit; and
  • Defend U.S. citizens and interests at home and abroad.

Diplomacy: The U.S. Department of State at Work (3)In the fight against terrorism, the State Department provides foreign policy oversight and guidance to all U.S. Government international counterterrorism activities. These include:

  • Designating Foreign Terrorist Organizations to freeze their assets and isolate them internationally;
  • Providing deterrence and rapid response to international terrorist incidents;
  • Delivering creative and flexible anti-terrorism and counterterrorism finance training;
  • Enhancing border security and global terrorism watch listing (see 2009-2017.state.gov/s/ct);
  • Providing expert counterterrorism assistance in support of embassies and partner nations;
  • Integrating homeland security initiatives with foreign policy; and
  • Leading technology development to effectively combat terrorism.

The State Department’s annual Country Reports on Terrorism is a congressionally mandated assessment of trends in international terrorism and the nature of the terrorist threat. The narrative is focused on policy-related assessments, a country-by-country breakdown of foreign government cooperation, and chapters on State Sponsors of Terrorism, Foreign Terrorist Organizations, WMD terrorism, and Terrorist Safe Havens. Also see 2009-2017.state.gov/s/ct.

Homeland Security
Security for Americans begins at home but extends beyond our borders. In pursuit of homeland security, the State Department conducts visa operations and leads U.S. diplomatic efforts to gain international cooperation on measures to deter threats to travel, communications, and other critical infrastructure networks—information systems, transportation, and energy—and to secure our borders.

Visas: Welcoming Foreign Citizens
Immigrants and visitors have contributed greatly to our country, and we welcome their important contributions. Immigrants and many visitors who want to enter the United States must apply for a visa from the State Department. The State Department carefully reviews more than 8 million visa applications per year. The visa regulations help ensure that no visas are approved for foreign citizens who might harm our country, thereby keeping us safe while continuing to welcome citizens from around the globe. Also see the visa section on travel.state.gov.

Regional Stability
The State Department uses diplomacy in all regions of the world to keep local conflicts from becoming wider wars that may harm U.S. interests. The State Department joins with other countries in international organizations to promote stability and economic prosperity. Following are some of the regional issues the State Department manages:

Middle East Promote and support the development of democracy in Iraq. Continue to work with Israel, Egypt, other Middle Eastern countries, and the Palestinians to find a way for them to live peacefully together. Also see 2009-2017.state.gov/p/nea.

Diplomacy: The U.S. Department of State at Work (4)Western Hemisphere Join with other countries to confront terrorism and illegal drug trafficking, while promoting institutions that support democracy and freedom. Also see 2009-2017.state.gov/p/wha.

Africa Support democratization, rule of law, and economic development by reducing poverty, fighting disease, and encouraging regional leadership for conflict resolution. Also see 2009-2017.state.gov/p/af.

East Asia and the Pacific Work within organizations such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum to build prosperity and peace in the region by creating economic opportunities, building societies, and preventing threats to sustainable growth. Also see 2009-2017.state.gov/p/eap.

South and Central Asia Support developing democracy in Afghanistan. Work with India and Pakistan and the international community to deal with problems between these countries, including the status of Kashmir and nuclear arms. Also see 2009-2017.state.gov/p/sca.

Europe and Eurasia Work with European and Eurasian partners, and with key institutions such as NATO, on a range of global issues to promote stability and international cooperation. Also see 2009-2017.state.gov/p/eur.

Weapons of Mass Destruction
Weapons of mass destruction—such as nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons—pose a serious danger to the United States and the world. We must be concerned about the possibility that terrorists may acquire these weapons for use against innocent people. The State Department works to ensure that more countries do not obtain these weapons and to verify that international agreements restricting such weapons are being honored. Also see 2009-2017.state.gov/t/isn.

International Crime, Illegal Drugs and Criminal Justice Institutions
The State Department plays an important role in formulating and implementing international narcotics and crime control strategies. Strong law enforcement institutions, rooted in democratic principles and protective of human rights, are vital to preventing transnational threats, from drugs to organized criminal activity to terrorism. The State Department helps countries combat international narcotics production and trafficking, reduce international crime and terrorism, and strengthen international criminal justice institutions through bilateral, regional, and global assistance programs. The State Department’s annual report on international narcotics control (see 2009-2017.state.gov/j/inl) outlines the strategies dealing with these issues.

The State Department plays a critical role in developing civilian police and supporting justice reform in post-conflict societies. This assistance helps countries recovering from post-conflict or authoritarian regimes to reform their police, corrections, and judicial systems to create the stability necessary for economic prosperity and strong, democratic institutions. Trafficking in persons is a modern-day form of slavery involving victims who are forced, defrauded, or coerced into labor or sexual exploitation. Annually, about 800,000 people, mostly women and children, are trafficked across national borders, which does not account for the millions trafficked within their own countries. The State Department’s annual report on trafficking in persons (see 2009-2017.state.gov/j/tip) assesses governments’ efforts to combat trafficking and is an important diplomatic tool for ending modern day slavery.

Helping Americans
The State Department helps U.S. citizens travel, conduct business, and live abroad safely by:

  • Providing information, including travel warnings and alerts, and country-specific information for those traveling and living abroad;
  • Issuing passports to U.S. citizens;
  • Helping U.S. citizens obtain emergency funds;
  • Checking on the welfare and whereabouts of U.S. citizens abroad;
  • Helping families with arrangements if a U.S. citizen dies overseas;
  • Assisting U.S. travelers who become ill or are arrested while overseas;
  • Assisting in international child custody disputes and adoptions; and
  • Protecting and assisting U.S. citizens living or traveling abroad during crises.

Diplomacy: The U.S. Department of State at Work (5)Also see www.travel.state.gov.

Economic Prosperity and Security
The State Department supports U.S. businesses at home and abroad. Officers at U.S. embassies around the world are experts on the business practices of foreign countries and what products and markets are important in those countries. They identify opportunities for American firms and help support them in exporting or working within the country. The State Department:

  • Helps ensure that American workers, businesspeople, and farmers can fairly compete for foreign investment and trade;
  • Negotiates trade agreements to open foreign markets to increase opportunities to sell American products and services abroad;
  • Supports U.S. business interests overseas by pointing out potential problems and helping make sure that American companies can sell products or services within a foreign country;
  • Works with international and U.S. organizations to represent business interests;
  • Promotes and licenses exports that contribute tens of billions of dollars to the U.S. economy;
  • Protects American intellectual property rights, such as copyrights and patents; and
  • Helps other countries develop strong, free market economies that provide investment and export opportunities.

Also see 2009-2017.state.gov/e/eb.

Advancing Global Interests

Democracy and Human Rights
Diplomacy: The U.S. Department of State at Work (6)Promoting freedom and democracy and protecting human rights around the world are central to U.S. foreign policy. The values captured in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in other global and regional commitments are consistent with the values upon which the United States was founded centuries ago. The United States supports those persons who long to live in freedom and under democratic governments that protect universally accepted human rights. Tools to advance a freedom agenda:

  • Bilateral diplomacy;
  • Multilateral diplomacy;
  • Support for defenders of freedom;
  • Foreign assistance;
  • Reporting on human rights practices;
  • Public outreach; and
  • Economic sanctions.

State Department efforts to promote democracy seek to:

  • Promote democracy as a means to achieve security, stability, and prosperity for the entire world;
  • Assist newly formed democracies in implementing democratic principles;
  • Assist democracy advocates around the world to establish vibrant democracies in their own countries; and
  • Identify and denounce regimes that deny their citizens the right to choose their leaders in elections that are free, fair, and transparent.

State Department efforts to promote human rights seek to:

  • Hold governments accountable to their obligations under universal human rights norms and international human rights instruments;
  • Promote greater respect for human rights, based on those internationally accepted standards;
  • Promote the rule of law, seek accountability, and change cultures of impunity; and
  • Assist efforts to reform and strengthen the institutional capacity of the UN Commission on Human Rights.

Also see 2009-2017.state.gov/j/drl.

Other Transnational Issues
The State Department also deals with many issues that are transnational, extending beyond any single country’s borders. Examples include:

Diplomacy: The U.S. Department of State at Work (7)HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases pose health challenges for countries around the world. As disease spreads and more people become sick, the political and economic stability of countries is put at risk. Working with other agencies within the U.S. Government as well as other countries, the State Department prepares for and responds to world health problems and monitors the spread of potentially dangerous diseases.

Also see //2009-2017.pepfar.gov and 2009-2017.state.gov/e/oes.

Environment, Science, and Technology
Diplomacy: The U.S. Department of State at Work (8)The Department promotes transformational diplomacy through advancing environmental stewardship, encouraging economic growth, and promoting social development around the globe to foster a safer, more secure, and hopeful world. It also advances critical and diverse United States interests in the oceans. Science and technology cooperation led by the State Department helps make tangible improvements in the lives of people everywhere. Climate change and energy security pose serious interlinked challenges, the scale and scope of which will require a global response as well as national actions. The State Department is working with international partners on measures to slow, stop, and reverse greenhouse gas emissions in a way that promotes sustainable economic growth, increases energy security, and helps nations deliver greater prosperity for their people. Also see 2009-2017.state.gov/e/oes.

Refugees, Migration, and Population
The State Department helps millions of refugees and victims of conflict or natural disasters around the world. Each year, the United States also allows tens of thousands of refugees to live in America permanently. Population growth affects the environment and the ability of governments to provide services to the growing number of people who live in less space, use more fuel, and require more food. Also see 2009-2017.state.gov/j/prm.

Promoting Mutual Understanding
Diplomacy: The U.S. Department of State at Work (9)Mutual understanding between Americans and people in other countries advances U.S. national interests by fostering a sense of common interests and common values. To that end, the State Department engages international audiences on issues of foreign policy, society, and values to help create an environment receptive to U.S. national interests. We communicate with foreign opinion-makers and other publics through a variety of public diplomacy programs, using cutting edge technologies, including websites in English and six foreign languages, as well as traditional text publications. Additionally, experts in many fields travel to other countries to engage foreign audiences. The Department also provides information outreach support to U.S. embassies and consulates in more than 140 countries worldwide. One of the most effective means of increasing mutual understanding is through people-to-people exchange programs. The State Department annually sponsors more than 40,000 educational and cultural exchanges—including visitors to the United States and Americans traveling abroad. These exchanges offer firsthand experiences of American society and culture to foreign visitors and provide opportunities for Americans to learn about other countries, cultures and peoples. Such intercultural experiences personify the universal values of human rights, freedom, equality, and opportunity that all civilized nations share. Also see www.exchanges.state.gov.

Supporting Foreign and Civil Services
U.S. diplomacy requires a group of highly motivated people to accomplish the foreign policy goals of the United States. The Foreign Service and Civil Service work together both in the United States and at U.S. missions abroad to make U.S. foreign policy happen. In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, our diplomatic presence and programs are more important than ever before. The Foreign Service is a group of more than 11,000 employees who represent the United States in other countries.

Diplomacy: The U.S. Department of State at Work (10)A Foreign Service career is a way of life that requires uncommon commitment, but through which one can achieve unique rewards. Members of the Foreign Service can be sent to any embassy, consulate, or other diplomatic mission anywhere in the world, at any time, to serve the diplomatic needs of the United States.

The Civil Service is made up of over 9,000 employees mostly in Washington, DC, who provide expertise, support, and continuity in accomplishing the mission of the Department. Some Civil Service employees are the domestic counterparts to consular officers abroad, issuing passports and assisting U.S. citizens at home and abroad.

In addition, more than 37,000 Foreign Service National employees, who are citizens of the country in which an embassy or other post is located, are a very valuable part of the State Department team overseas. These employees provide continuity by remaining in their jobs, while the Foreign Service officers move in and out of the country.

Both the Foreign and Civil Services offer a variety of career opportunities. For information on careers at the State Department or at international organizations, please visit: www.careers.state.gov.

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