Traditional Diplomacy Expanded

Early in his administration, Kennedy clarified the role he expected ambassadors to play. In May 1961, Kennedy sent all ambassadors and department heads a letter reminding them that ambassadors were in charge of all U.S. activities in their respective countries and were responsible for all members of the mission, no matter which agency originally sent them. Kennedy was acknowledging a new reality—most major U.S. Government agencies now had overseas staff reporting to someone other than the Department of State. The President expected that those representatives would still report to their home offices in Washington, but he required them to obtain the chief of mission’s concurrence for all important cables and policy recommendations. Kennedy's letter, which also laid out appeal procedures in case of serious disagreement, was an effort to end inter-agency maneuvering and rivalry at U.S. embassies.

During these years, the Department shook off the staid pace of the Eisenhower era as its mission expanded beyond the realm of national security policy and the management of Cold War crises. Foreign Service officers performed duties that far transcended the traditional tasks of representation, negotiation, and reporting. Knowledge of scientific, economic, cultural, and social issues became essential, as many more officers were assigned to the newly emerging nations of Africa and Asia.

At the Kennedy Administration’s urging, Congress established a separate Agency for International Development (AID) in November 1961 under the ultimate authority of the Secretary of State. Walt Rostow, a former academic economist, was the leading proponent of economic development for the “Third World,” and his take-off theory of development permeated the Department and AID. Many Foreign Service officers and their Civil Service colleagues set out to change the world and bring economic development to Asia, Africa, and Latin America.