.
T

he United States is hosting the IX Summit of the Americas in 2022 in Los Angeles, the first time that the Summit has been hosted by the United States since the first Summit was held in Miami in 1994. This Summit comes at a time when the Hemisphere faces unprecedented challenges and the need for collective efforts to address them is greater than ever. These include the fact that the region was the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, a “democratic recession,” the ongoing threat of climate change, and questions about the future of Inter-American solidarity. As such, the Biden Administration must make the most out of not only the Summit, but in shoring up commitments made during the Summit to tackle these crises. However, following up on these commitments may prove a difficult task.

As we approach the Summit of the Americas, the United States finds itself without ambassadors in many of the countries in the Americas. In fact, of the 28 ambassadorships in countries in the Western Hemisphere, the United States only has confirmed ambassadors in 14 of them. This problem is evident across U.S. embassies worldwide, but the number of vacant ambassadorships among Western Hemisphere countries in the Western Hemisphere represents a greater proportion than that seen among all U.S. ambassadorships, with half of the ambassadorships in countries in the Hemisphere remaining vacant compared to a little over one third globally. This may limit the ability of the United States to fully capitalize on any gains made at the Summit of the Americas.

Source: American Foreign Service Association. 2022. Tracker: Current U.S. Ambassadors. Last Accessed February 2, 2022.

In addition to the vacant ambassadorships, it is worth noting that six of the countries constituting the Western Hemisphere do not even have U.S. embassies. All six are located within the Caribbean, an important bloc of countries that the United States cannot ignore in addressing Hemispheric challenges. If the U.S. wants to be taken seriously as leading on these challenges, it must be serious about establishing embassies in every country in the region, not just the largest ones. 

If this was not bad enough, the United States also does not have an ambassador to the region’s primary regional organization, the Organization of American States (OAS). In fact, the OAS houses the Secretariat for Hemispheric Affairs, an organ largely responsible for supporting the Summit process. Additionally, the OAS serves as the primary body for collectively addressing democratic crises and political challenges. Although the Biden Administration formally nominated Francisco Mora, to the position of U.S. ambassador to the OAS in early August, 2021, the Senate is yet to confirm this appointment. Given the importance of the OAS to both the Summits process and in collectively addressing Hemispheric challenges, this empty ambassadorship is a lost opportunity for U.S. cooperation and leadership.

For the Summit of the Americas to be a true success for the United States, it is going to need to be able to follow-up with other countries in the Americas on the commitments made at the Summit. This task will require a strong U.S. presence not only at the OAS to work collectively with partners, but also bilateral cooperation between the United States and partners in the region. While much of this work can be done by the embassies regardless of having an ambassador in place, not having ambassadors sends a signal that the United States does not take these countries or issues as seriously as it does others. While this may not be the case, much of foreign policy rests on perceptions and misperceptions of others actions. With many of the issues that the Biden Administration has claimed as being central to his foreign policy— improving diplomacy, supporting democracy, tackling corruption— sure to be on the Summit agenda and the United States hosting the Summit of the Americas, entering with less than a full team limits the messages that the United States is “back” and hinders U.S. diplomatic efforts in the region. 

The IX Summit of the Americas presents the United States with an opportunity radically improve Inter-American relations and tackle some of the most pressing challenges of the 21st century. However, the Biden Administration may end up squandering this opportunity if it is unable to follow-up from the Summit with a full ambassadorial team. Similarly, not having these ambassadors in place may make leaders in the region feel that they are not a priority for the Administration. The Biden Administration and its allies in the Senate must show that this is not the case and put the team in place to strengthen Hemispheric ties and make the most of the Summit of the Americas.

About
Adam Ratzlaff
:
Adam Ratzlaff is special series editor and a specialist in Latin American foreign and public affairs.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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Entering the Summit Without a Full Team

Photo by Joel Mott via Unsplash.

February 8, 2022

The Biden Administration is struggling to assert its diplomatic leadership in part due to a large number of vacant ambassadorships globally. This problem is even worse in the Americas even as the U.S. prepares to host this year's Summit of the Americas, writes Diplomatic Courier's Adam Ratzlaff.

T

he United States is hosting the IX Summit of the Americas in 2022 in Los Angeles, the first time that the Summit has been hosted by the United States since the first Summit was held in Miami in 1994. This Summit comes at a time when the Hemisphere faces unprecedented challenges and the need for collective efforts to address them is greater than ever. These include the fact that the region was the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, a “democratic recession,” the ongoing threat of climate change, and questions about the future of Inter-American solidarity. As such, the Biden Administration must make the most out of not only the Summit, but in shoring up commitments made during the Summit to tackle these crises. However, following up on these commitments may prove a difficult task.

As we approach the Summit of the Americas, the United States finds itself without ambassadors in many of the countries in the Americas. In fact, of the 28 ambassadorships in countries in the Western Hemisphere, the United States only has confirmed ambassadors in 14 of them. This problem is evident across U.S. embassies worldwide, but the number of vacant ambassadorships among Western Hemisphere countries in the Western Hemisphere represents a greater proportion than that seen among all U.S. ambassadorships, with half of the ambassadorships in countries in the Hemisphere remaining vacant compared to a little over one third globally. This may limit the ability of the United States to fully capitalize on any gains made at the Summit of the Americas.

Source: American Foreign Service Association. 2022. Tracker: Current U.S. Ambassadors. Last Accessed February 2, 2022.

In addition to the vacant ambassadorships, it is worth noting that six of the countries constituting the Western Hemisphere do not even have U.S. embassies. All six are located within the Caribbean, an important bloc of countries that the United States cannot ignore in addressing Hemispheric challenges. If the U.S. wants to be taken seriously as leading on these challenges, it must be serious about establishing embassies in every country in the region, not just the largest ones. 

If this was not bad enough, the United States also does not have an ambassador to the region’s primary regional organization, the Organization of American States (OAS). In fact, the OAS houses the Secretariat for Hemispheric Affairs, an organ largely responsible for supporting the Summit process. Additionally, the OAS serves as the primary body for collectively addressing democratic crises and political challenges. Although the Biden Administration formally nominated Francisco Mora, to the position of U.S. ambassador to the OAS in early August, 2021, the Senate is yet to confirm this appointment. Given the importance of the OAS to both the Summits process and in collectively addressing Hemispheric challenges, this empty ambassadorship is a lost opportunity for U.S. cooperation and leadership.

For the Summit of the Americas to be a true success for the United States, it is going to need to be able to follow-up with other countries in the Americas on the commitments made at the Summit. This task will require a strong U.S. presence not only at the OAS to work collectively with partners, but also bilateral cooperation between the United States and partners in the region. While much of this work can be done by the embassies regardless of having an ambassador in place, not having ambassadors sends a signal that the United States does not take these countries or issues as seriously as it does others. While this may not be the case, much of foreign policy rests on perceptions and misperceptions of others actions. With many of the issues that the Biden Administration has claimed as being central to his foreign policy— improving diplomacy, supporting democracy, tackling corruption— sure to be on the Summit agenda and the United States hosting the Summit of the Americas, entering with less than a full team limits the messages that the United States is “back” and hinders U.S. diplomatic efforts in the region. 

The IX Summit of the Americas presents the United States with an opportunity radically improve Inter-American relations and tackle some of the most pressing challenges of the 21st century. However, the Biden Administration may end up squandering this opportunity if it is unable to follow-up from the Summit with a full ambassadorial team. Similarly, not having these ambassadors in place may make leaders in the region feel that they are not a priority for the Administration. The Biden Administration and its allies in the Senate must show that this is not the case and put the team in place to strengthen Hemispheric ties and make the most of the Summit of the Americas.

About
Adam Ratzlaff
:
Adam Ratzlaff is special series editor and a specialist in Latin American foreign and public affairs.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.