YDNEY, Aug 22, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — Australia’s Lowy Institute for International Policy today released its latest survey of the diplomatic networks of the 34 OECD nations. In Diplomatic Disrepair: rebuilding Australia’s international policy infrastructure, authors Alex Oliver and Andrew Shearer point to an increasingly complex and multi-polar global environment, which is placing new and growing demands on diplomacy.
The review found that the average number of diplomatic missions for the 34 nations of the OECD is 133 – ranging from the diplomatic powerhouses of France and the United States with over 250 posts each right down to Iceland’s 23. Despite having the world’s 13th largest economy, Australia languishes at 25th position in the OECD league table, behind Norway, Finland, Sweden and Belgium. It has the lowest number of diplomatic missions of all G20 nations.
Diplomats posted at missions overseas are the frontline of a nation’s diplomatic efforts. Of the 13 foreign services surveyed by the Lowy Institute, the average proportion of overseas-posted staff compared with those in bureaucratic roles at a ministry’s headquarters is around 40 percent. Switzerland leads the pack at 50 percent; the United States, Britain, Netherlands, Spain and Finland hover around 36-41 percent. Australia lags right behind at 23 percent.
A number of Western diplomatic services, including the US State Department and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, are being forced to tighten their belts following the global financial crisis. But most OECD nations’ foreign services are working from a much stronger base than Australia’s, having enjoyed a decade of stronger funding and government support since 9/11. They have larger ministries, far more comprehensive overseas networks and more resources allocated to their overseas posts than Australia, even taking into account Australia’s relative size and weight.
The report calls for a major and sustained boost in funding for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, an expansion of its overseas network, increased investment in language training for diplomats and an overhaul of Australia’s outdated approach to public diplomacy. A full copy of the report and accompanying factsheet are available on the Lowy Institute website, at