Henry Kissinger once wrote: “No foreign policy – no matter how ingenious – has any chance of success if it is born in the minds of a few and carried in the hearts of none.”
The United Nations is about foreign policy and the public support is essential in implementing its strategies, plans and actions. Such support depends on how the values of multilateral diplomacy find their ways into people’s minds and hearts.
Students are some of the best recipients of these values. The great American diplomat Benjamin Franklin left us the aphorism: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn”. Involving students in understanding the UN is a long term investment in the next generation of leaders, who thus learn to believe in multilateralism and humanity.
I have always been fascinated with the inquiring spirit that young educated people possess. Intellectual contact with them helps your mind stay alert and updated, their positive enthusiasm is contagious and their questions clarify details sometimes you may miss. They also test you. Many Romanian students are enrolled in American and British Universities and, according to The Economist of August 7th, 2012, “Romania is the country where some of the most brilliant young brains in the world are born. Here the rate of gifted children is twice the average worldwide. In 2012 the country was ranked first in Europe at the International Math Olympics and 10th among 100 countries worldwide. Corporations like Microsoft have a big community of Romanians among their workforce and they keep recruiting more.” Therefore, I am always happy to accept invitations to speak to students and academics on topics related to my profession.
I had recently such a privilege at St. John’s University School of Law and the Harriman Institute at Columbia University. Students at St. John’s School of Law impressed me with a large variety of questions, reflecting “their understanding that law is a vocation through which they can live justly and do justice” (as the Dean’s Message says). For instance: “What advice would you give when the choice is between big money and the respect of human rights?”, “How is a compromise solution obtained in UN negotiations?”, “What is the UN’s role in the current world?”, “How would Brexit affect the European Union?”, or ‘How can the refugee crisis be solved?”
As for Columbia University, it stands as one of the world’s most important centers of global research, 82 of its graduates being Nobel Prize laureates (among them, Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Barack Obama, physicist Enrico Fermi and the great economist Joseph Stiglitz). The Harriman Institute enjoys the reputation of a leading academic institution devoted to Russian, Eurasian and East European studies. Here, the audience consisted of both students and academics, and I spoke about the security-development nexus at the UN and in the Agenda 2030 for sustainable development.
Talking about diplomacy is challenging. David Lloyd George reportedly remarked in 1919, at the Peace Conference in Paris, that “Diplomats were simply invented to waste time”, and diplomats do their best to offer a different perspective. Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai noted in 1954 that “All diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means”. The main job of diplomats at the United Nations is to promote peace, security, development and respect for human rights. Their role becomes even more important during deep political crisis between States, when diplomacy must avoid a military option.
We live in a world of change, with new security challenges which include terrorism and violent extremism. We also face the competition for energy, natural resources and water, global and regional rivalries, cultural differences, the rift between the rich and the poor, ‘rogue States’, non-State armed groups, and frozen conflicts. All are sources of instability. Conflicts have a disastrous impact on development. Conflicts and violent extremism are often rooted in a mix of exclusion, inequality, poor management of natural resources, corruption, oppression, governance failures and the frustration and alienation that accompany the lack of jobs and opportunities. The solution has to be found in good governance, creating opportunities for the young and winning the campaign against violent extremism.
The future will probably rely more and more on connectivity and fluid networks. Understanding how best to use them is increasingly important for countries and geographical blocs. The speed and complexity of information has changed, making analysis and filtering essential. In 2010, there were 1.8 billion internet users and 5 billion devices connected online. By 2015, there were 3 billion internet users and 15 billion devices online. But the Fourth Industrial Revolution brings both opportunities and risks. As Klaus Schwab, the Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum said last January, in Davos: “There has never been a time of greater promise, or greater peril.”
No country today is able to deal with such a diversity of challenges alone – hence the systemically vital role of the United Nations and of multilateralism, in response to challenges exceeding the individual capacities of States. Despite the technological advance and the Tweeter and Facebook revolutions, diplomats remain a centerpiece in listening and in understanding the position of various parties. Diplomacy represents power, and ideas are more powerful than blood and money, as the UN has been able to replace weapons with ideas, and battlefields with conference rooms. As a club that countries want to join, it can persuade States to play by the rules, and set global standards.
Post Scriptum: Derek Bok, former President of Harvard University, said: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance”. These days at the UN, Jorge Sampaio, who is the First Nelson Mandela laureate, the British Council, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Institute of International Education, raise awareness on the need to setting up a rapid response mechanism for higher education in emergencies which would enable refugees and young people affected by crisis to resume their university studies and avoid the loss of a generation of university graduates. This, too, would be an investments in the next generation of leaders, namely of those who will be responsible for rebuilding their destroyed countries and broken societies, on the basis of democratic values.