Clinton Sees World in a New Era: The Age of Participation
By Charlene Porter
Washington - At a time when mobile phones and text messages have become the tools of political change, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says the world has entered a new era: the age of participation.
"Through technology, the voices of everyone can be now, at least registered, if not heard," said Clinton in remarks at a September 22 event in New York City, where she attended the meeting of the U.N. General Assembly September 19-23. "And the challenge, not only for government, but for businesses and for NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], is to figure out how to be responsive, to help catalyze, unleash [and] channel the kind of participatory eagerness that is there."
Clinton spoke to an invited audience participating in the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting, a yearly discussion about global issues and ways to address them, hosted by former President Bill Clinton and attended by world leaders in government, politics, technology, the arts and other fields. Secretary Clinton described the age of participation in an onstage interview conducted by her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.
The street revolutions that swept across North Africa and through the Middle East in 2011 exemplify the activity of this new era, Clinton said. The momentum for change came from the people themselves, but Clinton also underscored the importance of the international community's reaction to the street revolution in Libya. When Libya's Muammar Qadhafi responded to street protests with threats to hunt down and destroy the instigators, the Arab League went to the United Nations, seeking an intervention. NATO and Arab League nations responded with a commitment to provide cover for the protesters from the air, and Clinton called that decision "one of the most historically significant developments" during this period of change in the region.
To protect citizens, "it was both NATO members, European and Canadian, along with Arab, who were flying missions, who were there in the midst of the fight," Clinton said.
Clinton said she makes no claims to being able to predict what the future might bring to Tunisia, Egypt and Libya after this tumultuous year. "But what I do know is that we've made the right decision to support the aspirations of people and to do so in a way that recognizes and respects their right to have a government," based in democracy, participation and the creation of opportunity for the public good.
OUTREACH IN OTHER REGIONS
Partnership with other nations has been a priority for the Obama administration in other regions also, Clinton said. When the Obama presidency began in 2009, some international affairs experts predicted a U.S. drift away from the Asia-Pacific region, but the secretary of state said neither she nor the president were willing to let that happen. Both she and Obama made separate trips there in the early months of the administration.
"We've worked very hard to make clear that the United States is both a Pacific and an Atlantic power," Clinton said, adding that it is important to ensure that the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region is maintained.
Similarly, Clinton said she wanted to clarify U.S. interests in the Arctic, so she stepped up U.S. participation in the Arctic Council, which is the small group of nations holding territory on the Arctic Circle. "With global warming, the Arctic is going to be open for transit much more during the year that it ever has been before," Clinton said, and the United States must participate in the council if it is to have a voice in discussions about permissible activities in an ecologically sensitive area.
Responding to a question from daughter Chelsea, the secretary of state identified issues that she considers to be high priority, even though they may not have been at the forefront for this audience in New York City. Clinton named food security, health and disease surveillance capabilities worldwide and women's participation in government and public life.
"We don't have enough food, and a lot of what we have is not nutritious enough to keep kids healthy," she said. The administration is working to improve that situation with its Feed the Future initiative, which aspires to increase the accessibility of staple foods, improve trade and transport routes and harness science and technology to assist populations that now suffer food insecurity every few years.
Regarding disease surveillance, the United States signed an agreement with the World Health Organization September 19 to advance the capabilities of developing nations in responding to serious health threats, particularly contagious diseases, which have the capability to travel as rapidly around the world as jets. The agreement will help all nations detect, report and respond to infectious diseases quickly and accurately.
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)