Dr. Esther Brimmer on Promoting Multilateralism

On Monday, June 21st 2010, the Guarini Institute had the honor of hosting Dr. Esther Brimmer, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations, who outlined the global challenges the world is facing and the how a coordinated effort of all countries may help tackle them.

Dr. Brimmer was nominated, by President Obama, to the position of Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations on March 11, 2009. She leads the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, which strives to advance U.S. foreign policy goals and interests through international organizations in areas including; human rights, peacekeeping, food security, humanitarian relief, and climate change.

Dr. Esther Brimmer

Dr. Esther Brimmer

Dr. Brimmer opened by thanking the president, faculty and students of John Cabot University for hosting her and for their warm welcome. She stated that it was, “amazing to see such a wide array of students dedicated to the study of international affairs and the challenges which we face today.” Dr. Brimmer’s presentation focused on multilateralism and food security. She began by discussing the strong partnership between the United States and Italy. Italy is a “great ally” and an important partner in NATO.

Dr. Brimmer then discussed her role as Assistant Secretary and commented that “today’s leaders have to deal with the changing dynamics of global relationships, the ever growing importance of multilateral engagement, and the need to invest in a common community.” Dr. Brimmer added that, “partnerships are a key part of the U.S. national security as well as a key part of improving global security as a whole because “greater challenges” lead to a need for “greater cooperation.” In such a complex international panorama, it is essential to strengthen the existing ties between partner countries, in order to undertake global challenges such as international networks of terrorism, pandemics, climate change, sustainable growth and development, cybercrime, and food security.

The focus of Obama’s administration is, indeed, to enhance global commitment, and to foster peace, justice, and prosperity. Dr. Brimmer described her own position as overseeing the Unites States’ interaction with international organizations- most importantly the United Nations.

Dr. Brimmer specifically discussed global food security issues, which are the focus during her trip in Rome. She reiterated the fact that one billion people in the world suffer from chronic hunger, which has been exacerbated by the recent financial crisis. The U.S. is working together with the UN, to offer a global platform for sharing the expertise and knowledge about food production and how to deliver substantial aid. She emphasized the importance of addressing hunger and food security as the hunger crisis, “contributes to social, political, and economic instability, crippling growth and progress.” She outlined the Obama administration’s “Feed the Future” initiative which aims to alleviate hunger and poverty as related to the Millennium Development Goals. She highlighted that a focus on women is key to achieving food security because they produce 60% to 80% of food in developing countries and because studies have shown that aid given to women has a higher effect on improving the lives of whole families.

Dr. Brimmer concluded her speech with an enthusiastic address to the students. She encouraged them to use their education and to continue their commitment to improving global challenges and re-shaping the world through modern systems of communication, diplomacy, and fundraising.

Dr. Brimmer participated in a lively question and answer session with students and faculty. Dean Merva, of John Cabot University, asked if the price of oil can distort not only food production possibilities but also distribution. Dr. Brimmer commented that food insecurity and hunger are not isolated from other global causes of food shortages, oil prices are certainly related. The link has been seen and is being addressed in a holistic manner. We are trying to improve energy policies, create more green jobs and boost local productions so that transport does not have to be so important in the distribution of food and food aid.

A student asked about Dr. Brimmer’s view on climate change and how the government can push international change if they are not enforcing new polices at home. Dr. Brimmer discussed that the U.S is making a difference at home. This is illustrated in the economic recovery package, established by the Obama administration, which included almost $80 million to create green jobs and to invest in new technology to undertake a long-term change that will have the minimum impact on the environment.

Another student asked how the U.S. is going to deal with the BP oil spill and whether the IO is asking for international assistance. Dr. Brimmer’s commented on the efforts that President Obama and the Bureau for Ocean Environment and Science are making in coping with this environmental disaster. The US has formally accepted aid from numerous countries already, including Canada. Dr. Brimmer further added that the U.S. is very appreciative for the support that it has received from the international community. When asked about the international efforts of the UN and the US in Gaza, Dr. Brimmer commented that the US and UN efforts are streamlined. The U.S. along with its partners shares the goal of reaching a “peaceful solution” between Israel and Gaza.

Regarding questions concerning the alleviation of starvation and hunger, Dr. Brimmer discussed the Obama administration’s “Feed the Future” initiative. The initiative strives to accelerate progress towards achieving food security in partnership with other donors and leaders—global and local, public and private— and requires a shift in the global community response. She replied that the World Food Program is promoting local products and striving to cooperate with each country in order to safeguard the success of the program.

Dr. Brimmer commented that, “while there is still much to be done in achieving food security, we must look at the advances that have been made. Although the number of hungry has increased, because of the food and financial crises, there has been great progress in bringing clean water and nutrition to dozens of places in the world that did not have them before. As far as the U.S. agricultural policy is concerned, the U.S. must address the issue of subsidies with a more holistic approach encompassing domestic agricultural issues.

Obama’s administration is facing tough challenges, but it is also serving as a catalyst for change in the fields of climate change, health, security, and diplomacy, through multilateralism and cooperation.