Disciples of Henry Kissinger will doubtless read too much into the fact that Argentina, Bolivia, and Haiti each has a "Minister of Foreign Affairs and Worship." Students of comparative criminology may want to investigate the import of Italy calling its chief law enforcement officer "Minister of Pardons and Justice" while his counterpart in Lesotho is called "Minister of Justice and Prisons." (Which leads to a lower rate of recidivism—pardons or prisons?)
Those who like to slice short cuts through cocktail party chatter about the moral symmetry of East and West by announcing that US border guards are hired to keep people out will want to check which countries have ministries of emigration as opposed to immigration. (Poor confused Haiti has both, and Indonesia has Martono, "Minister of Transmigration.")
France has a minister of "Decentralization," indicating that problems still linger from that Napoleon period they went through. Brazil, with a shorter history but apparently larger problems, has gone a step further in appointing a "Minister of Debureaucratization and Decentralization"—a title clearly devised by an interagency task force (and a sign that this ministry will be around for a very long time indeed).
These and other insights into the state of the state in the world today can be found in Chiefs of State and Cabinet Members of Foreign Governments, as tightly written and comprehensive a text on comparative government as there is. Published by the CIA's Directorate of Intelligence and updated bimonthly, it is available to the public in a no-frills paper edition bearing on the cover the CIA frowning eagle logo and inside the admonition that "obsolete directories should be destroyed." (Shred or burn, as you please.)
This is one of the few public documents still distributed by the CIA since William Casey assumed command of the intelligence community in 1981 and vastly reduced the agency's public profile. Casey abolished the Office of Public Affairs, downgraded the legislative liaison operation, and halted dissemination of hundreds of unclassified studies. Nowadays about the only way to learn what the CIA is up to is to buy a newspaper.
Like any document worthy of the CIA imprimatur, Chiefs of State requires a bit of reading between the lines to glean the essential message. In some cases red flags are raised, prompting the reader to wonder, "Why this ministry, in this country?"
Why is Luxembourg the only place in the world with a "Minister of Middle Class Affairs"? Why is only one of 20 cabinet officers in Fiji called "Minister for Fijian Affairs"? Aren't they all?
Is Papua New Guinea's ministry of "Youth, Women, Religion, and Recreation" a functionary's witty reply to the proliferation of women's affairs portfolios in governments around the world? That Madagascar has both a "Minister of Information & Ideological Orientation" and a "Minister of Revolutionary Art & Culture" does not say what brand of revolution has seized power there, but it is warning enough to vacation elsewhere.
In some cases popular impressions will be confirmed. The crowded cabinets of the Soviet bloc are flush with ministers of state security and "people's education," chairmen in charge of wages and prices, and many, many ministers in charge of particular industrial sectors. Ivan Pudkov, typically, is currently "Minister of Machine Building for Light & Food Industry & Household Appliances" in Mother Russia herself. Cuba, sassy as ever about spreading the revolution, lists a "Minister Without Portfolio (supervises construction abroad)."
The reader also learns a few things about America from Chiefs of State. The size of our government, first of all, is relatively modest—at least insofar as the number of officials who rate inclusion in the president's cabinet. Currently, in addition to the president and vice president, there are 13 department secretaries and five other "executive officers of cabinet rank" (directors of intelligence and budget, trade representative, White House chief of staff, and our ambassador to the United Nations). A grand total of 20. The Soviets, by contrast, list 136 such officials, Angola 51, Sri Lanka 44. Even Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg has 30 ministerial portfolios to pass around. So be thankful the American bureaucracy is as small as it is.
Then note that in virtually every government the number-two official (whether deputy prime minister or deputy chief martial law administrator) also has an actual job to do. Ours is about the only government in the world in which the second-highest official has only ceremonial duties to attend to.
Finally, most readers will find a tidbit or two to use when grousing about their pet peeves. I mean, you have news you can use when you know that India and Libya are the only two countries with Ministers of Atomic Energy.
This reader, for instance, has always thought it extremely odd that the US ambassador to the UN sits in the cabinet along with the secretary of state (who is two steps up from the ambassador in the chain of command over at Foggy Bottom). Chiefs of State provides a measure of just how odd. The only other cabinet in which an ambassador sits is that of the People's Republic of Bulgaria, the one country in the world that would remain in the Soviet bloc if it had a choice. (The Red Army liberated Bulgaria from the Turks in World War One, and memory of the Ottoman Empire apparently makes colonial life in the Soviet Empire seem pretty darn attractive.) So there in the cabinet of Chairman Todor Zhikov sits the Minister Extraordinary & Ambassador Plenipotentiary to the USSR.
Thomas O. Melia is a foreign policy analyst in the United States Senate.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Foreign Exotica".