CFR Symposia


Symposium on the Great Depression

Staff: Amity Shlaes, Former Hayek Senior Fellow for Political Economy
March 30, 2009—New York, NY

"History is an argument without end. That is why we love it so."

These words come from the late scholar of the New Deal, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. Schlesinger in turn was quoting a colleague, the historian, Pieter Geyl. It is in Schlesinger's collegial spirit that the Council on Foreign Relations and NYU/Stern host scholars to discuss findings new and old about the single most important economic event in America's history, the Great Depression. What caused the Depression? What was the role of financial institutions in panic and recovery? What was the New Deal's role in this crisis? What lessons can we take away for dealing with our current crisis? Given the current challenges to the economy, a second look at that most relevant period becomes crucial. Nobel Prize winning economists, scholars, historians, writers, and policymakers will converge from across the country to both "get granular" and begin to draw broad conclusions in this day-long inquiry.


Cosponsor of this symposium is Dean Thomas Cooley of the Leonard N. Stern School of Business, New York University.

The conference is also supported by a special grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.


Symposium Summary Report (PDF, 160K)

Center for Preventive Action Symposium on Preventive Priorities for a New Era

Staff: Paul B. Stares, General John W. Vessey Senior Fellow for Conflict Prevention and Director of the Center for Preventive Action
Director: Paul B. Stares, General John W. Vessey Senior Fellow for Conflict Prevention and Director of the Center for Preventive Action
December 9, 2008—New York, NY

This symposium was made possible by the generosity of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Symposium Summary Report (PDF, 84K)

Symposium on the U.S.-Japan Partnership: An Agenda For Change

Staff: Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies
December 1, 2008

This symposium was cosponsored by Council on Foreign Relations and the Asahi-Shimbun.

Widely acclaimed as the most respected and credible source of news in Japan and the Asia-Pacific region, the Asahi Shimbun is one of Japan's oldest and largest national newspapers, with a daily circulation of over eight million. Based in Tokyo, its overseas network includes five general bureaus covering America from Washington DC, Europe from London, the Middle East from Cairo, Asia from Bangkok, and China from Beijing, with an additional bureau newly opened in Havana, Cuba, in 2007. It has a presence in about 30 locations worldwide with 53 correspondents. The company also broadcasts nationwide in Japan via TV Asahi and has a news website,

This event has also been made possible by the generosity of the following corporate sponsors of CFR's Japan program: Canon USA, Mitsui & Company, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America, Mitsubishi International Corporation, Sony Corporation of America, and Toyota Motor North America.

Symposium Summary Report (PDF, 148K)

Coverage in the Asahi Shimbun (all in Japanese):

Symposium on Iran and Policy Options for the Next Administration

Staff: Ray Takeyh, Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle East Studies
September 5, 2008—8:30 am to 1:30 pm

On September 5, 2008, the Council on Foreign Relations convened some of the country's top experts on Iran. Over the course of three sessions, the symposium sought to understand Iran as a global player and identify policy options for the next U.S. administration.

This symposium was made possible through the generous support of
the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

This page contains video, audio, and transcripts of the three sessions, as well as related readings.

Symposium Summary Report (Downloadable PDF)

Session 1: Iran's Domestic Politics

Welcoming Remarks:


  • Ali M. Ansari, Professor and Director, Institute for Iranian Studies, University of St. Andrews.
  • Farideh Farhi, Adjunct Professor of Political Science, University of Hawaii


Despite a sagging economy and a public that has grown weary of the ruling regime, Iran's conservative camps retain a firm grip on power nearly three decades after the Iranian Revolution. Farideh Farhi, an adjunct professor of political science at the University of Hawaii, said at a CFR symposium on U.S. policy toward Iran that the next U.S. president should prepare to negotiate with an increasingly fractious camp of conservative Iranian lawmakers. But Ali Ansari, professor and director of the Institute for Iranian Studies at the University of St. Andrews, said conservative infighting has not impacted the office of Iran's Supreme Leader ability to influence the domestic agenda. The last decade has seen "the exponential growth of the leadership office," Ansari said. "What you see is the growth of this shadow government, or this revolutionary government as oppsed to the orthodox republican organs of government, and they've started essentially to take over." An examination of Iran's budgets offers evidence. For instance, Ansari said, recent governmental spending on welfare organizations increased by 3.2 percent while spending on religious foundations more than doubled. "When you have that shift in financial wealth …it shows where the balance of power is going," he said. "The leader is now taking on the role essentially as a monarch."

Video Highlight

Full Video Audio Transcript

Session 2: The Nuclear Dimension and Iranian Foreign Policy


  • Ashton B. Carter, Codirector, Preventive Defense Project, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
  • Gary Samore, Vice President, Director of Studies, Maurice R. Greenberg Chair, Council on Foreign Relations


The Bush administration has long-warned that an Iranian nuclear weapon would rank near the top of risks to national and global security. But after years of diplomatic efforts to derail Iran's nuclear program, Washington may have to come to grips with an inevitable fact: if Tehran wants a nuclear bomb, it will most likely get one. "I don't think we'll be able to talk them out of it," Gary Samore, Council on Foreign Relations Vice President, Director of Studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair, said during the second session of a CFR symposium on U.S. policy toward Iran. The best the United States can do, Samore said, "is create a package of incentives or disincentives to at least convince them to stop or at least slow down." Hawks within the Bush administration have hinted that military force could put a stop to Iranian nuclear ambitions. But Ashton B. Carter, codirector of the Preventive Defense Project at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, said not even military action can solve the problem. "The only other option, of course, is to invade," Carter said. "We've had plans to invade Iran for as long as I've been associated with the Department of Defense. I just don't think we have the ground forces to do it." Additionally, Carter said he sees a "50-50" chance that Israel—a sworn enemy of Iran—will unilaterally attack Iran's nuclear facilities between the U.S. presidential election and Inauguration Day.

Video Highlight

Full Video Audio Transcript

Session 3: Policy Options and Recommendations for the Next Administration


  • Vali R. Nasr, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
  • Ray Takeyh, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations


Unlike George W. Bush, whose administration focused exclusively on containing Iran's nuclear program, the next U.S. president should broaden its bilateral relations with Tehran to include talks on sanctions, regional stability, and energy security, experts said during the third session of a CFR symposium on U.S. policy toward Iran. "Iran can go down two roads: Japan of the 1930s, or the road of India, " said Vali R. Nasr, Council on Foreign Relations adjunct senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies. "Part of the use of aggressive diplomacy should be to interject ourselves into that debate, to have a say in which way they go," Nasr said. The need for a reversal in strategy toward Iran is evidenced in the Bush administration's flawed strategy of containment, the speakers said. Ray Takeyh, a Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies, said the approach has left no regional Arab consensus on how to handle Iran, and attempting to craft a containment strategy similar to the one employed against the Soviets during the Cold War "is not practical. " The isolation approach has forced Tehran into closer ties with Europe and Asia, and especially China and Russia. "Iran is not a country that is isolated like North Korea," Takeyh said. "We might not have the keys to" isolate Iran with sanctions or economic pressure.

Video Highlight

Full Video Audio Transcript

Related Readings

CFR Symposium on Rethinking Maternal Health

Director: Laurie Garrett, Senior Fellow for Global Health
June 2008—June 12, 2008

In 2006, CFR senior fellows Isobel Coleman and Laurie Garrett launched the CFR Maternal Health program to raise awareness and suggest policies that would help improve maternal survival worldwide. With the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the CFR Maternal Health program convened a symposium on June 11 and 12, 2008, in Washington, DC, and New York entitled, “Rethinking Maternal Health.” The symposium examined issues surrounding maternal health in the context of U.S. foreign assistance. A summary, transcripts, and audio recordings of the symposium are available below.

Summary of sessions 1 - 3 (PDF)

Center for Preventive Action Symposium on the Future of Conflict Prevention

Staff: Paul B. Stares, General John W. Vessey Senior Fellow for Conflict Prevention and Director of the Center for Preventive Action
Director: Paul B. Stares, General John W. Vessey Senior Fellow for Conflict Prevention and Director of the Center for Preventive Action
December 10, 2007—Special One-Day Symposium

Timed with the tenth anniversary of the release of the final report of the widely regarded Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, the symposium, titled "The Future of Conflict Prevention," assessed what we -- the United States, UN, and international community -- have and have not accomplished in terms of conflict prevention (theory and practice) over the last decade, and looked forward to new challenges and requirements for successful preventive action.

Summary Report

Latin America, America Latin: The Dynamics of Immigration and Integration in the Western Hemisphere

May 22, 2007

An estimated twelve million illegal immigrants live in the United States, up from five million just ten years ago. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, in 2005 some 78 percent of this population was from Latin America. Despite these startling statistics, U.S. immigration law has not changed in twenty years. There is agreement across the political spectrum that the status quo does not work and that immigration reform is necessary, said Deborah W. Meyers, senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. Yet as migration policy experts, immigration lawyers, and journalists discussed in a recent symposium hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations, "The Dynamics of Immigration and Integration in the Western Hemisphere," the specifics of how to reform U.S. immigration law have provoked heated debate. Panelists discussed the contentious dynamics of U.S. immigration reform from the perspectives of U.S. policymakers, the general public, and immigrants themselves. The symposium was the final event in this year's "Latin America, America Latin" series at the Council, organized by Council Fellow for Latin America Studies Shannon O'Neil and made possible by the generosity of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Summary Report of Symposium: Downloadable PDF

Religion and Foreign Policy Symposia Series

Staff: Walter Russell Mead, Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, and Timothy Samuel Shah, Former Adjunct Senior Fellow for Religion and Foreign Policy
December 1, 2006—June 11, 2008

Made possible by the generosity of the Henry Luce Foundation, the symposia series will not focus on just one religion or one set of issues. Topics to be addressed include: new trends in political Islam among Sunnis; the impact of religion on politics and society in Nigeria; the role that religious ideas and identity play in the ways that the worlds of Islam and the West understand (and misunderstand) one another; the impact of evangelical Christianity on American foreign policy; religion and politics in China; the rise of Christianity in the global South; and politics and religion in South Asia.

Maternal Health and Foreign Policy Symposium

June 27, 2006—Special one day symposium

More than half a million women die every year in childbirth, a startling statistic that has not dropped in nearly two decades despite global progress in reducing infant and child mortality rates. "In some countries, getting pregnant is the most dangerous thing a woman can do," said Isobel Coleman, senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy and director of the U.S. Foreign Policy and Women Program at the Council on Foreign Relations. Coleman and Laurie Garrett, the Council's senior fellow for global health, convened a symposium on "Maternal Health and Foreign Policy" at the Council on June 27, 2006, to explore the causes of the high number of maternal deaths and address possible solutions.

Summary Report of Sessions 1-2: Downloadable PDF

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