New Challenges for the Department

The fundamental shift in foreign policy that accompanied World War I posed great challenges for the Department of State as it assumed duties never anticipated in earlier years. Both the Diplomatic and Consular Services expanded their reporting functions to provide much needed information and augmented their diplomatic and consular efforts. During the years of neutrality, American missions located in belligerent countries often acted as caretakers for the interests of countries on the other side of the conflict. The U.S. Embassy in Berlin, for example, represented British, Japanese, and Italian interests in Germany until the United States abandoned neutrality.

The burgeoning responsibilities of the foreign services led to an increase in personnel and expenditures. Many temporary employees were assigned to duties at home and overseas, and resignations and retirements were minimized in an attempt to retain experienced officers. Congress authorized a significant number of new permanent positions, including 27 in the Diplomatic Service, for a total of 97. The domestic complement grew from 234 employees in 1910 to 708 one decade later. Expenditures jumped from $4.9 million in 1910 to $13.6 million in 1920.

For the first time since the very earliest years of the nation, the American people were interested in foreign affairs. As a result, the Department attracted considerable attention and even praise, a welcome change from the general apathy or distrust that characterized the heyday of isolation. The rise of the “new diplomacy,” a term used to describe statecraft responsive to the desires of popular majorities, brought international politics and its practitioners fully into the consciousness of people who had never before been concerned with foreign relations.