Thomas Pickering Analyzes Diplomacy Challenges

Former U.N. Ambassador provides broad view of major world issues during International Affairs Society event at George Washington University.

Thomas Pickering
October 31, 2014
To address shifting global issues and “revolutionary changes” of the digital era, diplomacy requires multilateral approaches and strategies, former U.N. Ambassador Thomas Pickering told the George Washington University community Wednesday at the Jack Morton Auditorium.
Mr. Pickering visited GW as part of an event organized by the student-run International Affairs Society (IAS). During introductory remarks, international affairs Professor Chris Kojm explained that Mr. Pickering’s wide-ranging ambassador appointments have given him an expansive view of the world. In addition to representing the United States as U.N. ambassador, Mr. Pickering also served in Jordan, Nigeria, El Salvador, Israel, India and Russia—major reasons the IAS invited him to campus.
“He has had an outstanding career and has played a key role in shaping American foreign policy. Our members were delighted to learn from his experience and to get such an insightful perspective on current events,” said junior Manuela Kurkaa, chair of the International Affairs Society. 
Mr. Pickering said that while in the past diplomats may have managed issues country-by-country, diplomacy now works in a more multidimensional way. He underscored the importance of a “cluster” approach to diplomacy in which foreign policy issues are grouped and tackled together, whether by global importance or regional proximity. The method is strategically beneficial because it considers relationships among nations that may affect diplomacy and allows diplomats to negotiate on a broader basis.
What Mr. Pickering refers to as the extended Middle East is a good example. The cluster represents an array of problems, including the conflict between Palestine and Israel, turmoil in Libya, clashes between Afghanistan and Pakistan and the rise of ISIS. The difficulties are interconnected and, frequently, as one area gets worse, problems spill into a neighboring region. 
“No one set of questions has the silver bullet embedded in it that will solve the other,” he said. 
U.S. diplomatic approaches to the region must strike a delicate balance. Mr. Pickering said he thinks that the U.S. should be cautious of overusing military tactics in the Middle East—aerial attacks have become an ISIS “rallying cry” that helps them gain new recruits, he pointed out. Americans can examine several political strategies, including fostering better relations with Iraq’s minority Sunni population, whom ISIS has mistreated. The U.S. also needs to identify who will form its ground troops to fight ISIS.
Several countries, including Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Gulf states, have an interest in combatting ISIS, but the U.S. must work through each country’s divisive relationships to try to form a strong anti-ISIS coalition, Mr. Pickering continued.
He also spoke about what he calls “rivals and partners.” It’s imperative that the U.S. examine relations with powers like China, Russia and the E.U. to foster healthy friendships, not rivalries.  
In the developing world, the Ebola epidemic shows “how closely we are now linked to the world, to even the most disadvantaged states,” Mr. Pickering said. He added that the U.S. needs to constantly think about how and in what way it addresses Africa and the developing parts of the world, paying attention to foreign aid programs and strong governance.
He also discussed energy and climate changes, and said people must think about the issues from the perspective of future generations.
He said that in order for the current U.S. government to resolve problems of the 21st century, it needs be better organized and focused on effecting changes. 
“We need to move in the direction, particularly in the executive branch, of how we deal with problems worldwide and domestic on a much stronger whole of government basis. We’re still too stove-piped. We’re still in many ways too separated in our ability to bring the full concentration of the government across a broad spectrum,” he said.
Student Life, Julyssa Lopez