Simmons Welcomes Warburg Chair Jeffrey DeLaurentis, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
I’m delighted to be part of what I think is a great institution, and to bring the experiences I’ve had to the students.
Established with the help of a generous grant from Joan Melber Warburg '45, widow of James P. Warburg, the Warburg Chair in International Relations brings to Simmons a distinguished practitioner who has had significant experience at a responsible level in international relations. This year, we welcome Jeffrey DeLaurentis to the Simmons campus, where he will be sharing his experience with the UN and Security Counsel with Simmons students.
Can you give us a brief synopsis of your career?
I spent almost 30 years in the foreign service focusing on both Western Hemisphere issues and multilateral diplomacy, which for me meant working with the United Nations in New York and Geneva, Switzerland. I took early retirement in 2018 and was called back by the Biden administration, having served on the transition team and returned to the U.S. Mission to the UN until last month.
What inspired you to work in foreign affairs?
I was really interested in history and other countries when I was young and had a couple of very good high school teachers who directed that interest, for which I’m very grateful. My parents were in the sciences — my father was an electrical engineer and my mother taught biology — so for them it was a surprise that I was interested in foreign affairs. To this day, the most interesting part of the job is interacting with colleagues from other countries. I always learn something, and find it stimulating to engage in that way. If we are able to agree on something, that’s the frosting on the cake.
When I joined foreign service in late 1990, my focus — professionally and academically — was on West-East relations, the Atlantic alliance, and the developing architecture of European integration, and relations with the Soviet bloc. When the Foreign Service assigned me to Cuba, I had barely opened a book on Latin America. We received training before we arrived at any posting, but it’s important to have an open mind and try to understand the environment you are in and how that impacts the bilateral relations between countries, especially when they are adversarial.
What is most rewarding about your ambassadorial work?
Being an ambassador to the UN during the Obama administration was certainly a highlight, as well as my involvement in the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, forging a new path in the best interest of both countries.
From my first posting in Cuba, I felt that we didn’t have the right policy or approach for a country 90 miles from our shore, despite the different systems and interests. There are ways you can still find common ground that will benefit us, and to see that come to fruition during my third posting in Cuba was especially gratifying.
Secretary of State John Kerry came to Cuba to reopen the U.S. Embassy in August, 2015 and in March 2016 President Obama visited Cuba, the first visit by an American president since 1928; it was exciting to see Cubans lined up on the main boulevards of Havana to catch a glimpse of him. He brought his family and stayed for three days, and I was able to accompany him on his visits with Cuban officials, with human rights activists, and with the embassy staff and families.
What I admired most about Obama during the visit, apart from taking these bold steps that were long overdue, was that he continued to ask penetrating questions about Cuba and its society. He wasn’t taking a fifty-thousand foot view but had clearly thought long and hard about the steps he wanted to take. We discussed the books we had both read about Cuba, and I knew that this was a great mind trying to figure out what was best for the U.S. and how to effect positive change, not only in Cuba but elsewhere as well. He made an extraordinary speech in a national theater, which was broadcast live across the island. The whole experience was game-changing, and a highlight of my career.
That said, I’ve had other highlights at the UN. [Recently] we got through a resolution on Haiti that will authorize the establishment of a multinational security support mission to take on the gangs in Haiti, which have been spiraling out of control. It was a tough negotiation, but the resolution was finally adopted; I consider that my swan song at the Security Council.
What are you most looking forward to in your role as Warburg Chair at Simmons?
I did a bit of teaching at Georgetown and Columbia after leaving foreign service in 2018, with the goal of encouraging public service and bringing the world of international relations to students by offering a practitioner’s view. Theory and history are important, but it’s vital to give the practical role of diplomats, our successes and failures, and how we learn from both.
It’s an exciting time to be here at Simmons. The philosophy of the school expands ways that students can access real world learning and experience, including applied learning in chosen fields. I think I’m uniquely qualified to do that. I’m already teaching a senior seminar on multilateral diplomacy and U.S. Leadership, and I hope to reach many students during my time on campus.
In your opinion, what is the best training to prepare college students for future careers in international relations and public affairs?
For an undergraduate, the most important thing is to become familiar with the field and get a sense of what issues dominate the international agenda. It’s not just about war and peace, but sustainable development goals, human rights and humanitarian affairs.
Apart from general familiarization, learn how to write and communicate your thoughts in a cogent way. Another skill is learning how to listen. Put yourself in the shoes of your interlocutor. Diplomacy is all about personal relationships, and if you develop a good degree of emotional intelligence, you will go a long way. It’s not about who has the loudest voice at the party, it’s about how to communicate effectively and build trust, even with your adversaries.
Were you drawn to Simmons as a women-centered institution?
I’ve had many mentors in foreign service, and the three principal ones were all women: Madeleine Albright, Susan Rice, and Samantha Power. They were the most influential at different stages of my career, for different reasons. Women have been underutilized in international affairs and peace building, and it’s absolutely necessary that we rectify that [disparity]. We need to put women at the center of security policy. I’m delighted to be part of what I think is a great institution, and to bring the experiences I’ve had to the students.