Former State Department official talks networking in 21st century international relations

    Public policy expert Anne-Marie Slaughter spoke Thursday evening about the unexpected motivations behind global danger zones and the influences on her theories.

    Slaughter is president and CEO of the New America Foundation, a think tank working on the renewal of American politics. She worked under Clinton in the State Department and currently teaches at Princeton University. Her 2012 piece "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" on The Atlantic went viral. 

    Her speech, delivered to Northwestern students, professors and alumni, marked the 25th annual Richard W. Leopold lecture, named for a beloved Northwestern history professor.

    Slaughter used Leopold’s political frame of reference to contrast with her 21st century worldview of politics and national security.

    “I find myself wondering what Dick Leopold would think of my talk tonight,” she said. “And he comes from a very proud tradition of diplomatic history, which is alive and well and flourishing at Northwestern.”

    Slaughter framed two ways of seeing state conflicts – the chessboard view that Leopold would have had, that focuses on power struggles and diplomacy between nations, and then the web version, that values networks of other factors.

    “Geopolitics is very important, but it’s only half,” she said. “The biggest change of the 20th century to the 21st century is the rise of the web.”

    Web doesn’t mean the Internet, but more literally networks of people, trade, energy, climate and digital connections.

    Slaughter used several case studies of global “hot spots” to separate the two ways of looking at international relations, including Iran, Venezuela and the South China Sea.

    The recent Ukranian revolution, she said, might seem to be motivated by Vladmir Putin’s attempt to recreate the U.S.S.R., or the West’s attempt to pull Ukraine into NATO. That would be the chessboard, diplomatic view.

    But this framework leaves pieces out, Slaughter said.

    “We’re missing what the people on the Maidan were really fighting for,” she said. “They are not fighting to be a part of Europe because they’re anti-Russia and they side with the West. They are fighting for a government that works and delivers basic services.”

    Slaughter also cited statistics that Russia is the European Union’s third largest trading partner, making it unrealistic for the EU to impose tough sanctions on Russia.

    From Slaughter's point of view, these two frameworks together are the most modern and applicable approach to international relations in the 21st century. 

    She said she has always had a bottom-up approach to politics, but people like Hillary Clinton have influenced her as well.

    “I went into the state department thinking I’d studied foreign policy for twenty years and she was relatively new to it," she said. "I think I thought I would teach her more than she taught me. She taught me more than I taught her. 

    “Her focus on development as much as diplomacy and her focus on digital politics as much as traditional negotiations led me to really see the whole world of foreign policy in terms of these two areas.”

    Slaughter has two sons, including one who is in the process of applying to Northwestern. A student in the audience asked if they had any influence on her theories.

    “I was on Twitter way before they were,” she said.

    Jokes aside, Slaughter saw connections between the millennial perspective and her foreign policy theory.

    “I am very aware that theirs is the first generation that thinks it probably won’t be better than us,” she said. “Unless we focus on people, on these networks, and figure out how to create a foreign policy that works in that world, we will not be doing for this generation what we have done for previous generations."


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