Esther Brimmer
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organization Affairs
Rome, Italy
June 21, 2010

(As Prepared Remarks)

Good evening. President Pavoncello and Professor Harris, thank you for that warm welcome. It is an honor to speak at John Cabot University’s Guarini Institute for Public Affairs. I want to thank Professor Argentieri, Director of the Guarini Institute, for this opportunity. It is heartening to be with so many students from around the world who are committed to studying international relations and are focused on the 21st century challenges we all face.

It is also great to be in Italy, a strong NATO ally and key partner of the United States for decades. We greatly appreciate our relationship with Italy, which is vibrant, multi-faceted and mutually beneficial.

When President Obama met with Italian President Napolitano last month, he conveyed our deepest appreciation for Italy’s contributions around the world “to promote peace and stability – including significant Italian deployments to Afghanistan, Lebanon, and the Balkans – as well as Italy’s hosting of 13,000 American service men and women and their families.”

It is timely that we are meeting here in Rome at John Cabot University, given that a little over a year ago President Obama delivered an historic speech to another group of students in Cairo, Egypt. In his speech, the President spoke about the commitment of the United States to a new beginning of engagement with Muslim communities around the world.

He also spoke eloquently about changing the dynamics of global relationships, not only with Muslims around the world but with the entirety of the international community. It was the President’s hope, less than five months after taking office, that the focus of American engagement would help lead to a greater international cooperation, enhancing the prospects for peace, justice and prosperity.

In Cairo, President Obama emphasized the importance of international cooperation and called for collective global action on difficult issues such as violent extremism, the pursuit of comprehensive peace in the Middle East, human rights, empowering women and girls, and democracy.

He said, “Words alone cannot meet the challenges of our people. These needs will only be met if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand the challenges we face are shared; and that our failures to meet will hurt us all.”

New Era of Engagement

One year later, the United States is firmly committed to a “new beginning”, articulated by President Obama in Cairo, and our overarching vision for broader U.S. multilateral engagement around the world.

Last month, President Obama released the United States National Security Strategy, which highlights our strong belief that we need sustained international cooperation in order to address 21st century global issues.

It is precisely a policy of broader and deeper engagement outlined in Cairo, and in the recently released National Security Strategy, that President Obama and this Administration have pursued over the last seventeen months -- that has renewed America’s global leadership and opened the door to new and enduring international partnerships.

Advocating a vision of a common security, on the basis of mutual respect, mutual interest, and mutual responsibility bolstered by investments in our common humanity, the United States has truly sought the "cooperative effort of the entire world."

We have also built new bridges, strengthened existing ties and have fully embraced the fact that we do not and cannot stand separate from the world, but rather are embedded in it – economically, politically, and culturally.

We know that the challenges we face today are more complex, require more effective international cooperation, greater burden sharing and demand a global response to global problems.

In an increasingly interconnected world, we are confronted with global challenges including: international networks of terrorists and criminals, global pandemics, food insecurity, cyber crime, climate change, ongoing conflicts, human rights, sustaining global growth and development, and the proliferation of weapons and technologies with enormous destructive power.

We know that the United States alone cannot address these global challenges without strong and capable international partners, such as the United Nations working together across an evolving multilateral system to address difficult problems.

As the Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, I work directly on many of these critical and pressing global issues, and I can tell you first-hand the importance of multilateral diplomacy, and particularly of working with the United Nations to meet these challenges.

I know for some, it is easy to criticize the United Nations; it's a big organization and one that is often messy and at times difficult to understand. But, as Secretary Clinton says, "If we didn't have the United Nations, we would have to invent one."

Secretary Clinton was right on the mark. Just for a moment, imagine if the United Nations did not exist. How would the world address the needs of millions of at risk families, women and children in conflict zones around the world, for example, in countries like Sudan or the Democratic Republic of Congo?

How would the international community manage and coordinate a global response to an outbreak of famine, a global pandemic such as the H1N1 flu or a catastrophic natural disaster – like we recently witnessed in Haiti?

President Franklin Roosevelt said, "The structure of world peace cannot be the work of one man, or one party, or one nation…. It cannot be a peace of large nations -- or of small nations. It must be a peace which rests on the cooperative effort of the whole world."

In the end, the United States supports the United Nations because we think it is an investment in the world's security, and therefore an investment in America's security, prosperity, and freedom.

Food Security

I want to touch briefly upon one of the most difficult challenges facing the U.S. and international community, and one of the issues I plan to address here in Rome: global food security.

As some of you may know, in 2009 the number of people suffering from chronic hunger topped one billion for the first time. That accounts for one sixth of the world's population. Annually, 3.5 million children die from lack of nutrition. This hunger crisis, exacerbated by the global financial crisis, has contributed to social, political, and economic instability around the globe.

Left unattended, the lack of food security can lead to violence and conflict and increased tension between nations. Since 2007, there have been riots over rising food prices in more than 60 countries. In developing nations, acute hunger cripples growth and progress, and fosters widespread poverty, impacting communities and millions of families – inhibiting children from going to school and adults from working.

At the G8 Summit in L’Aquila, Italy last year, President Obama spoke of the billion people worldwide who suffer from hunger, and said, "Wealthier nations have a moral obligation as well as a national security interest in providing assistance. We want to deliver that assistance in a manner that does not only temporarily alleviate hunger for some, but attacks the problems of hunger, poverty, and malnutrition at their roots, leading to sustainable and systemic progress on a broad scale.”

As part of Feed the Future, our new global hunger and food security initiative, the United States is working with a range of UN agencies to help achieve the hunger and poverty-related Millennium Development Goals. Through this initiative, the U.S. government is renewing our commitment to invest in sustainably reducing hunger and poverty.

As you may know, the key UN food security agencies are headquartered right here in Rome – the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Program (WFP), and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). These agencies are working with donors including governments, like the U.S. and Italy, the private sector and non-governmental organizations to create sustainable food systems globally.

These Rome-based multilateral organizations can play a key role in what must be a truly global effort if we are to combat hunger. With their convening authority and technical expertise, these multilateral organizations enhance food security by undertaking analysis and research and providing technical capacity, offering a global platform for communicating the best practices of the regional and local agricultural investment strategies, and of course, providing emergency assistance.

The United States is also the world’s largest emergency food aid donor, providing nearly half of all assistance internationally and nearly 40% of World Food Program’s total resources in 2009. Separately and in addition our emergency assistance, at L’Aquila the U.S. pledged at least $3.5 billion over three years to tackle the long-term, root causes of hunger.

The United States, along with international partners, are working hand-in-hand with the World Food Program and key stake holders to provide emergency assistance to those severely affected by rising food prices.

We are also working with the WFP to use its strong procurement footprint to encourage development of sustainable local and regional agricultural systems which can help boost local and regional food production.

We believe agriculture can be an engine for economic growth. In some developing countries, agriculture can account for more than one-third of total economic output and more than half of the total workforce. A reformed Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) can contribute to this economic growth potential through its expertise in knowledge management and policy advice for agricultural development. Likewise, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) will play a critical role in financing issues in agricultural and rural development.

As we seek to reduce hunger and provide food security, the US is focusing on women, who are pivotal to our efforts to achieve a food secure world. When you look at the statistics, in most developing countries, women produce between 60 and 80 percent of the food. Studies show that when gains in income are controlled by women, they are more likely to be spent on food and children’s needs. By investing more in women, we amplify benefits across families and generations.

Secretary of State Clinton in a recent speech highlighted the benefits of assisting women farmers in Kenya. She said, "In Kenya, women scientists who are developing bio-fortified crops are going to farmers – mostly women – helping them increase their harvest even in times of drought to be able to grow more nutritious food for their family, to increase their productivity, to have more at the marketplace."

Earlier I mentioned the 2009 L’Aquila G8 Summit. We believe this was an important turning point in international efforts to alleviate hunger and advance food security. At the summit, at the urging of the U.S., G8 leaders agreed to five key principles around which to organize an international response to the then acute, and still ongoing, food price crisis.

Four months later, during the World Summit on Food Security hosted by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), leaders and representatives from the FAO’s 193 member states agreed to a Summit declaration that endorsed the principles and strategy adopted at L’Aquila.

The principles, renamed the Rome Principles for Sustainable Global Food Security are:

  • Invest in country-owned plans that support results-based programs and partnerships;
  • Strengthen strategic coordination;
  • Ensure a comprehensive approach;
  • Leverage the benefits of multilateral institutions; and
  • Deliver on sustained and accountable commitments.

This endorsement, by essentially the entire international community of nations, provided important international recognition of these key principles, and set the course on an exciting new approach in the way the world will now address the challenges posed by food insecurity in a comprehensive and coordinated manner.

At the G8 at L’Aquila and the subsequent G20 meeting in Pittsburgh, twelve countries (the G8 plus Australia, Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden) collectively committed more than $22 billion over three years to promote sustainable agricultural development. This includes the commitment made by President Obama of at least $3.5 billion over three years.

In closing, I want to speak directly to the students at John Cabot University. When we look at the many the challenges facing the international community, I do not believe there is a more prepared generation to address those issues, and to make this world a better place to live in the 21st century, than yours.

Your generation is better educated and has unique talents and abilities shaped by the technological revolution, which continues to unfold. As the inventers, creators and proponents of social networking and internet activism, you are refueling and creating new forms and platforms for civic engagement and grassroots movements across the world.

From organizing fundraisers for important causes such as Haiti through Facebook, to Iranian youths’ Twitter revolution last June, to students across the globe using text messaging to organize political rallies, you are reshaping the world we live in.

To that end, I want to encourage you as students and future leaders to continue to focus on global engagement, meeting the challenges of tomorrow and to the betterment of the world.

I will end there. I want to again thank John Cabot University for this opportunity. I welcome the chance to hear your views and answer any questions. Thank you very much.