Wide-ranging and engaging panels on climate change, national security in the 2020s, and presidential elections, in addition to compelling conversations with Ambassador William J. Burns and Senator Todd Young, animated the Hamilton Lugar School’s fifth annual conference on America’s Role in the World®, which concluded on Friday with IU President Michael A. McRobbie presenting the inaugural Richard G. Lugar Award to Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
Ambassador Yovanovitch, who served in the Foreign Service for thirty-four years, has been celebrated by peers and the public for her integrity and dedication. She studied Russian in the Hamilton Lugar School’s Summer Language Workshop, which she called “life-changing” because of the possibilities it opened for her.
Her career promoting American interests and democratic principles included posts in Ottawa, Moscow, London, and Mogadishu, as well as ambassadorships in Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, and Ukraine. Women’s rights, civil society, and anti-corruption efforts were all important causes to Yovanovitch during her decades-long tenure, and she now continues this work for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
During her remarks, Ambassador Yovanovitch told the enthusiastic audience at IU Auditorium that she accepted the award on behalf of the men and women of the State Department, whose oaths to the Constitution compel them to act on behalf of the country, even when it is difficult. Diplomats and members of the Foreign Service tend to work behind the scenes and do not receive many headlines, but Ambassador Yovanovitch showed that their dedication to America’s interests is inspiring even when they view it as simply part of the job.
The first conference without the late Senator Richard Lugar, the two-day event embodied his pursuit of bipartisanship, honesty, and principled leadership on complex issues of international scope. During his time in office, he worked for a more just, more prosperous, and more secure world by utilizing America’s strengths, and his legacy still animates the discussion of many of our most pressing issues. Representative Lee Hamilton gave a touching dedication to the Senator for his vision, decency, and friendship.
America’s premier nonpartisan foreign policy conference allowed for a diverse collection of experts, activists, journalists, and current and former members of the government and military with different point of view, political parties, life experiences, and disciplines to interact in a collegial atmosphere of debate and inquiry. It was the type of experience, many participants noted, that serves as a model for the kind of political discourse the country should be striving to achieve.
Though the topics were far-reaching, some common themes emerged: the return of great power politics as a rising China gathers economic might and asserts itself globally; Russia’s ongoing quest to interfere in the affairs of other nations; the deepening connections between nations, making local problems become global; and, despite the complexity of international issues, the troubling move to hollow out the US’s diplomatic corps and replace experts with partisan appointees. All of this is taking place in the midst of a climate crisis that, if not addressed, will serve as a “threat multiplier,” to quote climate change panelist Vice Admiral Lee Gunn.
While some problems are new, others continue from the Cold War. Ambassador Yovanovitch, Senator Todd Young, and panelists on the national security panel all drew attention to the imminent expiration of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, an agreement between the US and Russia to limit offensive arms that Senator Lugar himself championed.
Despite possible dangers ahead, panelists highlighted America’s strengths, especially our network of powerful allies who can be partners in addressing challenges such as containing Russian aggression, treating the novel coronavirus, and fighting climate change. Though, as Ambassador Burns said, “Perfect isn’t on the menu for diplomacy,” it was Representative Lee Hamilton who argued that the US cannot dictate any outcome it wants, but skillful diplomacy can help us get most of what we want in a crowded, competitive and complicated world.
In his remarks, Senator Todd Young, a major proponent of the Department of Education’s Title VI Program that supports a nation-leading number of Hamilton Lugar School area studies centers and programs, advocated for bipartisanship in foreign affairs. He argued that American leadership is more crucial than ever and that investment in public research, coupled with private innovation, can ensure that the 21st century is another American century.
Senator Young, who once worked on the staff on Senator Lugar, also took part in a Q&A, where he discussed his letter to the International Olympic Committee urging it to move the Olympics away from China in 2022 due to the Chinese Communist Party’s violations of human rights. The violations—particularly severe in Xinjiang, where Uyghurs are being placed in re-education camps, their families are being broken up, and their cultural identities are being erased—are not consistent with the values of the Olympic Games, Senator Young said.
Though bipartisanship in the US appears nearly non-existent, Senator Young encouraged attendees to go to congress.gov to see how many bills are being passed with wide support yet aren’t discussed by divisive media outlets. He echoed Senator Lugar when he said, “We have the responsibility to ensure that our first impulse in foreign affairs is one of bipartisanship.”
The Hamilton Lugar School’s deepest values—global engagement, celebrating differences, and seeking mutual understanding—were all on vivid display throughout the conference, and attendees and participants gained a comprehensive view of ways that America can engage in the world.