Living History Interview With Ambassador

Author:Kenneth Quinn

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One of the unique features of Transnational Law and Contemporary Problems (TLCP) is the publication of a "Living History Interview" with a person of international accomplishment and renown. The Living History Interview complements the symposium format of TLCP by blending theory and practice, thus giving a practical perspective to the questions examined in the symposium. For this feature of TLCP, we conduct an interview with an individual who has experience in the same or related area of transnational law that the symposium addresses. The purpose of the interview is to invite a prominent international scholar, jurist, or politician-not to explore his or her professional point of view-but to gain insight into his or her personal perspectives as shaped by historical events in order to better understand the complex nature of international law.

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Dr. Kenneth Quinn, an Iowa native, began his career with the American Foreign Service in the early 1970s. His first assignment placed him in rural Vietnam as a development officer, where he became conversant in colloquial Vietnamese. Later, he became the first outsider to identify the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge in neighboring Cambodia. His ability to adapt to and observe local cultures helped him enact political and social change over his thirty-two years as a diplomat.

Dr. Quinn's initial work in Vietnam began a long and successful career in international work. He primarily focused on Indochina, but he also earned such titles as member of Henry Kissinger's National Security Council; Special Assistant to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke; Narcotics Counselor at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Vienna; Chairman of the Inter-agency Task Force on POW/MIAs; member of the U.S.-Russia POW/MIA Commission; and U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia. Dr. Quinn's skill as a translator played a critical role in ground-breaking negotiations which culminated in the first U.S. search of Vietnamese prisons for American POW/MIAs. Later, he served on the Russian prison investigatory team.

Dr. Quinn has been a lifelong advocate of international human rights. While serving on former Iowa Governor Robert Ray's staff, Dr. Quinn promoted aid for Indochinese refugees and assisted in their resettlement efforts. As Executive Director of Iowa SHARES, he recruited professionals and sent supplies to alleviate starvation in Cambodia. Dr. Quinn lived amidst terrorism and violence in the Middle East, the Philippines, and Cambodia. He has received numerous awards for his work, including the State Department Award for Human Rights and Democracy as well as a commendation by Secretary Albright for his efficiently run embassy in Phnom Penh; the Secretary of State's Award for Heroism and Valor for protecting U.S. citizens in Cambodia and assisting in rescue efforts in Vietnam; the American Foreign Service Association Award for the strength to question government decisions; the Department of Defense Award for Distinguished Civilian Service; the Presidential Distinguished Service Award; and a Treasury Department Award.

Dr. Quinn assumed leadership of the World Food Prize Foundation, which is located in Des Moines, Iowa, in January 2000, following his retirement from the State Department. The organization was inspired by Dr. Norman E. Borlaug and is directed at recognizing pioneers in global agriculture.1 Page 167

Living History Interview With Kenneth Quinn

Joseph Michaels, Editor in Chief of Volume 17, and William Hett, an Articles Editor for Volume 17, conducted this interview on August 30, 2007. William Street, Associate Note Editor for Volume 17, contributed questions.

TLCP: In January of 2000, following your retirement from the State Department, you assumed leadership here at the World Food Prize Foundation. Can you tell us about the World Food Prize Foundation?

QUINN: It was created for food and agriculture by one of the world's, and Iowa's, great heroes, Dr. Norman Borlaug. Dr. Borlaug was born in 1914 in Cresco, in Howard County. He worked in Mexico beginning in the mid-1940s and discovered he could cross-breed varieties of wheat which led to higher- yielding wheat that was more disease resistant. That wheat uplifted the poorest Mexican farmers. He was then asked to go to India and Pakistan in the 1960s, when its citizens faced imminent mass starvation and famine. The countries went from deficit to self-sufficient to surplus. Dr. Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, as the father of the Green Revolution. He went on to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and on July 17, 2007, he received the Congressional Gold Medal, America's highest civilian honor. There are only five people in the history of America to receive all three awards, and Dr. Borlaug is one of them. The others are Dr. Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, and Elie Wiesel. Dr. Borlaug is credited with saving a billion people; Atlantic magazine wrote that he saved more lives than any other person who has ever lived.

Dr. Borlaug asked the Nobel committee to create a Nobel Prize for food and agriculture. The committee did not have the legal authority or the money, so instead he created the World Food Prize. Dr. Borlaug came to Iowa and met John Ruan, an Iowa businessman and philanthropist, also born in 1914 in a small town in Iowa, who funded it. Since then, every October here in Iowa we give a quarter million dollar prize to a laureate who has made a breakthrough achievement in increasing the quality, quantity, or availability of food in the world. Laureates have come from Brazil, Bangladesh, Cuba, China, Denmark, India, Mexico, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. At the same time that we do the ceremony, we hold a symposium and bring in experts from around the world. This year it [was] on biofuels and biofoods-global challenges.

October 16 is World Food Day around the globe, and, by an act of the legislature, it is also Norman Borlaug World Food Prize Day in Iowa. In the whole 161-year history of Iowa, only two official days of recognition have ever been enacted for an individual: for Herbert Hoover and Norman Borlaug. Our goal is to have the most significant observance of World Food Day anywhere around the globe. The last fifty or sixty years have been the single greatest period of food production in all human history. There are few places that can match the heroes of agricultural innovation and humanitarian achievement that Iowa has produced. Page 168

Herbert Hoover, for example-most people think of him as a failed president. But in fact, Herbert Hoover is probably the single greatest humanitarian America has ever produced. In World War I, working for a Democrat-for Woodrow Wilson-he brought food to Europe, to feed close to a billion people. It was not like going and buying it there; there was not any food in Europe. If you go down to his museum, you'll see that people wrote back, wrote things like he saved Belgium; he saved Poland; he saved large numbers of children in what was then the brand new Soviet Union. He was a great humanitarian. He also did that after World War II, and alone. He is an incredible hero.

Also, there is Henry Wallace and the development of hybrid corn. Henry Wallace was the first one to inspire sharing of American agricultural knowhow. It was his inspiration that started this first program in Mexico in the mid-1940s that Dr. Borlaug went to, which was run by the Rockefeller Foundation.

Then you have George Washington Carver who got his education in Iowa. While he had most of his achievements when he was at Tuskegee, he never would have had that education, and never would have been in the position to do any of that, except for Simpson College and Iowa State University, which, unlike other schools in other nearby states, took him in. He was the first African-American student ever to attend; they opened the way and gave him the education and the wherewithal which unleashed his genius. This state has been the epicenter of some of the greatest agricultural achievements in human history.

TLCP: With crude oil prices rising over the past years, and particularly in recent months, this limited supply and limited number of suppliers of crude oils have brought an increased awareness of biofuels, especially ethanol. What is the future of ethanol, especially for Iowa farmers, on an international scale?

QUINN: If we're producing fuel with crops, suddenly we have a resource that need not ever run out. Unlike oil or coal, or whatever you take out of the ground, crop-based energy is not finite. You can always grow more.

TLCP: Is there any concern in the food aid community that more of the corn, especially in Iowa, is being devoted towards biofuels?

QUINN: These are the questions that come up, obviously. Is it going to be more expensive, or are the surpluses going to be there, as they were before? In addition, there is a whole debate in the food aid community about whether it should be American commodities versus American funds, which are used to buy foods locally and take it to people. With the farm bill up, that is always a big question.

TLCP: Getting humanitarian aid to countries like North Korea has not been an easy task. The DPKR essentially wants to control every dollar that comes into the country. Often that means only a small portion, if any, of the food Page 169 actually reaches those who need it most. What is the most effective way to get food to those who need it?

QUINN: North Korea is the single most difficult place to deliver food and assure it is getting where it needs to be. The way to best work at that is through the United Nations, especially in the case of countries that are deeply authoritarian and totalitarian and which rigidly control movement into and around their country. The personnel with the best chance of doing that...

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