Tony Blinken on “America in the World: The Great Debate”

Blinken's seminars will be held every Tuesday at 3pm with the exception of weeks two and three (4/13 and 4/20), when his seminars will be on Thursdays. All seminars will be held in the IOP Living Room unless otherwise noted. All seminars are students only and closed to press/off the record.


How do we make sense of the world today and America’s role in addressing complex global challenges? This question has created a new divide – but not along established lines: Democrat versus Republican, liberal versus conservative. Rather, the chasm is between those with very different ideas about how to manage the forces of change. Increasing numbers of Americans question the merits of being open to the world. They worry that refugees pose a threat to their physical safety and immigrants to their identity, that free trade comes at their expense, that innovation kills jobs, that global engagement is more a burden than a benefit. It is little solace that in the aggregate, Americans are healthier, wealthier, better educated, and more secure than any previous generation.

This argument – that we’re better off disengaging from the world – is understandable. But it misses the reality that an increasing number of challenges – from epidemics to climate change, violent extremism to cyber terrorism – are beyond the capacity of any one nation to address. It denies the importance of a U.S.-led global order that keeps people, products, ideas, and capital flowing with common rules, norms, and institutions.

This seminar series will explore why U.S. global engagement matters for every American and what we need to do to ensure the benefits of that engagement reach more of our citizens. Students will get a glimpse into senior national security and foreign policy deliberations as they learn how this debate over America’s role impacts our daily lives.

Session 1 (April 4): Why Does the Liberal International Order Still Matter? | RSVP 

The United States faced a fundamental choice after World War II. As the world’s rising global power, how would we use our power and new place of preeminence? We could choose to come home and turn our backs on a broken world. We could take advantage of the moment to impose our will on others – as victors of war had done for centuries. Or we could embed our country in a broader system that bound us to the same rules and restraints as others. We could channel our power through a system of rules, principles, norms, and international institutions that gives everyone a stake in the running of world affairs.

This session will explore how we answered this fundamental question and why that decision over seven decades ago is still relevant today. Why is the liberal international order now under threat and why do we need to protect it? Why does Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea matter if the United States is not directly threatened? Why does China’s conduct in the South China Sea matter if the United States does not take sides in a territorial dispute? We must be able to answer these questions clearly if we are going to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of the 21st century.

Session 2 (Thurs, April 13): Alliances - Is “whether NATO?” the new “whither NATO?” | RSVP*
*This seminar will be from 12-1:15pm at the IOP. Lunch will be provided.

Our soldiers count on our unrivaled networks of alliances and partnerships to prevent them from being dragged into costly, unintended wars and to multiply our effectiveness when we have to fight. These networks allow us to share the burdens, however imperfectly, of deterring and defeating aggression, projecting our presence without permanent footprints, meeting transnational threats, building legitimacy, and increasing the capacity of our partners to provide for their own security.

Yet despite the evident need for alliances in an age of transnational threats, there are those who continue to suggest that alliances are simply more a burden than a benefit – they cost too much, achieve too little, encourage free riders, risk embroiling us in other people’s problems, distract us from investing at home, and generally leave us with the short end of the stick.

This session will explore why this argument casting doubt on our alliances remains fundamentally flawed. We will discuss ways we must modernize and adapt our alliances – to ensure they reflect today’s challenges and adequately distribute costs and responsibilities.

Guest Speaker: Julianne Smith (Senior Fellow & Director, Strategy and Statecraft Program at the Center for a New American Security)

Session 3 (Thurs, April 20): Reimagining the Multilateral System | RSVP*
*This seminar will be from 10-11:15am at the Cummings Life Science Center, Room 101, 920 E. 58th St.

Our citizens depend on our active participation in multilateral institutions like the United Nations and its agencies, flawed as they may be. International cooperation stops conflicts, keeps the peace, safeguards the environment, prevents the spread of disease and the proliferation of weapons, and delivers lifesaving aid. It ensures mail arrives across borders, cell phones work internationally, patents are respected, and airplanes fly safely. In the past two decades, these institutions have cut global rates of child mortality, chronic hunger, and extreme poverty in half.

This multilateral system is under historic strain – inhibited by institutional weaknesses and resource shortfalls and buffeted by challenges its founders could scarcely have imagined from outer space to cyber space. It is a constant target of nations that contest the constraints placed on them by international laws, rules, and norms.

This session will explore how we redefine multilateral engagement for the times in which we live, while ensuring that the foundation of the international system remains intact and strong. How can we make sure membership and leadership in international organizations better reflects the emergence of new powers and partners? How can we ensure than the protection of civilians is realized not only in word but in deed? How can we restructure the global humanitarian architecture to put the needs of the world’s most vulnerable people front and center?

Session 4 (April 25): Meeting the Challenge of the Refugee Crisis | RSVP

From Syria to Afghanistan to Myanmar, more than 65 million people have taken flight for their lives. It is the largest wave of human displacement since World War II, and it is remaking the world in which we live. It is changing our labor markets. It is putting pressure on local infrastructure and borders. It is evolving the nature and makeup of our communities. It is affecting our sense of security. Most of all, it is challenging us to live up to our common humanity.

A crisis of this magnitude can be difficult to fully imagine or understand, let alone comprehensively tackle. This session will explore ways we can think creatively about responding to the refugee crisis at home and abroad. How can we reduce barriers to employment and education for refugees in countries of first asylum? How can we better build the resilience of new arrivals as well as the communities that welcome them? How can we better engage young people, universities, faith communities, and businesses in our national and international response?

Session 5 (May 2): Back to the Future with Russia? | RSVP

Dissatisfied with an America-led international order the defends the sovereign rights of all nations, Russia seeks to go back to the future where the use of force prevails and spheres of influence carve up the world. Under President Putin, Russia is strangling civil society at home while fueling nativist nationalist movements and seeding doubt in democratic systems abroad. The world Russia wants – a world defined by spheres of influence – would not be peaceful or stable, and the United States will not be immune to its violent disruptions. Hegemons are rarely content with what they’ve got; the demand to expand their zones as well as cycles of rebellion and repression within them will lead to conflicts that draw us in.

This seminar will look at the tools that Russia is deploying to undermine the liberal international order. How can the U.S. and other likeminded nations respond to massive state-run disinformation campaigns? How can we strengthen countries on Russia’s periphery that are most susceptible to military intimidation and commercial coercion? What creative tools can we deploy to increase the costs on illiberal state behavior?

Guest Speaker: Celeste Wallander (authority on American international relationsh with a focus on Russia; Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Russia and Eurasia on the National Security Council)

Session 6 (May 9): Europe Holey and in Pieces?  | RSVP

In Europe, slow economic growth, changing demographics, and the challenges of community integration have polarized politics, fueled extremist parties, and led some to debate the utility of the great European project. From the advances of illiberal democracy in Hungary to the dawn of Brexit Britain, nationalist movements are fanning these flames of turmoil and division to seed doubt in our transatlantic community. Some even question the basic tenets of liberal democracy and whether our model of government can survive these times of crisis. Elections this year on the continent could usher in far-right candidates in France, the Netherlands, and Germany.

Seven decades after the end of World War II, is the European project nearing an end? This session will explore what advocates of an open world can do in the United States and Europe to resist the politics of division and preserve the vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace.

Session 7 (May 16): Your Turn - A National Security Council Meeting Simulation | RSVP

Every day, members of the President’s national security team gather in the White House Situation Room. Armed with the latest policy and intelligence reports, they debate options and make recommendations to the President for navigating a world more fluid and fraught with complexity than ever before. In this room, policymakers have to deal with not only a constant influx of crises but also with a firehose of unfiltered information thanks to modern media and communication technologies.

In a simulation of the White House National Security Council, student teams will be presented with a national security crisis and assigned a government agency to represent. You will have time to discuss your strategy with your teammates before we convene the meeting, where challenges will emerge as quickly from internal power struggles as evolving external threats.

Guest Speaker: Bill Russo (Penn Biden Center’s Director of Public Engagement)

Session 8 (May 23): Passing the Baton to You | RSVP

Not long ago solutions to great global challenges were the sole providence of governments and international institutions. If you wanted to help change the world, there were few pathways to do it. Today, you have limitless ways to make a difference – from pursuing careers in public service to building start-ups to reimagining traditional journalism. As leaders of your rising generation, you have the potential to affect the course of human progress on an unprecedented scale. In this session, we will share stories and advice on pursuing careers and tapping into a global network to help you find meaning and impact in your professional lives.