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Large Crowd Turns Out for Former Ambassador Nicholas Burns’ Lecture

By Jon Cawley

Former U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Burns' Thursday evening lecture at Old Dominion University on the future of American foreign policy drew a standing-room-only crowd of more than 250 people.

Burns delivered the Waldo Family Lecture on International Relations at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. He spoke for about 50 minutes before taking questions.

During his remarks, Burns gave a wide-ranging look at many trouble spots facing U.S. foreign policy, including: the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs, the troubled global economy, Arab Spring revolutions, climate change, international drug cartels, pandemics and terrorism.

"There are an astounding number of crises for one president, one country to face at the same time," Burns said, adding: "These are transnational problems that affect every person on earth."

Burns said the U.S., as the world's leader, must tackle these pressing problems and avoid another turn toward isolationism.

Isolationism "was perfectly rational in the 18th century, but an irrational choice in 2013," he said. "It is a recipe for us to fail as a country. I don't believe it answers any of our problems."

Before concluding his remarks, Burns quipped that he feared he had thoroughly depressed those in attendance and offered up three things that he believes are going in the right direction:

  • We live in a time of great technological, scientific and medical change.
  • The great powers of the world are at peace.
  • Despite imperfections, the U.S. is still a great country that provides hope to citizens around the world.

"We are creating the 21st century knowledge. That's why universities are important to the future of this country," he said. "We are not falling from grace, falling from power. I'm hopeful for the future of this country."

Burns is Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He also is director of the Future of Diplomacy Project and faculty chair for the Programs on the Middle East and on India and South Asia. He serves on the board of directors of the school's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Burns served in the U.S. government for 27 years. As a career foreign service officer, he was undersecretary of state for political affairs from 2005-08; the State Department's third-ranking official when he led negotiations on the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement; and the lead U.S. negotiator on Iran's nuclear program. He was U.S. ambassador to NATO (2001-05), ambassador to Greece (1997-2001) and State Department spokesman (1995-97). He worked for five years (1990-95) on the National Security Council at the White House. Among his many awards and honors, Burns is the recipient of the Secretary of State's Distinguished Service Award.

ODU's first endowed lecture series, the Waldo Family Lecture Series on International Relations was established in 1985 and is modeled after the Weil Family Lecture on American Citizenship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Personal ties to the university and to the Hampton Roads community led the Waldo family to select ODU as the home of their lecture series. Because of the area's significant military presence and proximity to an international port, the family chose international relations as the lecture series' theme.

Over the years, renowned speakers in the fields of government, foreign affairs, journalism, education and public service have visited the campus and met with students and faculty. The evening lectures are free and open to the public. Support for the lecture series comes from the Waldo family, friends and the business community.

topstory5-lg01Burns joins members of the Waldo family and ODU administrators for a photo-op during the reception preceding his talk. Photo by David Hollingsworth

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