By Alexander James Powell
IN THE MIDST OF the recent 67th General Assembly meeting of the United Nations, NYU Wagner’s International Public Service Association (IPSA) invited Under Secretary of State Maria Otero to participate in a town hall discussion in the school’s Rudin Center. Otero, one of six Under Secretaries to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, deals mainly with civilian security, democracy and human rights worldwide and is currently most involved with Burma and the countries of the Arab Awakening. Her mission since becoming Under Secretary in 2009 has been to help governments protect their citizens by moving violence away from populated regions, support underrepresented groups, and facilitate transitional justice in countries experiencing major revisions to their governing bodies.
When the General Assembly of the UN meets, it is a truly busy time for the Under Secretary, mainly for the meetings and sessions outside the General Assembly. Over the past week Otero was able to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, the chairperson of National League for Democracy and opposition politician to the military rule that has dominated the government of Burma for decades. Otero also emphasized the impact that the informational discussion panel “Religion and Foreign Policy” had during the series of events. She mentioned that this meeting was filled beyond capacity; the topic has received increased attention since the assassination of her friend Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi. These panels and informal meetings, according to Otero, are where some of the most important interactions and discussions occur during the UN meetings.
A major concern for the Secretary of State and an obvious interest from the crowd was the issue of water security for poor nations. The role that Otero saw the U.S. government playing was ni mediating between nations that share a river as a border. These countries that are both part of the same river basin must work together to consider the long term impacts of water usage and releasing pollutants into the river. These issues are compounded in the situation of the ten countries that border the Nile River in Eastern Africa.
Finally Otero explained the Open Government Initiative, a program that encourages the transparency of nations’ budgets and operations for their citizens to oversee. The explanation of this effort begged a question from the audience as to the line between the U.S. government’s intervention with these international countries and the sovereignty they maintain. The Under Secretary’s response is summed up by the Presidential Study Directive 10:
“Our security is affected when masses of civilians are slaughtered, refugees flow across borders, and murderers wreak havoc on regional stability and livelihoods. America’s reputation suffers, and our ability to bring about change is constrained, when we are perceived as idle in the face of mass atrocities and genocide.”
The statement emphasizes that is the responsibility of the U.S. government to act against these atrocities but Otero also stated that they mainly focus on those nations that want to be helped. They work with like=minded leaders that recognize they have a problem and admit that they need help fixing it. For the rest of the nations they can only encourage action and advocate for those suffering.
The NYU Wagner special event was hosted by the International Public Service Association (IPSA) on September 29 and was professionally moderated by Wagner’s own Jessica Troiano.