Remarks at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy Von Der Heyden Lecture

James B. Steinberg
Deputy Secretary of State
Durham, NC
February 28, 2011

MODERATOR: I’d like to welcome you all to the Sanford School of Public Policy and this year’s Von der Heyden Fellows Program Endowment Fund guest lecture. I’m Bruce Jentleson, a professor on the faculty here. And it’s my privilege to get us started on today’s lecture. This year’s Von der Heyden lecture should say is sponsored by the American Grand Strategy Program, which has a nice banner; it’s right behind me. And it’s cosponsored by the Triangle Institution for Security Studies, the Sanford School, the Duke Office of Global Strategy and Programs, and the “A World Together Initiative.” I’d also like to express our thanks for his continued support to Karl Von der Heyden. And it’s with great pleasure both professionally and personally that I introduce the Deputy Secretary of State for the United States James B. Steinberg.

There is a long tradition of eminent Von der Heyden lecturers which Deputy Secretary Steinberg adds further to. As the Deputy Secretary, Jim is the second highest ranking official in the State Department and is deeply involved in the making of our nation’s foreign policy. Given the nature of the times in which we live here in the early part of the 21st century as times of historic transition, broad and profound challenges, serious risks, and also major opportunities for the United States to advance our own interests and ideals, and also to contribute to greater security, peace, prosperity, and democratic reform in the world, we really need someone with Jim’s good combination of extraordinary intellect and enormous experience playing such a key role.

He brings to this position much prior policy experience. He was appointed Deputy Secretary by President Obama at the very beginning of the Administration and quickly confirmed by the U.S. Senate. And his prior policy experience includes prominent positions in the State Department during the first Clinton Administration, as director of the Policy Planning staff, and as also a deputy assistant secretary for Intelligence and Research, and then in the second Clinton Administration, as Deputy National Security Advisor in the White House. He also served in Congress as the Foreign Policy and Defense Policy aide for Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and in many other positions in his long and distinguished career in Washington.

He’s also held important positions in the academic and think tank worlds, including as Dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs in the University of Texas in Austin and at the Brookings Institution as vice president for Foreign Policy Studies as well as positions at Rand and the London-based International Institute of Strategic Study. He has his undergraduate degree from the Duke of the north, also known as Harvard and his law degree from Yale.

But beyond the lines in his CV, I can really tell you from having worked with Jim for many years and knowing him as a colleague and friend how widely respected he is both in the United States and internationally for that combination of intellectually firepower and practical policy savvy. I think you’ll get a sense of that today from his speech, and afterwards he’s agreed to take some questions. Following, we’ll follow our usual procedures of lining up at the microphones; but more on that after we’ve had the lecture. So please join me in welcoming to Duke Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg. (Applause.)

DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Well, thank you, Bruce, for that very generous introduction, and it’s a great pleasure to be here. As a not fully lapsed academic, I always relish the chance to be back at a university, and particularly at such a distinguished one as Duke and the Sanford School. I also am delighted to be in the company of so many alumni of policy planning here. Bruce and I worked together and the dean and Peter [Feaver] is also sort of a policy planner from his White House stint, and it’s really a tribute to the school here and the university to have such distinguished scholar practitioners as part of your team. And so that was a particular motivation for me to want to come and be with you here today.

And I’m also pleased I had a chance to meet with President Brodhead who is a very distinguished scholar from one of my alma maters, as you know, from Yale. You are very fortunate to have his leadership here. He’s really the kind of leader that we need to have at a 21st century university, particularly with a focus on connecting our universities here in America with the rest of the world. It’s a very important project that’s critical to our long-term future. I also want to thank Karl Von der Heyden, the sponsor of this. I know I can appreciate as a former dean the importance of having friends of the university and programs like this, and I’m privileged to be able to give this lecture.

I know there have been many distinguished predecessors including John Lewis Gaddis and others, and I know that among the other speakers you’ve had here are my colleague Secretary of Defense Bob Gates which is part of the Texas duo we have here from Bob’s years at A&M and mine at the University of Texas. It’s been a valuable rivalry that we’ve been able to sustain, and I can be – honestly say that I’m an appropriate person here to commiserate with you on the basketball front since neither of us had a good last couple days on the basketball court.

It’s often said when we think about the challenges that we face that history is accelerating, that the first derivative of historical change is not just positive, but it’s an upward sloping curve. And my own career in government is a microcosm of this broader truth. When I joined the Justice Department in 1979, one of the principal jobs I was handed after just a few months in office was working with then-Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher to manage the Iranian hostage crisis in the wake of the Iranian revolution. When I returned in 1993, I went to work again with Warren Christopher – who was at that point now a Secretary of State – to help shape the new global order following the end of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

On my third incarnation in government, I came back and I’m now sitting in the same chair that Warren Christopher sat in when he was deputy secretary 20 years before working with President Obama and Secretary Clinton on a broad range of challenges that weren’t even on our radar screen in my first time around – issues like extremist terrorism exploiting the name of Islam, climate change, cyber security, and of course, the dramatic popular movements that are now sweeping the Arab and Islamic world.

Three administrations, three revolutions that have changed the world as we know it – Iran, the end communism in Russia and Central Europe, and now a democratic awakening in the Middle East, the timing of each one coming largely as a surprise not just to policy makers, but to scholars and analysts in universities and think tanks as well. The only thing that I can say from my own foresight on these latest dramatic developments is that I had a good sense not to commit in advance to too specific a topic for today, which allows me to speak about the significance of the unfolding drama without you all thinking that you’ve come to the wrong lecture.

These three revolutions are a dramatic illustration of the pace of change during our lifetimes, but they emerge in the context and are driven by more systemic forces that themselves form a core element of the challenges that face the United States today. I’m speaking, of course, of the twin phenomena of increasing globalization and interdependence fueled by a technological revolution of communications and information that have changed the face of our world bringing people closer together, fueling economic growth and human opportunity even in remote corners of the planet, but also enabling the dangerous forces that threaten our well-being and even our survival.

This revolution has spurred the emergence of new powers, this technology revolution from nations like India, China, Brazil, and others that compete for influence on the global stage to non-state actors from NGOs to international criminals and terrorists. States, of course, remain strong and critical to the international order. But the super-empowered individual, as Tom Friedman has dubbed them, has shown the limits of even determined states. So I want to reflect today on the implications of all these revolutions for the United States and for policy makers like my colleagues and me.

Most of the time, of course, we’re preoccupied with the here and now implications of these revolutions that I’ve described. For example, how should we dissuade an extremist government in Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons that could destabilize the Middle East and threaten our security? How do we manage relations with the Russia which is no longer an adversary and shares many interests with the United States, but one that also fails to protect opposition journalists and maintains a military occupation of parts of its sovereign neighbor Georgia? How should we react to a popular outpouring in Egypt, which reflects the strong aspirations for freedom and economic opportunity which we strongly support, but which brings uncertainty about the future of a nation which has been a key partner for the United States in bringing peace and stability to the Middle East? Each of these questions would be worthy of a lecture themselves.

But today, I want to talk about the broader strategy that we in the Obama Administration are pursuing that underlines how we respond to each of these individual challenges. I do so for two reasons, and not simply because I’m a former policy planner and an academic. First, because as recent events have shown, much of our work is dealing with the unpredictable and the unanticipated. And in dealing with fast-moving challenges, it’s essential to have clear channel markers to help navigate unfamiliar shoals.

And second, because in order to have the support of the American people and maximize our ability to shape the decisions of others, we need clear principles that will help others to understand why we make the choices that we do, how we manage trade-offs among interests and priorities, and what values we bring to the exercise of policy.

In all of the work of our Administration, we are guided by two core convictions. First, that in today’s interconnected world, no nation, no matter how powerful, can alone seize the opportunities and master the great challenges of our time. From sustaining economic growth, to fostering human freedom, to combating terrorism and climate change, the need for international cooperation is clear.

Second – and this insight will be familiar to the political scientists and economists in the room – although the need for cooperation is clear – the demand, as it were – there is no invisible hand that will magically bring the supply of cooperation about; quite the contrary. As we know both from theory and practice, there are deep obstacles to generating cooperation, even when cooperation would serve the interests of all concerned. This, of course, is the problem with collective action. The presence of externalities, the temptations of free writing and the uncertainties about burden and benefit sharing all stand in the way of generating the cooperation that is so essential to our security and our well-being.

To overcome these obstacles, leadership is essential – leadership that the United States can uniquely provide because of our capacity, our can-do spirit, and the trust we have engendered as a provider of global goods, especially since the end of World War II. These basic principles animate our global strategy. They emerge from experience as well as theory, the limits of unilateralism and coercion to achieve national objectives, the importance of defining our own national interests in ways that are compatible with the interest of others, the value of fostering relations based on shared values as well as shared interest to facilitate cooperation, but also the need for institutions and arrangements among those with diverse interests that can help us limit conflict and facilitate consensus building and concerted action.

These insights lie at the heart of our national security strategy as outlined by President Obama last year and in the approach laid out by Secretary Clinton at the Council on Foreign Relations this past September. In that speech, Secretary Clinton called for, and I quote, “a network of alliances and partnerships, regional organizations and global institutions that is durable and dynamic enough to help us meet today’s challenges and adapt to threats that we cannot even conceive of, just as our parents never dreamt of melting glaciers or dirty bombs.” She called the structure that we seek a global architecture of cooperation.

Now, what are the elements of this approach? First, the cornerstone of our global engagement remains cooperation with our closest allies. It’s readily apparent why this should be so – shared values and longstanding habits of cooperation reduce the inherent barriers to collaboration. It helps that many of our historic allies have significant economic, political, and even military capability, which makes them especially valuable partners. These longstanding relationships not only make it easier to coordinate tactical actions, even when we have divergent views of the best ways to achieve shared interests, but they also make it easier to come together to meet new challenges based on a track record of proven success. The systematic value of these partnerships makes clear why they have endured past the original circumstances that brought them into being, and all of the predictions that they would come to their demise with the end of the circumstances that brought them into being.

Now when we think of these partnerships, we naturally think of Europe and our East Asian partners, the relationships that were forged in the crucible of the Cold War but are still at the heart of our strategy today. We tend to hear less about the transatlantic partners, but that’s not because their value has diminished, but rather because we encountered few serious disagreements in pursuing our common agenda. The recent summits in Lisbon where we renewed our security alliance in NATO through the adoption of a new strategic concept, to the U.S.-EU summit where we strengthened our cooperation on trade and investment, counterterrorism, and global development, are strong evidence of the vitality of our partnership. From the nearly 40,000 Europeans serving with the United States in Afghanistan, to our joint work on Iran’s nuclear program, to supporting democracy and peace in the Middle East, to combating 20th century threat – 21st century threats like cyber security, international criminals and terrorists, the transatlantic relationship is thriving.

In East Asia, too, our Cold War partners – Japan, South Korea, and Australia – remain at the heart of our strategy. Japan is the cornerstone of our engagement in East Asia with our strong military alliance fortified with deep economic bonds and working together on global challenges; a forward-thinking alliance, which we are working to consecrate with a new strategic outlook as we think about the next 60 years of our alliance just as we commemorate the past.

South Korea plays an increasingly important role in our strategy as its democracy and economy flourish to take its place not only on the regional but also on the global stage. Although our security alliance in the face of the growing threat from North Korea remains central, our partnership is broadening and deepening, as will be dramatically illustrated by the ratification of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement this coming year. South Korea’s global role too is on display as the host last year of the G-20 and this year’s coming hosting of the Nuclear Security Summit. Similarly, with our partnership in Australia, our work together in Afghanistan and Southeast Asia and around the world remains a bedrock of our security and our prosperity.

Our hemispheric neighbors too are central. Secretary Clinton visited Mexico a few weeks ago and President Calderon will be meeting with – again with President Obama this week. I myself have visited Mexico three times as Deputy Secretary. The threat posed by transnational criminal organizations and drug traffickers is a shared one, and we have taken our cooperation in meeting this threat to an unprecedented level of engagement, recognizing that the responsibility lies on both sides of the border.

But our support goes much deeper through the Merida Initiative, through our efforts to build a 21st century border that facilitates transactions between our peoples, to our collaboration on energy and the environment. Mexico too is playing an increasingly global role as its successful leadership of the Cancun Climate Summit so dramatically illustrates.

Canada too remains an indispensible and special partner, an economy uniquely integrated with our own that is working with us on hemispheric issues like bringing stability to Haiti and building stronger security cooperation across our border as illustrated by the recent agreement announced by President Obama and Prime Minister Harper. These alliances represent the core of our strategy. But there are also new powers emerging in just about every region of the world. They are seeking and finding a greater role in decision making.

Countries like Brazil and Indonesia and Turkey now reside among the world’s 20 largest economies. And it’s welcome news that nations like these and others, like South Africa, will have a growing capacity to contribute beyond their borders, both regionally and globally as anchors of stability. We want to be sure that their growing role in the international system is one that strengthens our capacity to meet what we believe to be shared challenges. But nowhere is the importance of building new ties to emerging powers more consequential than in our relationships with the Asian giants – India and China.

President Obama’s recent visit to India showed what an indispensible partner that nation has become as reflected in the President’s support for a permanent seat for India on the UN Security Council in the context of Security Council reform. Through our strategic dialogue, deepening economic ties and security cooperation, and especially because of the deep ties between our peoples – entrepreneurs, technologists, educators, cultural leaders, and the like – the relationship between the United States and India over the past decade has risen to heretofore unimaginable heights.

President Obama has said that there is no more consequential relationship for America’s future than our relationship with China. As Secretary Clinton has said, this is not a relationship that fits neatly into a black and white category, like friend or rival. But like many of these emerging power relationships, it is one with enormous potential. China’s evolution over the past two decades is nothing short of breathtaking, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty and catapulting China into the forefront of regional and global leadership. Both China and we reject the idea that we make up a so-called G-2 condominium that could run the world. But there is scarcely a global problem that would not be easier to solve when we are working effectively together. Ours is, as the Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi recently observed, an unprecedented relationship. We are truly charting new waters. It is a relationship that is neither destined to succeed nor doomed to fail. But we both recognize it will take a determined effort on both sides to seize the potential and avoid the classic dilemma inherent in the relationship between established and rising powers: the danger that a cycle of mistrust could lead to conflict.

That’s why we place so much importance and emphasis on dialogue, including the Strategic and Economic Dialogue established at the beginning of our Administration and chaired on our side by Secretaries Clinton and Geithner, and especially on the importance of military-to-military ties. The eight meetings between our two presidents in the first two years of the Obama Administration, culminating in last month’s visit by President Hu to Washington, is a reflection of the determination of both sides to try to keep this relationship on course.

We’ve had important successes: moving forward on climate change in Copenhagen and Cancun; dealing with nonproliferation challenges from Iran to North Korea, although we think it’s especially important now that China reinforce what our two leaders said in their joint statement about the necessity of the North Koreans abandoning their nuclear activities, including their uranium enrichment program, and return to the implementation of the 2005 joint statement in which North Korea pledged to move forward on denuclearization.

We also need to see more effective steps from China to rebalance its economy, both for its own sake and to sustain global growth. And as Secretary Clinton has made clear, we need to continue to be frank about our differences on human rights and political reform, as well as our commitment to continue to press China on these issues.

Now, I should also say that while it may seem a bit odd to include in the list of emerging powers our old friend Russia, it in many ways is, as a new Russia, part of the emerging landscape and therefore can be seen as very different from the relationship we had during its former superpower status. And our reset with Russia has enabled significant new cooperation on a range of issues, including the sanctions on Iran and North Korea, supply routes into Afghanistan. And just last month, Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Lavrov signed the New START Treaty on reducing nuclear weapons.

Of course, we still have disagreements on issues ranging from the treatment of journalists to the occupation in Georgia, but they no longer foreclose the possibility of working together with a country that can offer so much, as can Russia.

Now, I’ve sketched the first two parts of our strategy: traditional alliances and dealing with emerging powers. But the third part is to marshal collective action against shared challenges by going beyond these bilateral relationships with traditional allies and emerging partners to develop the international structures of cooperation. We want to strengthen regional and multilateral cooperation as well as global cooperation to enhance our effectiveness in meeting the challenges of our time.

And so we are deepening our ties to regional organizations around the world and strengthening their capacity. Next year, we will host the APEC Summit in Hawaii, and the President will participate for the first time in the East Asia Summit. I’ve already mentioned our work on NATO and the U.S.-EU partnership, and we’re also working to revitalize the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. In our hemisphere, the Secretary has been an active participant in the work of the OAS, and we are also engaging with our Latin American partners in their new organization, UNASUR.

Nowhere is the need for regional cooperation greater today than in Africa. And a few weeks ago, I was privileged to participate in the African Union Summit in Addis. There I saw leaders from across Africa not only taking on regional challenges like Somalia and Sudan, but also working to prevent backsliding from democracy in Cote d’Ivoire.

Of course, every region benefits from greater cooperation, but there is less trade among African countries than among any – countries in any other region of the world. In places like Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, it’s far cheaper to call the United States than to call neighboring countries. So we see a substantial upside to regional organizations and are engaging with them like never before.

And more broadly on the global stage, the UN continues to play an indispensable role. And we have deepened our engagement through actions such as joining the Human Rights Council and challenging all the UN bodies to undertake the reforms to make their more responsive and more effective. And we have seen on issues like North Korea and Iran that the UN Security Council in particular can play an important role.

But some of the mechanisms for global problem solving that we have today are not well-suited to meet the 21st [century] challenges, and so we need a more nimble approach. Flexibility is essential both to convene the right stakeholders and to convince emerging powers that the global order we seek will remain in their interest, even as they undergo dramatic change. Perhaps the best example is the emergence of the G-20 as the preeminent forum for coordinating the global response to the economic crisis. We used to gather the world’s seven industrialized economies, the G-7, but when the recent financial crisis took hold, we recognized that there were crucial players not in the room and so we broadened into the G-20, which acted effectively to prevent a far worse global crisis, and it has emerged as an important forum for developed and developing nations alike.

In the climate negotiations, we’ve seen the so-called Major Economies Forum, which complements the formal UN process of 190-plus nations and offers the advantage of smaller, less structured space for bargaining negotiation and helps establish the way forward, as we saw through the negotiation of the Copenhagen Accord, which, in turn, paved the way for the more formal UN adoption of new initiatives on climate in Cancun.

The Proliferation Security Initiative through which states cooperate to prevent trafficking in WMD started with 11 countries in 2003 and now claims over a hundred participating states and a role in stopping Libya’s nuclear program by exposing its shipments.

Whether you call this mini-lateralism or flexible geometry, it’s an important complement to the formal institutions in dealing with the world as it is.

Now, these three pillars of our strategy are focused on our cooperation with states and with governments. But as I said at the outset of my talk, one of the most important revolutions of our time is the growing role of non-state actors and civil society, a phenomena which is familiar with the students of de Tocqueville, which takes on growing significance in the age of Facebook.

There are many reasons why engagement with civil society is so important to achieving our national interests. First, civil society is an important global actor, from the NGOs that inspired the Rome Treaty creating the ICC to the activists who push to address climate change and the environment. Civil society organizations not only shape policy, but they are also vital to the delivery of global public goods. Think of the Gates Foundation and humanitarian organizations like Save the Children.

Second, engagement with civil society reflects our tradition and our values, a tradition of civic activism and engagement. But third, and equally important, long-term cooperation among governments cannot be sustained indefinitely without the support of their people. This is a key lesson of the three revolutions I described at the outset. So our policy must speak to their needs and aspirations for freedom, for economic opportunity, for human security.

This is a principle that the leaders of our Administration have emphasized from the outset, in the President’s speech in Cairo and most recently in the Secretary’s speech in Doha at the Forum of the Future on the eve of the remarkable events that began in Tunisia. Their conviction stems from their own experience. The President is a community organizer in Chicago. The Secretary is a founder of one of the leading children’s advocacy organizations early in her career and an advocate for civil society as first lady, senator, and now Secretary of State.

Our support for civil society proceeds from the premise that we are not imposing our own preferences and values, but rather supporting others in their pursuit of universal ideals. It has its roots in John Quincy Adams’ famous dictum that America should be the well-wisher of independence and freedom, but it goes beyond that simple wishing well to engaging directly through aid and counsel and capacity building.

Earlier this month in Washington, we hosted the first-ever Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society, effectively elevating this discussion to stand along our traditional strategic dialogues with national governments. We had representatives from more than 20 countries and we streamed the event live at 50 of our embassies around the world.

We see civil society, along with the private sector and governments, as part of a three-legged stool that supports stable and open societies. Last October, Secretary Clinton asked every U.S. ambassador to make engagement with civil society a cornerstone of our presence, from anti-trafficking activists in Southeast Asia to women’s groups in the Gulf.

All of us, of course, have been enormously inspired to see civil society across the Middle East laying claim nonviolently to human rights, human dignity, and democratic reform. In her speech in Doha, Secretary Clinton warned the leaders of the Middle East that unless they gave greater voice to their young people, the region’s – in her words – foundations were sinking into the sand. She warned of a potent combination of demographic and technological changes, rampant unemployment, and in too many cases, the denial of universal rights and freedoms. In such an environment, it’s more important than ever that American policy focus on working both with people and governments to open up political systems, economies, and societies.

As the Secretary said in Munich, this is not simply a matter of idealism; it is a strategic necessity. We are already seeing that change will come differently in response to different circumstances. But our policies and partnerships are guided by a few core principles. We stand for universal values, including freedom of association, assembly, and speech. We deplore violence as a tool for political coercion, as we have seen in Libya and elsewhere in recent days, and we have spoken out on the need for meaningful change in response to the demands of people for progress towards fair, responsive, and democratic governance. This is a message we’ve backed with programs and grants for activists, independent journalists, and civil societies.

But we also see cooperation on crucial priorities such as countering violent extremism, curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and bringing comprehensive regional peace to the Middle East. I believe – and I think it’s a tenant of our Administration – that these are not mutually exclusive or even as contradictory as some might think. The events of the last few weeks have reinforced the fact that absent freedom and democratic progress, public support needed to progress on other common goals cannot be sustained.

So this is a moment to stand with the Egyptian people as they take their next step in their history. But we must remember that Egypt’s transition is just beginning. And given Egypt’s leadership and influence, its three decades of peace with Israel, and our deep and longstanding partnership, the stakes are high. One in five Arabs is an Egyptian. If Egypt’s transition is orderly and democratic, it can strike a major blow against al-Qaida’s narrative that violence and extremism are the only path to change in the Middle East.

We see great promise in the events in Egypt and elsewhere in the region, but we know that transitions to democracy can lead to new forms of intolerance or backslide into authoritarianism. That’s why we’re reprogramming $150 million in aid to support Egypt’s democratic transition and why we are working wherever we can to ensure that political transitions are deliberate, inclusive, and transparent. All who take part need to honor certain basic commitments, including a spirit of tolerance and compromise, respect for the rights of minorities, and a commitment to hold power through consent rather than coercion. As President Obama said in his historic 2009 Cairo address, without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy. At the same time, we also expect the process of reform to move forward promptly. Justice and democracy deferred can easily become justice and democracy denied.

Just as Egypt is an important test case for so many other nations, international relations scholars can also look back at the history of democratic transitions to draw lessons, something I am certain you are actively involved in your classrooms today and is an important part of the inquiry that we need to take together. Of course, ultimately, it will be up to the people of Egypt, Tunisia, and every other country that claims democracy to choose their own future and to give life to their own choices. But as they do, the United States stands ready to help.

In each facet of our global engagement with traditional allies, emerging partners, multilateral institutions and civil society alike, the decision to embrace cooperation will not be ours alone. But America’s actions can powerfully shape the choices that others make. For as Secretary Clinton has said, for the United States, global leadership is both a responsibility and an unparalleled opportunity. I don’t need to tell anyone here that we’re living through a remarkable time, but when I see students and faculty here in this room, but especially the young ones who are committed to helping America’s outreach to the world, I am optimistic about what we can accomplish together. This is a time of opportunity.

And I appreciate your time and attention this evening, and I look forward to your questions. (Applause.)