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American Academy of Diplomacy's History

AAD Founding members


Founding of AAD

Ellsworth Bunker, U. Alexix Johnson, and John J. McCloy, the founders of AAD, wanted to create an organization that would allow former diplomatic practitioners to come together to promote high standards of U.S. diplomacy. They held an organizing dinner in Washington with Shirley Temple Black, Theodore Eliot Jr., Henry Kissinger, and six other organizers and discussed what the purpose of the organization should be and why it was important for former diplomats to have influence after they retire. After a discussion about the (at the time) current state of American diplomacy, the need for practitioners to clearly understand national interests, and the need for an organization to address public issues, Shirley Black moved to establish the Academy.


Shifting the Focus

Board members felt their influence in making ambassadorial nominations was “marginal at best,” so our focus at the Academy shifted from making nominations to supporting U.S. diplomacy by educating the American public, hosting programs for students to learn from former diplomatic professionals, and awarding those who use their influence to support national interests and bring attention to international issues.    

AAD Founding members
President Bill Clinton signing the NAFTA deal


Support of the NAFTA Deal

In a historical moment of time, we decided to announce our support for the trade agreement between the United States, Mexico, and Canada, known as the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The president of the Academy, L. Bruce Lanigen, provided a letter which highlights the Academy’s support. We received letters of appreciation from government officials in the White House, including Special Counselor to the President for NAFTA William M. Daley, and Members of Congress, including House Speaker Thomas S. Foley.


Establishment of the First Award

We received an incredibly generous gift from Leonard Marks of the Marks’ Foundation, who contributed a $2500 grant to us to provide the first award at the Academy for a book on American diplomacy. This award has been sustained almost 30 years later, and is known now as the Douglas Dillon Book Award, which celebrates writing that shares US diplomatic efforts and achievements. 

The first recipient of the Academy's Douglas Dillon Book Award,  The Ambassadors and America’s Soviet Policy


Publishing “First Line of Defense”

On May 1, 2000, we published “First Line of Defense” to share personal accounts of former Foreign Service Officers with the American public. This text not only provided an opportunity for readers to understand the uniqueness of each ambassador’s experience, but it also helped inform Americans on the reality of the Foreign Service. 

The Academy's first publication titled "First Line of Defense"
A letter from President George W. Bush to the Academy


Supporting the State after 9/11

Our former president L. Bruce Laingen expressed the Academy’s support of the White House after the horror on September 11, 2001. When tragedy hits our state, we have always been quick to express our support to the White House, because part of strengthening U.S. diplomacy is helping our state during times of turmoil. We received letters from President George Bush and Secretary Colin Powell extending gratitude for the Academy’s encouragement, support, and service.     


Launching the Genocide Prevention Task Force

In 2007, the Academy, with support from Brandon Grove, proudly launched the Genocide Prevention Task Force. This came at a time when innocent civilians in Darfur, Sudan were being targeted for genocide by their government. Genocide is not a new subject in world history. Other examples include the Jewish Holocaust, Bosnia, and Rwanda, to name a few. Genocide prevention is a global challenge and we consistently try to be at the forefront of important global issues like genocide. 

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at the Academy' conference on "Preventing Genocide"
The Academy's annual Arthur Ross Discussions of Diplomacy at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello


Arthur Ross Discussions is Born

In 2008, the Arthur Ross Foundation gifted us $500,000 for the creation of the Arthur Ross Discussions of American Diplomacy. The program has since evolved into an effort to have the Academy at the forefront of pertinent and contemporary discussions of issues within U.S. diplomacy, such as environmental issues, ideas of tribalism, perils of propaganda, and more. And, just as importantly, we have been able to bring in leading experts on these issues to educate our community and raise awareness surrounding issues that affect us all.

The first Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer of the United States Department of State, Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley


Recognizing the Need for Greater Diversity

On February 21, 2013, the Board of Directors at AAD had a meeting in which they discussed the need for greater diversity in the Academy. While members recognized that a diversity mission is often subsumed within an organization’s bylaws, it’s important that the realities of the organization’s day-to-day reflect those values. Thomas Pickering suggested that the phrase “reflecting our commitment to diversity” be added to the Academy’s bylaws because it is not enough to assume a commitment to diversity. And since this decision, the Academy has welcomed members of diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and experiences.

AAD President Ambassador Ronald Neumann at the annual Awards Luncheon

The 2020s

Revitalizing the State Department

The ‘20s have marked the revitalization of the State Department, and we have done our part in supporting these changes and important historical moments. From the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan to supporting Ukraine amidst the horrific war with Russia, we at the Academy continue to offer our support to the state while using our resources to educate the American people. In 2022, during our Annual Awards Luncheon, we gave three Arthur Ross Media Awards to two incredible reporters who shared the realities of the Ukraine conflict with the world through their brave reporting, and one special award to the Kyiv Independent for continuing to report on the atrocities in Ukraine despite the risks.


Academy Passes ARB in the NDAA

On December 16, 2022, the Academy was successful in passing the State Department Authorization Act of 2022 within the National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY23 through the House and Senate of the U.S. Congress. This legislation is very significant to supporting operations in the U.S. Foreign Service. We continue to be at the forefront of supporting and strengthening U.S. missions and its personnel abroad. 

The passing of the  the State Department Authorization Act of 2022 within the National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA)


Reforming the State Department

In 2022, we published “Blueprints for a More Modern US Diplomatic Service” and “Bringing America’s Multilateral Diplomacy into the 21st Century,” which are guides for producing tangible improvements to the way the U.S. executes diplomacy. They were written based on reports published by accredited diplomacy institutions, and in the reports, we address several means for modernizing the Foreign Service. We discuss the need for a renewed and revised mission and mandate for America’s diplomatic service, the necessary steps for making the personnel system more modern and flexible, the need for greater diversity, and more.

The Academy's report  “Bringing America’s Multilateral Diplomacy into the 21st Century"
Sponsor of the Henrietta Fore Award for Excellence in Development


Henrietta Fore Donates $100,000 for Development Award

This year, AAD member and career humanitarian Henrietta Fore generously donated $100,000 to establish an award that recognizes success in development and humanitarian work. Fore herself served as an administrator of USAID and has advocated for children’s education in different countries. This donation allows us not only to recognize those who have dedicated their lives to global development, but also to give the next generation of development professionals individuals to look up to. 

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