By Alyssa Futa
On February 27, students and faculty from Seton Hall University gathered together to listen to a lecture by Thomas R. Pickering, the former United States Ambassador to the United Nations under President Bush.
Mr. Pickering served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation, India, Israel, El Salvador, Nigeria, and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. He also served as Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Oceans, Environmental and Scientific Affairs, Executive Secretary of the Department of State, and Special Assistant to both former Secretaries of State Rogers and Kissinger. Mr. Pickering currently serves as a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and is an active member of numerous not-for-profit boards, according to the profile that was given to those attending the lecture.
Thomas Pickering first lectured on the topic of “UN: Friend or Foe?” and delivered a brief, yet thorough history of the United Nations. When addressing the flaws that are currently being discussed regarding the United Nations, Mr. Pickering pointed out that the UN is “98.7% the members” and “1.3% Secretary General,” meaning that when discussing the “foe” aspect, the United Nations needs to look introspectively in order to rectify flaws. He stressed the importance of moving away from the idea that conflict and problems can only be resolved through compromise. Instead, we need to embrace the idea that the parties involved can walk away with a win-win situation. While Mr. Pickering acknowledges that the UN is not a perfect institution, he states the value of nations being able to come together diplomatically.
The lecture quickly moved to a conversation with the School of Diplomacy’s Dean Andrea Bartoli. Sitting side-by-side, Dean Bartoli asked the first question of the night, inquiring about the Catholic Church’s unique approach to diplomacy in the past few years. Mr. Pickering discussed the Church as an institution, and commended its efforts in moving towards diplomatic approaches and opening doors to interfaith dialogue.
Mr. Pickering then moved to discuss his experience as an American diplomat. Though evident that he enjoyed his time in public service, Mr. Pickering acknowledged that there was incredible frustration when it came to resolving conflicts. His time in service included handling the U.S.’s involvement in Iraq, a problem that escalated quickly and violently. Mr. Pickering wrapped up this part of the discussion by stating, “Despite the fact that we make mistakes…the value of mistakes is learning from them and not sweeping [them] under the rug.”
At this time, students approached the microphone and asked questions. Noelle Sorich, a junior in the School of Diplomacy, asked how Mr. Pickering found balance between formality and coming up with revolutionary ideas while serving as Ambassador. Mr. Pickering answered by stating that formality is important in the beginning to establish mutual respect, and discussing past mistakes may be necessary to move forward. However, after these things come, the opportunities to develop changes.
Mr. Pickering showed incredible wisdom as students came one by one to ask their questions, including a student at the School of Diplomacy who conversed with Mr. Pickering in Swahili.
As Mr. Pickering left the Chancellor’s Suite with Dean Bartoli, he was asked what advice he had for the students at the School of Diplomacy as they move forward in their academic careers. To this he answered, “Judge your success on the basis of personal satisfaction, which shouldn’t be on the question of how much money you make, but how much good you can do.”