Last fall, the Hamilton Lugar School Living-Learning Center welcomed Mark Minton as Ambassador-in-Residence, a role that allows him to contribute his expertise and experience as a career diplomat with the residential community of globally engaged students. In Minton’s 30-plus years as a Foreign Service Officer, he served as Ambassador to Mongolia (2006–2009), Pearson Fellow with the US Senate, and Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Seoul, before retiring to become President of the Korea Society. He is now Professor of Practice at the Hamilton Lugar School, where he has taught East Asian studies and diplomacy for the last six years.
The Living-Learning Center (LLC) residents participate in a tailored program of activities such as simulations, student-run debates, professional development opportunities, and an evening speaker series on pressing global issues. Ambassador Minton opened the series in September with a discussion on nationalism and diplomacy. Since that event, he has led a virtual reading group, similar to a graduate-style seminar. This intimate, voluntary group has been working through The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal by CIA Director and career diplomat William J. Burns, who was also a keynote speaker at the Hamilton Lugar School’s fifth conference on America’s Role in the World®. The group has used the reading as a springboard for a broad discussion of American foreign policy and the role it plays in the geopolitical landscape.
Ambassador Minton also serves as a mentor, providing guidance to students interested in East Asian diplomacy or who are considering joining the Foreign Service. He wants to give “practical, hands-on knowledge of what diplomacy feels like.”
Frequent questions from students include: What does a career in the Foreign Service look like? As a diplomat, what happens if your personal views are in conflict with official policy? How much change can you affect in the Foreign Service?
His decades-long experience in the Foreign Service and time in the private sector have given him a privileged vantage point to answer these questions.
The issue of how to affect change when one’s views contradict policy became particularly pointed when he was young, and the Vietnam War was raging. He wanted to serve his country, but he was opposed to the war.
The Vietnam War forced him to take an active look at America’s role in the world and consider how we wanted to participate. He entered the Army, and used the time, he says, to “become better informed about American foreign relations and foreign policy.”
After coming back to the US, he earned a master’s degree in Asian history from Yale University. At that point he decided he want to play a larger role influencing US foreign policy. But like many in his position, he needed to ask himself how best to achieve that aim. “Are you going to stay on the outside in opposition? Or to work in the private sector on foreign affairs issues that you’re committed to? Or do you want to get into government and try to have an effect [that way]?” he says.
Minton decided on the third option and entered the Foreign Service. Over time, he became involved at a high level in some of the country’s most consequential foreign policy actions. As Director of Japanese Affairs during the first Gulf War, he coordinated Japan’s significant financial contribution in aiding the effort to push Iraqi troops out of Kuwait. He also worked to reestablish diplomatic avenues between North and South Korea. His mission was to “slow down, blunt, and constrain [North Korea’s] nuclear program and prevent the very worst from happening, which is a second Korean War.”
In 2006, he became ambassador to Mongolia, a developing nation and fledgling democracy that has outsize importance to the United States due to its location between Russia and China. As ambassador, he coordinated aid from the US in order to develop and strengthen “the rule of law, anti-corruption agency, and infrastructure projects like reducing pollution and building roads that could connect cities.”
“We were able to build a sustainable and important relationship between Mongolia and the US, which has continued under subsequent administrations,” he says.
As one of the School’s two former ambassadors (Dean Feinstein was US Ambassador to Poland from 2009–2012), Ambassador Minton has a unique and crucial perspective to share with students. Large issues like climate change and relations with Iran, as well as practical information about how to enter and make an impact through the Foreign Service, are all part of his domain.
“Diplomats are into incremental, modest but useful transactions,” he says, “so if that happens with the students, modest as it may be, it’s a plus.”
Between his role at the LLC and work in the classroom, Ambassador Minton’s contributions to the Hamilton Lugar School have been useful, constructive, and energizing.