Tenure, promotion and performance: The career path of US ambassadors

Eric Arias, Alastair Smith

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The mission of diplomats have often been characterized as promoting peace while advancing national interests. Ambassadorial appointments are also portrayed as patronage, used as a reward for domestic political favors. Here, we develop an original database of the tenure of US ambassadors from sources at the US State Department to better understand the determinants of ambassadorial careers. We assess the tenure of both political appointees and career diplomats based on four factors: (1) Political factors, such as leader turnover in the US and the host nation; (2) Personal characteristics of the ambassador, such as age and gender; (3) Characteristics of the host nation such as population, wealth, trade and alignment with the US; and (4) Performance measures, such as improvements in economic, diplomatic and security relations. US Presidential turnover has the greatest effect on ambassadorial tenure, especially for political appointees. Performance measures have little impact on the tenure or future career prospects of ambassadors.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)77-103
    Number of pages27
    JournalReview of International Organizations
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Mar 1 2018


    • Diplomatic relations
    • Tenure
    • US ambassadors

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Economics and Econometrics
    • Political Science and International Relations


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