Secretary of State John Kerry’s dour countenance symbolizes one way the State Department looks at the state of the world. But his baby-blue tie symbolizes a more upbeat view. FABRICE (Coffrini/AFP/Getty)
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a regular contributor to PostEverything.

The State Department’s second-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) was released earlier this week. This reflects a growing trend within the cabinet agencies to mimic the Defense Department’s Quadrennial Defense Review. Indeed, at this point, the Departments of Homeland Security, Energy, and Treasury are also releasing some form of quadrennial review.

Vox’s Zack Beauchamp thinks that it’s a big deal — or rather, he thinks the gaps between the QDDR’s survey of the world and what State plans to do about it are vast:

[T]he basic point is the same: the [international] institutions that have made the world the safest and most prosperous place it’s ever been are becoming less capable of following through on their mission. The more they degrade, the argument goes, the more danger the United States — and the world — will be in. …

These [proposed] solutions feel very small-bore compared with the scale of the problems identified by the QDDR. The report doesn’t have a big plan for reforming the UN to deal with failed states, nor does it propose a groundbreaking strategy for breaking the global impasse on a climate change agreement.

That’s by design. The QDDR, as an exercise, is designed to improve the way the State Department works as an organization. About one-third of the report, for example, is focused on hiring and personnel management. The whole point of the exercise is to identify what the State Department can do better without radically transforming American foreign policy priorities or proposing pie-in-the-sky new budgets that Congress will never approve.

Beauchamp is mostly correct — there are actually some big deal U.N. meetings going on this year, so maybe the United Nations isn’t completely hopeless — but that doesn’t mean that the QDDR makes for uplifting reading.

Given how much the QDDR built off of the 2015 National Security Strategy, it is intriguing that it does not share the NSS’ focus on economic sanctions. Of course, that might be because sanctions are Treasury’s bailiwick. The QDDR does mention the importance of the U.S. military, but does so rather sparingly. Of course, that might be because the use of force is the Pentagon’s bailiwick.

So what resources can the State Department throw at a problem? The bottom of page nine in the QDDR stood out for me:

In an era of diffuse and networked power, and with federal funding constrained, our diplomats and development professionals must focus on strengthening partnerships with civil society, citizen movements, faith leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, and others who share our interests and values. For example, partnerships with mayors will be increasingly important, as nearly 60 percent of the world’s population will live in urban environments by 2030. While traditional diplomacy will be needed to produce a historic global framework on climate change, our diplomats and development professionals must also engage mayors, governors, chief executive officers, faith leaders, scientists, and engineers to find climate solutions. We will work with civil society groups to promote democracy and good governance and address gender-based violence; partner with local communities vulnerable to violent extremism; and collaborate with all sectors and levels of government to find innovative solutions to our most pressing challenges.

Great googli moogli, that’s a lot of partnerships for a lot of variegated issues. And “partner” is the word that is shot through this QDDR (though it’s used even more frequently in the 2010 QDDR). In essence, Foggy Bottom is acknowledging that in a world of constrained funding, the best it can do is leverage its meager resources by acting as a focal point for sub-state and non-state actors.

The State Department is hardly the only agency to find itself with strict budget constraints. And as Beauchamp notes, “A massive amount of government work involves identifying huge problems … and then trying to implement a few small-bore strategies to chip away at the big problem.” That’s certainly what the QDDR is designed to do. But even if it was a pie-in-the-sky exercise, it would be interesting to hear what the State Department could do with more resources.