Is There a Mission Left for Democracy in the State Department?

In a motion that would send waves of confusion through the State Department, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ordered the department’s mission statement to be redefined. The draft statements, which have been under review, bear many similarities to the previous mission statement except for one difference – any references of promoting democracy are being erased. According to Josh Rogin of The Washington Post, former senior State Department officials claimed that erasing “’just’ and ‘democratic’ from the State Department’s list of desired outcomes is neither accidental nor inconsequential.

As stated by Elliot Abrams, deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy during the George W. Bush administration, the mission statement is significant because it “sends a signal about American priorities and intentions to foreign governments and people around the world.” Without any mention of promoting democratic or American values abroad, some wonder how high of a priority democracy and human rights will be in future U.S. foreign policy.

Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor for the Obama administration, expanded upon the situation in the State Department. He predicted that if the change becomes permanent, confusion would spread throughout the State Department’s civil and foreign service since many officials work on congressionally funded programs whose aim is to promote democracy and justice abroad. 

Further occurrences, such as Tillerson’s denial to appear personally to unveil the State Department’s annual human rights report, have left the fate of promoting democracy, human rights, and justice abroad uncertain.

Nena Beecham, World Affairs Council Intern
Photo Credit: National Public Radio