What is the difference between diplomacy and development?

Friday, former ambassador Thomas Miller came to the Ford School to answer and expand upon this question.

Miller currently serves as the president and CEO of International Executive Service Corps, an international non-profit organization that helps developing nations build businesses. He said it is crucial for professionals to understand the difference between diplomacy and development.

According to Miller, diplomats focus on working with leaders of the country to negotiate relations with the United States. On the other hand, development professionals serve those in need, such as people in war-torn countries.  

“Without understanding the differences through which diplomats and development professionals approach their job, it’s just too easy to launch into criticism of either without genuinely appreciating their fundamentally different perspectives,” Miller said.

Prior to his tenure at IECS, Miller worked extensively as a diplomat to numerous European and Asian countries, working on issues such as terrorism and recovery from war. He served as ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1999 to 2001 and Greece from 2001 to 2004.

University alum Ron Weiser, former ambassador to the Slovak Republic, introduced Miller by pointing to his extensive and successful effort to strengthen security following the 9/11 attacks. Last year, Weiser donated $50 million to the University. https://www.michigandaily.com/news/honor-50-million-donation-regents-rename-dennison-building

Weiser mentioned how Miller focused on tightening security for the 2004 Greek Olympics while Miller served as ambassador to Greece. 

“Those Olympics were pulled off…with incredible security and the American government supplied a great deal of that security,” Weiser said. “Tom did an incredible job.”

Miller said diplomats are sometimes in their effectiveness due to job politics. For example, many diplomats or foreign agents of a new political party’s administration feel pressured to make changes to existing practices, no matter how beneficial they were, because they were from the opposing party.

“I have seen too many cases where good ideas or practices were deserted by a new administration simply because they came from their predecessor,” he said.

Miller said private nonprofits can make significant changes in developing countries. He discussed the work IESC does with Afghans to help build small business for their economy. He said what makes IESC successful is their sensitivity to Afghan norms and cultural mores, as well as employing a vast amount of Afghan nationals to their offices.

However, he said a problem that he runs into is attempting to prove or demonstrate the progress he is making in a short time span, when bringing significant change to a country can take years. Many important changes, such as long-term sustainability, improvements to education and economic vitality can be hard to quantify.

“It’s much, much harder to measure in a very concrete way the building of local self-sustaining institutions,” he said.

Public policy senior Julie Sarne helped moderate the event. She said Miller taught her to measure success not just by data and quantity, but also long-term sustainability and excellence.

“I think this talk really echoed how important it is even if you are not studying public policy, it gives you a great perspective not only in how to evaluate success in whatever you are doing, but also just a great perspective on issues that need to be addressed,” Sarne said.

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