Appointment of Ambassadors – in US and India

Synopsis: The US administration needs to make a choice between appointing career diplomats or big contributors for appointing the new ambassadors. In India as well, there is a practice of appointing diverse people as ambassadors.

  • The US administration under Joe Biden will be appointing new ambassadors as per the spoil system.
    • The system allows the president to give government jobs to its supporters, friends, and relatives as a reward for working toward victory. 
  •  It is assumed that many ambassador posts would be given to wealthy contributors. 
Why are wealthy contributors made ambassadors?
  • It is a token of reward for making hefty contributions towards the party and assuring future contributions.
  • Further, their appointment has become a tradition in US politics. Minimum 30% to a maximum of 57% (under Mr. Trump) posts of ambassadors were offered to them.
  • The US Constitution doesn’t forbid their appointments.
    • Article II provides that the President can appoint ambassadors with the advice and consent of the Senate.
  • There exists a notion that long careers in the Foreign Service are not necessary to be effective ambassadors.
Why shouldn’t they be appointed?
  • Incompetent: Many wealthy contributors are not aware of the history and geography of the country in which they get posted.
  • Undermines Diplomatic potential: They treat ambassadorship as an extended holiday and seldom focus on strengthening bilateral relations. For instance, an ambassador wanted to get a private jet on his diplomatic mission.
Appointments of ambassadors in India
  • India appoints politicians and other renowned people (Former Maharajas, Judges etc.) for ambassadorship as a recognition of their hard work and talent. The appointments are not based on the quantum of donation towards a political party. 
  • The Government apparently has the discretion of appointing political ambassadors in up to 30% of the posts. Apart from this, other positions are filled by career diplomats.
    • Earlier career diplomats were not appointed to very strategic locations like London, Moscow, or Washington.
  • Currently, the number of political ambassadors is very small and career diplomats are given top posts in every foreign embassy.
Positive role of Political Ambassadors:
  • Dr. K.S. Shelvankar, D.P. Dhar and I.K. Gujral were appointed at the Moscow embassy at different time periods. 
    • They played a pivotal role in strengthening bilateral relations. 
    • Career diplomats used to do much of the work, leaving the political ambassadors to deal with high policy.
  • Kushok Bakula Rinpoche was appointed to Mongolia. He helped in strengthening Indo-Mongolia relations as Mahayana Buddhism provided a common platform for convergence. 
Way Forward:
  • A balance can be established by appointing some wealthy contributors as ambassadors provided they are familiar with basic history and geography of the nation. 
  • The senate should conduct due investigation and prohibit the appointment of truly incompetent persons.
    • A potential candidate for ambassadorship of Fiji had to withdraw after a senate investigation or else face FBI charges. 

A divergence from tradition will ensure a greater number of career diplomats are made ambassadors. This will boost the credibility of Biden diplomacy but may dry up future political funding.

Source: The Hindu 

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