French Ambassador to the United States Gérard Araud visited USC on Tuesday at Doheny Memorial Library, where he spoke about diplomacy in the 21st century and the state of French foreign policy in an unstable world.
The event, which was hosted by the Francophone Resource and Research Center, was open to the public and included a Q & A portion.
Araud has served as the ambassador to the United States since fall 2014. His experience as a diplomat extends as far back as 15 years, as he has held multiple positions in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development, including Director of Strategic Affairs, Security, and Disarmament from 2000 to 2003, Ambassador of France to Israel from 2003 to 2006, Director General for Political Affairs and Security from 2006 to 2009 and Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations in New York from 2009 to 2014.
Araud specializes in the Middle East and strategic and security issues. He is also known for his modern approach to diplomacy.
In addition to his international reach, Araud is also well known for his digital presence, having told The New York Times in 2015 that “being outspoken on Twitter is part of being an effective ambassador in 2015.”
Araud began his speech by explaining what it means to be a diplomat in today’s international climate.
“There is a basic misunderstanding between the diplomats and men in the streets. They perceive that we’re not just pompous but also cynical,” Araud said. “The problem I think, when you’re trying to understand an international conflict, the first thing you have to conclude, and it’s not cynicism, is that the fact of who is right and who is wrong is irrelevant. It’s not this way that we do it.”
Araud explained how this sentiment stems from misconceptions about how diplomats think about conflicts.
According to Araud, diplomacy is less about drawing conclusions about a situation and more about understanding multiple perspectives and the historical events that back them up.
Araud used Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine as an example of how approaching foreign policy with a right versus wrong mentality can actually limit meaningful solutions to conflicts.
“You can say Russians are bad, period. But after that there are decisions, and what are you going to do?” Araud said. “You’re not going to die for Ukraine, you’re not going to send GIs to Ukraine. It shows that simply saying who’s right or wrong is leading you either down a dead end or to lead you to be the gendarme of the world, which you don’t want to be.”
Instead, Araud suggested that progress starts by understanding the perspectives of both sides.
He further said that understanding history is a valuable necessity not only for diplomats but also for everyday citizens of the world, and said that he thought most Americans could improve in this area.
“Like any country in the world, you have positive and negative history,” Araud said. “But you have to be aware of it, which means that when you arrive as a French in Nigeria for instance, we have an overwhelming historical burden, but we have to be aware of it because when you’re going to speak to these people, of course as a French in Nigeria or as an American in Nicaragua, you may say ‘Forget the past,’ but of course they won’t forget the past.”