Is Diplomacy the Most Undervalued Tool of American Power?

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The world is facing a series of crises—energy and food shortages, climate change, war in Ukraine—as well as growing anxiety about potential conflict between the United States and China. American diplomacy is central to managing all of these problems. And yet the State Department is chronically underresourced and often sidelined in policy debates, elbowed out by the Defense Department, a behemoth by comparison. Why are American diplomats undervalued—and what is the cost to policymaking? What would it take to strengthen the State Department? And how is U.S. leadership on the world stage affected by problems at home, from threats to democracy and mass shootings to rollbacks in women’s rights and the ongoing struggle for racial justice?

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield wrestles with these questions every day. Of any senior U.S. official, she spends the most time working with Russian and Chinese counterparts day to day at the UN. She understands what a powerful tool American diplomacy can be—and what it needs to be successful.

We discuss what it’s like to represent the United States at a time of domestic turmoil, how the UN has performed with regard to Ukraine, the prospects for progress in Africa, and why diplomacy is the key to a better relationship with China.

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