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Bridges speaker: U.S. must connect with other countries, ‘non-state actors’

Princeton professor Anne-Marie Slaughter talked about changes in international relations spanning the Kennedy presidency to the modern day at a Bridges to the Future lecture on Feb. 2. Photo: Jeffrey Haessler

An audience at DU’s Newman Center for the Performing Arts considered billiard balls and LEGO sets Thursday evening as Bridges to the Future featured speaker Anne-Marie Slaughter talked about changes in international relations spanning the Kennedy presidency to the modern day.

The Princeton University professor of politics and international affairs and former director of policy planning for the State Department told the crowd of 700 that the governments that conducted the Cold War were something like billiard balls, insular and acting imperviously to external forces.

Today, not only are there more governments jockeying for position on the global stage, but now a wide range of “non-state actors” are actively affecting world issues and attempting to address problems. All those new players, Slaughter said, are like pieces of a LEGO set.

“The U.S. is still the most powerful nation, without question,” Slaughter said, but she noted that it must cultivate relationships with other countries, naming the European Union, Japan, China, India, Brazil, Turkey and Indonesia as growing powers that should not be ignored.

“We can’t do it all ourselves. We need partners,” she said.

Slaughter pointed to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves and Kiva, a crisis-mapping software developed by four young Kenyans, as examples of non-state actors stepping up to make changes and solve problems. She said a growing number of corporations, nongovernmental organizations, social organizations, charities and other entities tackle environmental, health and women’s issues on their own initiative, often in partnership with governmental agencies worldwide.

Under Secretary Hillary Clinton, she said, the State Department has helped cultivated those relationships.

“You can’t command; you have to mobilize people,” she said.

Slaughter said she started work at the State Department thinking she could teach Clinton about international affairs but found the opposite to be true. She said she takes pride in what Clinton has forged.

“One of the things I can respect is our government making sure that all interests are represented,” she said. “We’ve now got an entire arm of the State Department much more focused on people.”

She also pointed to tech@state, a newly developed arm of the State Department that finds ways to use advances in digital technology in the service of diplomacy.

“It’s the United States doing something that we do fabulously well,” she said.

In response to an audience member’s question, Slaughter said she believes any hope for a settlement to tensions between Israel and the Palestinians rests on the success of such ground-level initiatives.

“In many ways I worry deeply that we are losing the option for a two-state solution,” she said. Coming to terms politically and economically on the societal level is “long and slow and unpredictable, but it’s been 40 years [since the founding of the Palestinian Liberation Organization], and the government-to-government tactic is not working.”

The Bridges to the Future series was created in 2002 in an effort to understand and learn from the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. The series aims to engage Colorado residents in discussion about the nation’s history, responsibilities, values, dreams and hopes for the future.


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