Former White House and UN official offers perspectives on global politics
By Steve Seepersaud
A former White House and United Nations official who transitioned from government to academia recently returned to the campus where his success story began. Eric Schwartz '79, dean of the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, gave a presentation Sept. 30, at Binghamton University's Watters Theater, focusing on the role of the United States and the international community in responding to crises, promoting peace and saving lives. The audience of nearly 75 included students, alumni, faculty and members of the local community. (Pictured above: Schwartz at podium, Prof. David Cingranelli in foreground)
From 1993 to 2001, Schwartz was Senior Director and Special Assistant to the President for Multilateral and Humanitarian Affairs. At the White House, he managed responses on international humanitarian, human rights and rule of law issues, as well as United Nations affairs. He later served as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Deputy Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery. And, prior to his arrival at the University of Minnesota, he was U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration.
Schwartz began his presentation by discussing U.S. and UN involvement in Somalia and Rwanda in the 1990s, describing how those crises impacted the development of humanitarian intervention policy and actions in places like the Balkans and East Timor. He defended the decision of the United Nations Security Council to intervene in Libya, and also addressed the situation in Syria, noting that "Syria now raises all the obvious questions about our responsibility to protect [civilians]." He called for stronger U.S. leadership in ending the violence and abuse of human rights.
In addition to the policy development on humanitarian intervention, Schwartz discussed U.S. overseas humanitarian assistance policy, and commended members of Congress for their support, noting that the U.S. provides nearly 40 percent of the world's humanitarian aid.
"They always gave us more than we asked for [and] our track record of providing humanitarian assistance is something that Americans can feel pretty proud of," he says.
But Schwartz added that, "in the refugee [and humanitarian aid] business, you operate with a deep understanding that you are dealing with the symptoms, the manifestations. And, there's little you can do, absent political action, to address the causes of refugee flight."
Finally, Schwartz addressed the question of changing power dynamics in world affairs, and the question of its impact on the organization of the United Nations Security Council. He suggested that the Council will have to reflect those changed dynamics, but noted that it was unclear how any Security Council expansion might evolve.
The event was co-sponsored by the Binghamton University Alumni Association, Dorm Room Diplomacy and the Department of Political Science. Benjamin Sheridan, a current student and vice president of Dorm Room Diplomacy International, gave opening remarks. The campus-based organization fosters intercultural dialogue between students in the United States, Middle East and North Africa.
David Cingranelli, professor of political science and Schwartz's former instructor and longtime friend, was the moderator for the question-and-answer session. Schwartz was also the featured speaker at the Binghamton University Forum breakfast held the following morning.
A video of the presentation at the Watters Theater will soon be posted to the Alumni Lifelong Learning section of Binghamton University's iTunesU site, available through the Apple store.