Former Ambassador and Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations at the Harvard Kennedy School Nicholas Burns met with 25 students and faculty members of the Jackson School on Thursday, Oct. 6 for a one hour discussion on key challenges and opportunities for U.S. foreign policy.
Burns opened his talk with a brief overview of the current state of global affairs, focusing on the crisis in Syria, the global refugee crisis, U.S.-China relations, climate change and Russia’s foreign policy.
Burns, a long serving diplomat and former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, said the biggest crisis in the world today is Syria. He analyzed the crisis there in a historical context as a sectarian conflict.
Some of the biggest concerns are the 12 million displaced persons, or half of Syria’s population, he noted.
He reflected on the chaos caused by militant groups in the country, and that Russia was given a clear field to operate in Syria in part as a result of lack of U.S. involvement:
“Russia’s aggression often reflects its history which was filled with attacks on its borders from the West. In recent years, we witness the invasions to Moldova and Georgia, but it is important to note that the U.S. is still the strongest power in the region because of the NATO alliance.”
In response to a student’s question about China, Ambassador Burns said: “China is not our enemy. China is our only chance for cooperation to combat the effects of climate change [for example]. The issue from a U.S. perspective is how do we compete with China for influence and domination and cooperate at the same time. In order to overcome global challenges, we must find the balance to work with them.”
In answering another student’s question about possible career paths and the importance of foreign languages, Burns said that one can do a lot of good working for NGOs.
“NGOs today more than ever before have a lot of power and influence. NGOs help generate the biggest changes in the world when it comes to public health, fighting poverty, promoting human rights …”
Ambassador Burns highlighted the need for student who want to go out into the world to learn foreign languages, especially Mandarin and Arabic, and called for more federal funding to invest in the study of foreign languages.
His visit was sponsored by the Jackson School and Center for Global Studies at the UW and the Henry M. Jackson Foundation as part of the Jackson School’s U.S. in the World Speaker Series, for which he gave a public talk to a standing-room only audience on Oct. 5 titled “Memo to the Next President: Challenges Facing the U.S. in a Complex World.“