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On 100th anniversary, Bellingham veteran of U.S. Foreign Service reflects on mission

Former ambassador: It's time to encourage Congress to support a robust international affairs budget

Retired Ambassador Eileen Malloy of Bellingham, far left, attends a luncheon in a traditional Kyrgyz yurta with Kyrgyzstan President Askar Akayev, his wife and others in 1996. The 100th anniversary of the U.S. Foreign Service is an occasion for Americans to reflect on the value of U.S. diplomacy, Malloy wriites in a Cascadia Daily News guest commentary. (Photo courtesy of Eileen Malloy)
By Eileen A. Malloy Guest Writer, U.S. Ambassador, retired

On Friday, May 24, our nation celebrates the 100th anniversary of the modern Foreign Service. While Foreign Service members are best known as the diplomats who help the United States negotiate treaties and advise on foreign policy, they’re also frontline aid workers, public health officials, diplomatic security agents, economists, journalists, trade specialists and so much more.

Washington state uniquely benefits from the work of the Foreign Service, particularly in sectors like agriculture, technology and environmental conservation. For example, our apple growers, wine producers and technology firms gain access to new and expanding markets through trade agreements negotiated by diplomats.

Additionally, more than 400,000 Washington residents are issued passports each year, approximately 140,000 jobs in Washington are supported by foreign direct investment, and exports from Washington total more than $40 billion annually — all benefits connected to the Foreign Service.

My Foreign Service career spanned 30 years, beginning in 1978. Like most American diplomats, my career was equal parts challenging and rewarding. I helped implement U.S./USSR arms control treaties, aided American families of U.S. citizens who died overseas, helped Armenians reunite with their relatives in the United States, and issued student visas to foreign students wishing to study at U.S. universities.

In the days after 9/11, I also helped the thousands of U.S. tourists stranded in Australia get back home. As the U.S. ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic, I promoted democracy and the rule of law.

Career diplomat Eileen Malloy of Bellingham is pictured in subzero conditions in Siberia, when a U.S. Air Force plane dropping off a load of U.S. inspectors headed to a Soviet nuclear weapons facility broke down upon landing. The airport lacked hangars, so personnel had to work outside for three days to repair the plane for its return to Yokoda Air Force Base in Japan. (Photo courtesy of Eileen Malloy/National Museum of American Diplomacy)

I entered the Foreign Service dreaming of a career in U.S. diplomatic relations with the USSR. As a junior officer, I found myself working at the U.S. embassy in Moscow, where, among other tasks, I was responsible for handling American relations with the USSR’s Ministry of Fish. I coordinated with the Soviet government a joint approach to the International Whaling Commission in the hopes of enlisting greater protection for whales around the world.

I also kept a close eye on a unique Soviet American joint fishing venture, coincidentally conceived by Washington’s own James Talbot, which kept Pacific Northwest fishing trawlers operating and created a profit-sharing agreement among Americans and the USSR.

Little did I know at the time I would one day move across the U.S. to retire in Bellingham – the home of the joint fishing venture — and sister-city of Nakhodka, Russia.

Despite its importance to our economic health and national security, the U.S. Foreign Service is facing resource challenges amid budget cuts, staffing freezes and an alarming shortage of overseas personnel. These challenges strike at a critical juncture, as the U.S. confronts growing existential threats—climate change, illicit drugs, terrorism, China’s rise and increasing authoritarianism to name a few.

As we reflect on 100 years of the modern Foreign Service, now is the time for us to encourage Washington’s congressional representatives to support a robust international affairs budget, which funds our Foreign Service. We know that the cost of diplomacy is far less expensive than the cost of war.

Yet we spend about 20 times more on defense and intelligence than we do on diplomacy and development. As a retired Foreign Service member who has witnessed first-hand how diplomacy solves conflicts before they become open warfare, I believe this spending discrepancy is not in our best interests.

Perhaps Washington’s own retired general, Jim Mattis, said it best when he appeared in 2013 before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.  

 “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition,” he said.

As we commemorate 100 years of American diplomacy, we must heed the words of Mattis — ensuring our nation’s diplomats can continue in their vital mission of shaping a stable and peaceful world for generations to come.

Eileen A Malloy was a career Foreign Service officer from 1978 to 2008, and a reemployed State Department retiree from 2008 to 2015. Her Washington assignments have included the Deputy Assistant Secretary for East and Central Europe, Director of the Secretariat Staff, Special Assistant for Europe and Arms Control for the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Senior Inspector/Team Leader for the State Department Inspector General, and senior advisor on Russia for Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. Her most recent overseas postings include Consul General in Sydney, Australia; U.S. Ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic; Senior Advisor at Embassy Kyiv, Ukraine, and two tours at Embassy Moscow. She is married, has two children, four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

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