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Views from ambassador

Speaking at an event in London last week on the theme “Current US Perspectives on Security and Risk”, former US Ambassador Thomas Pickering asserted that military force is not always the best way of solving diplomatic problems. He said we have seen the beginnings of the undermining of diplomacy by the arguable failure of military force in Iraq and Afghanistan to make a real difference. A finding that emerges from these controversial engagements is that international security issues are becoming increasingly multilateral.

The event was hosted by The Ambassador Partnership, maritime security consultancy MAST and law firm Ince & Co and was attended by the public and private sectors including serving ambassadors, High Commissioners and political risk people, as well as members of the House of Lords.

Ambassador Pickering identified key international security issues that the U.S. and international community need to address. He also emphasised the importance of understanding the inter-related nature of issues such as energy, the environment and climate change and the role of ‘economic diplomacy’.

Ambassador Thomas Pickering said: “As ever, we need to learn the lessons from history. It’s clear that military force alone has not worked, which is why we are now seeing a concerted move towards economic diplomacy. Also, in a world where technology is playing a central role we can no longer address an issue in isolation as there will inevitably be unintended consequences affecting other issues elsewhere in the world. Finally, more effective multilateral diplomacy will be essential if we are to tackle the seemingly growing threats to security.”

Pickering highlighted issues which pose the greatest threat to international security:

1. Syria and the wider Middle-East – radicalisation and destabilisation in the region; misplaced hope in the Arab transformation and the difficulty posed by finding a negotiated compromise between Israel and Palestine as well as in Iran; growing uncertainty in Iraq; the situation in Afghanistan and the progress required to prevent Pakistan from slipping into a ‘black hole of politics.’

2. Economic crisis – the US and Europe are not free of the crisis which still poses a threat to financial stability. Pickering believes there should be greater co-operation between the G20 states and beyond and that real lessons from the past must be learnt.

3. China and others – rivals or partners – the West needs to be working more closely with China on energy and climate change questions – such win-win political strategies will also help with Russia, India, Japan and Brazil.

4. Weapons of Mass Destruction – progress has been made with Iran on non-proliferation but the situation in North Korea will be much harder to address without the support of China. This issue is vitally important to the stability of the region. We need to talk to China frankly about the future of the Korean peninsula.

5. Poverty – the burden of underdevelopment is undermining security through a range of issues including failing states, the movement of people, trade and narcotics. This is an area in need of multilateral partnerships.

6. Disfunctionality of national governments – we need greater co-ordination across government departments and among agencies at national, international and NGO level. The UN itself is in need of some reform, particularly with regard to membership and the use of the veto in the Security Council.

Phillip Cable, CEO of MAST, said: “At a time of growing uncertainty in countries and regions around the world it was interesting to hear Ambassador Pickering’s view that diplomacy rather than force alone will be the focal point for future dispute resolution. MAST is constantly assessing new and emerging global security risks and it was fascinating hearing such an eminent diplomat speak on this subject. Having served over four decades, Ambassador Pickering has incomparable insight into the changing face of global diplomacy.”

And Sir Stephen Brown, Co-Chairman of The Ambassador Partnership, said: “As former Ambassadors we appreciate the central role that diplomacy should play both in international relations and international commerce. We urge all political leaders to reach for their ambassadors before they reach for their generals.”

About Ambassador Thomas Pickering

Ambassador Thomas Pickering served more than four decades as a US diplomat. His final assignment was Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, the third highest post in the U.S. State Department. Pickering also served as US Ambassador to the United Nations, Russia, Nigeria, El Salvador, India, Israel and Jordan. He holds the rank of Career Ambassador, the highest rank in the US Foreign Service.


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