Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Ensign Leland Bishop, the Diplomatic Attache aboard the USS Victory. The purpose of our chat was to get an inside perspective on what it’s like working as a Diplomat in Starfleet.
Can you give us a little bit of background on what exactly the Diplomatic Corp does for Starfleet?
Certainly! The Diplomatic Corps serves the Federation as an extension of its political will into the far flung reaches of space. We conduct First Contacts, arbitrate disputes, conduct trade and military negotiations, and entertain dignitaries just to name a few duties. One little known fact is that we are actually a Federation subsect that works side-by-side with Starfleet. I do hold a rank in Starfleet as well, but our first duty is looking out for Federation interests, whether that be at an Embassy such as Duronis II or serving (as I do) as an attache to a starship crew. Think of us as “the face” or perhaps more accurately “the mouth” of the UFP.
So you’re sort of the referee in Starfleet, if you will. What exactly drew you to serve in the Diplomatic Corp of Starfleet?
I suppose it was my desire to effect change and protect my people. I learned early on that I’m not much of a shot with a phaser, but I’ve found that words and laws can be just as potent as any weapon when it comes to protecting the UFP. I knew from an early age that our freedoms are only secure as long as we are vigilant in maintaining them. There are some dangerous folks out there…
Don’t worry, I’m a terrible shot with a phaser as well. What was your most satisfying moment(s) as a diplomatic officer?
My current mission aboard the Victory is proving to be quite a challenge. We’ve just initiated First Contact protocols with an aquatic race called the Sunak Triumvirate. While under normal circumstances, dealing with other cultures can prove difficult, we often find that we share some common ground. The Sunak however possess a truly “alien” mindset, so the usual bag of tricks won’t necessarily work. It’s making me think outside the box and that’s very rewarding.
What is/are the most challenging aspect(s) of your job?
Fitting in with a ships crew can be a bit daunting at first. Since Diplomatic Officers have only recently been assigned with any regularity to permanent posting on starships, there can be a bit of an adjustment period as we find our equilibrium with the crew. Many of my duties were once the sole province of commanding officers, ships counselors, etc. So new Diplomatic Officers should be mindful not to overstep their bounds and learn exactly what is needed by their particular crew. That can (and should) vary from ship to ship.
I can imagine it’s an interesting balancing act. So going off of that, personally speaking, what do you see as the greatest diplomatic challenge facing a diplomatic officer and why?
For me it’s the constant preparation. For a Diplomatic Officer our shifts and our studies never end. I have to be prepared for any and all contact my ship may make. That means countless hours spent on research and contingency plans. Even then, things almost never work out as planned. Makes for an exciting line of work, but stress relief is something any good diplomat should pay close attention to.
In all of your studies and preparation, which faction, in your opinion, poses the greatest threat to Starfleet?
Honestly, I believe that we’re out of the woods for the time being as far as major military conflicts. Of course that’s barring the discovery of a wholly new threat, but as far as the major powers go, The Dominion War left quite a few of the larger empires with a lot of rebuilding to do.
That, in fact, is where I could foresee our greatest challenges in the near future. With the Cardassian Union crippled and with the Romulan Star Empire nearly so, we may see a lot of power vacuums and splintering of governments in the coming days. I’m less worried about the threats we now perceive than the newer, smaller threats that may erupt in those formally strong blocks of space.
Thank you for all of your answers, Ensign. One last question: What advice could you give to any future diplomatic officers?
Seek a mentor. Pure and simple. It can be very difficult for a new Diplomatic Officer to find his/her feet. For me, I found a great sounding board in Lt. Cmdr. Brek from the Columbia. He’s hung up his purple shirt for the time being but probably knows more about the ins and out of this subtle dance than I ever will.
OCC: Which Captain from the series was the best diplomat? Who was the worst?
OOC – It’s really difficult to put that definitive a label on any of them. Archer was running around without much in the way of policy to guide him. Kirk played fast and loose with the Prime Directive on many occasions but was inordinately successful in doing so… I think I’d have to put Picard at the top of that list. He was about as close to letter perfect as a Captain can get under most circumstances. Even when he went off the reservation a bit, he still carried the sprit of the law very close to his heart. Janeway probably gets the bottom vote for me. I know she was doing what she had to do, but a fair amount of policy was tossed aside once the Voyager got lost.