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Four Variations on the Theme of Diplomacy

Thomas R. Pickering, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Remarks, at the National Foreign Policy Conference For Leaders of Non-Governmental Organizations U.S. Department of State, May 19, 2000

Four Variations on the Theme of Diplomacy

[As Delivered]

Let me join in thanking all of you for participating in this outstanding event. We feel that you are part of our foreign policy constituency, and we appreciate the opportunity to share ideas and insights into the array of foreign policy issues before us. Secretary Albright has spoken of the need for a transformed diplomacy to deal with a transformed world. When we ask just what are the elements of that transformation, one answer is clear, of course: you. The end of the Cold War, economic globalization, and the windstorm of technological innovation have all contributed to the new world of diplomacy. But you, as representatives of several hundred non-governmental organizations (NGOs) here today, are one of the chief agents of the sea change taking place in foreign affairs. NGOs, international organizations, public interest groups, multinational corporations, educational and cultural organizations, and other so-called "non-state actors" -- all were once on the periphery of what has been called traditional diplomacy; no longer. Whether worldwide relief operations, human rights, landmines, climate change and biodiversity, infectious disease and HIV/AIDs, trade reform and antipoverty programs, the NGO community has fundamentally altered the rules of international engagement. Nations are certainly not disappearing, but if international affairs were ever the monopoly of nations and foreign ministries, that era ended well before the 20th century. As a professional diplomat, I may feel some dismay when contemplating the complex rules of the new diplomacy -- perhaps a little nostalgia for the hushed antechamber rather than the shouted media event. But as an American committed to the principle of individual freedom, I can only applaud when the voices of free people are heard throughout the world and echo in the corridors of power.

Instead of making some broad remarks on American foreign policy today at this point, let me offer something different -- a quiz -- not something you were expecting right now. Well, that's the point of a pop quiz -- isn't it?

I'm going to describe elements of U.S. policy: you name the country. Easy enough? I'll even make it multiple choice to keep it simple. In this particular country, the United States seeks to:

--Strengthen the institutions of democracy, including fair and open elections, a free press, and adherence to the rule of law;

--Foster economic development and opportunity through free markets, reduced trade barriers, and an improved climate for foreign investment;

--Combat drug trafficking and international criminal activity; Protect human rights; and

--Enhance stability through regional partnerships and international cooperation.

That seems a fairly straightforward and noncontroversial, set of policy principles. Now then, is the country or region:

Canada?

Burma?

Trinidad and Tobago?

Abkhazia and South Ossetia?

East Timor or Western Sahara?

How many chose Canada, by the way? Well, contrary to the movie "South Park" and the Robin Williams production on Oscar Night, we don't generally "Blame Canada" around here.

On the other hand, Canada is still broadcasting that rather pointed beer commercial quite a bit, don't you think? This character in the commercial keeps shouting that the letter "Z" is produced "zed." What's that all about?

In any case, as I'm sure you've guessed, this was a trick quiz after all, since the real answer is always, "all of the above."

In other words, the bedrock principles that motivate American foreign policy and actions can, and should be, broadly applicable, utterly clear, and even predictable.

As Horton the elephant says in the wonderful Dr. Seuss story, "I meant what I said and I said what I meant."

The United States, which shares Horton's size and, I hope, his steadfastness, can do no less. And my choice of Horton should not be read as having any domestic political implications.

But these unchanging principles must necessarily be practiced in a world experiencing a rate of change that is both staggering and accelerating.

Unfortunately, our the gap between our resources and our commitments is growing as well. As all the presenters today have stressed, the foreign policy budget of the United States to deal with these multiple challenges is simply not adequate.

We may have the will, but we don't have the wallet.

Let me, in diplomatic parlance, speak frankly and openly to all of you. Right now, we are allocated one penny of the U.S. budget dollar for foreign affairs -- one penny. To make matters worse, Congress has stopped payment on funds that have already been appropriated for critically important peacekeeping activities around the world. Right now, as a result of these individual congressional holds, we are unable to pay peacekeeping bills of more than $230 million. And the total mounts by the month.

This is unacceptable.

Compared to cost of deploying troops to a crisis zone, international peacekeeping and diplomacy are terrific bargains. But that doesn't mean that leadership in international affairs can be bought on the cheap. If we're to do the job we've been asked to do, we need the Congress to give us the tools. Now, let me offer four examples of the interaction of principle and practice in U.S. foreign policy in this transformed, fluid world, where budget requirements can have such impact. In these four regional examples, the United States, with its allies and friends, is engaged in serious, sustained diplomatic efforts because our national interests, and those of the international community, are deeply engaged as well. In each instance, the cultural background, historical experience, and definition of U.S. national interests varies widely. Yet I would argue that our policies and actions remain rooted -- Horton-like -- in America's fundamental values as a nation.

Example one: If a writer were to invent a fictional country, could he or she imagine one more astonishing than Indonesia? A nation comprising more than 17,000 islands, vast natural wonders and economic resources, cultures as deep and as diverse as societies anywhere on the globe, unquestionable strategic importance; a nation that is home to the world's largest Muslim population. And now, after four decades of authoritarian rule, the world's third-largest democracy.

With the election of President Abdurrahman Wahid last October, the nation has launched itself into what our Ambassador to Indonesia, Bob Gelbard, has called the "labyrinth of democracy."

The image is a telling one. The democratic path, whether in Bali or Boston, is never straight nor predictable. Democracy isn't a money-back guarantee for economic prosperity, protection of human rights, and individual opportunity. But democracy is the indispensable tool for free people to achieve those precious goals.

Indonesia's new democratic government understands this.

For its part, the United States has offered its support to Indonesia and pledged to work closely with the new government to strengthen the institutions of democracy and rule of law, and to support the economic reforms necessary to restore economic growth and opportunity. Does sound a bit familiar? At the same time, we have been candid and forceful on the urgent need to resolve continuing problems in West Timor, and to address the core causes of conflict in Aceh.

The present situation in West Timor, frankly, is untenable, and it is vital that harassment and coercion of the East Timorese refugees by the local militias be halted, so that the refugees can return home, or be allowed to find new homes inside Indonesia.

In the case of Aceh, the United States certainly believes that Indonesia's territorial integrity should be preserved. But violence and military force cannot achieve that end. For this reason, we are greatly encouraged by the recent agreement in Geneva between the government and rebels to halt the fighting and enter into negotiations.

In our view, it is axiomatic -- if seemingly paradoxical -- that national unity can only be preserved through a honest acknowledgement of differences; resolution of grievances; and a genuine respect for degrees of political, economic, and cultural autonomy.

For any healthy democracy, diversity should be a source of strength, not of division. This is not an easy lesson to learn, nor to live, whether in the United States or Indonesia.

Now, let's change everything -- geography, culture, history -- and consider the case of another "key democracy": Nigeria, a nation where I had the honor of serving as ambassador from 1981 to 1983.

Once again, we are engaged with a country that is a veritable United Nations of peoples, cultures, identities, and resources -- over 250 languages and ethnicities. Like Indonesia, Nigeria is an important oil producer, accounting for 8% of U.S. imports; an important trading partner, the second largest market for U.S. goods in Sub-Saharan Africa; and a regional tower of strength, one that has provided peacekeeping troops in Liberia and in Sierra Leone. Nigeria, too, has embarked on the labyrinthine road of democracy with the inauguration of President Olusegun Obasanjo last May.

With this transition -- one that we sought for years -- the United States can put aside years of strained relations with oppressive and corrupt military dictatorships and enter into a closer and more productive partnership. In the end, however, the heavy lifting of democracy building has to fall upon the shoulders of the Nigerian people themselves.

As with any democracy, expectations are high, and the clock is always running. A democratic government can achieve power with promises, but it will only be sustained through performance. Nigeria must ensure accountability among its elected officials and civil servants, improve the professionalism of the military, and undertake difficult but absolutely vital economic reforms to reduce its dependence on oil exports and build a diversified economy that will alleviate poverty and attract greater foreign investment.

In this litany of hard political tasks, none is greater than systematically and effectively fighting corruption -- from financial fraud schemes to drug trafficking. These criminal activities are pervasive and threaten to undermine the foundations of Nigeria's new democracy itself.

At the same time, Nigeria continues to suffer from the painful internal injuries of communal and ethnic violence. These tensions reflect longstanding regional and political rivalries, especially between North and South, but they are also the result of frustration from lack of economic and educational opportunity and a political system that for too long has been unresponsive to the legitimate demands of its people. Nigeria's tasks are heavy and difficult, but they should not have to face them alone.

For our part, the United States has drawn upon its own experiences in shaping a wide ranging set of assistance programs, while respecting the need for Nigerian solutions to the country's special circumstances. These initiatives range from training programs for all three branches of the Nigerian Government -- executive, legislation, and judicial -- to a bilateral Joint Economic Partnership Committee and funding for the Independent National Electoral Commission's efforts to provide a reliable voter register and to develop codes of conduct for political parties.

As Africa's largest nation, Nigeria must also define its role as a force for regional stability. Its recent decision to support the United Nations peacekeeping effort in Sierra Leone is an admirable one.

My third variation on the theme of diplomacy is one of Latin America's oldest democracies, Colombia. Today, Colombia is threatened by a lethal combination of drug traffickers and guerrilla insurgencies that also constitute, by any definition, a clear and present danger to this country.

Ninety percent of cocaine and more than half of the heroin on America's streets originate in Colombia or are transported by Colombian criminal organizations. Inside Colombia, drug trafficking fuels the armies of the left and right, undermines the legal and judicial system, and sustains a pervasive level of violence and fear that has produced the world's fourth-largest population of internally displaced people.

Make no mistake: The people and institutions of democracy in Colombia are under a sustained assault.

In debating the U.S. response to this indisputable crisis, the lens of public debate inevitably focuses on the military aid component, but that misses the main point.

The United States isn't going to save Colombia. Colombia is going to have to save itself, with the assistance of the international community, including the United States. While the approximately 20% of the costs of Plan Colombia, which the President believes should be our fair share, is critical to the Plan's success, it's much less than half of what Colombia will provide in funding. But Colombians must do the fighting, the policing, and the alternative development and manifold reforms.

The integrated, strategic initiative known as Plan Colombia was developed by President Andres Pastrana, and most of the planned $7.5 billion expenditures are for nonmilitary programs. As its contribution, the United States has proposed $1.6 billion in the next 2 years for drug eradication, law enforcement, military equipment, and alternative economic development. Moreover, we can only provide military assistance to those Colombian military units that have no record of being linked to human rights violations -- after careful review of the units and their records.

Let me stress Plan Colombia's greatest asset: It is a comprehensive strategy designed to address all the dimensions of the crisis -- political, economic, social, judicial, democratic -- and not simply a military response. We know from our past experiences in Bolivia and Peru that dramatic, sustained reductions of over 50% over several years in coca production are possible. But those successes are threatened with the recent, rapid expansion of coca production in guerrilla-controlled areas of Colombia.

Another important point to stress is that all U.S. assistance to Colombia is directed at strengthening democracy, restoring the economy, and combating drugs. The United States is not sending, and will not send troops to fight in Colombia. To the contrary, we are convinced that our counter-narcotics efforts, by reducing the flow of drug money to these armed groups, will assist the government in its sustained peace initiatives, which are at the heart of Plan Colombia and which are already showing progress.

But the opportunity is here, the time to act is now. We urge the Senate to pass the supplemental funding for Colombia. In words that have been said before: "If not now, when? If not us, who?"

My fourth and final diplomatic exhibit is not a country, but a region -- the Balkans and South Eastern Europe -- where the United States and its European allies face a situation of complexity and danger but also of genuine hope for the future.

South Eastern Europe contains long-independent nations; newly independent states that emerged from the peaceful dissolution of the empire of the former Soviet Union; and a mix of new states, regions, and ethnic regions that have appeared out of the violent shattering of the former Yugoslavia.

More Europeans have been victims of violence since the fall of the Berlin Wall than from the end of World War II to the Wall's demise in 1989. Needless to say, the vast majority of those victims lived in the Balkans.

Walking in parts of South Eastern Europe today can feel like walking on fields of broken glass.

Our fundamental diplomatic goals in the region are no different than they were in Western Europe after World War II -- build a system of collective security, restore economic prosperity, and strengthen the institutions of democracy. In pursuing these goals, then as now, we recognize that U.S. interests are best served as the arena of peace and prosperity expands, driving suspicion and conflict to the margins.

In Bosnia and Kosovo, we have not acted unilaterally but sought to mobilize the key major international and transatlantic institutions, including the United Nations, NATO, the European Union, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

And as a snapshot of the new diplomacy, we work closely with humanitarian NGOs and other organizations that are playing such a large and multifaceted role in the region.

One consequence of your vital and visible role in the region, I must add, is to offer a new opportunity, unfortunately, for criminals and terrorists seeking to use the good name and assets of humanitarian organizations to cover their activities. To ensure the safety and credibility of your efforts in the Balkans, it is vital that NGO organizations be aware of this potential threat and strive to maintain the high standards of accountability and transparency that will protect them and the life-saving work in which they are engaged. Needless to say, the United States will help in any way it can to keep you up-to-date and informed of these threats.

The unfortunate need for such a warning highlights the fact that, in the Balkans, we are dealing with complex equations of borders, ethnicity, and nationalism that will not yield to either quick fixes or formulaic declarations. As one of my colleagues, Ambassador Chris Hill, said about the Balkans, "If war is hell, then peace is purgatory" -- but peace, nonetheless, which has brought the following substantive examples of progress:

--A Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe that offers assistance to those countries willing to undertake hard but necessary economic and political reform;

--Progress toward pluralism and democracy in Bosnia-Herzegovina, although still slow and painful;

--Deployment of NATO's KFOR forces and the safe return of over 800,000 Kosovar refugees to their homes;

--Demilitarization of the Kosovo Liberation Army;

--Laying foundations for a new legal system; and

--Establishment of an Interim Administration Council, giving Kosovars a direct say in running their own affairs for the first time in a decade.

--The question of Kosovo's future and the broader debate over establishing stable, multiethnic states will continue -- as will our diplomatic and peacekeeping efforts in the region.

Ethnic identity and national borders are not trivial matters. In some ways, boundaries and borders are even more necessary in a world of rapid globalization and supranational organizations, if only to assert one's independence and identity.

"Something there is that doesn't love a wall," Robert Frost famously wrote. But also added, with tough-minded irony, "Good fences make good neighbors."

But borders can no longer be drawn in blood.

The United States will work for the day when, like elsewhere in Europe, Balkan walls can become doors and passages and borders become bridges.

To summarize and conclude, we will stand beside the new democratic Governments of Indonesia and Nigeria; we will join Colombia to combat the criminal forces of drug trafficking and violence; and with our European allies, we will stay the course in Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovenia, and South Eastern Europe.

And so, with Horton the elephant, I repeat: "We meant what we said and we said what we meant."

Thank you.

###


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