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US Ambassadors to Indonesia, Laos, Thailand, and Viet Nam visit campus

May 4, 2018

“[N]o empire is sustainable without astute statecraft, both diplomacy to court peers and dominance to control subordinates. Empires exercise much of their authority through alliances with peer states….  Always in flux, these relationships with other powers can elide into conflict through diplomatic breaches, economic competition, or war, thereby weakening the dominant state.”  – Alfred McCoy in Endless Empire.

On Tuesday, May 1st, the Southeast Asia Center and the Foster School’s Global Business Center co-sponsored a panel discussion featuring the US Ambassadors to Indonesia, Laos, Thailand, and Viet Nam, as well as the President and CEO of the US-ASEAN Business Council.  Our own Cliff Pederson (MA-SEA, 2018) served as moderator and led off with a hard-hitting question, asking about the Trump administration’s depopulation of the State Department and apparent pivot from diplomacy back toward global power politics.

Being highly-skilled, seasoned diplomats, the consensus from the panel was that bilateral and multilateral cooperation continues apace, rumors of the death of diplomacy are premature, and that Vice-President Pence has logged a lot of hours in ASEAN member states.  What is clear to everyone else, however, is the schizophrenic approach now playing out: friendly cooperation one day, saber-rattling, America-firsterism the next.

That same evening, the PBS Newshour’s Judy Woodruff interviewed journalist Ronan Farrow about his new book, War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence.  Farrow’s perception was not as sanguine as the Ambassadors’. Read more here.

We’ll be uploading the full video of the panel discussion soon, so stay tuned!