[INTERVIEW] Academy looks for talented diplomats

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[INTERVIEW] Academy looks for talented diplomats


Kim Byung-kook Councilor of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy

The statue of Seo Hui, a famous diplomat who a millennium ago turned back an invasion of 800,000 Khitan troops against the Goryeo Dynasty, stands in the front yard of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy in Yangjae-dong, southern Seoul. For Koreans, he is the quintessential diplomat, and the kind that the training and research organization hopes to foster for a modern Korea.

The bronze statue was set up in 2009, when the organization, formerly the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, was yet to be assigned a new role to select entry-level diplomats, a function that the High-Level Foreign Service Exam had performed for the past 47 years.

The exam will be abolished midway next year, after which the academy will recruit about 60 diplomat-hopefuls in September of 2013. Through a one-year program starting in December 2013, about two-thirds of the enrolled students will be selected as entry-level diplomats.

Kim Byung-kook, the first councilor of the organization after the institute was transformed into the academy, served as the first national security advisor for President Lee Myung-bak in 2008. Before being appointed as the head of the academy, he headed the Korea Foundation. In a recent interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily, Kim said the academy is hoping to foster a new breed of talent that is primed to embrace a more volatile, complex world than when Seo lived.

Q. What kind of diplomatic talent does the academy hope to produce?

A. For any organization in general, it takes about 15 years for a person to be promoted to a manager, so we think the students here will be able to make up the backbone of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade from 2030. We have to prepare them for that era of 2030 or after.

First, a student should be a strategist. We need someone that can read the trends of the future well. The three mega-changes of globalization, democratization and informationalization will continue, but high complexity and volatility will make it more difficult to predict the future than in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Second, the student should be a communicator. As state power shifts toward market forces and the power of civil society, the amount the government can do alone gets smaller and more collaboration with other players is required. That is why we need someone who can communicate well.

Third, the student should be a manager. They will work for an organization, and to be able to meet goals set by an organization, one needs to be capable of putting various talents together and making them into a team that can utilize the core capabilities of each member. Those three should be well matched with one another.

Isn’t one year too short to foster such talent?

Although the recent media focus has been on our function to recruit entry-level diplomats with a one-year program, it is only a part of what we do. We are also in charge of training and educating career diplomats. Currently, there are seven to eight different levels of training we provide for career diplomats.

We are pouring our hearts and souls into drafting a new education system for the diplomats. If we can draw a consensus from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, we plan to launch pilot projects regarding the new education system within this year and fortify the education program gradually.

Taking the education for ambassador-level diplomats for example, we will expand a two-week program into a four-week one with a focus on public diplomacy beginning in August.

Diplomats are required to have strong linguistic ability, but there was some criticism from the local media a few months ago about the level of English skills for the officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Regarding a program to foster entry-level diplomats in particular, do you have any special plans in mind to improve their English skills?

We plan to conduct most of the teaching at the academy in English. To raise the efficiency of linguistic education, we will place the students in different classes according to their language levels. At the end of every semester, we will evaluate the language levels of the students and provide incentives for those with high-level language skills. For those lacking such skills, we will provide a separate one-point clinic so that they can maximize their language skills.

According to your plan, two-thirds of the students enrolled at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy will become diplomats. What happens to those who are disqualified?

We are reviewing a plan to help them find a job at other government agencies such as the Ministry of Strategy and Finance, the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, regional governments or international organizations. They are already highly talented people and they could have a chance to serve the country in another way. Or they could work for international organizations. One of our mottos is to foster talents contributing to all of mankind, so we would be pleased if our students end up working for the United Nations or other international organizations.

Alongside the education program, you also have the research function along the lines of the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. Do you have a plan to enhance the research function as well?

According to experts, the Ifans has produced the most substantial research outcomes in foreign affairs and security among local think tanks so far. I think it needs to be further developed, so we are restructuring the research body through consultation with those within the organization. The Ifans was too focused on short-term policies and we want to steer it toward mid- or long-term research.

By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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