Despite generations of leading and protecting democracy and freedom, the U.S. cannot effectively defend democracy globally unless it can effectively practice diplomacy.

Last year, according to a report by the Lowy Institute, China surpassed the U.S. as the country with the most embassies and consulates around the world. Additionally, as explained in a recent article from The Economist, U.S. diplomacy has been declining for years as political appointees have replaced career diplomats, funding for the state department has been continually cut and foreign service career paths have become more and more limited.

Without drastic changes, the Department of Foreign Affairs — Americaʼs oldest federal agency, founded in 1789, and the center of American diplomacy — is under real threat of being rendered inadequate when it is needed most.

A leaked conversation from last fall between Colombiaʼs ambassador to the U.S. and his incoming foreign minister summarizes the blight: “The U.S. State Department, which used to be important, is destroyed, it doesnʼt exist,” the ambassador quipped. 

News reports from December highlighted the Venezuelan refugee crisis as one of the most pressing — and underfunded — crises of the day. Some 4.7 million residents have been forced out since 2013, and if trends continue, the pace will overtake that of the Syrian refugee crisis.

The world spent $7.4 billion on relief efforts in the first four years of the Syrian crisis. It’s only coughed up $580 million for Venezuelan refugees. Where is U.S. compassion?

Iran has resumed its uranium enrichment operations, and North Korea has ramped up its nuclear efforts. Russia continues to sow disinformation surrounding elections, and its president recently approved changes that would cement his position until 2036. Where’s the moral leadership?

The tightening restrictions of democratic freedoms in Hong Kong following China’s recent national security law are being condemned as a threat to global democracy, and the diplomatic relationship between the U.S. and China has shifted as a result. President Donald Trump has sought to impose travel bans and trade restrictions on the country. 

But spats over buying or banning the video app TikTok, which is owned by a Chinese company and which has raised security concerns among U.S. officials, underscore the piecemeal foreign affairs approach the U.S. has fallen into.

To advance freedom and democracy around the world, it’s time for America to unify its vision for foreign affairs.

As Nicholas Burns, an ex-ambassador to NATO who now runs a project on the future of American diplomacy at Harvard stated in The Economist, “Diplomacy is becoming far more important globally now than it has been before.” And as a world leader in democracy, the U.S. is going to have to fight harder to claw back the influence needed to defend the priorities of liberty.

If the U.S. wishes to continue its legacy as a global leader and protector of democracy and freedom, it must also practice and protect diplomacy. Without it, the foreign affairs and foreign policies of this nation will have no true power or influence.