Friday, January 16, 2009

Thoughts on the Nomination of a New Ambassador to UNESCO

Louise Oliver, Ambassador to UNESCO as a Bush administration appointee, is leaving that office. The Obama administration is to appoint a replacement. Ambassador Oliver has faced important challenges at UNESCO, managing the reentry of the United States into the organization and representing this country in an era of its decreasing international reputation. Reliable observers tell me that she has been extraordinarily effective, representing her administration's policies consistently in a professional manner while gaining respect and making friends for America among the diplomatic community and the UNESCO Secretariat. The new appointee should build upon and extend her successes.

It is my hope that the new appointee will be given Ambassadorial rank by the administration. That rank has been established for Ambassador Oliver, and has been helpful in establishing her personal authority in Paris. It also symbolizes the importance of UNESCO to the United States.

The Obama administration has expressed its concern for improved international partnerships. President-elect Obama wrote in an article in Foreign Affairs magazine:
To renew American leadership in the world, I intend to rebuild the alliances, partnerships, and institutions necessary to confront common threats and enhance common security. Needed reform of these alliances and institutions will not come by bullying other countries to ratify changes we hatch in isolation. It will come when we convince other governments and peoples that they, too, have a stake in effective partnerships.......

(T)he United Nations requires far-reaching reform........Yet none of these problems will be solved unless America rededicates itself to the organization and its mission.
In her opening remarks in her hearing before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State designate Clinton stated:
We should also use the United Nations and other international institutions whenever appropriate and possible. Both Democratic and Republican presidents have understood for decades that these institutions, when they work well, enhance our influence. And when they don’t work well – as in the cases of Darfur and the farce of Sudan’s election to the former UN Commission on Human Rights, for example – we should work with likeminded friends to make sure that these institutions reflect the values that motivated their creation in the first place.
In their various statements the spokepersons for the Obama administration have stressed objectives for U.S. foreign policy that are fully consistent with UNESCO's programs. UNESCO's emphasis on peace and human rights, its leadership in education, and its scientific programs providing the knowledge to deal with global resource and environmental problems are all prototypical of efforts that the Obama administration will seek to enhance.

Thus the new Ambassador will be charged with collaborating with partner nations to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of UNESCO as it carries out its fundamental missions.

The next Ambassador should be:
  • An articulate and charismatic spokesperson for the United States;
  • Fully committed to the foreign policy goals of the United States as articulated by the Obama administration, especially those for the promotion of peace, the reduction of poverty, the sustainable development of nations, and the solution of global environmental problems;
  • Capable of leading an organization with 2,000 staff and a $500 million annual budget which is capable of catalyzing global action;
  • A distinguished professional in one of the fields of competence of UNESCO;
  • A capable diplomat, able to negotiate compromise among the disparate interests of UNESCO's member nations; and of course
  • A person of sterling personal and professional integrity; as well
  • As someone who can communicate effectively in French as well as other major languages used in UNESCO.
I would stress, however, that while the new Ambassador must be a capable diplomat, his/her function should not be simply to negotiate with other diplomats and international civil servants, but to conceptualize how UNESCO's programs can be integrated with those of other U.S. and international agencies to achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives, advocating the needed changes in UNESCO to achieve those ends, and also advocating the needed changes in U.S. policies towards UNESCO.

The first U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO was Athelstan Spilhaus, who served on UNESCO's Executive Board from 1954 to 1958. Dr. Athelstan Spilhaus was listed in "American Men of Science" as a meteorologist and an oceanographer, and made contributions to cartography. He was the inventor of the bathythermograph, a device to measure water temperatures in the deep ocean. That device contributed substantially to the success of sonar in WW II, and thus to America's victory in the war. He also developed balloons for meteorological and remote sensing applications. He was best known to the public for his extraordinary success in communicating scientific knowledge to the public through his comic strip read by some 12 million people per week, and to the academic community as the father of the Sea Grant program of the U.S. government. He as seen both as a global intellectual leader and as an effective advocate of U.S. policies.

I would hope the new Ambassador will live up to and extend the record of excellence established by Louise Oliver and Athelstan Spilhaus.

John Daly
(The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not represent those of Americans for UNESCO.)

1 comment:

John Daly said...

Dick Nobbe emailed me a comment on this posting, which he has allowed me to share. Dick is a long term member of Americans for UNESCO's Board of Directors. He also served in the State Department staff following UNESCO for a couple of decades. Here is his comment:

"I share John's general assertion that Ambassador Oliver ....."has been extraordinarily effective, representing her administration's policies consistently in a professional manner while gaining respect and making friends for America among the diplomatic community and the UNESCO Secretariat"and that "the new appointee should build upon and extend her successes." In fact, I go a step further and state she is one of the best ambassadorial representatives we have had at UNESCO since 1963 in part because she has devoted herself unstintingly to the job in a professional,sophisticated, and across-the-board manner.

"Bullet one ; Agree.

"Bullet two : It goes without saying. that any representative (political or diplomatic) will articulate the views of the Obama Administration. A`more important qualification is that the new representative be full time ,hands-on, and hard working. (Explanation: If the US is to influence UNESCO's policies, it needs a working ambassadorial representative who is prepared to devote full time to the nuts and bolts of the job, not a dilettante who makes selective appearances at ExBd and GC sessions as has sometimes been the case in the past. In my view, this explains in part why Ambassador Oliver was such a huge success).

"Bullet three : Not relevant. The new representative will lead the US team , not UNESCO. Suggest we excise it.

"Bullet four :Strongly disagree. Suggest we stress the need for a general practitioner. (Explanation :Good academic credentials are essential, but the new US representative need not be an expert in one of UNESCO's fields nor a scholar or an intellectual. What is needed is a generalist with an understanding and familiarity with social and humanitarian issues, good negotiation skills, and an abiding interest and commitment to fostering cultural diplomacy A Caroline Kennedy type would fit the bill to a "T')

"Bullet five: This point is covered in Bullet four.. I suggest a new Bullet five which stresses the importance of political access and outreach within the US. (Explanation : As UNESCO becomes more intergovernmental (e.g. increasing number of important norms, intergovernmental meetings, extra-budgetary funding) and as governments (including the US ) become more involved in UNEDCO's work, it is extremely important that the new US representative have the political clout to reach out to all USG agencies, the White House, and the private sector,. More than any other factor, it was Ambassador Oliver;s connections with higher USG officialdom and its involvement in UNESCO's activities that brought respect and appreciation for the United States.)

"Bullet six: I agree but would add the phrase " and accomplishment" after the word "integrity".

"Bullet seven : Certainly desirable but competency in languages for this position is not an essential qualification in my judgement. After all, the new Ambassador will have a deputy who knows french and UNESCO has interpreters and translators."