By Eva Rian, International News Writer
On February 27th, 2018, the School of Diplomacy and International Relations here at Seton Hall had the pleasure of hosting Ambassador Thomas Pickering, one of the most esteemed diplomats in the Foreign Service and arguably all of the United States. Fluency in French, Arabic, Spanish, Swahili, and Hebrew are just among several accomplishments to his name. With over four decades of experience, spanning chief diplomatic positions in Russia, India, El Salvador, Israel, Nigeria, and Jordan as well as four years of experience as Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Pickering possesses a unique viewpoint on the United Nations’ relationship with the United States. His feat in coordinating the UN Security Council’s response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait is arguably one of the best examples of his ability in this area.
In his lecture, aptly titled “The United Nations and the United States: Friend or Foe?,” he expounded on his mentality, noting that the relationship between the two has recently come to be viewed as more contentious than ever. Given increasing skepticism of the UN’s efficiency and President Trump’s recent push to cut US contributions to the multilateral institution, the overall attitude of the nation has shifted in favor of protecting national sovereignty over any perceived global commitments.
Pickering outlined several common arguments often used to justify distrust of the United Nations and its ability to handle pressing world issues. One of the most notable claims has to do with the architecture of the Security Council which, with its sole five permanent members, is often depicted as too closed off to a developing global community. However, Pickering noted making the Security Council unnecessarily large would expose the handling of sensitive issues to the public and impede the Council’s ability to take any decisive action, illustrating his point with the example of genocide: “No defender of genocide should have a right to veto.” According to Ambassador Pickering, substantial reform of the UN Security Council would have to focus on the two primary issues of membership or internal organizations above all. Possible reform that could increase participating would involve more regular reports, in which there ideally wouldn’t be explicit reference to which countries raised specific concerns or what positions certain members held. Furthermore, he noted, it could also be more beneficial if the current Secretary General of the UN, António Guterres, could participate in more of the Security Council meetings than many of his predecessors were able to, given various pressing time commitments.
During the lecture, the atmosphere was very relaxed, with Dean Bartoli and Ambassador “Tom” Pickering conversing in an easy camaraderie before the latter made his opening remarks. A discussion session with the audience followed, as numerous questions were posed regarding the ambassador’s extensive knowledge of conflict and diplomacy and what role America should take on in war scenarios, given the nation’s relatively large influence and power. Pickering emphasized the need to handle hard-lines and protocol with moderation, addressing the former with firmness and understanding as well as always seeking creative solutions. Protocol should not become a “deceptive tool,” according to him – rather, negotiators must strive to listen more than they speak in order to seek mutually beneficial solutions. In the current global situation, that involves carefully monitoring the power shifts in the international community – from China’s rise to Russia’s ambition – as well as being cautious of the ease with which America has defaulted to use of force in the past, sometimes to its detriment.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, March 20th print edition.
Contact Eva at