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President Ilves at Georgetown University graduation ceremony: diplomacy has to re-invent itself amidst today’s crises

President Ilves at Georgetown University graduation ceremony: diplomacy has to re-invent itself amidst today’s crises © Rafael Suanes/Georgetown University


The new generation of diplomats faces a landscape dotted with crises where the old rules, truths and assumptions may no longer hold, emphasised President Toomas Hendrik Ilves last night in a speech that he gave at Georgetown University to graduates of the Master of Science in Foreign Service program.

Diplomacy has to re-invent itself in this new era – amidst rapid changes and various crises – both for the purpose of communication between countries and to explain foreign policy decisions at national level, said President Ilves. He invited diplomats to communicate more with citizens of their respective home countries to explain the goals and efforts of the diplomatic service and how these influence us all.

"We must be more open therefore with the public about what we are trying to do and how it impacts on their lives. We must explain the current crises, the security environment and the utility of defense in meeting present and future threats without resolve to scare tactics or demagogy," stated President Ilves, who also served as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia on two occasions and as Deputy Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament.

In the post Cold War comfort zone, for example, we have all but forgotten how to behave with countries that are not democratic, President Ilves said, in defining one of the challenges that new top-level international relations specialists will soon face.

In his graduation ceremony speech, which was laced with personal references to the context of Estonia, the Baltic Sea region and the European Union, the Head of State recalled how he started from "carte blanche" on the front line of foreign policy. He lacked both the diploma in this speciality and experience; the options available to the young state of Estonia were also highly limited.

Looking back at his service as Ambassador of the Republic of Estonia in Washington, President Ilves recalled: "To get additional diplomatic staff I gave up a driver and drove myself." He compared building up the diplomacy of Estonia after regaining independence to the film Thomas Jefferson in Paris, in which the protagonist takes a sledgehammer to a wall to renovate the US Embassy building in Paris.

When thinking on his years as a minister of foreign affairs, President Ilves said that it was a smart move to merge two large goals of foreign and domestic policy in Estonia: to strive towards joining both NATO and the European Union, while simultaneously digitising Estonian society and building up e-governance.

"As we look at the bigger picture, we lived in a era that seems to be, in retrospective, the optimistic 25 years of Western history. Today, we are amidst transformational change," said the Estonian Head of State.

He described the European Union as a huge success story but also admitted, with certain trepidation, that some members of the EU have started to drift away from the basic principles of a free and democratic society.

In previous years, the former Secretary of State of the USA, Madeleine Albright, and the former Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO, General Wesley Clark, delivered speeches at the graduation ceremony for the M.S. in Foreign Service Program at Georgetown University.

Georgetown University is one of the most reputable universities in the USA; the M.S. in Foreign Service Program was established in 1919. It is one of the oldest international relations schools in the USA, admitting students from all continents, and it is considered one of the most important centres of top international relations specialists and diplomats in the world.

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