Category: The Briefing

The Briefing: Nuclear strategy in the 21st century with Francis Gavin and Matthew Kroenig

By Cecilia Panella

WASHINGTON — The Alexander Hamilton Society will be hosting a lecture on Tuesday, March 12 with Dr. Francis Gavin and Dr. Matthew Kroenig. The two scholars will be discussing modern nuclear strategy, a remarkably timely topic given recent negotiations between the Trump administration and North Korea. Moreover, both have recently published on the changing nature of nuclear strategy: Dr. Gavin’s most recent article is available in Texas National Security Review, and Dr. Kroenig’s newest book, “The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy,” is available through Oxford University Press. Their works call into question the prevailing logic of nuclear strategy in policy circles and demand that we revisit our approach to nuclear strategy as a piece of a larger American foreign policy framework.

Dr. Francis Gavin

Prior to his current post as the Giovanni Agnelli Distinguished Professor and the inaugural director of the Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs at SAIS, Dr. Francis Gavin was the first Frank Stanton Chair in Nuclear Security Policy Studies and worked as a professor of political science at MIT. Even in 2014, Gavin was convinced that the United States was in a “renaissance of nuclear studies,” and argued that a more deliberate analysis of existing doctrine would help policymakers make better policy decisions. Since his appointment to the Kissinger Center, Dr. Gavin has formulated a curriculum in conjunction with SAIS meant to critically examine the history of foreign policy. The Kissinger Seminar Series is the Center’s academic flagship, and it features Dr. Gavin as well as Professor James Steinberg of Syracuse University and Professor Hal Brands of SAIS, who is also a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA).

Dr. Gavin’s most recent article on American nuclear strategy, “Rethinking the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons and American Grand Strategy, confronts some of the tough questions that have arisen from our development and treatment of nuclear weapons. Notably, Dr. Gavin says that we really don’t know as much as we should about how nuclear weapons shape American politics, and more importantly, that this lack of knowledge is predicated on “steep methodological, linguistic and normative barriers to understanding nuclear strategy and statecraft.” Not only are we plagued with incomplete histories of nuclear decision-making, we also must incorporate seemingly disparate policy approaches to nuclear weapons into our larger American grand strategy. Dr. Gavin argues that these faulty understandings of our own past with nuclear weapons can also problematically influence the future of nuclear policymaking, and points to four key trends that are currently shaping the nuclear policy environment.

First, he points to shifts in the geopolitical structure of the world order, saying that revisionist powers like Russia and China are currently actively influencing how the United States conceptualizes nuclear power and nuclear weapons in the world. Second, there are significant shifts in technology development that have and will continue to dramatically influence how we engineer and defend against nuclear weapons. Most notably, Dr. Gavin argues that these technological developments have eliminated the previous “binary” associated with nuclear weapons — the “haves” or “have nots” of nuclear states are now more faithfully painted in shades of gray. Nuclear arsenals are not only more sophisticated than ever before, they are also more vulnerable. This expansive treatment of nuclear weapons development is certainly something to consider for strategists and policymakers alike moving forward. Third, Dr. Gavin notes that recent trends in public opinion toward denuclearization are likely to impact how America treats its own arsenal as well as those of other nuclear states. Finally, the consistent degradation of deterrent threat credibility is also a critical factor for policymakers. Dr. Gavin is quick to point out that the use of nuclear weapons becoming “increasingly unthinkable is obviously a good thing,” but mentions that this trend highlights a tension between American Cold War-style deterrence strategy and its more modern incarnations.

The common thread for Dr. Gavin is the need for academics and policymakers alike to interrogate what it means to develop nuclear weapons and the policies that govern them. His research leaves us with more questions than answers on the future of nuclear policy, but his willingness to eschew complacency in nuclear strategy in favor of dissecting complicated policy problems is certainly something to look forward to in the upcoming lecture.

Dr. Matthew Kroenig

Dr. Matthew Kroenig is an associate professor in the Department of Government and the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He is also the deputy director for strategy in the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council, and has previously been a fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, Harvard University, University of California and Stanford University. His most recent book, “The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy,” addresses the complex position that superiority of capabilities has held in the American nuclear strategy lexicon. Dr. Kroenig argues that leaders like President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev placed great importance in cultivating the appearance of nuclear superiority and that their policies were noticeably impacted by this perception. He powerfully points to why world leaders are drawn to nuclear superiority over the concept of nuclear parity, stating that nuclear superiority gives leaders flexibility in escalation and also allows them to run risks in crises that would otherwise be inaccessible. In essence, Dr. Kroenig pinpoints nuclear superiority as a key to nuclear policy flexibility.

Central to Dr. Kroenig’s argument is his development of “superiority-brinkmanship synthesis theory,” which he says explains why states seek nuclear advantages and why those advantages are ultimately beneficial. The military advantages of nuclear weapons provide states with more leverage over their adversaries and introduce greater flexibility of risk-taking for states in a crisis. Conversely, those states without a nuclear military advantage lack political and strategic leverage and are also more likely to experience higher costs of nuclear confrontation. This is significant — Dr. Kroenig says that there are, in fact, meaningful differences in the conduct of nuclear war and that nuclear-superior powers are less likely to experience these more negative ramifications.

Moreover, Dr. Kroenig complicates the traditional understanding that more nuclear weapons — a natural consequence of the competition for nuclear superiority — heightens the overall risk of nuclear war by promoting  instability in the international system. Instability, according to Dr. Kroenig, is overly simplified: Many theorists fail to differentiate between “bad” instability that can trigger nuclear war and “good” instability that can work in favor of American interests. Dr. Kroenig’s research indicates that there is little to no evidence that American nuclear superiority has created a dangerous level of instability in the international system. Furthermore, there is no evidence that international proliferation or nonproliferation goals are entirely incompatible with the maintenance of a strong American nuclear posture. Dr. Kroenig uses a case study on the Iranian nuclear program and JCPOA to point out that American nuclear arsenals ultimately had little to no effect on Iranian decision-making in this regard, and eventually turns to quantitative analysis to show that the size of the American nuclear arsenal is not a statistically-significant determinant of the proliferation or nonproliferation activity of other states.

Like Dr. Gavin’s research, Dr. Kroenig tries to bridge the gap between rigorous scholarship on nuclear strategy and meaningful policy. While their approaches are vastly different, both scholars ask us to question existing norms in nuclear policymaking and seek to improve our understanding of our force postures in order to create better policy.

For those unable to attend the Alexander Hamilton Society event on March 12, the Politics and Prose Bookstore will also be hosting both speakers on the same topic on March 10, 2019 at 1:00 p.m.. To RSVP for the SAIS event, please send an email to

The Briefing: Egyptian Ambassador Yasser Reda

By Cecilia Panella

WASHINGTON — On March 7, the SAIS Careers in Diplomacy Club will be hosting Egypt’s  ambassador to the U.S. Yasser Reda for a luncheon and discussion on Egyptian security and global terrorism. According to his biography from the Egyptian embassy, Amb. Reda is a 33-year veteran of Egypt’s diplomatic corps who has served in China, Cyprus, Iraq and Italy and speaks fluent English, French and Arabic. Among his more notable tours, Amb. Reda was deputy chief of mission in Berlin in 2004 and later was Egypt’s ambassador to Israel, a post he held from 2008 to 2012. Ambassador Reda’s experience is not limited to foreign service. He also served two separate, non-consecutive terms as assistant minister of Foreign Affairs and chief of the Cabinet of Egypt — once from 2006 to 2008, and again from 2013 to 2015. After his second term, Amb. Reda was appointed to his current post as ambassador to the United States in September 2015.

During his time as ambassador, Ambassador Reda has been an integral part of Egyptian-American relations. After a two-year hiatus on the dispension of American military aid to Egypt under President Obama, the Trump administration not only repeatedly welcomed Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, but also took a much softer line on Egyptian-American relations than his predecessor. Ambassador Reda is on the record as confirming meetings between the two leaders as having been “constructive” and has said that President el-Sisi’s tenure as president has done much to improve Egypt domestically and increase trade with the United States.

Since President el-Sisi won his April 2018 election with 97 percent of the vote, Amb. Reda has continued to serve and defend his government here in Washington. In response to critics of President el-Sisi who claim that economic reforms and alleged political crackdowns have deeply impacted the president’s popularity, Amb. Reda has reaffirmed Egyptian commitment to judicial independence and rule of law. He points out that both are critical for a functioning democracy and is quick to laud Egyptian efforts to protect these rights in a region “otherwise fraught with turmoil.” With the ramifications of the 2011 Arab Spring still echoing across the region, conversations with diplomats like Amb. Reda provide critical insights into Middle Eastern politics and policy. To attend the SAIS Careers in Diplomacy Club event with Amb. Reda, please use the Eventbrite link here.

The Briefing: Marta Serafini, foreign correspondent for Corriere della Sera

Serafini (pictured right) with GWIL Executive Board member, Alissa Pavia.

By Olivia Magnanini

BOLOGNA, Italy — On February 18, Marta Serafini, a foreign correspondent for Corriere della Sera, came to SAIS Europe to speak with students about her work, the challenges of reporting in the Middle East, the changing media landscape and financial pressures facing news organizations and her experience as a female journalist in an intense and scrutinizing media landscape. Serafini, who studied international relations at the University of Bologna, focuses her work on terrorism and the use of social media for propaganda purposes.

In 2013, Serafini traveled for the first time to Syria in the second year of the war, reporting from the opposition territory which was under ISIS scrutiny. Spending a night in a refugee camp under the control of the Free Syrian Army, she spoke with men who were scared of being recruited into ISIS, a reality that they faced daily. She also spoke with women and children who had experienced sexual and physical violence at the hands of the Syrian forces. When she returned to Italy and gave her story to her editors, it appeared in the digital edition, but not in print. Although she was disappointed, she understood their reasoning. But, she stressed that in everything, “if you are a woman, you have to do more.”

Prior to working at the foreign affairs desk, Serafini covered Italian politics, including the rise of the Five Star Movement. Last summer, she covered the decision by the government to deny migrants coming by boat across the Mediterranean the right to disembark in Italy. Serafini underscored the importance  of understanding situations from all angles, particularly what is happening behind the scenes, when trying to write a story. She also addressed the difficulty of a journalist to rely solely on observation, especially when addressing sensitive issues with sources who could be in danger, including victims of domestic violence, refugees and protestors. When working with these sources, Serafini stressed that “you must always use your conscience” and that “the way you write must be more neutral, [it is] not necessarily right to be impactful” by inserting your opinion or feelings about the situation.  

One of the most challenging times for Serafini to maintain her neutrality was for her story on Maria Giulia “Fatima” Sergio, an Italian student who left Italy to become a foreign fighter for ISIS in 2015, and which later became a book. Serafini first contacted her by Skype, curious to see if she would submit to an interview and was surprised when she agreed. Although initially Sergio wanted information about her parents from Serafini, their conversations eventually grew to the point where Sergio recounted her story of going to Syria to fight for ISIS. Serafini discussed the importance of maintaining balance, stopping Sergio when her propaganda tactics would leak into the conversation. She stressed that her role as a journalist was “not to judge or save her, just to tell her story.”

Serafini says that “new media,” such as podcasts and using social media to aid in the reporting process, are some of the most exciting parts of the job. For example, when reporting on the refugee boat crisis last summer, she was able to capture a scene on her smartphone and send it to her news desk immediately. They were able to upload it as a story in less than three hours. She admits that Corriere della Sera is still catching up with other organizations in using these tools but is hopeful for the future of journalism as these means allow news outlets to reach new audiences, like The New York Times’ wildly successful podcast “Caliphate.” Serafini ended her talk by encouraging SAIS students who want to be journalists to keep pushing and to follow the truth, wherever that may be. She said the vital work of foreign correspondents in the far-flung corners of the world is more important than ever, helping to bring stories on war, political conflict and humanitarian crises to our attention.

The Briefing: Exploring Foreign Policy Through the Creative Process

Photo Credit: (Left) Peter van Agtmael,
(Middle) Lea Carpenter, taken by: Michael Lionstar (Right)
Elliot Ackerman,

By Cecilia Panella

WASHINGTON — “Exploring Foreign Policy Through the Creative Process” took place on February 21, 2019. It included in the speaking list are Peter van Agtmael, Elliot Ackerman and Lea Carpenter. This issue of The Briefing digs into the motivations of each speaker in creating their work and the complex relationship between domestic American politics, humanity and morality, and the horrors of conflict overseas.

Peter van Agtmael

Peter van Agtmael didn’t originally want to become a photographer. He went to Yale University to study history and eventually found Catherine Opie’s photography class. After graduating, he worked with The New York Times Magazine for three years, where he spent time on and off embedded in Iraq’s Helmand province with U.S. Marines. He discussed his fascination with conflict and his time in the Middle East in a 2018 New York Times article as compelling on personal, emotional and deeply political levels.  Despite his assertion that “photography is photography,” van Agtmael drew powerful connections between his work on conflict overseas and how these wars seeped across the sand and ocean to soak into the very fabric of American society.

In a December 2009 article, he noted that the men he spoke with in person and captured on film seemed to be caught between the worlds of conflict and of the society that willed it into being, pointing out the “rampant” post-traumatic stress disorder among those he worked with in Iraq. When asked about the extent to which his work has influenced his politics, van Agtmael said that he aspires to be a truthful photographer, something he says is markedly different from an objective photographer. “At the end of the day,” he says, “you are choosing what to frame…what’s the objectivity in that?” Peter van Agtmael’s perspective on conflict and its greater ramifications throughout the fabric of American society makes him a natural choice for the speaking series, “Exploring Foreign Policy through the Creative Process,” where he was joined by Elliot Ackerman and Lea Carpenter at SAIS. More information on his work can be found on Magnum Pro, where he is currently listed as a photographer, and more information on his time in Iraq can be found at the New York Times’ “At War Blog.”

Elliot Ackerman

According to his official publishing page at Simon and Schuster, Elliot Ackerman received a Silver Star, a Bronze Star Medal for valor and a Purple Heart for his tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. More recently, he is known for his literary works, which span from essays in The New Yorker and The Atlantic to full-length novels. His 2017 novel “Dark at the Crossing” was a finalist for the National Book Award and dealt with the complexities of interpersonal relationships and interstate conflict while detailing an account of an Arab-American who seeks to cross the Turkish border to fight in Syria.

His work is emblematic of the powerful bond between literature, culture and conflict. Like Peter van Agtmael, Ackerman’s personal experiences have informed his way of viewing the world and the methods he uses to share them. In his most recent book Waiting for Eden, Ackerman closely details the suffering of the main character, Eden, as a result of injuries he sustained on the battlefield — but he isn’t centering the book around the circumstances that brought Eden to his hospital bed. He says in a 2018 interview with NPR that the book “isn’t about war,” but rather is focused on the emotional ramifications of conflict. He, like van Agtmael, is acutely aware that “trauma outside of wars can just echo and echo and echo,” and his novels are both a reflection of and homage to the humanity of those who experience conflict.

Lea Carpenter

For Lea Carpenter, experiencing loss was the impetus for writing her first novel, “Eleven Days, which debuted in 2013. She says in a 2014 interview with Penguin Random House that she “wanted to write about something that she knew very little about” and ended up writing “Eleven Days” as a result of research she was doing into her father’s history and a dare from an agent to try her hand at fiction. Similar to Ackerman’s characters in “Waiting for Eden, Carpenter’s lead, Sara, is coping with immeasurable and continuous loss. While Eden is bound to a hospital bed without means to communicate with his wife Mary, Sara’s son Jason is declared missing as a result of a Special Forces Operation. Neither Mary nor Sara are mourning the deaths of their loved ones per se, but the circumstances of both situations evoke the same sense of emotional exhaustion at the hands of conflict.

The interpersonal relationships that are shaped by war and conflict are also at the center of Carpenter’s newest release, “Red, White, Blue,” which asks its characters to cope with betrayal and questions their reasoning for choosing to work for the Central Intelligence Agency.  In an August 2018 article she wrote for Time Magazine, Carpenter delves into the effect that war has had on her own past though her relationship with her father, a World War II veteran, and his relationship with his past as a member of the Doolittle pilots rescue mission. Like both van Agtmael and Ackerman, Carpenter’s work is expansive in its treatment of war and its effects on families. Also like van Agtmael and Ackerman, Carpenter’s works don’t provide concrete “answers” for how or when grief and loss are manifested in war, and her perhaps intentional choice to leave some “loose ends” at the end of “Red, White, Blue” mimics the United States’ complex relationship with conflict abroad: Sometimes there isn’t a clean ending, and perhaps we shouldn’t expect one.

The Briefing: Robert Mundell and Vitor Constancio

Source: European Central Bank

By Jonathan Wilkinson

BOLOGNA, Italy On Thursday, Oct. 25, Vitor Constancio will be coming to SAIS Europe to deliver the Robert A. Mundell Global Risk Annual Lecture on the optimum currency area (OCA) theory and the euro as part of the SAIS Global Risk Conference. The lecture will take place at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium.

Robert Mundell is one of the world’s foremost economists, winning the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 1999 for his work on optimum currency areas, which paved the way for the introduction of the euro in 2002. He was a professor at SAIS, including at SAIS Europe, for four years between 1959 and 2001. Professor Mundell will be returning to Bologna for this special lecture.

Vitor Constancio was the vice president of the European Central Bank from 2010 to 2018 during the worst of the eurozone financial crisis. Prior to that, he held a series of prominent positions in the Portuguese financial sector. Notably, he was governor of the Banco de Portugal, the Portuguese central bank, from 1985 to 1986 and 2006 to 2010. He was also finance minister from 1977 to 1978.

Prof. Constancio is also a prodigious academic. He received his degree in economics from the Instituto Superior de Ciências Económicas e Financeiras (now called ISEG) at Universidade Técnica de Lisboa. He was an assistant professor at ISEG from 1968 to 1973, and later senior professor from 1989 to 2010. He is currently president of the school council at ISEG and a professor at the University of Navarra in Madrid.

As the eurozone emerges from crisis with many issues still unresolved, Prof. Constancio’s lecture is an opportunity to learn first-hand from one of the individuals most closely involved in the crisis.


The Briefing: Bernie Sanders’ views on U.S. foreign policy

By Sam Reynolds

WASHINGTON – A number of leading policymakers and foreign policy experts visited SAIS last month as part of the Dean’s Forum speaker series, including Madeleine Albright, Francis Fukuyama and Ian Bremmer. The forum continues on Tuesday, October 9, when Dean Vali Nasr will host Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the Kenney Auditorium at 11 a.m.

Sanders’ accolades are renowned. He spent 16 years as Vermont’s only member of the House of Representatives before winning a Senate seat in 2006. In 2012, he was reelected with 71 percent of the vote, and ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. He is currently the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and the former chair of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Bernie Sanders
Photo credits: Johns Hopkins University SAIS Eventbrite

Foreign policy was not a central focus in his presidential campaign, but Sanders has a storied career in international policymaking and a clear, liberal institutionalist outlook on foreign affairs. He advocated against U.S. intervention in Latin America throughout the 1980s, voted on numerous foreign policy issues as a member of the House of Representatives during the 1990s and decried the authorization of the use of military force (AUMF) in Iraq in 2002.

More recently, he has been an outspoken critic of President Trump’s disengagement and rejection of America’s international commitments. In a 2017 foreign policy address, Sanders insisted, “Our goal should be global engagement based on partnership, rather than dominance. This is better for our security, better for global stability and better for facilitating the international cooperation necessary to meet shared challenges.”

More often than not, Sanders has toed the Democratic party line on international issues by reaffirming a commitment to multilateral engagement, international law and negotiation. He has disparaged the U.S. War on Terror, arguing that it has caused America to contradict its own moral standards on human rights and basic freedoms. Critics worry, however, that Sanders offers few alternatives and risks falling into many of the same foreign policy quagmires faced by former President Barack Obama, such as failing to control U.S. intelligence agencies and relying heavily on drone strikes. Although Sanders is perhaps more critical of the use of force than Obama, he does not discount it.

Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he supports a two-state solution, less defense funding for Israel and an end to the blockade of Gaza. He felt the Iran deal was a significant step toward regional Middle East stability and U.S. national security that came “at a cost of no blood and zero treasure.” He called President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement “an international disgrace.”

On trade, Sanders has repeatedly repudiated deals that serve the interests of multinational corporations at the expense of domestic workers. He opposed the 1992 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the 2016 Trans-Pacific Partnership, and although he and Trump agree that NAFTA has considerable drawbacks, they disagree about how to remedy them. Trump is primarily concerned about companies outsourcing jobs to Mexico, while Sanders has championed more stringent environmental standards and greater rights for labor unions.

This will not be the first time Sanders will speak at Johns Hopkins University. In a November 2016 speaker series co-sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Foreign Affairs Symposium, Sanders spoke to 1,100 students at Shriver Hall about the outcome of the 2016 elections and other pressing domestic issues. He downplayed bipartisan divide in the United States and emphasized the importance of open political discussion while promoting his most recent book, “Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In.”

The power of collective action is a recurring theme in many of his speeches. In his 2016 address he asked, “You think you should graduate from Johns Hopkins burdened by $40,000, $50,000 debt? Mark my words, if a million young people marched on Washington and said we cannot continue to carry this outrageous debt, you will achieve that.”

Underlying themes in his foreign policy speeches include America’s responsibility as the world’s “moral authority” and a lead-by-example approach to international relations. The hope for Tuesday’s event is that he will share his perspectives on current issues like the U.S.-China trade war and Iran nuclear deal, and delve more deeply into the future of American foreign policy in light of Trump’s isolationism. It might also be interesting to hear his views on the legislative branch’s role in foreign policy decision-making, and how the outcome of the 2018 November midterm elections will affect U.S. relations abroad.

Tickets for Tuesday’s event were gone the same day it was announced. While it is unclear exactly what issues Sanders will discuss, what’s certain is that there won’t be a single empty seat.


The Briefing: Strategy behind EU economic cooperation initiatives with Romano Prodi

By Jonathan Wilkinson

Photo credits: SAIS Europe

BOLOGNA, Italy – On Monday, Oct. 1, Romano Prodi will be returning to SAIS Europe to deliver a keynote address on the strategy behind the EU’s economic cooperation initiatives as part of the first Australia-European Union economic relations dialogue. The keynote will take place in the SAIS Europe Auditorium at 12:00 p.m.

In advance of Mr. Prodi’s keynote, here is a quick briefing on his career and achievements.

Mr. Prodi began his career as an academic. From 1963 to 1999, he taught at the University of Bologna and a host of other institutions, including SAIS Europe.

Mr. Prodi entered into politics in 1978 when he was appointed as the Italian Minister of industry. In 1982, Mr. Prodi was appointed chairman and CEO of the Institute for Industrial Reconstruction (IRI), and proceeded to privatize several large, prominent state-owned enterprises, such as Alfa Romeo.

Economic and political centrism was a hallmark of Mr. Prodi’s political career. After his Olive Tree centre-left coalition won the 1996 national election and designated him to be prime minister, his cabinet introduced measures that enabled Italy to meet the Eurozone ascension criteria established in the Maastricht Treaty. Mr. Prodi then became president of the European Commission in 1999. His tenure was marked by the development of many of the policies that shaped the EU as we know it today: the introduction of the euro and the EU’s enlargement by 10 countries in central, eastern and southern Europe.

Mr. Prodi returned to the Italian prime ministership between 2006 and 2008 and since then has been a notable statesman, teaching and acting as an envoy of the United Nations to several missions around the world.

As one of Europe’s foremost leaders on economic policy, Mr. Prodi is well-versed to weigh in on the recent Australia-EU Free Trade Agreement negotiations.


The Briefing: Notable policy achievements of Zbigniew Brzezinski and Madeleine Albright

By Matteo Todisco and Samuel Reynolds

WASHINGTON – On Monday Sept. 17, Madeleine Albright returns to SAIS to speak about the legacy of the late Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser for U.S. President Jimmy Carter. The event will take place in the Kenney Auditorium at 4:30 p.m. and will be moderated by Carla P. Freeman, director of the Foreign Policy Institute. Dean Vali Nasr will present welcome remarks.

Before the lecture takes place, here is a quick briefing of the notable policy achievements of Dr. Brzezinski and Secretary Albright.

Zbigniew Brzezinski or “Zbig”

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 5.04.57 PM
Photo credits: Johns Hopkins SAIS, Foreign Policy Institute

Zbigniew Brzezinski or “Zbig” as he was known, was one of America’s most influential scholar-strategists of the 20th century. Considered a hawkish theorist of the realist school of thought, Brzezinski served as national security adviser to the Carter Administration through the tumultuous 1970s. His tenure in office witnessed major foreign policy events that would shape the future world order. Among these were the normalization of relations with the People’s Republic of China, the signing of the second Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II), the brokering of the Camp David Accords and the transition of Iran from a strategic American partner to an anti-Western theocracy under Ayatollah Khomeini.

Known for his ardent anti-Soviet stances, Brzezinski was dedicated to opposing the USSR at every turn. He was an avid supporter of the Vietnam War effort during its time and championed the arming of Mujahideen militants against the Soviets. Later, however, he was one of the few prominent policy experts who spoke out strongly against the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

A lifelong scholar, Brzezinski served on the faculty of Harvard from 1953 to 1960 and at Columbia from 1960 to 1989.  Thereafter, Brzezinski accepted the position of Robert E. Osgood Professor of American Foreign Policy at SAIS. Ever a patriot, Brzezinski was once asked why he didn’t anglicize his name when he earned his citizenship in 1958.  His response: “America is the only country where someone called Zbigniew Brzezinski can make a name for himself without changing his name.”


Madeleine Albright

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 5.04.42 PM
Photo credits: Johns Hopkins SAIS, Foreign Policy Institute

Madeleine K. Albright studied Russian and international relations at SAIS in 1962 after immigrating to the United States from Czechoslovakia in 1947. She completed her master’s degree and Ph.D. at Columbia University, where she attended a graduate course taught by Brzezinski on comparative communism. She claims he was the best professor she ever had, and the two became friends. When Brzezinski was appointed national security adviser by President-elect Jimmy Carter, he hired Albright to be the National Security Council’s congressional liaison. She describes their weekly meetings as “first class seminars” on the most pressing issues in U.S. foreign policy.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Albright as ambassador to the United Nations. During her tenure, she was highly critical of UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, claiming that the failure of the international community to prevent war crimes in Rwanda was her biggest regret in her years of public service. She was instrumental in the U.S. veto of Boutros-Ghali’s second term. In 1997, Albright was appointed Secretary of State, becoming the highest-ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government. She supported an expanded role for the U.S. military in UN operations and was a powerful advocate for human rights and democracy abroad. During the Kosovo War, she backed NATO bombings in Yugoslavia to end the ethnic cleansing of Albanians. In 2000, she became the highest-ranking official to visit North Korea. Albright was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 and today serves on the Council of Foreign Relations board of directors.

When Brzezinski passed away in 2017, Albright delivered remarks at his funeral. On Monday, she is expected to speak about Brzezinski’s lifetime achievements, as well as her friendship with one of the most influential men in the history of American foreign policy.

*Editor note: Earlier versions of this article contained a misspelling of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s name, which was spelled Brezinski.*

Investing in the Future: U.S. National Infrastructure Bank


Washington: How to respond to the threat of failing infrastructure in the United States? Have no fear, dear Americans, for President Donald J. Trump is here, and he has a plan to “Make America Great Again.” In his State of the Union address to Congress on January 30, 2018, Trump reiterated his commitment to improving infrastructure.

President Trump first unveiled his plan to invest USD $1.5 trillion in the nation’s infrastructure on February 28, 2017, in his first speech to a joint session of Congress. In 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) summarized the state of U.S. infrastructure succinctly, rating it a D+. Roads are littered with potholes, bridges are sagging, dams are collapsing, power outages are occurring, airports are congesting, rail and transit systems are failing, schools are being defunded, and drinking water is increasingly contaminated. Suffice to say, the state of the union is not strong.

What few people remember is that President Barack Obama addressed this national issue first. He proposed a budget back in 2011 to allocate USD $5 billion per year over six years to establish a national infrastructure bank. This bank would fund transportation, energy, and water infrastructure projects. Loans made by the bank would be matched by private sector investments, and each project would generate its own revenues to ensure repayment of the loan. The U.S. National Infrastructure Bank would focus on nation-building and reconstruction at home and serve as a catalyst for private investment. In this manner, the National Infrastructure Bank would resuscitate the bank as a vehicle for reinvestment and bolster bank approval ratings.

Source: American Society of Civil Engineers, 2017

In terms of structure, the U.S. National Infrastructure Bank would be owned, but not operated, by the federal government. This framework is similar to the World Bank and the European Investment Bank. Ideally, the National Infrastructure Bank would have a capital base of USD $50-$60 billion, and would insure bonds of state and local governments as well as issue 30 to 50-year bonds.

The mission of the proposed U.S. National Infrastructure Bank is to use public-private partnerships to finance infrastructure projects in the United States and provide direct federal investment. The National Infrastructure Bank would also foster coordination through state, municipal, and private co-investment in the nation’s physical capital. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the U.S. needs USD $2.2 trillion of investment for infrastructure, with priority in highway and rural infrastructure. China (9% of GDP), India (9% of GDP), and Europe (5% of GDP) are investing heavily in their infrastructure; the U.S. (2% of GDP) must invest more to maintain global competitiveness, ensure quality of life, and create American jobs.

The National Infrastructure Bank enjoyed widespread support from various corners, including the Departments of Treasury, Transportation, Commerce, and State, Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Roy Blunt (R-MO), and national organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and AFL-CIO. At the state and local level, Governor of New York Andrew M. Cuomo and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel introduced initiatives similar to the infrastructure bank.

In May 2017, Senators Mark Warren (D-VA) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) introduced the Building and Renewing Infrastructure for Development and Growth in Employment (BRIDGE) Act to create a national infrastructure bank and improve the nation’s transportation network, water and wastewater systems, and energy infrastructure. The BRIDGE Act is co-sponsored by seven senators who support this bipartisan bill for the good of America.

While there is bipartisan support, more congressmen need to get on board. Congressmen, not just in the Senate, but also in the House, need to come together and get this sorely-needed infrastructure bill through. Congress passed the BRIDGE Act in 2015 and it was reintroduced in the Senate in 2017. It is currently awaiting the Senate’s delayed action. Trump has delivered his speeches. Now, it is high time for Congress to get its act together and invest in America’s infrastructure.

Joniel Cha is a second year ERE concentrator living in Washington DC