Remarks to the Marshall Legacy Institute

Tara Sonenshine
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs 
Washington, DC
October 10, 2012

Thank you Perry, for that kind introduction. And thank you for appearing each day in a video that is in the lobby of the U.S. Institute of Peace. That video shows visitors the story of how K9s search for landmines in conflict affected countries.

You know, many of us are asked, during our careers, to serve on various boards and commissions. Some are more impactful than others – and I count the MLI as one of them.

My time on the MLI board has stayed with me. It has infused me with a deep appreciation for the work of those who stay involved in a country long after the formal fighting is over—because there are still the ghosts of war, and the remnants of fighting.

There are many people to thank tonight – I won’t have time to get to them all. But let me start with the Marshall Legacy Institute and its Board Chairman, Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, for pulling this all together. And congratulations on your 15th anniversary – not only from me, but from Secretary Clinton who sends you all her best regards.

Let me also welcome and acknowledge everyone gathered here, including the diplomatic corps, our special honorees and all supporters of humanitarian mine action. Those include teachers and students, corporate leaders and NGO activists; and all the members of the State Department – including General Givhan and Jim Lawrence – an award winner tonight. Last but not least, a high paw to a special dog and honoree named Spartacus.

I am delighted to speak before such a gathering of dynamic people – all of you committed in some way to restoring futures around the world. You are the best example of what we call global citizens, whether you are travelling to other countries to train people in mine removal. 

Whether you are the teachers and students, who are working classroom to classroom to raise money for people in need, or to train dogs.  Whether you are an NGO leader who worked to make changes in international law or help mine survivors.  Or whether you are a business leader who makes the connections and the resources available for all these things.

And yes, Spartacus is a global citizen too. I can’t wait to hear his acceptance speech!

As I look across this room, I see living proof that people from all walks of life and strata of society can achieve powerful things. While the United States is the world’s single largest financial supporter of mine action, we know that no one can solve these problems alone.

That's why we continue to seek ways to work with civil society and the private sector to apply new energy, ideas, and resources to help make the world safe from the impact of landmines and illicit conventional weapons.

These efforts have helped many countries become free of the humanitarian impact of landmines. They have also dramatically helped reduce the world’s annual mine casualty rate.

The most obvious benefit of mine action is that we bring closure to conflict – sometimes decades later. Mines and ordnance can lie undetected for years. That’s why it’s so important to use our people, energy, resources, and skills to remove them from every road and riverbank; every footpath, field and forest; every furrow of farmland, and every schoolhouse.

There are other benefits. Our investments, time, and resources don’t just restore peace.

They transform lives and communities. They contribute enormously to our public diplomacy. And they enhance our national security.

When people return to those places – their schools and homes, farms and offices, they experience a transformation. The mother and children in Sri Lanka can finally return to the home that was declared off limits. The rice farmer in Cambodia can return to the fields and feed his family. The schoolgirl in Afghanistan can get back to reading class because the IEDs are no longer buried on her route to school.

When you add all these personal stories together, you get a resurgence in communities and economies. People go back to being productive. And children can resume their paths to becoming society’s future leaders, family nurturers, community activists – or whatever they dream of becoming. Countries rebound. And the world benefits.

These are the same outcomes that my office works toward with our public diplomacy. Now, what is public diplomacy? I can explain that best by telling you what it does: It works to empower people –through programs, educational and cultural exchanges and public-private partnership efforts like the ones we celebrate tonight – so those people can forge their own futures, restore their voices, restart their lives, rebuild their communities and economies.

In other words, it’s about global citizens like you reaching out to others. And that sends out a powerful message: Not only do the American people care…. But we work to empower people worldwide.

We showed that with a citizen-supported program that used texting to send cash donations to the people of Haiti after the earthquake. We did it for the people of Japan after the disaster of last year. And we do it in partnership with the people here tonight: removing mines and restoring lives.

There’s another benefit to successful public diplomacy like this – and that is our national security.

When we help nations become more secure and prosperous, they tend to become positive global partners. They tend not to wage war or cause instability. That protects Americans at home.

It also enhances their own prosperity because those same nations tend to become better places of opportunity for investment and trade.

Outcomes like these are critical, not only to our own public diplomacy, but to our world. This is why – despite the challenges – we believe so deeply in our efforts to pursue public-private partnerships.

The projects that MLI does – the Children Against Mines Program – or CHAMPS, the Mine Detection Dog Partnership Program, and the Survivors’ Assistance Program. They are all contributors to public diplomacy.

The key is people.  All these programs help to create people-to-people relationships across oceans and time zones.  Between American citizens and those affected by mines.

Through CHAMPS, for example, with funding from the State Department and private donors, MLI has connected schools throughout the United States with seven schools in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen over the past year.

This also helps empower young people in both directions – another goal of public diplomacy.

Through the Mine Detection Program, MLI has used similar public-private partnerships to send 182 lifesaving Mine Detection Dogs to 11 war torn countries.

Again, by doing so, our public diplomacy sends a powerful message.

Speaking of Lebanon, PM/WRA and the American Task Force for Lebanon have funded a survivor assistance project.

That program has provided medical assistance to 30 Lebanese landmine survivors in need of new prosthetic limbs and rehabilitative care, and computer training courses to an additional 60 survivors.

That is transformation – and it comes from a network of global citizens, working in the public and private sectors.

Of course, we have much work to do. There are still millions of mines in some 60 countries. And in these budget conscious times, we must find ways to redouble our efforts – and do it efficiently and innovatively.

We are very pleased by programs like PM/WRA’s public-private partnership, which works to facilitate private sector involvement. And we are hoping to join civil society with the private sector, so we can create new synergies as we work to make the world safer, and to build futures for its people.

We have so much success to build on. A partnership that included PM/WRA, MLI, corporate sponsors, and schoolchildren helped us fund a mine clearance project in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Now, thanks to our efforts, the people of Olovo no longer need to fear landmines.

Incidentally, there were two dogs involved in that effort: Charlie and Granite.

Two alert wet noses helped bring a community back to its feet. And they were supported by Pfizer and the schoolchildren of Kingston, New Hampshire.  There are many more stories like this – and I know that many people in this room could share them.

Look around and you will see what I mean. Look at the strength of who we are. Think of the partnerships we have created. Look at what we have done. And think about the stories of the future – the ones we will achieve together.

I look forward to hearing those stories, too. And I thank you so much for this opportunity to speak to you.