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Robert C. Orr will go from studying international affairs to participating in them on Monday, leaving his post at the Kennedy School of Government (KSG) to become an assistant secretary-general of the United Nations.
Orr will leave behind a little over a year’s worth of work as executive director for research at the KSG’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (BCSIA).
As assistant secretary-general for policy coordination and strategic planning, Orr will be the top-ranked American policymaker at the United Nations.
“It’s the core ideas shop of the U.N. trying to develop policy options for the secretary-general to react to the various problems that come the U.N.’s way,” Orr told The Crimson this week. “Part of its importance is that it has to collect the best practices and best ideas from around the entire U.N. system and turn those into policy.”
BCSIA Director of Communications John G. Neffinger ’93 praised the timing of Orr’s appointment.
“This is a great opportunity for Bob to help shape and implement policy at the United Nations at a critical moment for the international community,” Neffinger wrote in an e-mail. “[As] Chief Assistant to [Secretary-General] Kofi Annan on substantive policy issues [Orr will be] responsible for setting priorities and implementing UN policy.”
Orr said that serving under Annan was compelling reason enough to take on his new job.
“It’s an incredible honor to have been asked by the secretary-general to do this, and it’s the kind of honor you don’t pass up,” Orr said. “This is the first time I will have to work for the collective governments of the world, and I think that will be a challenge and an honor.”
Orr also noted that given the current global security environment, he looked forward to helping shape future policy.
“The U.N. has to adapt itself to that environment if it is to remain in a central collective security institution in the 21st century,” he said. “My job as assistant secretary-general for policy coordination is to try to help the U.N. build a more solid planning capacity so that we can get ahead of the curve on all the world’s crises instead of reacting to them.”
But Orr said that as the United Nations responds to its member states, he will not be setting his own agenda.
“I have 193 different bosses—that is, every country in the world,” Orr said. “I’m going to have to do a lot of listening.”
Neffinger listed Orr’s familiarity with the United Nations as indication of his qualifications for his new position.
“Bob has extensive experience working with the UN from within the US government, both as deputy to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke at the US mission to the UN, and as Director for peacekeeping and multilateral operations at the National Security Council,” Neffinger wrote.
And Orr’s work on bipartisan commissions has facilitated a good relationship with both the Republican and Democratic parties in the United States, an asset to the United Nations, Neffinger added.
Orr co-directed a bipartisan commission on post-conflict reconstruction for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, acted as director of the Washington office of the non-partisan Council on Foreign Relations and was selected as one of six members of a bipartisan commission sent to Iraq last July to offer advice on rebuilding the country.
While at BCSIA, Orr has overseen the launch of two major research initiatives.
“[Orr] put together a deal establishing an academic exchange relationship with the Dubai University to promote better governance practices in the Middle East,” Effinger wrote. Effinger also credited Orr for the “internal reorganization” of the center to focus on “developing security challenges.”
Orr also points to a KSG initiative on state-building that will go forward after his departure as another major accomplishment during his brief time at the Belfer Center.
“Everyone two or three years ago laughed at the notion of nation-building,” he said. “I think everyone has learned from Afghanistan and Iraq that we need to do that.”
A U.N. spokesperson did not reply to a request for comment.
—Staff writer Margaret W. Ho can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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