Department of State and Foreign Service Flags

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Secretary of State

Navy Regulations provide for the display of the flag of the Secretary of State aboard ships of the Navy only when the Secretary is embarked while acting as the President's special foreign representative.  Given modern means of transportation, it is almost inconceivable that this would happen today, but it was in just such a case that the Secretary's flag was first created.  In anticipation of Secretary Robert Lansing's planned visit to South America as President Wilson's special envoy, Executive Order 3360 on November 28, 1920, prescribed for the Secretary's use a dark blue flag with the arms of the Department of State (i.e., the U.S. national coat of arms) in white, flanked on either side by a gold star, and directed that it be displayed on any United States vessel carrying him during the visit.  Executive Order 3360 was cancelled in 1933, but a new flag in the current design was promptly authorized by State Department Order 545 on the same day.  That design is a blue flag with the national coat of arms in color on a white disk, and a white star in each corner.  Title 22, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 1, provides that the dimensions of the flag will be in accordance with military and naval custom.  For normal display indoors and at ceremonies, it is therefore 52 by 66 inches, with white fringe and a blue and white cord and tassels.  For shipboard use, it would take the same 43 by 61 1/2 inch dimensions used for other senior official's flags.  A large version of this flag flies from the left-hand flagpole outside the C Street entrance of the Department of State in Washington, the Stars and Stripes flying at the right-hand pole.

Similar flags are authorized by State Department regulations for the Deputy Secretary and Under Secretaries of State.  That for the Deputy, which is white with the arms on a blue disk and four blue stars, was originally established as the Under Secretary's flag by the same 1933 order that promulgated the current design of the Secretary's flag.  It was inherited by the Deputy Secretary when that position was created to supersede the Under Secretary as the number two official in the Department of State in 1973.  Simultaneously, a new flag was created for the Under Secretaries--who now ranked after the Deputy--with a red field and white disk and stars.  Neither of these flags is authorized for use by the Navy.

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Chief of Mission


 
Under current Navy regulations, an ambassador's presence in a boat of the Navy within the waters of the country to which he is accredited, is signified by flying the union jack at the bow staff, topped with a spread eagle finial.  In 1946, the State Department provided for the same flag's display on automobiles carrying chiefs of diplomatic missions, including ambassadors.
The Department of State's Foreign Affairs Manual (2 FAM 153.2), however, now provides this distinctive personal flag for ambassadors and other chiefs of mission accredited to sovereign states, similar to that of the Secretary of State but with the disk bearing the coat of arms surrounded by a ring of 13 white stars.  The proportions are 10:19, as for the national flag.  Given the status of an ambassador as the President's personal representative in the country to which he is accredited, it would not be surprising for this flag to be given official recognition in the future for use in Navy boats, particularly since the consular officers who work for the ambassador have long had a distinctive flag for similar use.

Chiefs of diplomatic missions accredited to other than sovereign states (such as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations or the U.S. ambassadors to NATO or the European Union) fly a similar flag but with the arms directly on a white field and the ring of stars in dark blue. As these organizations do not have "territorial waters," there would be no basis for using this flag in the Navy.


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Foreign Service Officer

Since 1946, the Department of State has authorized this automobile flag for accredited foreign service officers representing the chief of mission at important ceremonial or official functions, or when the chief of mission considers use of the flag warranted for reasons of emergency or personal safety.  This is not authorized for use as a boat flag by the Navy, but, inasmuch as diplomatic officers are accorded honors when visiting U.S. warships, it would be sensible to provide for its use at the bow of a boat on the same types of occasions that it is used on an automobile.


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Consul

This flag was adopted by the Department of State in 1903 to indicate the presence of an American consular officer aboard a boat in foreign waters.  The same use aboard boats of the Navy was approved in 1909.  A version in 10:19 proportions with a gold fringe, cord, and tassels, has since been established for display in specified locations at American consulates abroad.  It can also be used as an automobile flag by the principal officer of a consular post.


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Copyright 2000, 2001 by Joseph McMillan