[Viewpoint] On securing the best diplomats

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[Viewpoint] On securing the best diplomats

We are living in the age of professionals, and the destiny of the nation depends on how many professionals concentrate their energy on policy making and implementation. Among these professionals, diplomats are the most elite. They are justifiably respected by the citizens and are capable of changing the fate of the nation with their tongues.

Because of their power, diplomats must be the most professional, and the system of selecting career diplomats must be likewise. We cannot hope to pick the most talented professionals if we are satisfied with the conventional system. When a system can screen the most able talent from around the world, competent career diplomats will be produced to carry out their duties professionally.

The government recently announced a plan to establish a diplomatic academy to educate professional diplomats with highly specialized skills. The existing higher civil service examination on foreign affairs will remain the same while half of the diplomats will be picked from the master’s program in the diplomatic academy. It is a refreshing idea to break with the conventional system and promote educated talent from a professional training institute.

In addition to the government’s plan, I would like to propose a more progressive system to educate the most competitive diplomatic professionals. We need a university program that can offer global experience and expertise in foreign affairs.

Just like the law schools, universities need to establish a professional graduate school of foreign policy to systematically educate aspiring diplomats, and the government academy can serve as an in-depth training institution.

Such a system coincides with the government’s intention to reinforce the professionalism of diplomats and end the conventional screening system. Moreover, the government needs to consider eliminating the higher civil service examination on foreign affairs altogether.

Universities are the highest professional education institutes not because they are assembly lines manufacturing identical products but because they are ivory towers built on ideology, philosophy and expertise. The professional diplomats the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade wishes to educate are the talented Koreans with good command of foreign languages, international vision, political and economic insights, solid perspectives of the nation and an eagerness to serve the nation.

Is the 40-year-old higher civil service examination on foreign affairs an effective means to screen those who possesses such skills? The current system might select the smartest candidates, but that is not enough to distinguish the most able diplomats.

Will the diplomatic academy be an alternative solution? The answer is quite negative. Just as the law schools that educate legal professionals are not academies under the Ministry of Justice, the diplomatic academy under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is not an appropriate place to educate aspiring diplomats.

Moreover, the master’s program is a unique system that universities can provide. The foreign ministry’s job is to teach the “art of diplomacy” to the new diplomats and provide continuing education for veteran diplomats. The trend is to reduce the number of national educational institutes, and it is against that trend to newly establish an academy directly under a central government agency.

Universities have experts in every field. Instead of investing an enormous budget to establish a graduate school with a master’s program that produces 20 diplomats every year, utilizing the universities is a more reasonable option to save taxpayers’ money and educate capable professionals.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade might appoint former and incumbent diplomats as the professors to provide hands-on education to the aspiring diplomats. The programs would be also taught by the professors at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. However, military academies have outstanding faculties to educate the cadets instead of hiring incumbent and retired generals, and the diplomatic academy should also have prominent scholars to educate students.

Therefore, what the government needs to do is not to establish another national graduate school but to select appropriate universities to educate professional and talented global diplomats. This also meets the Lee Myung-bak administration’s goal of a high-efficiency, low-cost operation. If a university were to become a vocational school, the future of the nation would be disastrous. Similarly, if the diplomatic academy turns into a vocational school, it will not only distort the noble intentions of the government but also exert a negative influence on the nation’s future.

In order to produce the future-oriented diplomats that Korea desperately needs, their education should be trusted to universities while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs must provide training.

That way, we will be able to produce the heirs of Seo Hui, whose diplomatic skills were more powerful than thousands of Khitan troops.


*The writer is the president of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Park Chul
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