Ambassador Maureen Quinn on the Future of Diplomacy


In an All-School Meeting on Dec. 10, Ambassador Maureen Quinn spoke to the Hotchkiss community about emerging global issues and the skills she found essential in her career as U.S. diplomat. 

Quinn, who serves as an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University, teaching graduate courses on the Middle East at its School of Diplomacy and International Relations, spoke as part of the School’s Ambassador Speaker’s Series, which brings an ambassador to campus once a year to address the community and meet with students. Former trustee Philip Pillsbury ’53, P’89,’91, GP’20,’22, whose time at Hotchkiss inspired him to pursue a lifelong career in Foreign Service, founded the speaker series in 2009. 

The Hon. Robert Beecroft ’58, who also has a long history in government service and served as ambassador to Bosnia from 2001-04, took over the reins of the program recently. In 2017, Beecroft forged a partnership between the School and the American Academy of Diplomacy in Washington, D.C., that affords students regular contact with U. S. diplomats.

Now retired from the U.S. State Department, Quinn had a distinguished career in the Department, including as Coordinator for Afghanistan; Acting Chief of Mission in Kabul; and Ambassador to Qatar. She was also posted to Morocco, Pakistan, Guinea, and Panama. Ambassador Quinn spent half her diplomatic career in Washington, where she served as Deputy Executive Secretary in the Executive Secretariat; Executive Assistant to the Under-Secretary for Economic Affairs; and held a mid-career Pearson Fellowship in the U.S. House of Representatives. Quinn received her B.A. in French and economics from Newcomb College of Tulane University and her M.S.F.S. from Georgetown University. She has also taught at New York University and The Marxe School of Public and International Affairs at Baruch College.

In her virtual address, Quinn said several trends will dominate international relations in the coming years, including shifts in demographics, environment, geopolitics, and global economics. 

Quinn emphasized that the world’s population is growing and continues to grow, and that the Hotchkiss students are part of the largest group of young people in history: “You are part of the growing global youth cohort that is already having a huge impact,” she said. Millions of people are being displaced and leaving their home countries to find long-term employment in other countries, and millions more are leaving their homes to escape conflict and violence. 

On the environment, she shared that the U.S. government reports that the 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1998, and nine of the 10 warmest years have occurred since 2005.  In international relationships, the environment is the area which will require countries to be ambitious in policy making, in problem-solving, and in negotiations, and will require relentless follow-through, she said. Pro-environment decision-making is already taking place in U.S. cities, states, and corporations, and “your generation leads the call for change,” she told students. 

“In the coming year the U.S. will have to make meaningful and significant domestic policies to establish our credibility globally, and then we will have a range of international relationships and partnerships to pursue.” 

While global prosperity is increasing, fueled by health and education, the challenge in coming years is to increase personal freedom and maintain economic openness, Quinn explained. 

Big-power rivalry is back on the world stage; a semantic debate is taking place within Washington’s halls of power, according to Quinn. The argument on one side is that the U.S. is in a Cold War with China, while the opposing view holds that the U.S. can cooperate and compete with China. Meanwhile, the decline in measures of global peacefulness, which, along with technological trends that foster changes in the nature of weapons and arms, will make navigating geopolitical issues even more treacherous, she said. 

“This is an area where more time and ‘political space’ are required for substantial dialogue,” said Quinn.

With regard to the skills needed to navigate this future world as a diplomat she said, “My short list includes critical thinking, foreign languages, the communication arts in English, and learning from history.”  

To illustrate how these skills are employed, she wove together a series of experiences from her career in Pakistan, Panama, and Qatar to describe a day in the life of an American diplomat.

She left students with this parting thought: “Diplomacy and international relations is a career for modern-day explorers. It’s an opportunity for exploration that is unparalleled in my opinion, and I certainly hope you will consider it.”

After her address, Quinn led virtual discussions in classes on national security taught by Instructor in History Michael Fitzgerald, followed by a lunch conversation with students.

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