GCSP ITC-LISC Alumni: Where are they now? No. 3: Ambassador Jacques Pitteloud

GCSP ITC-LISC Alumni: Where are they now? No. 4: Colonel (GS) Hans Eberhar

GCSP ITC-LISC Alumni: Where are they now? No. 3: Ambassador Jacques Pitteloud

Complexity of Security Policy, Confidence-building and Leadership

Ambassador Jacques Pitteloud was a participant in the 1989-1990 International Training Course in Security Policy (ITC), and kindly shared his insights with us on the complexity of security policy, confidence-building, and the importance of humility in leadership.


Thinking back now, what marked you the most about your GCSP course experience?

Just recently I was invited to a virtual dinner with someone who is one of the most experienced foreign policy experts in the United States, who has worked with seven different administrations, both Republican and Democratic. I came out of the dinner struck by how much I still had to learn. This is exactly the feeling I had when I arrived at the GCSP. I was fresh out of university with my PhD, with my new experience as a young diplomat, and I thought I knew it all. Suddenly I was confronted with people who had been dealing with security policy for 30 years. I thought I would never know so much. I questioned whether I would ever be able to formulate things the way these people did. For me, the course was about the systematic approach it followed: the books, the institutions, the mechanisms that one had to learn – but what was really important was the people – the experience of people with many different viewpoints focused on abolishing nuclear weapons or creating a framework that would make it possible for adversaries to speak to each other. That was my main experience.


Do you feel your time at the GCSP influenced your career trajectory after you had completed the course?

I had two passions in my life: international relations and security. My security focus was on hard security. I suddenly realised that security policy combines both military preparedness for the worst case and diplomacy to make sure that the situation stays in the realm of preparedness and does not move to the use of force. The course added layers of complexity. I realised that the world is much more complex than the black-and-white, Cold War experience that I was used to, and that there was a need to start thinking about how to show empathy for the other side – how to try and understand their concerns, their fears, their mistrust – in order to avoid a situation where both sides became locked into a violent conflict. Did the course really change my way of approaching security? Definitely.


Is there anything you learned during your time on the course that has proved to be relevant no matter how international security has evolved?

It gave me a common or universal approach to security policy problems that I'm still using today. They are the same all over the world. It's all about confidence-building measures. It's all about how to initiate a dialogue. How do you deal with conflict in the first phase? All these skills I use right now in my job as Ambassador to the United States, and thus being responsible for the US mandate with Iran. These are the lessons of the Helsinki process; these are the lessons of START; these are the long lessons of the MTCR. This is how you approach the problems you are confronted with: draw from your experience; draw from your history. We had an advantage from having done the course, because we had people systematically teaching us about the lessons that we needed to learn. I definitely would not have had the same career without the ITC.


We always hear that the international security environment is constantly changing; do you agree?

Everything changes, but nothing changes, because in the end we are speaking about human beings who are motivated by the primal factors of fear, aggression and anger. And security policy is about addressing fear, mistrust and aggression. Whether we are back in the Cold War with all the misunderstandings (and how close we were to nuclear war a few times), or whether we are now in a situation where a drone entering Iranian airspace can trigger something that will then turn into a hot conflict – there is no difference. In the end, it's about misunderstandings. A misjudgement can easily turn into an overreaction. Most conflicts I've been trying to study start with people misjudging the intentions of their adversary – who will become the enemy once we are in a hot war. That's something that you see all the time. Security policy is about addressing all these primal factors and making sure that you're trying to address the problems in a rational and intellectually constructive manner.


The ITC was always a leadership course, which is what inspired its current name – the Leadership in International Security Course (LISC). Are there any lessons on leadership you would like to share with our community?

The first leadership lesson – and the most important to me – is: Whenever you get into a leadership position, surround yourself with people who are better than you are. There is a very strong tendency in human beings to feel that no one should steal their limelight; thus there is a tendency to surround yourself with people who are slightly less gifted than you are. That's a terrible mistake. Because if you surround yourself with a brilliant team, their achievements will reflect on you, and it will further your career. The second lesson, related to the first, is that when you have good people in your team, give them the floor. Let them talk, let them show what they know. You should be secure enough to say: “We're talking about a topic that he/she knows better than I do.” Let him/her shine. The third one is, you have to enjoy what you're doing. Because otherwise you're in the wrong job!


Finally, would you like to share your views on lifelong learning?

If there is one thing that the GCSP taught me, it's to be intellectually humble. Because you realise that no matter how much you learn, no matter how many people you meet, no matter how much experience you accumulate, in the end you will only be able to see a very small part of the complexity of the problems you were addressing. And so – we’ll – never, never stop learning. There is no perfect solution; there is no perfect answer. You know, we are all trying to find the perfect answer, but it's not there. And the GCSP course gives you the kind of intellectual relativism you need to be humble. That’s something that I’ll always be grateful for.




Jacques Pitteloud has been Ambassador of Switzerland to the United States since September 2019. Prior to this accreditation, he was Ambassador of Switzerland to Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia and the Seychelles. He served as the Swiss government’s first Intelligence Coordinator from 2000 to 2005, after which he was appointed Director for Arms Control, Disarmament, Security Policy and Intelligence at the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs in Bern. Ambassador Pitteloud joined the Swiss Foreign Service in 1987, first serving as advisor to the Foreign Minister. From 1988 to 1989 he was a commercial attaché at the Swiss Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. From 1990 to 1995 he worked in the Swiss Strategic Intelligence Service. Following this, he served as personal advisor to two successive defence ministers until 1999. From 1999 to 2000 he led a study group tasked with redesigning the structure of the Swiss Armed Forces. He holds a master’s degree and a doctorate from the Faculty of Law at the University of Zurich. Following an assignment in the Middle East, he graduated from the GCSP’s International Training Course in Security Policy (ITC) in 1990.