Jeffrey LewisResults of State Dept. Reorganization

Bureaucracies frequently matter more than the personalities at the top of an organization, particularly when that organization is the United States Department of State.

On February 6, the Wall Street Journal penned a long article that might have been called, “Ding Dong the Neocon Witch is Dead” (actually, it was called “Diplomatic Relations: As ‘Neocons’ Leave, Bush Foreign Policy Takes Softer Line,” Wall Street Journal, February 6, 2006, A1).

On February 7, Warren Strobel at Knight-Ridder reports that Bolton et al left a bureaucratic legacy through an effort to reorganize the State Department bureaus reporting to the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security that “was highly politicized and devastated morale”:

The reorganization of the department’s arms control and international security bureaus was intended to help it better deal with 21st-century threats. Instead, it’s thrown the agency into turmoil and produced an exodus of experts with decades of experience in nuclear arms, chemical weapons and related matters, according to 11 current and former officials and documents obtained by Knight Ridder.


They said they were concerned that Rice, who announced the changes last July but apparently hasn’t been deeply involved in their execution, will be deprived of expertise on weapons matters. Among those who have left is the State Department’s top authority on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the cornerstone of the international regime to curb the spread of nuclear arms.

“We had a great group of people. They are highly knowledgeable experts,” said former Assistant Secretary of State John Wolf, who frequently clashed with Bolton. “To the extent they now are leaving State Department employ, or U.S. government employ, it’s a real loss to State Department. It’s a real loss to the government.”

A half-dozen current department officials expressed the same view, but spoke on condition of anonymity because, they said, they feared retaliation.

For more coverage on the reorganization of the State Department’s Arms Control and International Security bureaucracy, see: “State to Merge Arms Control and Nonproliferation Bureaus,” January 13, 2005; “Rice Approves Merger of Arms Control and Nonproliferation Bureaus,” February 16, 2005 and “State Department ISN Bureau,” October 03, 2005.


  1. J. Logan

    I would add the suggestion that amendments to bureaucratic structure are a far more powerful lever for proliferating the characteristics of those personalities at the top than simply putting more like-minded people in leadership positions. An analogy might be reducing or modifying a solution rather than simply adding particles to dilute it. Were Bolton interested in limiting State’s effectiveness in arms control, this would be a good way to do it.

    One caveat is that significant organizational change occurs over a period of years, and that the organization experiences drops in morale and productivity during that time. I doubt your example will prove as innocuous as that, but I feel obligated to offer a look at a dissenting view.