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Ambassador Thomas Pickering discusses the future of the United Nations

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Ambassador Thomas Pickering spoke about the future of the United Nations at SIS in April 2016.

Ambassador Thomas Pickering returned to the School of International Service (SIS) on Wednesday, April 13, to discuss “Envisioning the Future of the United Nations.” This was the final event in a three-part series of foreign policy conversations featuring the ambassador.

Throughout the discussion, Ambassador Pickering stressed the importance of the UN and the role of the United States within the system.

“For my money, whatever it is we [the United States] pay for the UN and to the specialized agencies, it’s an investment and we’ll take it. Because we, as a great trading power and a great world leader, we benefit as much from the harmony and the organization and the structure and the good work as anybody else does,” said Pickering.

But, he also acknowledged that the UN cannot take on the responsibilities of its member states.

“We have a verbal problem when we say and believe that the UN is some godly, ordained, just authority that will act out of the heavens to make everything right. A kind of three-year-old’s version of Santa Claus,” Pickering quipped. “The UN is us. And we [the U.S.] play a huge role in it, so if we don’t like it, the first question is for us to look in the mirror and see what we are doing and how we are conducting ourselves. The United Nations is many things. It is peace and security in a central way, and that attracts a great deal of attention.”

Also attracting public attention is the UN’s upcoming election for its next UN Secretary-General, noted for being a more transparent process than in the past. Who does Ambassador Pickering think would succeed Ban Ki-moon?

“I expect it will be a woman and should be,” Pickering declared. “I also think that the selection of a strong woman would make it harder for states to push her around. Women in some ways do bring different approaches and answers to problems, and it’s time to take another look. We haven’t done so well with men over the years, with rare exceptions,” he said, smiling.

Some commentators also speculate that the next UN Secretary-General will come from the Eastern European Group, since that region has never produced a Secretary-General. However, the ambassador dismissed that assumption.

“The notion that a region that died in its coherence with the Warsaw Pact should now emerge, phoenix-like, from the ashes of the Cold War to justify a claim on the Secretary Generalship is more than a little doubtful. I think it is an effort, perhaps somewhat less than legitimately, to narrow down the field to the smallest of all possible fields and give us the least of all possible chances to seek somebody on a very broad basis that might be a better leader of the world organization.”

A question and answer question session followed, allowing students the opportunity to ask the ambassador questions about peacekeeping forces, the rise of non-state actors, and other critical issues worldwide.

About the series:

When Ambassador Pickering last visited SIS on March 25, he discussed the critical challenges facing the United States’ foreign policy in the Middle East. Pickering examined ways to manage relations with an increasingly assertive Russia amid economic and political strife during the first visit of his series on March 1.

Pickering holds the personal rank of Career Ambassador, the highest in the United States Foreign Service. In a diplomatic career spanning five decades, Pickering was U.S. ambassador to the Russian Federation, India, Israel, El Salvador, Nigeria, and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. From 1989 to 1992, he was Ambassador and Representative to the United Nations in New York.

Read about Ambassador Pickering's previous discussions at SIS: “Confronting Challenges Across a Turbulent Middle East” and "Managing Relations with an Increasingly Assertive Russia.”

Learn more about upcoming events at SIS.