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Environment in the Foreign Policy Agenda
Address before the Ecology Law Quarterly Symposium on Environment and International Development on March 27, 1986. Ambassador Benedick is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Environment, Health, and Natural Resources.
Last week, at Georgetown University, I encountered an eminent statesman, Kenneth Rush, under whom I had served quite a few years ago, when I was a junior Foreign Service officer and he was U.S. Ambassador to Germany. He inevitably asked me what I was doing now, and when I told him, his face brightened with enthusiasm and interest. We both realized that when we were in Germany, my present position did not even exist in the State Department; environment was simply not on the foreign policy agenda. And this distinguished diplomat, the architect of the famous accord that finally guaranteed the freedom of West Berlin, clearly recognized the contemporary importance of environmental issues for U.S. foreign policy--and was delighted to learn that I was in the middle of them.
It is certainly true that this is not traditional diplomacy. Although, like Kenneth Rush, we negotiate treaties with foreign countries, we are not redrawing frontiers but, rather, are dealing with exports of hazardous chemicals or protection of wetlands. We go to the United Nations to argue not about border conflicts but about possible damage to the marine environment from ocean disposal of radioactive waste. And when the professional diplomats in this new field sit down at the negotiating table, we are flanked by a new breed of international lawyers, as well as by an imposing array of atmospheric physicists, zoologists, or molecular biologists. In the course of a week, my personal portfolio can range from the ocean depths to stratospheric ozone; from recombinant DNA [deoxyribouncleic acid] to African rhinos; from sewage treatment in Tijuana, Mexico, close to our border, to the impact of population resettlement on the tropical rainforests of the outer islands of Indonesia.
A New Dimension of Diplomacy
Why is it that such esoteric themes are now on the foreign policy agenda? To answer that question, let me share with you an impression from last year's meeting of the UN Environment Program's (UNEP) Governing Council in Nairobi. The highlight of this meeting was the joint appearance of an American astronaut and a Soviet cosmonaut to inaugurate a new UNEP program utilizing space technology to monitor global environmental trends. The audience-- which comprised seasoned UN and government officials from all over the world, international press, and Kenyan schoolchildren--was universally transfixed by the simplicity and sincerity of the message of the space voyagers. For both the American scientist and the Soviet Air Force major made vivid, for all of us in that hall, what is possibly the most inspiring and poignant image of our century: planet Earth as seen from outer space--this beautiful blue sphere, radiating life and light, alone and fragile in the still vastness of the cosmos. From this perspective, the maps of geopolitics and diplomacy vanish, and the underlying interconnectedness of all the components of this unique living system--animal, vegetable, mineral, water, air, climate-- becomes evident.
It is this sense of interdependence that has …