Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
New York, New York
October 11, 2023
Good evening, everyone, and thank you, Dean Gallagher. It really is a pleasure for me to be here with all of you tonight to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Fletcher, and I’m particularly pleased to be here with my longtime colleague, Ambassador David – Don. Sorry, David. [Laughter.] I’m looking at David now. But Don and I worked together for many, many years in the Africa Bureau in the State Department, so I was so pleased to hear that he was here with you.
I also love to be in programs with young people. It kind of makes me feel young, occasionally, and at this time in my life it’s kind of nice to feel young.
But seriously, Fletcher’s impact on the world has been profound across government and business and journalism, and even here at the United Nations. In fact, my team at U.S. Mission to the UN is full of proud Fletcher alums. Now we’re counting on the next generation of Fletcher graduates to take on today’s most pressing global challenges.
And there’s no shortage of global challenges. As I mentioned, when I arrived in New York in February of 2021, I got on a treadmill and I have not gotten off, and it’s almost three years. We’re dealing with issues from conflict and climate to hunger and to terror attacks.
And at the top, I would like to address the terrorist attacks Hamas has carried out in Israel. It’s hard to put into words. It’s sheer evil. It’s barbaric. And as President Biden said yesterday: “The brutality of Hamas, the bloodthirstiness, brings to mind the worst ravages of ISIS,” and that’s a quote from the President.
Hamas terrorists slaughtered more than a thousand innocent civilians, and at least 14 American citizens. And I think it was 14 when my speech was written, and I saw on the news today it had gone up to 20.
Hamas terrorists abducted children, they abducted Holocaust victims and grandparents in wheelchairs. And I have seared in my mind the elderly lady sitting in the car that I know all of us saw on TV, and she had this resolute, calm look on her face. Clearly, she knew what was in store for her, but she didn’t show any emotion other than strength and resolve.
And we know that American citizens are being held by Hamas as well. Our administration is working with our Israeli counterparts on every aspect of the hostage crisis, and we will continue to ensure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself and its people.
Today, I want to focus my remarks on a meaty topic, one that animates my work: How is the United States advancing our interests and addressing global challenges at the United Nations in an era of strategic competition? And I’ll be first to admit the United Nations is far from perfect, especially right now as the UN faces a threat from within. When a permanent member of the UN, of the Security Council, invaded a sovereign country – its neighbor – it really struck at the very heart of the UN’s Charter.
But it’s my firm conviction – and the conviction of the Biden administration – that the United States has a responsibility to defend the tenets of the United Nations and to galvanize collective action across the multilateral system.
As Ralph Bunche put it in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech: The UN “is the greatest peace organization ever dedicated to the salvation of mankind’s future on Earth.” “The greatest peace organization ever dedicated to the salvation of mankind’s future on Earth.” That’s truly profound. But that’s only true if America is in the driver’s seat, that we are leading the way.
I can teach an entire class at Fletcher about all the ways America is reasserting its leadership around the world and at the UN. I haven’t received that invite yet, Dean. [Laughter.] Could’ve gotten buried in my inbox. But I’m available if you need me. [Laughter.] But I’ve already volunteered to come to speak in Don’s class.
But let me make it much clearer. My team and this administration are directly taking on the Chinas and the Russias of the world – countries that are trying to rewrite the international system in their authoritarian image. On every issue that comes before the UN and the Security Council, we’re boldly standing up for human rights, standing up for democracy and freedom, standing up for women’s peace and security. We helped lead overwhelming votes in the General Assembly to condemn Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. We held a historic Security Council meeting on the human rights situation in North Korea. We continue to call out China’s atrocities in Xinjiang, and Syria, and Sudan, and elsewhere. We kicked Russia off the Human Rights Council, and just this week we voted to keep them off the Human Rights Council. And I could go on and on.
Now, none of this work is easy. We face serious resistance every step of the way, and especially because when the previous administration pulled back from the UN, China saw an opening and they leapt right in. In that time, China planted its ideological language in countless UN resolutions, which is why it’s critical that the United States is back and we’re exerting our leadership. We are re-engaging with our allies in the world, and we’re refusing to cede the UN to China’s worldview.
But as we lead with confidence, we must also lead with humility. And we must acknowledge that the multilateral system does not necessarily reflect today’s global realities. And that’s why the United States is leading on reform efforts to make our institutions more effective, inclusive, transparent, accountable, and fit for purpose.
Last year at the UN General Assembly, President Biden announced the United States would support new permanent seats in the Security Council for countries from Africa and Latin America. And at the same time, we committed to leading multilateral development bank evolution which would help advance progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.
I’ve talked a lot about our administration and what we’re doing as the United States to advance our interests and tackle global challenges. But now I’d like to shine the spotlight on you – you young people.
Because we’re counting on you as foreign policy experts to carry this work forward both inside and outside of government. We’re counting on your expertise, we’re counting on your advocacy, we’re counting on your leadership. And not just in the U.S. government, because I’ve heard in our conversation before walking in that we fill the ranks of so many foreign ministries around the world, including India, where I know you will be going one day.
And so, I encourage you to stay engaged with the United Nations, to stay engaged on multilateral and global issues, to push us to do more, to join the team – the multilateral team, the global team – as we fight to build international unity around the world, and to believe in the power – I encourage you to believe in the power of multilateralism to further peace and security around the world.
There are so many issues, so many conflicts, that we’re all working to address. If I started listing them all in front of you today, we would be here until tomorrow. But that just says how much – how much – we need your efforts, your work, your teachings to help prepare the next generation of young people who will take on these challenges.
Thank you all. And go Jumbo. [Laughter and applause.]