Permanent Representative of Austria to the UN, Ambassador Jan Kickert speaks at Utah Valley University

The Utah Valley University (UVU) Global Engagement Office hosted Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations, His Excellency Jan Kickert on February 19, 2019. His visit was met by excitement and engagement by both the UVU faculty and students.

Before his visit to UVU, Austrian diplomat had the opportunity to meet with members of the State Legislature and other lawmakers in the State of Utah. He also met with the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and took some time with his family to enjoy the world-famous Utah powder, visiting three of Utah’s most popular Ski Resorts.


Ambassador Jan Kickert speaks before UVU audience

The title of the presentation of Ambassador Jan Kickert before the UVU faculty and students was: “What foreign policy for a small country? The case of Austria”. . His primary topic was addressing the foreign policy concerns and issues that Austria is currently facing. He first gave the audience a brief history of Austria to provide context for their current international dialogue. He briefly spoke on the days of the Austrian Empire, the competition between itself and Prussia for the creation of a German state, the collapse of the empire after the First World War, the events of the Second World War, and its occupation by allied powers after the conflict. The neutrality agreement that Austria signed as part of their independence continues to guide their foreign policy today.

During the Cold War, as Ambassador Kickert stated, Austria became a bridge of sorts because of its neutrality. It was able to be a neutral meeting ground for the US and the Soviet Union and many other antagonistic groups because of it. Ambassador  mentioned that small nations must find their niche, and that Austria found its niche inbeing that meeting ground for others. The fact that one of the four Headquarters of the United Nations is based in the Austrian capital of Vienna, speaks to the country’s commitment to the United Nations and international diplomacy. The nation joined the UN same year that it gained its independence from the occupying Allied powers in 1955.

Of the concerns that Austria currently has, Mr. Kickert mentioned Nuclear Disarmament, the Safety of Citizens in War Zones, AI controlled weapons, and climate change. Many of the glaciers that are in the Austrian Alps are receding or gone altogether, and the tourist industry is also being threatened by lack of snowfall. He mentioned that a new industry called snow farming has started booming in Austria to help keep the ski resorts open and tourists coming into the country.

UVU students in the audience during the presentation of Ambassador Jan Kickert

As to the issue of nuclear disarmament, Austria is pushing for the complete disarmament of all nuclear weapons. Never a possessor of nuclear weapons themselves, they have been strong proponents of nuclear non-proliferation, but now are one of the nation’s wishing to see the complete elimination of all nuclear arsenals.

Along with the disarmament, Austria is working towards preventing the implementation of weapons that are controlled by AI intelligence, instead of by a human being. Ambassador cited his concerns about the decision to kill being made by a machine instead of a human, and both the humanitarian and moral implications that could carry with it. He also spoke briefly on trying to protect innocent civilians in war zones and limiting their risk in combat. This issue has become of particular concern for Austria with the recent conflicts and subsequent refugee crises in the Middle East.

Ambassador also discussed the topic of refugees and how politically divisive this has become in Austria. The rise of a strong conservative faction in the country is now a part of the government and made the decision to have Austria withdraw from the UN Global Compact on Migration. Many other nations including the United State have withdrawn from the compact. Mr. Kickert spoke on Austria’s long history of immigration and how the population has been sustained by immigration in the past.

Ambassador Jan Kickert entertained questions for the last several minutes of his presentation. One was on the question of how Brexit would affect Austria. His short answer was that while it definitely was a major blow to the European Union, Austria would not feel the effects as strongly as other nations would. While Austria is an export heavy country, it has few business ties with Great Britain, most of its trade going to Germany and the United States.

Presentation of gifts to Ambassador Jan Kickert

Some other questions were asked but soon the meeting was wrapped up, and some small gifts were presented from the University to Mr. Kickert, also granting him an honorary professorship at the University. He closed his remarks by commenting that he was impressed by the level of involvement of the students of UVU with UN and that he was grateful to have the opportunity to return to Utah after many years.

One can hope that this meeting is the beginning of a strong and cooperative partnership not only for UVU, but for the state of Utah with the country of Austria. Both areas are very mountainous, and the problems that our communities face are very similar. Hopefully, we can help one another find solutions and make the world a better place and continue on in Sustainable Mountain Development.

By Brandon Pedler, German Club President, Member UIMF

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Video of the presentation  

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UVU Review about the visit of Ambassador Jan Kicket to UVU 

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STUDENT REFLECTIVE ESSAYS

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Dirk Gum                           Taylon Thomas

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Joel Frost           MacKenzie Williams

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Mariah Todd                      Miles Gevas

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Leslie Sixtos                        Jared Faux

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Austin Meline                    Abeir Isawy

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Cory-Levin                      Parker Dolton

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Ahmed Alsharif     Hazim Alshanbari

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Camille Hall       Samantha Tiburcio

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