Amb. Louise Oliver discusses her experiences at UNESCO

February 3, 2010  |  ARTICLES

JL Oliver 1 2Feb2010In the first of a series of lectures at IWP on multilateral organizations, Ambassador Louise Oliver discussed her experiences as the official U.S. representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization on Tuesday, February 2, 2010. 

While introducing Ambassador Oliver, IWP President John Lenczowski explained his own appreciation of the difficulties of securing U.S. interests in multilateral situations after his involvement with international broadcasting and international telecommunications.  He commented: “The whole idea of this series is very much in sync with the general mission of the Institute, which is to study the various arts of statecraft.”  

He also described Amb. Oliver’s distinguished background, which includes numerous appointments in government and the private sector.  In addition to her five-year tour as ambassador to UNESCO – which shortly followed the return of the United States to membership in the organization after a twenty-year hiatus – she has served as Chairman of the Board of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and the Philanthropy Roundtable.

Amb. Oliver began her talk by describing the recent history of American involvement with UNESCO, in particular explaining the reasons for the U.S. withdrawal from the organization in 1983 and its subsequent return in 2003.

Before she left the U.S., a State Department official told her, “I hope you don’t get bored at UNESCO!”  When she arrived in Paris, Ambassador Oliver realized that she would be far from bored – the United States faced many challenges within the organization upon its return.  For example, although the U.S. provides a significant part of UNESCO’s budget, it has the same vote as all the other member nations, and enjoys no veto power, as it does at the UN Security Council. 

Ambassador Oliver quickly learned how to be successful in promoting U.S. interests in this multilateral arena.  She described some critical elements of this type of diplomacy , including common sense, courtesy, the development of personal relationships, knowledge of the history and cultures of member nations, and an understanding of how the organization operates.   Thanks to these efforts, the U.S, was in a position of leadership at UNESCO by 2007.

Amb. Oliver concluded by expressing her hope that any IWP students who go on to work at UNESCO will not only use multilateral diplomacy to promote U.S. interests, but to promote peace - one of the major goals of the organization as a whole. 

She proceeded to answer a host of questions from the audience, which ranged from inquiries about the relationship of UNESCO and its U.S. Ambassador to U.S. agencies, and the role of UNESCO in culture as it concerns the origins of terrorism, to UNESCO’s role in rebuilding after natural disasters like the earthquake in Haiti. 

The next lecture in the series on multilateral diplomacy will take place on Wednesday, February 24, and will feature Ambassador David Gross.  The topic will be: "How Effective Multilateral Diplomacy can save the Internet and the World."

Amb Oliver and IWP intern

(At left: Ambassador Oliver confers with IWP intern Munazza Shums after the lecture.)