© 2022 KGOU
KGOU_Header_72dpi-01_0.jpg
News and Music for Oklahoma
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

University Of Oklahoma Diplomat In Residence Rob Andrew On The Future Of Foreign Service

University of Oklahoma Diplomat In Residence Rob Andrew
Provided
/
University of Oklahoma Diplomat In Residence Rob Andrew

Despite its location in a landlocked, central state, the University of Oklahoma’s serves as the home base for Rob Andrew, the U.S. State Department’s Diplomat in Residence for the Central U.S. region.

He grew up in an internationally engaged family - Andrew’s mother is Canadian. His earlier career as a U.S. Army officer who served in the Middle East during the first Gulf War eventually led him to the Foreign Service.

“You're actually looking at, so to speak, one of the last people to ever patrol the old East-West German border for the U.S. Army,” Andrew said.

Motivated by a love of language and travel, Andrew decided to turn his international interests into a full-time career. He also found flexibility to be one of the biggest assets leading him to his current role.

“There are a couple schools of thought at the State Department about Foreign Service Officers,” Andrew said. “Some say you should specialize in a region; others say you might want to have a broad experience, and have some expertise in more than one part of the world. So I certainly took that second part on.”

According to Andrew, the amount of involvement diplomacy requires on a day-to-day basis is often not apparent to civilians. Currently, Foreign Service Officers may serve at nearly  300 embassies, consulates, and diplomatic missions and follow  13 different career tracks.

“I think many people here in the United States really don't understand a lot of the efforts that really go on behind the scene,” Andrew said. “It really is the day-to-day practical diplomacy that our diplomats are doing to maintain relationships with some of our best friends.”

When looking to the future of diplomacy, Andrew expects the importance of carefully balancing international relationships to continue.

“China is the biggest economy in the world. Sometimes the U.S. is, sometimes China is; and that relationship is so deep. We cannot ignore it,” Andrew said.

China is just one of many continued foreign policy concerns in the West. Along with East Asia, “Ukraine is a part of the world where we have a potential conflict between East and West, and that's  never a good path to go down. So that one gets a lot of attention by Washington,”Andrew said.

KGOU and World Views rely on voluntary contributions from readers and listeners to further its mission of public service with internationally focused reporting for Oklahoma and beyond. To contribute to our efforts, make your donation online, or contact our Membership department.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

On the origins of Andrew’s foreign focus

When I was in the 7th grade, in grade school, I wrote the Soviet consulate in San Francisco - I'm from California - and I said something along the lines of, "who do you people think you are, but can you send me some information about your country because I'm doing a book report on you?" And so that started my lifelong fascination with Russia, the Soviet Union. Really my tour in Foreign Service was a culmination of that goal to better understand that country, its issues, our relationship with the Russians. As complicated, as difficult as it is, it is a necessary relationship, especially today with what is going on in the world, whether it's with Iran or Syria, or good cooperation with the International Space Station, I might add.

On the modernization of the State Department

I give a lot of credit to Colin Powell, when he was Secretary of State, for getting a lot of resources into the State Department, when it really had become-- it was lacking resources. … When he came on board, in the year 2001, the first administration of the George W. Bush administration, and Colin Powell, Secretary of State-- we were still using Wang computers. Over half of our Foreign Service Officers did not have access to the Internet around the world. Even in the year 2000, most people did. So he brought a lot of changes that, I would say, all of the Secretaries of State since then, including Secretary Clinton and Secretary Kerry, did a good job in doing that as well.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

SUZETTE GRILLOT, HOST: Rob Andrew, welcome to World Views

ROB ANDREW: Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here.

GRILLOT: Well Rob, you serve as our Diplomat in Residence, but let's talk a little bit about your diplomatic career. You've had some very interesting posts around the world. You've served in Sweden, Mexico, Russia, Costa Rica-- So, these are very different locations, and you've worked on some very different issues: NATO and the European Union, when you were in Sweden, and drug trafficking and those sorts of issues when you were in Latin America, and obviously, just defense and security policy regarding Russia. So tell us a little bit about your career-- how you got there, became that Foreign Service Officer, and how you've managed to move around the world in a way that you've juggled all those different issues and topics and countries.

ANDREW: Well, certainly. I'm happy to do that. Having a career internationally is something I kind of have always wanted to do. I was a military officer before I came into the foreign service. I had-- my first assignment was in Germany. You're actually looking at, so to speak, one of the last people to ever patrol the old East-West German border for the U.S. Army. So that really brought my attention to international issues. Later on in my military career, I was training to be what they call a Foreign Area Officer, which is what you find in embassies as defense attaches and other people who support that. Well, I still loved the Army, but I was looking to do something a little bit different, and to stay at embassies a little bit more full time, or more as a career than what the military would allow me to do. So I took the Foreign Service test on a whim, and I passed it. I was invited to the orals, and I passed those. And poof, I became a brand new Foreign Service Officer about 14 years ago. I will say, it was definitely the international background-- my mother was Canadian; not that far from us, but nevertheless, that inspired me at a young age. My brother moved to Rhodesia and Zimbabwe, and South Africa when I was-- actually, he's about 10 years older than me. So I've always been focused outside the country. So between my own family situation and my military background certainly set me up for a great foundation for an international career. In my Foreign Service career itself, I've had a varied, differing amounts of countries that I've been to. One would say, "why aren't you just concentrating in one area?" Well, there are a couple schools of thought at the State Department about Foreign Service Officers. Some say you should specialize in a region; others say you might want to have a broad experience, and have some expertise in more than one part of the world. So I certainly took that second part on. I had a great Spanish-language background, so obviously Mexico and Costa Rica felt very comfortable for me, to work down there and in those various issues. In Mexico, I worked with visas and adjudicating visas. In Costa Rica, something completely different - working on counter-narcotics issues. It was a great job down there in Costa Rica. They're a great friend and ally of the U.S. in interdiction efforts. And then with the European side, with Russia and with Sweden, I was certainly getting a different viewpoint of the world. Of course, with seven continents in the world, there would be many more places I would like to serve, but so far that's where I've been concentrating on.

GRILLOT: So in terms of the different posts that you've had, is there anything in particular that stands out to you in terms of things that-- I just have to think that working in Moscow, for example, has got to be - I've been to Russia a few times - pretty exotic and interesting, and obviously the times at which you were there-- pretty challenging times, but also Sweden is fascinating, Mexico-- So what sticks out to you, or is this something that you can love and appreciate it all? 

ANDREW: Well, all of the above. We'll start with Moscow very briefly here. I have to tell you that since I was a little kid, I've been fascinated by the Soviet Union and Russia, more in a sense of "who the heck are these guys who think that they can nuke us?", when I was a little kid. When I was in the 7th grade, in grade school, I wrote the Soviet consulate in San Francisco - I'm from California - and I said something along the lines of, "who do you people think you are, but can you send me some information about your country because I'm doing a book report on you?" And so that started my lifelong fascination with Russia, the Soviet Union. Really my tour in Foreign Service was a culmination of that goal to better understand that country, its issues, our relationship with the Russians. As complicated, as difficult as it is, it is a necessary relationship, especially today with what is going on in the world, whether it's with Iran or Syria, or good cooperation with the International Space Station, I might add. So it's certainly an exotic environment in that sense, challenging environment, but nevertheless, it's a relationship that we have to have.

GRILLOT: Well, you weren't kidding. Your global interest started at a very young age, and the fact that you knew at 7 - "who do you think you guys are that you think you can nuke us?" That's great. Well, let's talk a little bit about the challenges of today's State Department. We're familiar, or most of us are familiar, with the fact that the State Department struggles in some ways, funding-wise, but they also have a huge mission - to manage our diplomatic relations around the world, for a country that has relations with countries around the world. We have interests around the world. We're a global player, and globally active. How is it today that the State Department is managing its diplomatic relations? It's tough to see where the diplomacy is, and yet we know that it's happening on a daily basis. But what makes the news, what we see in the news, of course, are wars in the Middle East, and U.S. military engagement, our policing efforts, and not so much the diplomatic engagement. So tell us a little bit about the state of the State Department today, and some of the challenges they're facing.

ANDREW: That's a fantastic question. I think many people here in the United States really don't understand a lot of the efforts that really go on behind the scenes. Remember, usually what makes the news are things like wars and challenges and failures, perhaps. It really is the day to day practical diplomacy that our diplomats are doing to maintain relationships with some of our best friends. It's just like a personal relationship. If you want to be a friend to somebody, you need to work on that. Or in a marriage - you work on your marriage all the time. It's very, very similar. I like to use those terms. And it's a challenge. So whether we're dealing with France or Russia or Vietnam or China or Syria, these are relationships that we have to continue to work on. In terms of some of the challenges, yes, I would certainly agree, and would point out to former Secretary of Defense - not state - former Secretary of Defense Gates, when he mentioned that the State Department budget should be increased dramatically to help us achieve our foreign policy goals. When we go to a military solution, often, it's a failure of diplomacy. And so I think we do a very good job at diplomacy, but certainly, we could get a few more resources here and there to do that. I will just, if I can very briefly mention it-- one of our challenges is also manning all of our consular issues, just taking care of Americans overseas, or adjudicating visas. And we don't have enough Foreign Service Officers to do that, so we've instituted a new program called Consular Fellows to try and get people to come into the department to help handle those issues and taking care of our clients overseas, which includes some of the most difficult languages out there, such as Russian and Arabic and Mandarin, Chinese. So these are challenges we face all the time. Despite all of those challenges, I think we do pretty well most of the time. Certainly, I give a lot of credit to Colin Powell, when he was Secretary of State, for getting a lot of resources into the State Department, when it really had become-- it was lacking resources. I mean, when he came on board, Suzette - this is really interesting. When he came on board, in the year 2001, the first administration of the George W. Bush administration, and Colin Powell, Secretary of State-- we were still using Wang computers. Over half of our Foreign Service Officers did not have access to the Internet around the world. Even in the year 2000, most people did. So he brought a lot of changes that, I would say, all of the Secretaries of State since then, including Secretary Clinton and Secretary Kerry, did a good job in doing that as well.

GRILLOT: That is really remarkable to hear, that in 2001 there was-- that our diplomatic efforts around the world were that behind. Despite the criticism I'm quite familiar with, and people working well above their pay grade and that sort of thing, so it is a credit to the government that they've been able to update that. But I want to follow back up on something you said regarding relationships, because I love the way that you put it: that diplomacy is about building and maintaining, servicing, stewarding those relationships. What would you say, though, are some of the most difficult situations today, the most difficult relationships. I mean, we can probably come up pretty quickly with things like Syria, for example, as you mentioned. But North Korea? I mean, how are we managing that situation, in light of continued military movements there? China? How complicated is that relationship? What would you rank as the top difficult relationships that we have to deal with?

ANDREW: Well, you've certainly named some of them. North Korea remains an issue. They continue to test weapons systems, ballistic missiles-- just a news article yesterday said that we can now nuke the U.S. So those are certainly challenges that we have to deal with. I mean, the rhetoric is a little bit stronger, I think, than their actual capabilities, but I think maybe some-- It doesn't make the headlines every day, but the six party talks have been on and off, which include China the two Koreas, Russia, the U.S. North Korea is certainly a challenge. China is a challenge. We think of the South China Sea island competition; despite that, China is the biggest economy in the world. Sometimes the U.S. is, sometimes China is; and that relationship is so deep. We cannot ignore it. So, certainly a challenge, with China, but not any type of challenge that we can't handle. We're up to that. We're up to working with the Chinese. Russia, Ukraine-- certainly another issue. Ukraine is a part of the world where we have a potential conflict between East and West, and that's  never a good path to go down. So that one gets a lot of attention by Washington, of course, and our European allies. Certainly, ISIS, terrorism, Iraq and Syria, ongoing issue-- and by the way, let's not forget what we call our ongoing or longest war, which is Afghanistan. Still, things are not quite where they should be in Afghanistan. We're working very hard with our Afghan allies. So there's no dearth of challenges for diplomacy around the world. My job security is there.

GRILLOT: Well, I'm certainly getting that message, that we definitely have our work cut out for us, the U.S. government, in terms of its diplomatic efforts. Thank you so much, Rob, for being here today and sharing your experience. I appreciate it.

ANDREW: Certainly a pleasure. Thank you.

Copyright © 2016 KGOU Radio. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to KGOU Radio. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only. Any other use requires KGOU's prior permission.

KGOU transcripts are created on a rush deadline by our staff, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of KGOU's programming is the audio.

More News
Support nonprofit, public service journalism you trust. Give now.