Imagine witnessing many monumental international issues of the 20th century firsthand. Living in China as a political officer in the 1970s right after the Nixon and Kissinger visits, being in Moscow in the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War, helping Indonesia heal from a tsunami and aiding Somalia in fighting terrorism and piracy. B. Lynn Pascoe, Distinguished Alum of the KU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has lived through that all and more in his notable Foreign Service career.
Pascoe began at KU to pursue its highly touted mathematics program, yet he decided during his studies that he wasn’t cut out to be a math professor. He was intrigued by Chinese and East Asian relations and impressed with KU’s leading programs in the field, so he added two additional majors. He graduated from KU in 1964 with three bachelor degrees in East Asian languages and cultures, international relations, and mathematics.
“I had excellent basic courses and the KU professors greatly encouraged me. I really always felt I had an extraordinarily good basis from which to work,” Pascoe said.
Pascoe then continued his studies in Chinese government affairs and international relations, attending Columbia University for his master’s degree. While still a student at KU, he had seen a poster advertising the Foreign Service Officer Test, the exam used to select the best applicants for a career in the Foreign Service. Based on that poster and his interest in foreign affairs, Pascoe took the test in New York and was placed as a Foreign Service Officer.
“The Foreign Service is truly a meritocracy. You come in by the written and oral exams, and they don’t know who you are when you’re taking the exams,” Pascoe said. “I frankly – obviously — think it’s an excellent career. It’s got tough moments of course when you find yourself out in difficult places […] but it certainly is quite rewarding. Fundamentally, I think you’re doing something worthwhile for the country.”
His career took off from there. Pascoe served in many posts, including as U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia, Deputy Chief of Mission in Beijing, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Asian and European Bureaus and U.S. Special Negotiator for Regional Conflicts in the former Soviet Union. His most recent post, after retirement from the Foreign Service, was as Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs for the United Nations.
As an ambassador, Pascoe said the main goal is to carry out U.S. foreign policy and advise the U.S. on a multitude of issues, whether political, economic, counter-terrorism or anything else.
“I think across the board, the job is really to look after U.S. interests and to advise what we really should be doing to carry out our policies,” Pascoe said.
As Under-Secretary-General, Pascoe was the chief advisor on political issues to the Secretary General. He also ran the department whose purpose was to negotiate the ends of conflicts abroad and resolve issues before they escalated to something more extreme. Pascoe said much of the efforts were focused on Africa and the Middle East, with some in Asia and other areas around the world.
For example, Pascoe worked on issues in Somalia starting in 2007. The situation was complex, with chaos inside the country and piracy wreaking havoc outside the country. The government had little control in the country when Pascoe and his UN cohorts began working in Somalia. They helped put together a more broadly based government, and helped the African military force there to be an effective operation against al-Shabaab, a militant organization based in Somalia.
Pascoe said now, although the country still has many problems, al-Shabaab has mostly lost power, piracy has virtually stopped and the country’s condition has improved.
“The situation is a lot better than it was before. That’s the kind of thing we tried to do just by managing the process and working on negotiations and trying to put together a government that works in places that are pretty hopeless,” Pascoe said.
With extensive experience in the former Soviet Union, China and many other countries and governments, Pascoe has plenty of knowledge to impart. He has shared his experience and insights with KU students interning in the nation’s capital, helping them understand global politics in a broader context and look to the future of international issues.
“I certainly find today’s students plenty bright, plenty capable and plenty inquisitive. I think they’ll do an excellent job,” Pascoe said.
Pascoe retired from Under-Secretary-General for the UN in July 2012 after five years in the position. Now Pascoe has settled in D.C. He said he appreciated all his time in Foreign Service and tries to encourage those interested in such a career, including his daughter who is herself a Foreign Service Officer.
“The truth is that the world is getting vastly more interconnected. I think it’s very important if people can to take a foreign language and especially, though, to get out and live in another country, live in another environment for a while. They’ll be better citizens of the U.S. when they do it.”