Diplomacy Must Adapt to Changing Society, Women Ambassadors Say

Leaders Meet for 13th Year at Conference

The vital roles that diplomacy, policy and international law play in world relations was the focus of the Women Ambassadors Conference this week. Celebrating its 13th year, the day-long conference included female ambassadors to the United States from an extensive cross-section of countries. Panelists included the ambassadors of Angola, Trinidad and Tobago, Malaysia, Bulgaria and Kyrgyzstan. “It’s hard to believe we’ve been doing this for 13 years,” said Ambassador Horace Dawson, who was happily outnumbered by his female counterparts. Dawson, director of the Ralph Bunche International Affairs Center, offered opening remarks at the plenary ceremony of the “Diplomacy, Major Treaties, Major Conflicts and the U.S. 2008 Presidential Election” held in the Howard University Blackburn Center’s West Ballroom. The conference was hosted by the Howard University’s Bunche Center as well as a number of departments, namely Modern Languages and Literatures, African Studies and Political Science. Other sponsors included the Women Ambassadors Foundation and the office of Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson.

At the opening ceremony, students greeted the ambassadors in various languages, adding to the warmth of the conference and impressing attendees.

Eva Nowotny, the ambassador to the United States from Austria, set the stage for the conference in her introductory remarks at the plenary on Tuesday morning.

“The super-nationality of law is a concept which the United States finds hard to grasp,” said Nowotny, who has been a part of the conference for the last five years. “There is a higher judicate that governs your country’s law.”

“We live in a society that is not constant; diplomacy has to adapt to this changing society,” she explained. “This is what we are here to address today.”

Many would argue there are none more qualified to discuss international policy, law and change than female ambassadors to the super power of the Western world.

“In my view, all issues are women’s issues,” said Aurelia Brazeal, former U.S. Ambassador to Kenya and Ethiopia. Brazeal has been the U.S. Department of State Senior Advisor to Howard University for the last three years.

“Men ambassadors have come in the past, so they’re not excluded,” Brazeal explained. “But I think that this is the forum that gives women ambassadors a chance to come together to find areas of mutual agreement or cooperate on.”

Although the conference did not center only on the U.S. presidential elections, much talk inevitably sparked because of its proximity. Nowotny did not comment extensively on the elections, but did relate the ongoing race to the ideas of diplomacy and internationality. “I am regretful that foreign policy plays such a little role in the candidates’ platforms,” she said.

Nowotny commented that presidential hopefuls must recognize the importance of international policy and affairs, but are not doing so at this time. “What is lacking is vision of a global perspective of what the next president of the United States will be out to achieve,” she added. The panel discussions, which focused on such topics as diplomacy and major treaties, took place in the Longworth Building on Capitol Hill. “One highlight of the meeting was that some heavily indebted countries who get debt relief from either the international institutions or bilateral donors … are still poor, and still need assistance, but may find themselves ineligible to go to the IMF or World Bank,” said Brazeal, who chaired one of the panels. “A balance must be found for these countries.”

The Bretton Woods Institutions, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, were also mentioned in this panel. “Reform of these institutions is necessary,” Brazeal said. “The IMF is making statements on issues in the international economy.”

“Not everyone is listening,” she continued, “but they’ve been right in recent concerns and there’s just a need to pay more attention.”

Brazeal and other leaders were pleased with the outcome of the conference.

“We bring together those two populations, the women ambassadors and the members of Congress who happen to be women, into a shared forum,” she explained. “I hope [the conference] continues, and I hope it gets stronger.”.