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'The Backbone' Of US Government: Former Diplomat Tom Countryman On The Future Of Civil Service

Tom Countryman, the former U.S. State Department assistant secretary for International Security and Nonproliferation, joined Thursday's "St. Louis on the Air." April 11, 2019
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Tom Countryman spent 35 years as a United States diplomat. In January of 2017, he was the State Department’s acting secretary for arms control when he was suddenly asked to step down by the new Trump administration. A week later, he retired.

Countryman, who joined St. Louis Public Radio reporter Rachel Lippmann on Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, said that he was not necessarily bothered by the nature of his exit, but two years later he is worried about the Trump administration’s general attitude towards the foreign service.

“I am happy to be retired and pursue other interests,” he said. “What concerns me far more is the message of disrespect that the White House chose to send in its first week, and has chosen to reinforce repeatedly over the past two years – the message of disrespect and disdain for loyal Americans who have sacrificed a lot in order to serve the United States in a very difficult profession.”

Countryman emphasized how important he considers the career civil servants who work under elected officials to be.

“I believe that public service and the millions of Americans who chose public service over the more enriching, more lucrative professions are really the backbone of the United States government and are more crucial to its success than the elected officials who go in and out,” he said.

Countryman, who spent the last seven years of his career focusing on nuclear proliferation and arms control, also discussed concerns regarding lapsing nuclear weapons treaties and President Donald Trump’s negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

A graduate of Washington University, where he majored in economics and political science, Countryman is back in St. Louis this week for a Thursday evening forum titled “Diplomacy, Security, Treaties and Peace.” The event is free and open to the public.

Related Event

What: Diplomacy Security, Treaties and Peace

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, April 11, 2019

Where: First Unitarian Church (5007 Waterman Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63108)

Listen to the full conversation:

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. “St. Louis on the Air” producers Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan andJon Lewis give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
Jon Lewis was the production intern at St. Louis Public Radio from January to May 2019. Originally from Pelham, New York, Jon came to St. Louis to attend Washington University in 2015. Previously, Jon has interned for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Eight by Eight, a soccer magazine based in Brooklyn.
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