Thank you to readers who sent messages about the 2012 Top Ten list that I posted a couple months ago. I always welcome comments and other feedback, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading your impressions of the year gone by. I was also pleasantly surprised that quite a few folks inquired why I did not do a Top Ten list in 2010. Lest anyone think I slighted my first full year in office, I note that I did write a year-end summary of sorts in December 2010.
I wouldn’t want you to think that I found 2010 lacking in any way. Quite the contrary. It was a dynamic, exciting, highly productive year … in many respects a necessary reboot that paved the way for the significant work done in 2011 and 2012. So, to correct my omission then, I share now a more structured list of the efforts in which the American Mission played a meaningful role that most significantly contributed to positive momentum in U.S. relations with New Zealand and Samoa in 2010:
10. Ambassador’s Blog
At the risk of appearing unduly self-focused, the tenth slot on this highlight list goes to my own blog, launched on March 14, 2010. The blog was the first and most visible sign of the Embassy’s vigorous new focus on social media and other forms of nontraditional diplomatic engagement. It was a risky, time-intensive experiment, but even in its first year it accomplished what we hoped it would, expanding and diversifying our audience.
Perhaps most importantly, the blog demonstrated within the Embassy the depth of front-office commitment to new forms of communication, which made subsequent steps a bit easier. For purposes of this list, the blog represents the large amount of work undertaken in 2010 to create the broad, deep, vibrant cyber engagement programs that have now become fully integrated, organic parts of how the American Missions in New Zealand and Samoa operate.
9. Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases
The first Senior Officials’ Meeting of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (GRA) convened in Wellington in April 2010, with representatives from 29 nations. We arranged a large American delegation co-headed by Dr. Roger Beachy (the director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture) and me.
An idea first floated by New Zealand the prior year, the GRA was designed to develop science-based methods of producing substantially more food while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural sector. The Senior Officials’ Meeting was organized to organize the effort. We worked with the Government of New Zealand to insure a successful launch of the enterprise, with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack committing up to US $90 million in funding over four years.
8. Visit of Special Representative Farah Pandith
One of the Embassy’s core themes for the year was highlighting, embracing, and engaging diversity, Kiwi as well as American. A key part of our inclusive outreach program was bringing to New Zealand the State Department’s Special Representative to Muslim Communities, Farah Pandith, for community meetings, school visits, and other events in Wellington, Hamilton, and Auckland.
Farah is a passionate and articulate interlocutor, and has extensive experience in foreign policy, including at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Security Council. She was generous to us with her time, and we put her through a packed schedule that helped pave the way for additional visits and important work in the two years thereafter.
7. Independence Day Receptions
To be frank, when I arrived I had no idea what a national day was supposed to look like in polite diplomatic circles. The couple of others I attended involved harp music and trade statistics, which seemed a bit odd. So, for my first Ambassadorial Fourth of July, we decided to throw a party celebrating the great diversity that has always defined, distinguished, and strengthened America, and that is increasingly defining New Zealand.
Our guests were greeted with a rock-n-roll montage of American history and culture, tastings of a half dozen of Kentucky’s finest whiskey brands, performances by Pacific island students, prayers by clergy from a local mosque and Anglican parish, taped welcomes by Secretary Clinton and others, a comedy video by New Zealand’s favorite lesbian rabble-rousers (the Topp Twins), and a cheeky speech (by the Ambassador) devoid of trade statistics. Our 2010 Independence Day places on the Top Ten list because it demonstrated unequivocally that we weren’t your grandfather’s Embassy any longer.
6. Joint Commission on Science and Technology Cooperation
The sixth spot on the list goes to one of the first major events that we facilitated after my arrival, a week-long series of meetings of the U.S.-New Zealand Joint Commission on Science and Technology Cooperation. Starting with working sessions around the country, the Commission proceedings concluded with a couple days of plenary sessions at Te Papa in Wellington.
The Commission had not convened since its inaugural gathering 20 years ago. As part of a renewed commitment to expanding the already substantial cross-border collaboration in matters of science, we brought a high-level delegation that included Dr. Arden Bement (Director of the National Science Foundation), Dr. Steven Koonin (Under-Secretary in the Department of Energy), Dr. Nina Fedoroff (Science & Technology Adviser in the Department of State), and a dozen other senior researchers and officials. Progress was made, and the Commission convened again last year, this time in Washington, DC.
5. Ambassador’s First Trip to Samoa
One of the great highlights of the year was my inaugural visit to Samoa to present my credentials to His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Ta’isi Efi. Yes, the trip was exciting and enjoyable, but it also provided the information and experience necessary to formulate the aggressive plan that we have been implementing in Embassy Apia since then. I sprinted through a packed schedule including a long discussion with the Head of State about Samoan history and culture, a visit to a primary school to talk with teachers and see a computer training room that we had outfitted …
… a roundtable discussion with National University of Samoa students, a community event at the American Corner we created at Apia’s public library, dinner with our Peace Corps volunteers to learn about their work and experiences, discussions at the Samoa AIDS Foundation, an afternoon with the crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Walnut digging foundations for fales in a village hit hard by the prior year’s tsunami, meetings with village elders and clergy on Savai’i, and conversations with numerous Government officials, NGO leaders, and my Embassy Apia colleagues. It was time extremely well spent.
4. Connecting Young Leaders Conference
Among the most important efforts of 2010 was formation of student adviser groups at universities in New Zealand as part of our new youth engagement program. The work built toward an exciting conference in October of that year that brought my advisers from around the country together for policy discussions with opinion leaders and experts, leadership training, networking, and brainstorming, including special appearances by a couple of my Washington colleagues by video feed. An absolutely exhilarating experience, the two days validated the new program, generated incredible enthusiasm and energy, and produced feedback that we used to revise and refine our approach.
As I stated at the time, “[T]he goal of the conference was to bring a few dozen special people together, apply a little stimulation, let them talk among themselves, and then see what happens. What happened during the weekend was, not surprisingly, great. Now let’s see what happens in the future as these newly interconnected young leaders move forward…” Part of what happened is that we’ve expanded our adviser groups, updated all of our Embassy and Consulate General invitation lists to include Kiwis under age 30, held a second successful Connecting Young Leaders Conference, and created a full-time staff position dedicated to university engagement.
3. Ambassador’s Trip to Antarctica
That my first trip to Antarctica only places third on this list is a sign of just how incredibly productive and exciting 2010 was. From a personal standpoint, the experience remains one of the absolute highlights of my life thus far. With respect to work, the expedition contributed greatly to our reorientation of Embassy efforts around science-related projects, a commitment that has continued to grow since then. The trip energized our social media platforms with compelling reports and stunning photos, and helped us build closer relationships with the U.S. Antarctic Program and the National Science Foundation.
There is really no way to capture in a paragraph the adventure, magic, and value of the week I spent at McMurdo Station, Scott Base, the South Pole, and places in between. The best I can do is to refer you back to the series of reports I posted from Antarctica, drafted and uploaded late each night after getting back to the hut from the day’s adventures. You can locate the posts in my blog archive, from the last week of November and the first week of December 2010. The series remains by far my personal favorite blogging effort, and I still get reader comments about the penguins (of course).
2. Wellington Declaration
In the #2 spot on the 2010 Top 10 list was the signing of the Wellington Declaration by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Foreign Minister Murray McCully during the Secretary’s landmark visit to the capital. Short and simple in form but powerful in impact, the Declaration reaffirmed our two nations’ historical ties, committed us to a renewed strategic partnership, and identified two priority areas of joint focus — practical cooperation in the Pacific region, and regularized, enhanced political, security, and subject-matter expert dialogues.
The document wisely emphasizes what unites us: “New Zealand and the United States are both Pacific nations. Our Governments and Peoples share a deep and abiding interest in maintaining peace, prosperity, and stability in the region, expanding the benefits of freer and more open trade, and promoting and protecting freedom, democracy, and human rights worldwide. We recall the long history of shared United States and New Zealand sacrifice in battle, and we honor those, past and present, who have borne that sacrifice… Our goal is a partnership for the 21st Century that is flexible, dynamic, and reflects our fundamental beliefs and aspirations.” Sounds right.
1. Secretary Clinton’s Visit to Wellington and Christchurch
Of course, the signing of the Wellington Declaration was part of a larger event that clearly ranks as the most important Embassy effort of 2010 by far, the transformative three-day visit of Secretary of State Clinton to Wellington and Christchurch which in certain ways rebooted the bilateral relationship and focused it forward rather than backward.
In Wellington, she enjoyed her first-ever pōwhiri, met with numerous civil society and business leaders, engaged with my student advisers, laid a wreath at the National War Memorial, went for a supposedly incognito jog around the harbor that ended up stopping traffic, met the press, and held strategic discussions with senior officials including Prime Minister Key, Foreign Minister McCully, and Defence Minister Dr. Mapp.
In Christchurch, the Secretary met with Kiwi and American Antarctic scientists, held a reception for American businesses active in New Zealand, did TV interviews, engaged with more than 500 Kiwis in a public town hall discussion (with in excess of 3,000 other citizens participating via a live stream on the internet), met with Mayor Bob Parker and Minister Gerry Brownlee, and slipped away for a run through Hagley Park.
In a sign of her commitment to the relationship, the Secretary spent 3 days here during an otherwise hectic 13-day, 12-stop trip covering several nations and more than 31,000 air miles. She reframed discourse, injected a hyper-dose of adrenaline into the Embassy’s activities, validated our restructuring and reorientation, and generated momentum that still helps propel us forward today, two and a half years later. And, of course, she and just about everyone she met here enjoyed the experience. She still talks fondly about the visit.
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Well, for those of you who inquired, that was 2010. It was a highly productive year that laid the foundation for the important work that has followed. It was also, frankly, a very difficult year as our teams in Wellington, Auckland, and Apia oriented to new priorities, launched extensive new programs (without new resources), and adjusted to higher expectations and new ways of doing business.
It was all well worth the effort. You’ve already seen what was accomplished in 2011 and 2012 as a result of the investments made in 2010. Stay tuned for what promises to be a great 2013.