World Affairs Council talks begin

World Affairs Council talks begin

Mary McDonough

NMU students and Marquette community members nearly filled a Jamrich classroom Tuesday afternoon to hear about the current condition of the State Department from the President of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) Barbara Stephenson at the launching of the World Affairs Council virtual-lecture series.

Live streamed from the auditorium at Calvin College, Stephenson offered an insight into what it is that diplomats do on behalf of the American government in consulates and embassies all over the world. Such work is something that Stephenson views as a key point that brings together many overseas departments.

“Foreign officers and specialists from the State Department are responsible for running the platform from which the entire U.S. government executive branch operates overseas,” Stephenson said. “We staff and run those embassies.”

Introducing students and community members to Stephenson and the work of the state department is something that Political Science Department Head Carter Wilson believes holds true to the purpose of the World Affairs Council lecture series.

“I hope people will walk away with a more comprehensive understanding of topical international issues,” Wilson said.

Over 30 years of work with American Foreign Service, Stephenson has been to numerous locations including Ireland, the Netherlands, El Salvador and South Africa. She was appointed Ambassador to Panama in 2008, all through the process of building relationships with people.

“What we have is our people and they are highly skilled at cultivating relationships,” Stephenson said. “[When] done really well, our work is often nearly invisible.”

There are currently 297 American consulates and embassies around the world. In light of recent budget cuts made to the State Department, consulates have been closed and a number of positions have been left vacant as people looked elsewhere. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson placed a hiring freeze due to the cuts and this was only reversed after Congress put together a bill that left these positions to be open. Such cuts to the state budget is something that Stephenson believes will leave the nation weaker as a global leader from the lack of senior experienced members.

“It takes decades of hands on experience to grow senior leaders,” Stephenson said. “When we don’t have ambassador positions filled overseas, we lose
opportunities.”