Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at the Annual Briefing of the Diplomatic Security Overseas Security Advisory Council

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
Washington, D.C.
November 15, 2022


Good morning OSAC. I can’t really see you all. I assume you can see me. I just see a lot of heads. So, if I don’t recognize you, forgive me.

Let me start by thanking Assistant-Secretary Gentry Smith, for that introduction. I also want to thank Ellen Tanner for inviting me to this event. I’m really, really honored to join you all for the Overseas Security Advisory Council’s 2022 Annual Briefing. And I just heard that you didn’t have one in the past two years, so it’s really great to be back together again.

When this organization was founded, its first intended purpose was to expand the circle of information to address terrorist threats. Since 1985, of course, so much has changed. The terrorist threat itself has changed and continues to evolve to this day. The international community has made great strides in detecting and disrupting terrorist attacks. But we still face a terrorist threat landscape that is increasingly dynamic, fluid, and complex. Terrorist groups are more ideologically diverse and geographically diffuse than ever.

So, to effectively counter terrorism, including racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism, we must constantly adapt. We must employ a broad range of tools and we must stand united as partners, as allies, across governments and organizations. That especially makes groups like OSAC as important as ever. But beyond terrorism, the definition and scope of security has expanded too.

I see this first-hand from my vantage point on the Security Council. The UN Security Council is the world’s premier body for maintaining international peace and security. So, we are often faced with the question of what exactly constitutes a threat to our collective security. As the world has changed and become more interconnected, so too has our security. And the truth is the greatest threats that we face today, from COVID-19 to climate change to conflicts around the world, are all global. That has meant expanding our traditional notions of security.

Take, for example in the issue of climate change. It doesn’t matter where you live, climate change is a challenge for every person, in every nation, and on every single continent. Of course, the world’s least developed countries tend to face the most exorbitant cost. But it’s a challenge we all share. And it is relevant to us in the Security Council specifically because the threat isn’t just to our climates, but it’s to our collective security. The Pentagon has designated climate change as a national security threat and a threat multiplier. That’s because unpredictable and extreme weather make vital resources like food and water even more scarce in impoverished regions. And as we all know, scarcity spurs desperation. And desperation leads to violence.

What’s more, at its current pace, the climate crisis is set to drive millions from their homes, propelling mass migration that will undermine peace and stability around the world. Worst of all, so many of the world’s most fragile states and regions are the very same ones that are the most vulnerable to climate calamities. The good news is we can build resilience, we can stave off security threats, and even generate economic opportunity, if we work together and deploy every possible resource toward this effort.

That is what President Biden did when he signed the Inflation Reduction Act, which is the single most aggressive action in our history to confront the climate crisis. The IRA will help the entire country transition to a clean economy. And it will galvanize other countries to accelerate their own actions in climate.

You’ve seen us do this work multilaterally, too. In addition to rejoining the Paris Agreement, just last year, we joined UN’s Group of Friends on Climate and Security, which aims to integrate the climate-security nexus throughout our work in the United Nations. And just last week, President Biden, Special Envoy Kerry, and many other administration officials represented us at COP27, raising ambitions and rallying the world toward addressing this crisis. Simply put, we’re putting climate change at the center of our foreign policy.

We have a military strategy, we have an intelligence strategy, and a diplomatic strategy. And through groups like OSAC, we hope to have a public-private partnership strategy, too. One where we stay closely coordinated on mitigating climate change and linked-up on climate security challenges as they inevitably arise.

Two other examples of our expanding definition of security comes to mind: the use and regulation of emerging technologies and the global hunger crisis. Both were features of our presidency of the Security Council last May. So, every month we rotate the presidency of the Security Council. The president helps set the agenda and has the ability to host a couple of his own or her own, as in my case, “signature events” on the Security Council’s agenda. We chose two subjects: emerging technology and global hunger. Because we feel that they are new, potent security threats that the global community needs to take on.

The first, on technology, is both an enormous opportunity, but it’s also a pressing challenge. And I need not tell any of you that. The opportunity is for the global community to harness the power of digital technology to advance peace and security, to responsibly – responsibly – use the tools to do enormous good in the very conflicts and contexts where they are doing harm.

Of course, private enterprise has a powerful role to play in that. You are the ones developing the technologies that have immense potential to support the good work of the UN system around the world.

Social media tools and messaging applications can, for example, facilitate access to lifesaving information prior to and during conflicts. Data from satellites can identify risks from climate change, provide critical information to peacekeepers, and improve emergency communications during conflict and natural disasters. We can identify and stop famines before they start. We can find homes and houses and jobs for refugees. We can better protect our peacekeepers and those who are mandated to serve.

At the same time, these digital technologies can be misused. They can be abused to restrict human rights and fuel conflict. In the hands of state actors, and in some cases non-state actors, these technologies are being used to cut off access to information, suppress freedom of expression, and spread disinformation, thereby escalating conflict.

Just look at the rampant Russian disinformation operation, or how the regimes in Burma or Iran have attempted to squelch public outcry against human rights violations. Or how in Ethiopia, authorities have cut off internet in the northern region as conflict erupted between the Ethiopian Defense Forces and the regional forces in Tigray.

These are threats to civilians, of course. And they are also threats to the business environment. They disrupt financial services; they restrict family members from connecting virtually to loved ones. And that is why the United States is working with civil society, we’re working with the private sector, other stakeholders to ensure technologies serve as a force for positive change, and not as a tool misused to perpetrate human rights abuses, fuel hatred, and exacerbate conflict.

We need your help in that front, especially as we work through the United Nations and other fora to champion the framework of responsible state behavior in cyberspace.

Finally, during our Security Council presidencies thus far, we held signature events on the global hunger crisis which has evolved into the worst, and I say that again, it has evolved into the worst food security crisis any of us have ever seen. According to the World Food Program, over 828 million people will go to bed hungry tonight – 828 million people. The reasons are myriad. COVID, of course, has strained supply lines. Energy costs have made it more expensive to produce and ship food. Rising temperatures and severe droughts have destroyed crops and left fields fallow. And importantly, for us today, in many conflicts around the world, food is intentionally blocked or destroyed, and dictators are using starvation as a weapon of war.

We see this no more acutely than with Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Before the war, Russia and Ukraine accounted for almost a quarter of global grain exports. But now, Ukraine’s rolling wheat fields have become battle fields. This doesn’t just severely impact Ukraine. It severely impacts all of us. It matters because we are a moral nation. We care if the world is starving. It matters because it affects us economically; food security is directly linked to economic growth. And it matters because food insecurity leads us to a political and social instability in countries that are impacted. That endangers us all.

The crisis is particularly hitting Africa hard, where I know many of you operate. That was, in part, why I traveled to Ghana earlier this year, where I made a keynote speech on how African countries can become their own breadbaskets, so that they don’t have to rely on foreign markets to combat starvation. And it’s why in part, when I was in Ukraine just last week, I had visited a grain silo and saw first-hand the destruction of Russia’s forces that they have wrought on so much of Ukraine’s agricultural infrastructure. They have spoiled fields, they’ve bombed grain silos, they have literally stolen tractors as well as grain. These are not only horrific attacks on civilian infrastructure; they are attacks on the world’s food supply.

This extensive sabotage campaign has made matters worse for countries like Ethiopia and South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen; all of whom are facing famine. And starvation and acute malnutrition are taking countless countries by storm. So, I had productive discussions on this very topic with the Ukraine Minister of Infrastructure, who is in charge of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, as well as President Zelenskyy. With both of them, I emphasized the importance of renewing this initiative for all of our collective security.

On all these security issues, terrorism and climate change, emerging technologies and global hunger, and so many more that I didn’t even get to today, we need your help today more than ever before. We need your partnership. Whether it’s using encrypted channels to coordinate crisis planning after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine; providing briefings to NGOs and private sector leaders on the urgent security threats on the ground; or working to deliver lifesaving materials, supplies, and information to the people who need it most. We rely on your partnership to address the world’s evolving security threats. And as we have for four decades, we will continue to rely on your partnership as the security landscape evolves and expands.

Let me end by saying how thankful I am for that partnership, and how much I look forward from my vantage point at the United Nations and on the President’s Cabinet, to working with you, to build on the bonds that we have established, and doing this vitally important work together, in the months and years to come. I cannot tell you how much we have appreciated the partnerships that we have developed with you, and we know that we cannot do the essential work of peace and security without the support of your members.

Thank you very much.