Nancy Soderbergaddress given by Former Ambassador to the United Nations Nancy Soderberg as part of the President's Forum series and the keynote address for the "A New World Order? Iraq, Terrorism, and the Future of International Relations" symposium

First, let me thank my friend Mark Gearan for inviting me to Hobart and William Smith Colleges for this important symposium at this important time.

At first, I thought maybe he was calling to invite me to the Jurassic Five rap concert—or maybe a Heron's soccer game or Statesmen basketball game. But true to President Gearan's ear for politics, he knew last fall this would be a time of turmoil in international relations and I'm delighted to be here tonight to discuss the future of international relations.

It is a great pleasure to get out of New York City and come to this beautiful campus. Since the 18th century—and in particular 100 years later when women showed up here—this campus has been committed to excellence, globally focused, and grounded in the values of equity and service. It is a pleasure to have the chance to speak today to the leaders of the 21st century.

I know you've had an impressive array of speakers today on a range of interesting topics. Tonight, I'll speak for about 20 minutes and spend the rest of the time in what I hope will be a lively and open discussion.

The world looks pretty scary right now. We are at war with Iraq and the world and the country is divided about it. Osama Bin Laden is still at large, the Israeli-Palestinian war rages, anti-Americanism is on the rise, North Korea is developing nuclear weapons, and Iran might be too. America in the last few years has sought to undermine the international structures of the post-World War II era and is in a brawl with France. It accuses the U.N. of being irrelevant and many are questioning whether the will go the way of the League of Nations following World War I.

It looks like a big mess. So, what should we make of it. What is the future of international relations today?

Despite the difficulties of the current situation, I'm an optimist. Partly out of habit—being in foreign policy you have to or you would commit hara-kiri every morning when you read your morning intelligence briefing. But if handled right, the United States can both promote its interests and work with our allies. Let's look at four key issues: Iraq, the war on terrorism, Afghanistan and North Korea.

Let me start with a discussion about the U.N. in the aftermath of the recent debacle with the U.S./U.K. resolution on Iraq. Because the U.S. failed to convince its colleagues on the Security Council that the threat from Iraq justified an invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration has dismissed the organization as irrelevant. Just last November, the U.N.S.C. voted 15-0 to send inspectors back to Iraq and demand Saddam Hussein disarm. Yet now, the Council is divided and the most tense since the Cuban missile crisis in the early 1960s.

This is not a fight between the U.S. and the United Nations. It is not Kofi Annan, the Secretary General who is opposing the U.S. Rather, it is the French, the Chinese, and the Russians. I spent a lot of time over at the U.N. in the last few weeks. I have never seen so many dropped jaws at the intensity of the passions among the various delegations on the Security Council. What went wrong? I cite three reasons.

First, the consensus over Iraq policy in the Council deteriorated steadily over the 1990s. While the U.S. and U.K. continued to insist on a tough sanctions regime to keep Saddam Hussein from acquiring WMD, the French and the Russians took a different tack. Their support for the sanctions eroded as the humanitarian situation in Iraq deteriorated and as they began to sign up for lucrative oil contracts in Iraq. Eventually, Iraq stopped cooperating altogether and the U.N. inspectors were withdrawn.

Second, the Bush administration deserves credit for rallying the international community and getting the inspectors back into Iraq last November. The combination of concern over terrorism after 9/11 and the Bush administration's threat of the use of force secured the return of the inspectors. But resolution 1441 papered over a big difference. The S.C. wanted inspections; the Bush administration wanted regime change.

Third, in March, that major difference came to a head and diplomacy failed to resolve it. The Bush administration decided the inspections had run their course, pulled the plug, and went to war. It failed in its diplomacy on all fronts: to get Saddam to go into exile, to keep the Council united, to convince the world Saddam Hussein is as big a threat as we think he is, to build a strong international coalition, and to find a diplomatic solution to the threat from Iraq. Why? Because in today's post-9/11 environment, the Bush administration believes it must act to pre-empt any possible threat. The world would prefer to contain Saddam Hussein, not overthrow him.

While there is a big disagreement in the U.S. and the world over this war, I argue that when it is over, the international community will reunite and the divisions will lessen. Again, three reasons.

First, U.S. needs the United Nations in Iraq. Already, the U.S. has gone back to the Security Council to ask for a new resolution so the U.N. can continue the oil for food program—the U.N.'s program that uses the oil revenues to feed 60 percent of the Iraqi people. The U.S. does not want to have to run Iraq by itself for the forseeable future. It will ask the U.N. and the international community to come in and help rebuild the country. Second, other countries will want to join in on that effort. France, Russia and others who opposed the war will want to help the Iraqi people, as well as get a share of the new business. If the war goes well and quickly, the U.S. and the U.N. will be working together side by side.

So, the crisis in Iraq is likely not to signal the end of the United Nations. In fact, despite the administration's anti-U.N. rhetoric, it is turning to the U.N. to help it in Iraq once the war is over. Let's look at the other key challenges facing the U.S. There are three key issues—and in each, the U.S. needs the U.N. and international help: the war on terrorism, Afghanistan, and North Korea.

In his speech before the United Nations General Assembly less than two months after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush called upon the United Nations to lead the way in fighting the war on terror, stating: "this struggle is a defining moment for the United Nations itself. And the world needs its principled leadership." Within a week of 9/11, the administration sought and received U.N. Security Council authorization for the broadest and strongest anti-terrorism measure in the U.N.'s history: U.N.S.C. Resolution 1373. Acting under the self-defense provisions of Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, it authorized the use of force in pursuing those responsible for carrying out the attacks of September 11. Sharply worded, Security Council Resolution 1373 not only criminalized the provision of support for entities or persons involved in the commission of terrorist acts but also outlawed financial assistance, whether direct or indirect, to organizations or individuals so involved. Only with the cooperation of the U.N. can we shut off finances of terrorists, track them down wherever they hide, and bring them to justice. In short, the U.S. needs the U.N. in the war on terror.

Third, the U.S. needs the U.N. in Afghanistan. Despite the rhetoric against peacekeeping and nation-building you hear in the White House and the Pentagon, doing both is in the U.S. interest in Afghanistan. I visited there last October. It is a fascinating country, one with a rich history that goes back 4,000 years. But three decades of war have devastated the country. Life expectancy there is only 35-40 years old. That would make each of you middle aged—and President Gearan and I already dead! Women are treated like property. Kabul is destroyed. Electricity is sporadic, buildings have yet to be rebuilt and employment opportunities are sparse. Most people live in mud brick houses without running water or electricity.

You still see burkhas everywhere. And the most surprising thing for me was how quickly I got used to them. In many ways, Afghanistan is still in the Middle Ages. In fact, they use the Islamic calendar—which starts in our year 622 when Mohammed went to the holy city of Medina. So for them, the year is 1381—which seems about right to me.

But Afghanistan wasn't always like that. In the 1970s, Kabul was a modern, thriving city, complete with miniskirts. But following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, the U.S. saw no reason to stay engaged. The world forgot Afghanistan—and it became a haven for the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11.

So, the world has now learned the lesson. We will not again abandon Afghanistan. But to rebuild it, the U.S. needs the help of the U.N. We support the government of President Hamid Karzai, a man with tough tasks ahead: he must reform the judiciary and defense ministry, disarm renegade warlords who are stealing tax revenue that the central government desperately needs, hunt al-Qaeda remnants, and cope with poppy production that fuels the drug war.

For now, the international community has created ISAF—a coalition of countries currently led by Turkey to keep the peace in Afghanistan with its 5,000 troops. Another 7,000 U.S. troops continue the war against Al Qaeda and help to keep the peace throughout the country. Over time, the U.N. will most likely take over the peacekeeping mission. Keeping the peace and rebuilding Afghanistan is a monumental job. Again, the U.S. needs the U.N.

Lastly, let's look at the crisis in North Korea where the U.S. faces a real and growing threat. A bizarre, isolated leader, Kim Jong Il is following a decades-long tradition of using its nuclear weapons program to blackmail the international community into providing assistance to the failed state. This latest crisis was triggered last fall with the discovery of a secret uranium-based nuclear program. While North Korea was still abiding by the 1994 agreement freezing the plutonium-based nuclear program, the discovery of a major violation triggered an escalating crisis with Washington.

To date, the Bush administration has refused to negotiate with North Korea, preferring instead to refer the issue to the Security Council. Walking around the U.N. in recent days, I've been asking various ambassadors what they intend to do with the issue. "We are waiting for Washington to get a policy," is the universal response. While trying to push the crisis off until after the Iraq war, the administration will eventually have to negotiate a new deal, with tougher enforcement provisions for the international inspectors. It will rely on the U.N. to ensure North Korea does not threaten its neighbors or our troops in the region. This is the next crisis - so keep on eye on it in the coming weeks.

These four examples—Iraq, terrorism, Afghanistan, and North Korea—demonstrate that the U.N. is the hands-down best way to advance U.S. interests. We simply cannot be everywhere, and do everything, ourselves. We need the assistance of U.N. member states who are, in many cases, willing to commit troops and bear casualties in pursuit of objectives. We need the resources of the U.N. to help rebuild countries so they don't become centers of anarchy that might attract the next Bin Laden.

The U.N. is also an important vehicle for advancing social development goals around the globe. The U.N. has proven vital in the fight to eradicate polio and reduce the threat of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. And it is essential to the need to help keep the peace around the world and to improve the health of the impoverished worldwide. Such efforts will help the United States—and all countries—prevent terrorists from ever threatening us again.

So, while I'm an optimist, there are great dangers we face. And our leaders might make the wrong decisions. The all-powerful U.S. could overplay its hands. Today, there is a huge disparity between the power of the U.S. and that of the rest of the world. The shift is perhaps most profound between the U.S. and Europe. Since the end of the second world war, we have become a hyper-power, while the great powers of Europe have lost their empire.

Today, there is no reason the U.K. and France have a permanent seat on the Security Council and Germany and Japan do not. The fight with France at the U.N. over Iraq was partly about a disagreement over the threat from Iraq. But it was also about France seeking to assert its own relevance to the big issues of today. Similarly, while the U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair surely believes in the war, he knows that the U.K.'s relevance in the world today is primarily that of being the U.S.' closest ally.

The U.S. in the end will need to be very careful as it seeks to protect its interests in the post-9/11 world. Others have an interest in how we chose to meet those threats—and the U.S. has in interest in listening to their concerns. While the Bush administration has distanced itself from some U.N. efforts—notably the Kyoto effort and the International Criminal Court, in the end, it—or its successor—will come back to the U.N. on most things. So, despite the mess we face today, the U.S. can lead the world to a more normal, stable situation.

And it will take leadership from you all—the future leaders—to stay engaged and interested in international affairs, to realize these goals. Let me tell you a little about my own career and then take some questions. When I was your age, my life was much like yours. I was a normal college student, focused on sports, music, boys, and privileged to have a great education. Then, 13 years after graduation, I suddenly found myself jet-setting around the world on Air Force One, briefing the President in the Oval Office and then negotiating resolutions at the U.N. Security Council as a U.S. Ambassador. How did I do it?

First, follow your passion and take advantage of the opportunities a wonderful school like this affords. Listen to your heart, not what others think you should be. In my case, when I was young, I was convinced I wanted to be a marine biologist. And then, one day, I discovered that my real interest was international relations and politics. I was on a field trip to the United Nations, during my second year of graduate work at Georgetown, and happened to mention to one of my professors that I thought it would be fun to work for a presidential campaign. After all, I was in D.C. What else is there to do in D.C. but politics? Little did I know that that professor happened to have a few political connections and would some day be Secretary of State. It was Madeleine Albright. She found me a job on the Mondale campaign for president in 1984. He lost. But afterwards I found a job with Senator Ted Kennedy, handling his foreign policy. Years later, with a lot of hard work, I ended up at the White House and at the U.N., helping develop President Clinton's foreign policy. It has been a great ride. And anyone of you can do the same - whether in politics or another field of your dreams.

Let me close with a quote from Pearl Buck: "the young do not know enough to be prudent and, therefore, they attempt the impossible—and achieve it, generation after generation." So I encourage you all to follow your dreams. Your president Mark Gearan and I did it. And so can you.



“The Future of International Relations”

March 24, 2003