February 7, 2007

U.N. Advisor Reflects On Int'l Politics

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“Even in 6 degrees, it’s wonderful!” exclaimed Gillian Sorensen, former United Nations assistant secretary-general and senior advisor at the United Nations Foundation in her first visit to Ithaca yesterday.

In her speech, “Issues for the New United Nations Secretary-General: An American Perspective,” Sorensen outlined the future U.N. plans, while chastising the U.S. for its dissidence toward the U.N. and for causing international harm because of the Iraq War.

Speaking from both an American and an international perspective, Sorensen discussed the recent election of Ban Ki-Moon, the U.N.’s new secretary-general. She also highlighted several of the U.N.’s current initiatives such as the eight Millennium Development Goals, which include eradicating extreme poverty, fighting gender inequality and supplying clean drinking water to impoverished nations.

“Two billion people live in the most extreme poverty,” she said. “We have the resources; the question is, ‘Do we have the political will?’”

Sorensen said that, in order for the U.N. to achieve its Millennium Goals, the U.S. needs to pay its U.N. dues in full and the press needs to “stop its habitual bashing of the U.N.”

However, she did admit to the lack of transparency in management at the U.N., responding that the organization is currently in the process of reforming these practices.

“Despite its flaws and weaknesses, I believe the U.N. has enormous strength and potential,” she said. “It’s an exciting time of change … We have a new ambassador from the U.S. and a new Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon.”

Sorensen said that there has been some reluctance to embrace these new changes because, “The U.S. has been pushing them the hardest and countries are worried that the changes only suit the big powers.”

She explained that many nations are hesitant to work with the U.S. because of the unilateral actions undertaken by the Bush administration.

“[Former U.N. Ambassador] John Bolton moved with an aggressive and commanding approach, which is not the way to win international friends. He almost derailed the process,” she said.

Sorensen attributed, in part, the unwillingness of many nations to trust the new changes to the inability of the U.S. to match its words to its deeds.

Speaking on the Iraq War, Sorensen said, “This war is America’s to bear; it is now perceived as a war against Islam … There will be ramifications for decades to come. There’s an incredible rift between the U.S. and the rest of the world, due largely to the Iraq War.”

Although Sorensen expressed her hopes for the future of the relationship between the U.S. and the U.N., some students thought her speech was too vague.

“I think what she’s trying to do is genuine,” said Julie Mao ’08. “But I didn’t hear a lot of policy work the U.N. could do.”

Sorensen’s speech was part of the Foreign Policy Distinguished Speaker Series sponsored by the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies.

“I think there are really important issues not being discussed enough, one of which is the role of the U.S. in the U.N.,” said Prof. Nicolas Van de Walle, international studies.

Sorensen’s work as senior advisor at the United Nations Foundation is her latest post in a long history of work with the organization.

From 1997 until 2003, Sorensen served the U.N. as the appointed assistant secretary-general for external relations. Prior to her work as assistant secretary-general, Sorensen was the New York City commissioner for the U.N. from 1978 to 1990.

Sorensen urged college students to gain international experience and knowledge by participating in activities that expose them to foreign cultures.

She specifically mentioned the Peace Corps, a program that appeals to many Cornell graduates. Sorensen believes these programs increase global awareness.

“I’m a huge supporter of programs like the Peace Corps,” she said.

She ended her speech with a call to action for Cornell students. “You have to vote, right letters to Congress and keep informed of international issues,” she said.