An Interview with Rosemary DiCarlo, Jackson Institute Senior Fellow and Career Diplomat
Gabby Deutch: I know that you’ve had a long career in diplomacy. I couldn’t find an exact timeline online. Can you go through the sequence of your career for me?
Rosemary DiCarlo: After I finished graduate school I worked at UNESCO in Paris. I was working in the education sector on programs that dealt with adult literacy around the world and with education. I then joined the U.S. Foreign Service. My first assignment was in Norway, in Oslo. I then followed that with a very exciting assignment in Moscow: I was there from ’87 to ’90 during the Gorbachev period of perestroika. I went back to Washington and dealt with what I thought would be Soviet affairs but became Russian and Eurasian affairs because the Soviet Union broke up in 1991. I went back to Moscow again after that. It was again a period of rather interesting times after the breakup—a lot of programs were being developed by the United States and Europe to assist the former Soviet states with development, building democratic institutions, etc. I worked on a range of those, particularly an exchange program, bringing to the States parliamentarians, young entrepreneurs. I also worked in the area of rule of law.
Then, from there I came back to the States. I was dealing with the former Yugoslavia. I dealt with the Balkans after the Kosovo crisis in particular in 1999. Then I worked on a range of things that were fostering regional cooperation within the Balkan region. From there I got into UN issues. I headed the Washington office of Ambassador John Negroponte, who’s also a fellow here. This was in 2001. Initially, when we started working together we thought we’d be working on peacekeeping, but it turned out the immediate task at hand was dealing with terrorism, because of the events of September 11, 2001. I went from there to National Security Council. I also worked on UN affairs there. The task was different: rather than supporting Ambassador Negroponte at the mission in New York, I was chairing an interagency process on UN issues. That had to do with peacekeeping, counterterrorism, counter proliferation measures, as well as reform of the UN. From there I went back to the Balkans, dealing with the Balkans in European and Eurasian affairs as Deputy Assistant Secretary, and I worked on a range of issues confronting the Balkans at the time, including the status of Kosovo. We spent a couple years negotiating in something called contact groups about Kosovo’s status, working with Belgrade and Pristina on that issue. I worked on Bosnia and tried to help Bosnia and other countries in the region try to move forward on the Euro-Atlantic path—that is, to try to move into the European Union and NATO. From there I went back to the UN. My career has been sort of a ping-pong, if you will. I came up to New York and started at first as the number 3 ambassador in the mission. I handled a lot of African issues. I also handled Afghanistan and Iraq. Then I moved up a year and a half later to the number 2 ambassador, covered Middle East, Iraq as part of the Middle East, and Afghanistan as well. I covered Europe—I covered Ukraine when the crisis broke there. I had a very fulfilling time. I was at the mission for six years. I left government a year ago. I am now doing two things. I am a senior fellow at Yale, enjoying myself immensely, and I am heading a nonprofit in New York that handles foreign policy issues, called the National Committee on American Foreign Policy. We do two things. We put on public informational events, panel discussions on key issues that affect U.S. foreign policy interests, and we conduct track 2 diplomacy. We have a very robust program of cooperation with countries in Asia, including China and Japan.
GD: It sounds like you’ve done many things. I’ll try and follow. You’ve worked with a lot of countries and regions in the world. When you went into diplomacy, it sounds like what you ended up doing took a different path from what you might’ve expected. Was it difficult to pick up on the issues happening in different places? Did you have one place that you wanted to work with most when you went into diplomacy? How did your expectations differ?
RD: When I entered the diplomatic service I really thought I’d be doing more bilateral work—that is, working with a specific country. I did that for a while, dealing with the Soviet Union and then with Russia. Then I went into the multilateral path, which is very different. Equally interesting and equally rewarding, but very different. When you do bilateral work, you really learn in-depth issues of that country and how they affect the United States. When you do multilateral work, you’re rigged in with so many different issues. In my day when I was working at the U.S. mission, in the morning I could be doing Yemen, then Ukraine in the middle of the day, and Syria at the end. One can obviously not be an expert in all of those issues. What one learns is basically how to use the tools of multilateral diplomacy to work to build coalitions in order to promote U.S. interests. For example, at the UN it’s very clear that, if you want to have support for your country’s priorities, you have to explain them and articulate them well, and you have to deal with a whole range of countries, because every single country counts. And you also have to be willing to listen to their concerns, because you don’t get if you don’t give. If the U.S. priority is combatting proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, we also have to listen to countries for whom climate change is their number one concern. It’s a different beast, if you will, multilateral diplomacy. It depends on having good language skills. It also means you have to have very good negotiating skills.
GD: What other languages do you speak?
RD: I speak French and Russian. Studied Italian but I cant say I’m that conversant in my ancestors’ language.
GD: Between multilateral and bilateral diplomacy, was there one form that you enjoyed more?
RD: I think it’s different. I always found working with Russians interesting and a challenge. I got a doctorate in Russian literature, so I feel that I know the literature well; I feel that I understand the culture. I’m not saying I’m an expert at it, but I do think there are things that my graduate work really helped me with in terms of working with the Russians on a range of issues. It was always fascinating in that respect. That said, it’s interesting working with a range of countries. One thing that one learns working multilaterally in an organization like the UN, is that the smallest country is important and can make an impact. Often that is because of the leaders and their willingness to speak out, make changes, take initiative, and be good partners or sometimes really challenging adversaries. I think one thing you find when working multilaterally is that your adversary today can be your best ally tomorrow on a very different issue. It’s very interesting to see how the coalitions can change, and how important it is to have good relations with everybody. Sometimes you find you’re at odds one day with a certain country, and you’re helping each other the following day.
GD: You studied Russian literature. So is this a career path you expected for yourself? How did that happen?
RD: It happened. I was good at languages. I liked Russian and I liked literature and I thought at one point I would become an academic, but then I decided I wanted to do other things, to be more active, to travel around the world, and I decided on foreign service.
GD: Did you keep up with the literature as you traveled in these countries?
RD: It’s hard. It’s very difficult, I have to say. The best thing about leaving government was that in the first two months that I took off, I was actually able to read things that I hadn’t had time to read in years.
GD: What has been, in your years in the Foreign Service, the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
RD: I think the biggest challenge really is trying to work with countries that have totally different views on certain issues. The biggest challenge that I felt I faced in working at the U.S. Mission to the UN was dealing with Syria, where as much as we tried, we couldn’t make headway on coming together with Russia and some other countries. This was from 2011 to 2013. That was the biggest challenge, and I would say the biggest disappointment is not being able to make a difference there. We have disagreements, or differences of opinion, with countries on a range of issues, but we can often find ways to come together. I’ll give you an example: the issue of proliferation, which is a real concern for the United States and a concern for Russia and China. Maybe they speak about it less, but it is a concern. Negotiating resolutions on sanctions, for example, on Iran or North Korea, is a challenging process. It takes a lot of time. But the fact that we all have concerns on proliferation [means that] we can reach on agreement on something, and that something helps make a difference. When it comes to issue of sovereignty, how we view sovereignty, and what a leader of a country can or can’t do with internal disagreements in his country, then it’s very, very hard, given that we’re coming from diamterically opposed views on that. It’s very hard to come together and make a difference.
GD: And what has been the most rewarding part of your career?
RD: The most rewarding thing I ever did was working Kosovo’s status, for the following reasons. It’s very hard to be involved in various conflicts when you see that people have died, there’s been ethnic cleansing, there’s been genocide (like in the case of Bosnia), and then you’re not there helping with a resolution. In the case of Kosovo, that was really in limbo after the ‘99 conflict. It was very clear that there was a need to move forward. To be involved in the negotiations on that, to be helping them build institutions, was really a tremendous experience.
GD: I think that when people talk about diplomacy, at least in my mind, there isn’t really a picture of what that looks like. Walk me through “A day in the life.”
RD: A day in the life of a diplomat at the UN. First of all, you wake up in the morning and you think you’ll be dealing with Libya. It’s after the NATO intervention, a lot of work still to be done, making sure the UN mission on the ground is equipped to do what it needs to do to develop institutions, since there were no institutions in Libya. You’re looking at the issue from the concerns of weapons going across borders, and thinking that you’ll do a little strategic thinking. You come in and find out that, all of a sudden, the Russians are in Crimea. Really, Libya doesn’t fit on your schedule for the day. It usually involves, very first, conversations with countries bilaterally on the phone, “What do we do next?” Meetings called at the last minute, very suddenly, of the Security Council, to discuss the issue, to put pressure, in this case on the Russians, since our perception was that this was certainly, if not instigated by the Russians, encouraged by the Russians. There are a range of heated meetings, culminating, eventually, and I think it was a day or two later, in a resolution that the United States put forward, condemning the action and supporting the territorial integrity of Ukraine, stating that a referendum would be considered illegitimate, which ended up with a Russian veto. And then one goes home and says, “it’s all in a day’s work, I guess.”
GD: When you would go home, would you try and keep up, or would you try and put it aside?
RD: I would keep up and follow in the news. You can’t put it aside. I was glued to my Blackberry for six years because things happen, as you know, all the time, and you have to be prepared for it. If, for example, it’s 9 o’clock at night and there are movements of troops into a certain country or something has happened or it looks like a country has done a nuclear test or whatever, you have to be prepared first thing in the morning for whatever action it is you might take–be that calling a meeting, making a statement, writing a resolution. We don’t start thinking about it the next day; we start thinking about it as soon as it happens.
GD: Something that I read is you’re involved with groups with women and diplomacy. Were there ever moments when you felt you faced challenges because you worked in this field as a woman?
RD: Throughout my career, I think particularly in the beginning, it was not easy for women. We didn’t have the highest places. Change came gradually. I will say that, interestingly, when I was first in diplomatic career, women gravitated toward the harder issues. You did proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; you didn’t do women’s issues. That wasn’t tough enough. Really it was only in the last 10 years that it’s quite acceptable to do so and still be considered a very good, professional, serious foreign policy person. I think it’s because we’ve had women in high positions that have also taken up women’s issues–Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice. I think its made it all the more acceptable for the rest of us to focus on the issues we should be focusing on. Women make up half the planet! If we’re not addressing some of their needs and concerns, then we aren’t doing a good service to the world.
GD: What have you enjoyed most about being at Yale?
RD: For me it’s been absolutely fascinating to meet with students, and to hear their concerns, their interests, and their perceptions of things. I have a class in which half the students are not American. I think it’s very interesting to have them all together. I’ve been in meetings with diplomats, but I think it’s very different to be in a classroom where people are speaking their minds, and not delivering their government’s talking points, if you will. It’s given me the opportunity to think about a lot of things I’ve done over my career. I have not really had the opportunity to pull back, think about it, read about it, discuss it with people who have the kinds of views that really are important to be taken into consideration.
GD: What advice do you have for Yale undergraduates?
RD: If you’re interested in foreign policy careers, the first thing is that it really is important to travel abroad, to learn languages. It’s important to do so not as a government official but before you’re a government official, because without the knowledge of other cultures–and you don’t have to know all the cultures of the world but at least have a feeling for it–it makes you a much better foreign policy professional. I think communications is very important in the area of foreign policy, both oral and written, but especially oral. I think that’s a skill that is important to develop. I know from my generation of women that was the hardest thing. We didn’t think we had the same communications skills that the guys had, and it was hard to develop them. And the other thing that I think is really important is that it’s important to do something between your university work and your job. If you have the opportunity to study abroad, to do something that’s different from what you think will be your career, it’s really enriching for the career you finally choose. The last thing I will say, which I would say in my career and at the State Department to new officers, is that I think it’s important to do what you like doing and what you’re good at, and then you really will excel and you will advance. If you’re mapping out a career and think there are certain things you must do to get to a certain level, but they’re not things you like doing, or they’re not things you feel you’re good at, it’s unlikely you’ll get to that level.