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International experts discuss ‘Diplomacy in a World of Transnational Crisis’

In the forum, distinguished leaders in foreign affairs discussed the vital importance of effective diplomacy, particularly now, when the world faces serious transnational crises.

The Old Well during the fall.

The American Academy of Diplomacy, in collaboration with the Office of the Vice Provost for Global Affairs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, hosted its annual Joseph J. Sisco Memorial Forum via livestream on Sept. 14.

In the forum, distinguished leaders in foreign affairs discussed the vital importance of effective diplomacy, particularly now, when the world faces serious transnational crises. Participants drew a distinction between policy (the foreign policy goal) and effective diplomacy (the capacity to achieve the foreign policy goal), discussed the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and offered advice to the next generation of international leaders.

Welcome remarks were provided by Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, vice provost for global affairs and chief global officer at UNC-Chapel Hill. Ambassador Ronald Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy and a former U.S. ambassador, set the tone for the evening with opening remarks and an introduction of Ambassador Thomas Pickering, who served as ambassador under six U.S. presidents in a distinguished diplomatic career spanning five decades.

Pickering delivered the keynote address, focusing on what he called a triad of crises the U.S. is facing: the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic downturn it has caused and continued racism and discrimination. He said these challenges reinforce the need for partnerships among nations cultivated in what Pickering referenced as a “diplomatic garden,” a term coined by former U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz, to describe the ongoing work of tending relationships to makes it possible for nations to “create a more stable and secure world.”  Pickering commented that not only is this policy necessary but that it also requires efficient implementation.

Following the keynote, Neumann moderated a panel discussion. The panel included Ambassador Kathleen Stephens, president and CEO of the Korea Economic Institute of America and former U.S. ambassador to South Korea; Dr. J. Stephen Morrison, senior vice president and director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and Ambassador Barbara Stephenson. Their discussion reinforced the importance of international collaboration.

Morrison drew on his background in global public health, where he worked on both the HIV/AIDS and Ebola crises, to make comparisons to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the effective response to those crises relied on diplomats in affected countries working directly with a multitude of stakeholders to make collective action possible.

Focusing on U.S. diplomacy in Asia and her time there as a diplomat, Stephens said the Indo-Pacific region will need to be engaged in a coordinated response to global crises going forward to craft credible solutions, and the current relationship with China should be reassessed.

Stephenson highlighted that the U.S. has reduced funding for diplomacy at a time when geopolitical rivals are dramatically expanding their diplomatic presence. She said this reduces the U.S. capacity to maintain one of its greatest strengths: its alliances.

“That network of alliances that we have— there is no match for it anywhere in the world,” said Stephenson. “Those alliances are fraying, though, and shoring them up is a key job requirement of diplomats.”

The panel also answered questions from the Carolina community. A question from the Carolina Asia Center asked about the methods of communication in diplomacy. Whether communication is digital or in-person, Stephens said that it must emphasize global collaboration. It “simply cannot be one-way communication,” she added.

Pickering and the panelists encouraged students interested in international relations to continue thinking about how to foster multi-national relationships, which cultivate global solutions to contemporary problems. Panelists emphasized the importance of continuous learning and mentioned that the U.S. Foreign Service is only one way to seek a career in international affairs. Stephenson encouraged students to consider pursuing alternative paths through international non-governmental organizations, transnational businesses and other careers that further international collaboration.

This program was organized by the American Academy of Diplomacy and the Office of the Vice Provost for Global Affairs at UNC-Chapel Hill, with support from the Sisco Family Charitable Fund. Additional support was provided by the UNC-Chapel Hill College of Arts and Sciences, including the African Studies Center; Carolina Asia Center; Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies; Center for European Studies; Center for Slavic, Eurasian and East European Studies; Curriculum in Global Studies; Curriculum in Peace, War and Defense; Department of Political Science; Department of Public Policy; Institute for the Study of the Americas; Study Abroad Office and the Global Research Institute.

A full recording of the forum can be found on UNC Global’s Vimeo page.