Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History

Senator Chuck Hagel on Foreign Policy Challenges


HagelSenator Chuck Hagel, who has been nominated by President Obama to be the next Secretary of Defense, was awarded ADST’s Ralph J. Bunche Award for Diplomatic Excellence in February 2010.  In his extemporaneous acceptance remarks, Hagel stressed the importance of questioning past assumptions and of understanding new international frames of reference in facing new challenges. He called for a spirit of consensus among our national leaders and for accommodating common interests among nations in unpredictable and unstable times.  At right, Senator Hagel with ADST President Ken Brown.

“Only the United States can lead”

To each of you in this institution that you represent as embodied by your selfless service to our country, we all thank you. I think this organization, other organizations that are represented here tonight, may be more important in this new century than ever before. We are living at a defining time in the world. It is a time when we are building a new world order.

And I’ve read once again the story of Ralph Bunche and what he did, what he represented, how he did it, at truly one of the most defining times in the history of man…at that defining time after WWII, when we the United States, rebuilt the world. We built a new world order for the second half of the 20th century. Bunche’s record is rather clear on that and he never stopped. He continued to contribute. We are living at such a time as Ralph Bunche lived coming out of WWII. This is a time when, in fact, this organization, what our career Foreign Service professionals are doing, is as meaningful, and maybe more meaningful than ever before. Communication, understanding, accommodation, are all now at the forefront in ways we’ve never had to quite deal with….

If you want a sliver of some evidence of what I’m talking about, look at relationships and alliances as this early part of the 21st century is shifting and realigning and reordering, defining a new world order. Japan, Turkey, South Korea no longer see themselves as America’s junior partners. Other nations in the world are redefining their orientation. This is not a zero-sum game. This is not a game where America loses and other countries win. And I believe that if we take that approach, if we assume that direction, if we calculate that metric on the basis of a zero-sum business, then in fact the world will become more dangerous, the world will become more uncertain. Because only the United States, still to this day, can lead. Not dominate, not dictate, not impose, not invade, not occupy, but lead, just as we did after WWII.

When we think of the organizations and the institutions that were built, the coalitions of common interest that were built after WWII, all imperfect, all difficult. They provided stability in the world essentially like never before. All the problems that we’ve had in the last 60 years in the world, big problems. And yet, our greatest leaders after WWII all went to their graves concerned about the nuclear exchange: still an issue, still a threat, still relevant, still a reality. But think of what we’ve accomplished in the last 60 years by any measurement in any field, in science and technology, no third world war. We’ve had war, we’ve had conflict, we’ve had confrontation. I suspect we’ll continue to have. But an accommodation of common interest was the essence of how we along with our allies built that new world order. And that accommodation of common interest will be more important as we move forward into this new century than ever before. But,nations, people, societies, cultures, all living organisms are not static; they’re dynamic and they define and redefine and they mature. And if there was ever a time for our leaders, career Foreign Service, leaders in every dimension of our society and our country today, to question past assumptions it is now.

“We need something more important than just winning an election”

Frames of reference, reference points are all shifting, they’re all changing, if we look at the first ten years of this century, look at what has occurred in these last ten years, and we start with, as Churchill once said, the “jolting gong” of September 11, 2001. And that jolting gong propelled an uncertainty and a dynamic that our country, our society, had never known anything quite like it. The last time we had had that kind of uncertainty was World War II. The consequences, the ripple effect of this, are still in play today. We are in two wars today, one our longest war, the next right behind it, because of September 11. I suspect September 11 also was one of the ingredients of this deadly brew that we now know as a global-financial crisis. Things are shifting and changing at an unprecedented rate. We cannot frame quick enough answers to these challenges, whether it’s in intelligence, or the military, or the State Department. And public-private international partnerships now become more critically important than ever before, harnessing resources based on a common interest. We have differences with our allies, we have differences with nations. Our strongest, closest allies don’t agree on every issue.

You take NATO for a moment. I think, arguably, NATO has been the most successful collective security institution in the history of man. But NATO was not just about collective security. It was far more than collective security. It stabilized the world, because NATO was the only institution capable economically, strategically, diplomatically, militarily, of being an anchor of global stabilization. Now, all institutions, as I noted earlier, are part of a living, breathing, dynamic world. So new challenges confront our government, confront NATO, confront the United Nations, confront every institution. The same applications of standards and philosophy and structure, and policy, the same reference points, the same frames of reference today aren’t good enough. We have to reorient those institutions.….

The WWII generation era is passing from the scene…. When you lose people like John  Warner, Pat Moynihan, John Chaffey, Ted Kennedy, the leadership is losing a group of individuals who always put first driving to a consensus, a consensus of purpose….  Today partisan paralysis has essentially gripped our institutions of self-governance….

The new generation needs to be tempered and anchored with something more important than just winning an election, just reading a script, something that is at the bottom of your soul that makes you feel for a purpose. Why is it that everyone in this room made so many sacrifices over so many years, as well as your family? It sure as hell wasn’t for the money, I doubt it was for the prestige. It was because you believed in something so much greater, not only than your own self-interests. But also, there was another reason. You lived at a time when you had an opportunity to truly shape the future and the destiny of man. We need to come back to that sense of purpose to who we are, not as Americans—Americans count, of course—but citizens of the world, citizens of the globe.

The continuity of stability is going to be as critical a part of this next generation of Foreign Service officers as any one component, because terrorism is real, it’s there, we’re going to be dealing with it. It’s not new, new to us, fairly new to us, it isn’t new to Israel. It’s not new to any European country or African country. It was new to us. That’s not the great challenge that faces man. Terrorism is not a philosophy, it’s a tactic. The great challenge for mankind, for America, is great areas of unpredictability and instability, and when you look at the 6,7, 8 billion people in the world today and our demographers say we are going to get to over 9 billion by 2050 and you start to take those demographics down, people under 21, under 17, and where they’re located, we’ve got an immense, immense, job ahead of us here.

Because if we allow this to get out of hand, we being those who are responsible for the management of our own affairs and through the United Nations and other institutions, to get out of hand to the point that we cannot stabilize because the problem is too big, you don’t have enough Marines, you don’t have enough money, you don’t have enough USAID people, it’s too big. And what happens when the world gets completely out of balance in a case like that: health issues, environmental issues, energy issues, resource issues? Those are not limited to borders. Those are realities that we are dealing with right now and they will become more severe. I believe that with our continued wise leadership and very much focused around our strategic thinking of our career Foreign Service, our mechanisms within the State Department, with the adjunct programs that are affiliated with diplomacy, and the military is important, all this represents a group of instruments of power, and how you apply those instruments together in unison with the larger strategy will make the difference. We have the technology, we have the ability.

“Half of the people in this room 90 years ago could not vote in the United States”

Jim Clifton, head of Gallup, was in to see me the other day, and he said it’s interesting, all this talk about America may be on the backside, maybe it’s China’s century, not our century, questioning who we are, questioning our system. Can we govern? Front page of The Economist, front page of TIME magazine, front page of Newsweek last week, all about how our institutions of governance are so broken we can’t govern ourselves. I say to that: “nonsense.” I say that, because as Jim Clifton pointed out to me, Gallup, when you look at the numbers regarding who wants to come to the United States, who still is coming to the United States, it isn’t just the people in the 1950s, or the ‘60s, or ‘70s. His numbers show that more than 80% of the scientists, the smartest people in the world, all over the world, still want to come to the United States. It isn’t China, it’s not India, it’s not Brazil, not any country in Europe; it’s the United States.

Does that mean we’re better than anybody? No. Does that mean we’re smarter? No. We have a system…that people around the world have some sense of, and that’s a unique, American self-correcting system. It’s part of the Constitution. We have 27 Amendments to the Constitution. What’s that all about? Well, half of the people in this room 90 years ago could not vote in the United States of America. Oh, this can’t be true? Well, it is true. The current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue; do you think without the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act in the mid-‘60s, the current President would be in the White House today? I doubt it. We self-correct. Doesn’t mean we’re better. We should never think we’re better. And we should respect other cultures, we should respect other religions, we should respect people who are different from us and look different from us, and act different from us. Our system doesn’t fit everyone. And I don’t need to tell all of you here who have lived all over the world and understand. It fits pretty well for us. But we need to do something with this more than maybe what we have been doing over the last few years. We will reorient, we will get back our balance that we’ve lost and it will be much because of this next generation coming in behind who really have been tempered by it, tempered by no other dynamic than observing what’s going on. Observing what’s going on….

I teach one class a week in the [Georgetown] School of Foreign Service…. Most of those in my class want to be part of the Foreign Service, knowing full well that they probably aren’t going to make much money. They know full well that they are probably headed for some hardship, with little control at least early on of where they’re assigned, where they go. But they want to be part of what I talked about earlier: being in the middle of helping shape the destiny of this great country in the world. That’s what motivates them. And they’re smart and they understand it. They’re not just smart because they can regurgitate back a textbook. It’s in the fabric, it’s in the texture, it’s woven into their being and that’s a very, very good sign for this country; it’s a good sign for the world. And we need to take all of that and strategically do something with that and build on the great contributions that the people in this room have made to our country because you have made a better world and we are all better for it.

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