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More than just cocktail parties

There is a school of thought which believes that diplomats are “glorified civil servants” who spend most of their time at cocktail parties and other social events, not recognising the important role they play in shaping international policy decisions that may ultimately benefit their countrymen.

To dispel this notion, Barbados’ former Permanent Representative to the United Nations Dr Christopher Hackett decided to share his experiences in his new book entitled, The Life of a Diplomat – Representing an Island State at the United Nations, which was launched recently at the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.

Speaking during the book launch, Deputy Director of the Shridath Ramphal Centre at the Cave Hill Campus Jan Yves Remy said diplomats, especially those from small island states, had a crucial role to play in determining world affairs, especially in this era of climate change. “As a diplomat from a small country, you might be the only representative most people will encounter from your country, so it is important that diplomats have a clear understanding of interests, a mastery of facts, stamina, flexibility, integrity, perseverance, as well as a desire to work hard and be good-natured.”

Hackett, who prior to becoming Barbados’ ambassador had spent some 30 years at the United Nations in different capacities, spelled out how the idea to write about his experiences came to him. “I was having a conversation with Harold Hoyte (the recently deceased former Editor Emeritus of the Nation Newspaper) and first put the idea to him, and he encouraged me to do it. I then got further encouragement from students and a professor I had worked with in Australia. In the early stages I had to take a few breaks as I was busy working as a consultant, and I took it up again in 2016, finally sending it off to the printers earlier this year.

“One of the reasons I wrote the book was that I saw an uneven playing field in diplomacy over the years, where big countries pushed their own agenda at the expense of the smaller ones. Nevertheless, I recognised that smaller countries tended to have strong representatives that could stand up for their national interests where necessary. From my experience, I saw that small countries can play a significant role in determining international policies once their representatives are active and can drum up support from their contemporaries.”

During his time at the UN, Hackett was the Chief Administrative Officer of a team that was sent to Israel in 1988 to oversee a peace agreement between Israel and its neighbours. In 1991, he was assigned to Angola to oversee the first General Elections that African nation had held for a number of years following a prolonged civil war.

Hackett played a role in ensuring that after the initial United Nations Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992, small island developing states were not left out of the equation and he was instrumental in setting up the framework for the first Small Island Developing States conference held in Barbados in 1994.

He also served in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as Chief of the Caribbean Division, and some of his work in that capacity in conjunction with CARICOM led to the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that currently governs that regional body’s operations.

During the event, Hackett presented copies of his book to Governor General, Dame Sandra Mason and Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson. Former Barbados Consul General to New York Jessica Odle-Baril, received a copy for Prime Minister Mia Mottley, while former Prime Ministers Owen Arthur and Freundel Stuart, and Dame Billie Miller, who was Minister of Foreign Affairs when Hackett became Barbados’ Ambassador to the United Nations in 2004, also received copies. (DH)

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