Mark Bellamy on the Warburg Panel

September 29, 2014

On October 1st from 6:00pm to 8:00pm, join the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the first Warburg event of the academic year. We had the chance to catch up with our current Warburg Professor, Mark Bellamy, about diplomacy today!

Mark BellamyBetween U.S. Airstrikes on ISIS, the Ebola outbreak, and the strained U.S./Russian relation - the world seems at a crossroad. Are today's challenges more formidable than at any past time?

To many, it certainly feels that way. What makes today's situation even more worrisome is the sense that there is no longer a well functioning international order. Borders are vanishing. States are breaking down. Ugly extremist and nationalistic movements are on the rise everywhere. International institutions -- from the UN to the EU to NATO -- have little influence. Meanwhile, the relative power of the U.S. is declining.

All of this causes anxiety, but it is not unprecedented. Few of us remember, but the years immediately after World War Two were times of existential drama in the U.S. Americans struggled then to understand and cope with major shifts in the global balance of power and with a whole host of frightening new threats. In the end, we prevailed thanks to a combination of military strength, smart diplomacy and sensible political leadership. We can do that again.

You have two panels scheduled, "Why Diplomacy Matters" and "Voices from the Field." What can attendees expect?

In recent years we have come to rely too much on military strength as our main, and often only, response to global challenges. By now we've learned -- or should have -- that using force is almost never a solution in itself. Without strong, purposeful diplomacy, military success alone rarely resolves fundamental problems. Our defeated adversaries remain adversaries, unreconciled and potentially dangerous. Fragile states remain fragile. Conflicts simmer, wars drag on. Our overall strategic position never improves as a result of military action alone.

In almost every important conflict area today, the U.S. has failed to mobilize fully and effectively its diplomatic capabilities. This is a problem that long pre-dates the Obama Administration, but it has worsened in recent years. There are multiple reasons for this, including public and congressional attitudes. One goal of these panels is to highlight the absolute importance of robust diplomacy in managing today's crisis. We also want to highlight how diverse our Foreign Service is in terms of the many essential tasks it performs day in and day out to protect American interests around the world.

Is there anything the youth generation can do to impact all that the terrible things we have been seeing in the news overseas?

When I was a university student, there were still faraway places in the world. Today, none are left. We now live in an intimately interconnected world. What happens today in Yemen or Hong Kong or Sierra Leone could well have an impact on our security and well-being tomorrow. My first piece of advice is to be aware of this. Pay closer attention. Find good, objective sources of information (there are many) and consult them regularly. Be an informed citizen not just of the U.S., but of the world. That alone is an accomplishment in today's America.

Beyond that, be smart in selecting the international causes you want to support or work for. Not all of them make sense. Many are built around emotional appeals. As a good rule of thumb, don't bother with organizations that are long on outrage, indignation and assigning blame. They rarely contribute much to actually promoting development, addressing injustices or building peace. Use your objective understanding of international situations, not your emotions, to choose the causes and organizations you want to support. Often these are the organizations working hardest be neutral, non-partisan and to produce measurable results on the ground.