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Diplomacy in Action

Remarks at the Johns Hopkins University Model UN Conference

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Baltimore, MD
March 4, 2010


As prepared

Good evening. I’m very happy to be here today to welcome you and be part of this Model UN. Many difficult issues face us in the world today, but this gathering of enthusiastic and committed young people – ready to take on these problems and look for solutions – is heartening. I commend you for your participation here today and for your interest in making the world a better and safer place.

I’d like to thank the Secretaries-General, Helen Goldberg and James Byun, for organizing this event, in addition to the many student volunteers at Johns Hopkins who made this possible. I also want to acknowledge my fellow speaker, Ambassador Gonzalo Alfonso Gutiérrez Reinel, the Peruvian Permanent Representative to the United Nations, who will give you the international perspective.

Date: 03/04/2010 Description: Assistant Secretary Blake at Model UN. - State Dept Image









Assistant Secretary Blake provided a keynote speech to over 950 high school students at the Johns Hopkins University Model United Nations Conference on March 4, 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland. Ambassador Gonzalo Guitierrez of Peru also participated with a keynote speech.

I thought all of you might be interested to learn a little about the U.S. relationship to the UN. President Obama’s administration places great emphasis on the need for all nations to work together to confront the common challenges of the 21st century and sees the UN as an important part of that goal. The President re-elevated the position of the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations to cabinet level (as it was during the Clinton administration), signifying the importance international cooperation holds for this administration and U.S. foreign policy goals.

Secretary Clinton has talked a lot about smart power. What she means is that we must depend not just on our military strength, but on our diplomatic outreach, people-to-people engagement, and a wide array of cooperative efforts that reflect the best of American society. Here at the Model UN, you will have the opportunity to find out where our national interests converge with foreign interests. I hope that you will use that as a foundation to work toward global peace, stability, and prosperity for future generations.

Since I have responsibility for U.S. policy in South and Central Asia, I thought I would give you a taste of how we think about this diverse region, and how we work with the UN to further many of our goals.

My bureau has four main priorities:

  • working with India and Central Asian countries to support U.S. efforts in Afghanistan;
  • advancing the U.S.- India partnership;
  • increasing our engagement with Central Asia; and
  • supporting the advancement of peace, democracy, economic stability, and sustainable growth across the region.
As we consider how the U.S. can accomplish these objectives, we keep in mind the important role that the UN can play, particularly in South Asia.

In Afghanistan, for example, the UN plays a prominent role in supporting our efforts towards a stable and secure Afghanistan, which in turn enhances peace throughout the wider region – and the security of the U.S.

The UN plays a helpful and necessary role in nearly every aspect of our operations, particularly as we strive to build a functioning, efficient, and responsive democracy. For instance, the UN had an indispensable role in the presidential elections late last year.


India, too, understands the importance of the United Nations. Soon to be the world’s most populous country, India already boasts a trillion-dollar-plus economy and is a growing world power. This past July, Secretary Clinton visited India and launched a Strategic Dialogue, which called for increased collaboration in nearly every field, from developing renewable energy technology to fighting extremism.

We think that India has a significant role to play on virtually all of the major challenges that we face in this century, from global economic dislocation to energy security, climate change, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and violent extremism.

Given India’s history as a leading non-aligned movement nation, we have sometimes been at odds in the United Nations and India has opposed UN involvement on sensitive matters such as Kashmir. Nonetheless, with our national interests converging, we hope to find more common ground with India in the coming years. Moreover, India is one of several countries seeking a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, underlining the importance it attaches to the United Nations.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka held its first nationwide election in January after decades of civil war. We hope now that the Sri Lankan government will take this opportunity to work toward achieving a lasting and inclusive peace with outreach to and the participation of all of Sri Lanka’s communities.

I have also worked closely with my UN counterparts to alleviate the hardships of internally displaced persons in the country. U.S. food assistance, for example, is distributed entirely through the World Food Program, and we continue to fund organizations such as UNICEF, UNDP, and many others, to help meet important goals of reconciliation, development, and reconstruction.


Bangladesh, a country with which the US has a growing partnership, is particularly notable for contributing the second-highest number of troops to UN peacekeeping missions. In fact, of the six countries that contribute more than 5,000 police and military personnel to UN peacekeeping operations, four of those reside in South Asia: Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal. They have played a critical role in, for example, helping Haiti recover from the earthquake.


Since 2006 in Nepal, we have seen the end of the monarchy and the inauguration of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, which put an end to a decade of Maoist insurgency. The UN Mission in Nepal has played an important role in monitoring the peaceful resolution of the Maoist insurgency, as well as in providing technical support for Nepal’s 2008 Constituent Assembly elections. As the political parties negotiate a new constitution, which carries a May deadline for completion, the UN continues to play a positive and active role in encouraging further progress in Nepal.

Central Asia

The five countries of Central Asia reached consensus in 2007 to establish the UN Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy in Central Asia, which seeks to address the threats that the region faces from terrorism, narcotics trafficking, organized crime, and environmental degradation. The Center, based in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, has done an excellent job mitigating potential conflict within the region, and coordinating better responses to those threats.

Before concluding, I would be remiss if I did not encourage all of you budding diplomats to consider a career in the State Department representing our country. Every day of my 25 year career has been rewarding and provided an opportunity to make a difference. State Department officers the world over are working to protect Americans overseas, help American business gain new export and investment opportunities overseas, and so much more to advance America’s interests abroad. I encourage you to consider summer internships while in college and to visit our website to read more about careers as future diplomats.

As all of you begin your deliberations, remember that although the Model UN tends to highlight the difficult, at times headache-inducing, negotiations that inform UN activities, the end result usually helps us move closer to a collaborative, global community.

To quote President Obama’s speech at the 2009 UN General Assembly, “Now it falls to us – for this institution will be what we make of it. The United Nations does extraordinary good around the world – feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, mending places that have been broken. But it also struggles to enforce its will, and to live up to the ideals of its founding. Those imperfections are not a reason to walk away from this institution – they are a calling to redouble our efforts.”

So I challenge each of you throughout this conference: despite the multitude of grievances that drive countries apart, try to find common ground. Help advance the interests of the people, on both sides, that we serve. Thank you.

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