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Robert D. Blackwill

Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy

Expertise

U.S. foreign policy; transatlantic relations; the United States and Asia; Russia and the West; the United States and the Middle East.

Programs

U.S. Foreign Policy Program , Middle East Program

Bio

Robert Blackwill is Henry A. Kissinger senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). His current work focuses on American foreign policy writ large as well as China, Russia, the Middle East, South Asia, and geoeconomics. Ambassador Blackwill served as counselor to CFR in 2005.

Most recently, Ambassador Blackwill was senior fellow at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California, from 2008 to 2010, after serving from 2004 to 2008 as president of BGR International, a Washington consulting firm. As deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor for strategic planning under President George W. Bush, Ambassador Blackwill was responsible for government-wide policy planning to help develop and coordinate the mid- and long-term direction of American foreign policy. He also served as presidential envoy to Iraq, and was the administration's coordinator for U.S. policies regarding Afghanistan and Iran.

Ambassador Blackwill went to the National Security Council (NSC) after serving as the U.S. ambassador to India from 2001 to 2003, and is the recipient of the 2007 Bridge-Builder Award for his role in transforming U.S.-India relations. Prior to reentering government in 2001, he was the Belfer lecturer in international security at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. During his fourteen years as a Harvard faculty member, he was associate dean of the Kennedy School, where he taught foreign and defense policy and public policy analysis. He was faculty chair for executive training programs for business and government leaders from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Palestinian Authority, Israel, and Kazakhstan, as well as military general officers from Russia and the People's Republic of China. From 1989 to 1990, Ambassador Blackwill was special assistant to President George H.W. Bush for European and Soviet affairs, during which time he was awarded the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit by the Federal Republic of Germany for his contribution to German unification.

Earlier in his career, he was the U.S. ambassador to conventional arms negotiations with the Warsaw Pact; director for European affairs at the NSC; principal deputy assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs; and principal deputy assistant secretary of state for European affairs. Ambassador Blackwill is author and editor of many articles and books on transatlantic relations, Russia and the West, the Greater Middle East, and Asian security. He edited the CFR book Iran: The Nuclear Challenge (June 2012). His latest book, co-authored with Graham Allison of the Harvard Kennedy School, is titled Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States, and the World (MIT Press, February 2013).

He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the Trilateral Commission, and the Aspen Strategy Group; and on the board of Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Geoeconomics and Statecraft

From Russia's coercive economic pressure against Ukraine to the steady sums of financing Gulf monarchies have extended to the current Egyptian government to the varied economic penalties China has imposed on nations in its neighborhood, an increasing number of states are waging geopolitics with capital. Many countries today are more likely to air disagreements with the foreign policies of other governments through trade restrictions, or the buying and selling of debt, than through military responses. Despite gaining utility elsewhere in the world, geoeconomic statecraft has diminished in American policymaking in recent decades, a shift insufficiently recognized by both economists and foreign policy strategists. My work on the place of geoeconomics in U.S. foreign policy will result in a book with Jennifer Harris outlining what geoeconomics is, why it matters, and how the U.S. government can better utilize this national security tool.

U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China

The United States' relationship with China is arguably the most important bilateral relationship of the century. Over the years, U.S.-China relations have evolved from tense standoffs to a complex mix of diplomacy, rivalry, and intertwined economies. What currently remains absent from this crucial relationship is an American grand strategy. My work aims to identify the elements of Chinese grand strategy toward the United States, as well as to propose a U.S. grand strategy for dealing with Beijing. This project will culminate in a Council Special Report that will propose policy prescriptions for administration policymakers.

U.S. Policy Toward Russia

Since the Ukraine crisis began in late 2013, it has become increasingly clear that the United States needs a new course of action to prevent Moscow from damaging American national interests around the world. My work on the topic examines the historical foundations of U.S. policy toward Russia, the impact of Russian domestic issues on its policy evolution, the agenda of President Vladimir Putin, and the effect of regional developments on U.S. policy toward Russia. The project's primary goal is to assess the Obama administration's policies toward Moscow and, as necessary, to enumerate alternative approaches.

Featured Publications

All Publications

Ask CFR Experts

Does India have an edge over China in its display of its soft power in the world?

Asked by Vikas, from American University

Indian and Chinese soft power is manifested in a variety of mediums, including traditional and pop culture, academic exchanges, and cuisine. Since soft power emanates from a country's history, culture, domestic political arrangements and civil society, it is difficult to measure its impact in a quantitative way as can be done with some forms of economic or military power, including aid and investment, infrastructure projects, and militarization. Thus, the effects of soft power are largely in the eye of the beholder.

Read full answer

See more in India; China; Politics and Strategy

Op-Ed

Ideal Qualities of a Successful Diplomat

Author: Robert D. Blackwill
Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs John F. Kennedy School of Government Harvard University

Based on his experience in the Oval Office, the White House Situation Room, the State and Defense Departments and in foreign capitals over four decades, Ambassador Robert Blackwill shares fifteen characteristics that he believes are fundamental for successful diplomats.

See more in Global; Diplomacy and Statecraft

Article

Lee Kuan Yew, Grand Master of Asia

Authors: Robert D. Blackwill and Graham T. Allison
National Interest

Graham T. Allison and Robert D. Blackwill, co-authors of Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States, and the World, contend, "For navigating in the buzzing, booming confusion of international affairs today, the strategic grand master is a source of wise coordinates."

Events

U.S. Foreign Policy Roundtable Series

Director: Robert D. Blackwill, Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy
September 1, 2010—Present

The U.S. Foreign Policy Roundtable Series is an ongoing series that provides a forum for discussion with leading experts on the major issues and developments that impact U.S. foreign policy. The series has covered a broad range of topics, such as domestic and international counterterrorism efforts, the global financial crisis, evolving media coverage of international news developments, and U.S. policy in the Greater Middle East, especially in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.

CFR Events

General Meeting ⁄ New York

The New Indian Government

Speakers:

Alyssa Ayres, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia, Council on Foreign Relations, Jagdish N. Bhagwati, Senior Fellow for International Economics, Council on Foreign Relations, Robert D. Blackwill, Henry Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations

Presider:

Charles Robert Kaye, Co-Chief Executive Officer, Warburg Pincus LLC
May 28, 2014 12:30-1:00 p.m. - Lunch
1:00-2:00 p.m. - Meeting

This meeting is on the record.

ListenWatch

General Meeting ⁄ New York

The Strategic Consequences of the U.S. Energy Boom

Panelists:

Dennis C. Blair, Admiral (U.S. Navy, Retired); Co-Chairman, Commission on Energy and Geopolitics, Securing America's Future Energy; Former Director of National Intelligence; Former Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Command, John Browne, Author, Seven Elements that Changed the World: An Adventure of Ingenuity and Discovery; Partner, Riverstone Holdings, LLC; Former Chief Executive Officer, BP

Presider:

Robert D. Blackwill, Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations; Coauthor, "America's Energy Edge: The Geopolitical Consequences of the Shale Revolution," Foreign Affairs March/April 2014
March 3, 2014 12:30-1:00 p.m. - Lunch
1:00-2:00 p.m. - Meeting

This meeting is on the record.

ListenWatch

Corporate Meeting ⁄ New York

The Strategic Consequences of the U.S. Energy Boom

Speakers:

Dennis C. Blair, Admiral (U.S. Navy, Retired); Co-Chairman, Commission on Energy and Geopolitics, Securing America's Future Energy; Former Director of National Intelligence; Former Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Command, John Browne, Author, Seven Elements that Changed the World: An Adventure of Ingenuity and Discovery; Partner, Riverstone Holdings, LLC; Former Chief Executive Officer, BP

Presider:

Robert D. Blackwill, Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations; Coauthor, "America's Energy Edge: The Geopolitical Consequences of the Shale Revolution," Foreign Affairs March/April 2014
March 3, 2014 12:30-1:00 p.m. - Lunch Reception
1:00-2:00 p.m. - Meeting

This meeting is on the record.

ListenWatch

Academic Conference Call

Iran: The Nuclear Challenge

Speaker:

Robert D. Blackwill, Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations
September 12, 2012 12:00-1:00 p.m. - (ET)

This meeting is on the record.

Listen

General Meeting ⁄ Washington

Iran: The Nuclear Challenge

Speakers:

Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Robert M. Danin, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Richard A. Falkenrath, Shelby Cullom and Kathryn W. Davis Adjunct Senior Fellow for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, Council on Foreign Relations

Presider:

Robert D. Blackwill, Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations; Editor, Iran: The Nuclear Challenge
June 7, 2012 6:00-6:30 p.m. - Dinner Reception
6:30-7:30 p.m. - Meeting

This meeting is on the record.

ListenWatch

General Meeting ⁄ Washington

The United States and India: A Shared Strategic Future

Speakers:

K. Shankar Bajpai, Founding Chairman, Delhi Policy Group; Former Indian Ambassador to the United States, Tarun Das, Founding Trustee, Aspen Institute India; Former Chief Executive, Confederation of Indian Industry, Stephen J. Hadley, Senior Adviser for International Affairs, United States Institute of Peace, Former Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, John D. Podesta, President and Chief Executive Officer, Center for American Progress; Former White House Chief of Staff, Ashley J. Tellis, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Former Senior Director for Strategic Planning and Southwest Asia, National Security Council

Presider:

Robert D. Blackwill, Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations; Former U.S. Ambassador to India; Co-chair, U.S.-India Joint Study Group on Shared National Interests
September 19, 2011 6:00-6:30 p.m. - Dinner Reception
6:30-7:30 p.m. - Meeting

This meeting is on the record.

ListenWatch

General Meeting ⁄ Washington

Iraq: The Way Forward

Speaker:

Robert D. Blackwill, President, Barbour Griffith & Rogers, International; Former Presidential Envoy to Iraq

Presider:

David Ignatius, Columnist and Associate Editor, The Washington Post
December 12, 2005

This meeting is not for attribution.

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Press/Panels

Video Interview

To the Point: Indo-US Relations Important

Ambassador Robert Blackwill discussed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's decision to accept an invitation from President Obama to visit the White House following the United Nations General Assembly in September. Alongside Meera Shankar, former Indian ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Blackwill also analyzed the importance of revitalizing the U.S.-India bilateral relationship.

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Article

Next Indo-Pak Conflict Could Be in Afghanistan: Blackwill

"Speaking at the 'Ambassadors Roundtable' involving five American envoys to India in the last two decades, Blackwill said 'there is no evidence that [the] Pakistan military has changed its view' that its primary role is to prevent the rise of India..." (Source: Business Standard)

Article

Review: A Soothsayer In Singapore

"The authors, a team of eminent strategy thinkers, took the opportunity of recording his views on the world, and the way it's likely to take shape over the next quarter century. The result is this concise, but important book, that looks at the futures of China, the US and India, as well as important contemporary issues, from globalisation and democr­acy to Islamic extremism—all delivered in Lee's characteristically incisive, and occasionally politically incorrect manner." (Anvar Alikhan, Outlookindia.com)

Article

Singapore Looks to Ties that Bind

"In a new book released in February, Kuan Yew – now a passive 89-year-old Member of Parliament – voices worries about China's rise in power.

'Many small and medium countries in Asia are concerned (and are) uneasy that China may want to resume the imperial status it had in earlier centuries,' Kuan Yew says.

'They have misgivings such as being treated as vassal states.'

'China tells us that countries big or small are equal, that it is not a hegemon,' Kuan Yew writes.

'But when we do something they do not like, they say you have made 1.3 billion people unhappy. So please know your place.'"

(Seah Chiang Nee, The Star)

Article

Noonan: A Statesman's Friendly Advice

"I found myself engrossed this week by the calm, incisive wisdom of one of the few living statesmen in the world who can actually be called visionary. The wisdom is in a book, 'Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States and the World', a gathering of Mr. Lee's interviews, speeches and writings....He is now 89, a great friend of America, and his comments on the U.S. are pertinent to many of the debates in which we're enmeshed." (Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal, subscription required)

Article

Book Review: Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World

"Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States, and the World sets down the thoughts of an 89-year-old veteran of 20th century history with much to say about the future. The book is densely packed with Lee's characteristically blunt assessments of issues, countries and people. The text has been deftly assembled and extensively footnoted. The editors have not offered their own views, letting the former Singaporean leader speak for himself." (Stephen Minas, LSE Review of Books)

Article

Book Review: "Lee Kuan Yew"

"[An] artfully synthesized collection of statements by Lee—long and short, written and spoken … Where Lee excels is in his pithy evaluations of regional and national strengths and weaknesses. At his best, the man is a cross between Confucius and Machiavelli." (Aram Bakshian Jr., Washington Times)

Article

Interview: Lee Kuan Yew on the Future of U.S.-China Relations

"In the following conversation, Lee trains his sights to the most prominent geopolitical issue of our time: the rise of China. Rather than attempt to thwart China's emergence as a global superpower, Lee argues, the United States should find ways to work constructively with China in forging a new global order." (Atlantic)

Panel

Graham Allison and Robert Blackwill Discuss New Book on Lee Kuan Yew

"Belfer Center Director Graham Allison and Ambassador Robert D. Blackwill discuss their new book Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States, and the World. The event was moderated by Belfer Center's Executive Director for Research Gary Samore." (Source: Belfer Center)

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Article

Wise Man for the World

"Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States, and the World forms a kind of last testament of the ailing, 89-year-old Mr. Lee…. The book focuses forward on Mr. Lee's prognostications, not backward on his accomplishments. Allison and Blackwill refrain from commentary on the man and his ideas, letting readers interpret for themselves." (Karen Elliott House, Wall Street Journal)

Article

Questions for Graham Allison and Robert D. Blackwill

"Graham Allison and Bob Blackwill have important questions to ask about China, America and the extraordinary impact of the relationship of those two countries on the rest of the world. For answers, they turned to Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first premier and one of the world's most formidable geopolitical thinkers and strategists. The result is a fascinating book called Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States, and the World." (Ian Bremmer, Reuters)

Radio Interview

Insights From Asia’s Senior Statesman Lee Kuan Yew

"We talk about China's rise, its surging wealth and power, but the U.S. has been Number One for so long it's hard to really picture what it means, or will mean. Hard to really know what to think.

Lee Kwan Yew knows. Asia's most senior statesman. A longtime friend of the US. A grand master of global strategy out of little Singapore. And here's what he sees.

Does China want to be Number One? Of course. Will they be? Pretty likely. Will we fight? We'd better not."

Tom Ashbrook speaks with Robert Blackwill and Graham Allison about the collected wisdom of grand master Lee Kuan Yew during this February 13 broadcast of NPR's On Point.

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Article

Foreseeing Red: Lee Kuan Yew on China

"Lee's powerful intellect is captured in a new book, Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States, and the World. Now 89, officially retired and somewhat frail, Lee has mellowed with age — not unlike his creation Singapore, governed today with a lighter touch even as its citizens grow more vocal. Yet, as the book, and the adaptation here of the China chapter, reveal, Lee is as sharp, direct and prescient as ever." ( Time Magazine)

Article

India Is a Nation of Unfulfilled Greatness

Lee Kuan Yew, founding father of modern Singapore, is currently one of the world's most sought-after elder statesmen. Widely praised for helping make Singapore the economic powerhouse it is today, Lee, who was the citystate's PM from 1959 to 1990, has also been criticised for leaving a distinctly authoritarian stamp on its polity. Now, a new book, 'Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States, and the World' , by Graham Allison, Robert D Blackwill and Ali Wyne, features the statesman's views on a range of global issues. (Times of India Crest Edition)

Article

Development: Learning from Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew

"The question of whether nations can learn from history nag policymakers around the world. Part of the problem is that history is handed down through a variety of interpretations that do not reflect reality. But contemporary history, if genuine presented, can offer policy makers with lessons they can learn from.

This is the central message in the newly released book, Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States, and the World, by Graham Allison and Robert Blackwill, with Ali Wyne....His central message is that history can repeat itself in a positive way if the world community pays attention to contemporary lessons." (Calestous Juma, Technology+Policy Innovation@Work)

Video Interview

Robert Blackwill on the War in Afghanistan

Editor Gideon Rose and Ambassador Robert Blackwill discuss the option of a partial U.S. force reduction in Afghanistan, specifically from the Pashtun region. The "Plan B in Afghanistan" author argues that President Obama made a significant strategic mistake by announcing a deadline for U.S. withdrawal, and that total drawdown will lead to turmoil both in the nation and the region. Inevitably policymakers must also consider U.S.-Pakistan relations, the ongoing Indian-Pakistani conflict and its nuclear implications, and whether the United States should be so preoccupied with this part of the world.

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Radio Interview

Voice of Russia: Why Americans Still Care About Russia?

"While the United States and Russia are exactly on the same accord on a number of foreign policy issues, including Missile Defense System in Eastern Europe and the International community's handling of violent situations in Libya and Syria, the Obama administration touts a reset of relations with Russia amongst its foreign policy achievements. The Task Force on Russia and US interest have released a report detailing why Americans still need to care about Russia." (Voice of Russia)

Article

Why Israel Is a Strategic Asset to the United States

"Written after a telephone interview with Ambassador Blackwill regarding his November 2011 report Israel: A Strategic Asset for the United States, coauthored with Walter B. Slocombe and published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Contrary to Washington wisdom, Israel is a clear strategic asset to the United States, says a new study by a bipartisan pair of veteran diplomats" (Lee Smith, TabletMag)

Article

Caution Fills Obama's Playbook

"The statesman finds opportunity," even in adversity, notes Robert Blackwill, a Republican foreign policy expert who worked for Kissinger and both Bushes. That's a good prescription for Obama. He's in damage-limitation mode — sensible enough in a time of uncertainty but not really a strategy. What's the opportunity — in Pakistan, in India, in Turkey, in Syria — and yes, in the Palestinian state that inevitably will be declared? (David Ignatius, Washington Post)

Article

Doing Right by India: Bam's Visit to a Natural U.S. Ally

"As former Bush administration Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill wrote in 2007, "the alignment between India and the United States is now an enduring part of the international landscape." It is cemented, Blackwill notes, by our democratic systems, by the growing, highly successful community of Indian-Americans in this country and by a wary eye on China.

The last factor will never be explicit. "There is no way to clear a drawing room in India quite like saying we're going to 'contain' China," Blackwill says. But no one knows how China will evolve. If the US has strong relationships with Japan, South Korea, Australia and India, it can raise a barrier to China's seaward expansion." (Rich Lowry, New York Post)

Article

Obama Message in India: Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

"I don't have any doubt that President Obama is going to wow the Indian masses," former Bush-era U.S. Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill told journalists on a call organized by the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday. "He is in Indian eyes an extraordinary example of the diversity and pluralism of American democracy, being the first African-American president. At the most basic level, the Indian people are going to find him extremely attractive and charismatic and so forth." (Laura Rozen, Politico)

Article

Plan E for Afghanistan

"Robert Blackwill, former U.S. ambassador to India and later New Delhi's lobbyist in Washington, has stirred up a heated debate with his now famous Plan B for Afghanistan. This involves effectively partitioning the country, with Pashtun-predominant southern Afghanistan ceded to the Taliban and, by proxy, to Pakistan. (Ajai Shukla, Business Standard)