Robert L. Gallucci Discusses Leadership "Lessons Learned"

photo: Robert L. Gallucci and Elliott School Dean Michael Brown
April 07, 2014

“You need to figure out what the mission is. And you need to figure out whether the people you work for — you need to see if what you think the mission is, is what they think the mission is. If the delta is significant between the two, work that out.” This was the advice of Robert L. Gallucci to future leaders during the Elliott School’s new Leadership in International Affairs: Lessons Learned series’ inaugural event.

Dr. Gallucci, president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, also served as the deputy executive chairman of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM), overseeing the disarmament of Iraq at the end of the Gulf War. During an Elliott School event on March 31, he discussed the lessons he took away from that experience, his analysis of today’s challenges regarding weapons of mass destruction, and what he considers to be the hallmarks of a great leader. The discussion was moderated by Elliott School Dean Michael E. Brown.

At the end of the first Gulf War in 1991, Dr. Gallucci said, “Iraqis did not believe they lost that war. They believed that they agreed with us to stop the war. But the terms under which they agreed to stop it was a UN Security Council resolution that they accepted — resolution 687.” That resolution, Dr. Gallucci noted, called for the disarmament of Iraq, including chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons — if the capability to produce such weaponry existed.

To enforce this resolution, a Special Commission was created, led by Swedish diplomat Rolf Ekéus. Dr. Gallucci became Ambassador Ekéus’s deputy. UNSCOM was initially very small — only four people, Dr. Gallucci recalled — but was responsible for ensuring that Iraq’s tens of thousands of pieces of munitions were destroyed. The commission was also dealing with a hostile entity who had no qualms about misleading the group.

Dr. Gallucci compared the mission of UNSCOM to that of the international inspectors who are charged with overseeing the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons program today.

“[Syria] is an entirely different situation. Their disposal problem is far, far smaller than ours was, but their inspection problem is much more challenging,” he said. “There are lots of dissimilarities. One of them is the coherence of the adversary in Iraq. There was an insane dictator to focus your energies on and a regime under him. You may have the same thing in a way in Syria, but you also have a very complicated situation on the ground with respect to the separate groups that are contending [for power].”

Dr. Gallucci also discussed his thoughts on the issue of nuclear security.

“What I worry about most is a terrorist incident with a nuclear weapon. Not a radiation dispersal device, an RDD or a dirty bomb, but a true nuclear yield coming from a terrorist,” he said.

Dr. Gallucci noted that terrorist organizations tend to favor multiple simultaneous attacks. “It struck me at one point: the number of cities that are struck in one day with a nuclear weapon is not really sensitive to the material it takes to make a weapon. If terrorists are able to acquire enough for one weapon, they almost certainly could acquire enough for four,” he said.

“We are dangerously close to an incredibly cataclysmic event that would change the nature of our country and international politics to an extraordinary sense.”

The goal of the Leadership in International Affairs: Lessons Learned series is to draw on the insights and experiences of prominent individuals who have participated in major international developments and to learn more about key events as well as the broader leadership lessons that individuals, organizations, and countries should derive for the future.

Dean Brown asked about Dr. Gallucci’s views on leadership — specifically what is important for leaders to do, regardless of institution.

“Figure out early on how you will evaluate your own performance. What will be the indicators that you’re doing good or doing poorly against that mission.”

“I think in terms of first risks and then second opportunities. What do you have to worry about going wrong? What do you have to do to mitigate that risk? The second thing, what opportunities are there out there that you should want to take advantage of?”

Finally, he noted, people are extraordinarily important. “Taking care of the people [on your team], worrying about their family lives, worrying about their kids, thinking about the human beings who you are asking to work for you, report to you, is the most important thing to take away,” Dr. Gallucci said. And, perhaps most importantly, “take care of your own family.”

The Leadership in International Affairs: Lessons Learned event series is made possible by the generosity of Elliott School alumnus and former chair of the Elliott School Board of Advisors David Nadler (B.A. ’70).