Each year CFR organizes more than one hundred on-the-record events, conference calls, and podcasts in which senior government officials, global leaders, business executives, and prominent thinkers discuss pressing international issues.  
  • Energy and Environment

    This CFR Home and Abroad Public Forum discusses current and projected climate change, options for reducing emissions, and policies to help communities adapt to a changing climate. This event is part of CFR’s Home and Abroad series, which explores issues at the nexus of U.S. domestic and foreign policy that affect America’s role in the world.
  • Taiwan

    Panelists discuss the risk of an armed conflict between the United States and China over Taiwan and how the United States should adapt its defense strategy to meet the China challenge.
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  • Canada

    Tiff Macklem of the Bank of Canada discusses the major trends and challenges facing the global financial architecture, what’s at stake for Canada, and how to evolve it for the 21st century. The C. Peter McColough Series on International Economics brings the world's foremost economic policymakers and scholars to address members on current topics in international economics and U.S. monetary policy. This meeting series is presented by the Maurice R. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies.
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  • Democracy

    Panelists discuss democratic backsliding, the rights of marginalized populations living under authoritarian regimes, and the prospects for and obstacles against democratic movements around the world. The CFR Young Professionals Briefing Series provides an opportunity for those early in their careers to engage with CFR. The briefings feature remarks by experts on critical global issues and lessons learned in their careers. These events are intended for individuals who have completed their undergraduate studies and have not yet reached the age of thirty to be eligible for CFR term membership. Please note only U.S. citizens are eligible for CFR membership.
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    Our panelists discuss the latest COVID-19 developments, the risks of the Delta variant, mask and vaccine mandates, booster shots, and the possible ramifications of many students and workers returning to in-person settings.
  • Religion

  • Economics

    The rich have gotten richer as workers’ wages have stagnated, social mobility has declined, and regional economic divisions have sharpened. Who wouldn’t be angry? In this second session in The Threats to American Democracy Roundtable Series, two of the world’s leading authorities on the subject discuss. The Threats to American Democracy Roundtable Series explores various threats to American democracy. This meeting is part of the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Project on the Future of Democracy.
  • Economics

    Supply chains are an integral part of the American economy and actively drive U.S. innovation. However, what is included in the term has lacked an empirical definition. Reviewing the suppliers and creating a new categorization that separates supply chain industries (i.e., those that sell their goods and services primarily to other businesses or governments) from business-to-consumer (B2C) industries, provides a more accurate understanding of the U.S. economy and the role of manufacturing in innovation. Mercedes Delgado, associate professor of strategy and innovation at the Copenhagen Business School, and Karen Mills, senior fellow at Harvard Business School, discuss their recent paper on “A New Categorization of the U.S. Economy” and its implications for innovation.
  • Russia

    Thomas Graham, distinguished fellow at CFR, leads a conversation on constraining Putin’s Russia. FASKIANOS: Welcome to today’s session of the CFR Fall 2021 Academic Webinar Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. Today’s meeting is on the record, and the video and transcript will be available on our website if you would like to share it with your colleagues or classmates. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy. We are delighted to have Thomas Graham with us to talk about Putin’s Russia. Mr. Graham is a distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a senior advisor at Kissinger Associates, where he focuses on Russian and Eurasian affairs. He is cofounder of the Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies program at Yale University, and is also a research fellow at the MacMillan Center at Yale. He previously served as special assistant to President George W. Bush and senior director for Russia on the National Security Council staff from 2004 to 2007, and director for Russian affairs from 2002 to 2004. His résumé is very distinguished. I will just also say that he is a U.S. diplomat who served two tours of duty in Moscow, where he worked on political affairs. So, Mr. Graham, thanks very much for being with us today. I thought you could get us started by talking about the primary interests at stake in U.S.-Russia relations. GRAHAM: Great. Thank you very much, Irina, for that introduction, and it’s a real pleasure to be with all of you here today. I want to start with three broad points that will frame the rest of our discussion. The first is that the problem that the United States faces is not simply with Putin; it is with Russia more generally speaking. The last seven years of very difficult, challenging adversarial relationship is really not an aberration in the history of the relationship between our two countries. In fact, from the moment the United States emerged as a major power on the global stage at the very end of the nineteenth century, we have had a rivalry with Russia. And the issues that divide us today are the ones that divided us 125, 150 years ago: We have opposing worldviews. We have different geopolitical interests. And clearly, we have different systems of values that inform our domestic political systems. This rivalry has intensified, ebbed and flowed during the twentieth century. But the effort we made at partnership after the breakup of the Soviet Union up until 2014, marked by the eruption of the crisis in Ukraine, is really the aberration in the history of relations between our two countries and one that was founded very much on the fact that Russia endured a period of strategic weakness. So the issue we have to deal with Russia and how we’re going to deal with Russia well into the future, even after Putin departs—which he will, obviously, at some point, if only for biological reasons. The second point that I would make is that Russia is not going to go away. We hear a lot in the public debate in the United States about Russian decline, about the population/demographic problems it has, about its stagnating economy, and so forth. None of this is necessarily untrue, but I think it tends to exaggerate the problems that Russia faces. It ignores the problems that all other major countries face—including China, the United States, and many major European countries—but it also overlooks the very great strengths that Russia has had for decades that are going to make it a player and an important player on the global stage, nuclear weapons to begin with. We should never forget that Russia remains the only country that can destroy the United States as a functioning society in thirty minutes. Russia has the largest natural endowment of any country in the world, a country that can pretend to self-sufficiency and, in fact, is better placed than most other countries to deal with a breakdown in globalization in the decades to come if that, indeed, happens. It has a veto on the U.N. Security Council, which makes it an important player on issues of importance to the United States, and it has a talented population that has fostered a scientific community that, for example, is capable of taking advances in technology and developing the military applications from them. Just look at the strength that Russia exhibits in cyberspace, for example—again, a major challenge for the United States. So Russia is going to continue to be a challenge. One other thing that I should have mentioned here is that the Russian state throughout history and Putin’s Russia today has demonstrated a keen ability to mobilize the resources of their own society for state purposes. So even if in relative terms they may be weaker and weakening vis-à-vis China and the United States, in some ways that political will, that ability to mobilize, allows Russia to play a much larger role than mere indicators of its economic size and population size would suggest. Now, Russia clashes with the United States across a whole range of issues, and as I said that is going to continue for some time. And this brings me to my third point: How we should think about American foreign policy, what our guidelines should be in dealing with Russia. And here there are three, I think, key elements to this. First, the United States needs to preserve strategic stability. We need to have that nuclear balance between us (sic) and the United States. This is an existential question. And as I already mentioned, Russia does have a tremendous nuclear capability. Second, the United States should seek to manage its competition with Russia responsibly. We want to avoid or reduce the risk of a direct military conflict that could escalate to the nuclear level. This is—also, I think, recognizes that the United States is not going to be able to compel Russia to capitulate on issues that are of interest to us, nor are we going to be able to radically change the way they think about their own national interests. So it’s a competitive relationship and we need to manage that responsibly. And finally, given the complex world that we live in today—the very real transnational challenges we face: climate change, pandemic diseases, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction—the United States should seek, to the extent possible, ways to cooperate with Russia in dealing with these issues. We should recognize that Russia is not necessarily the only player nor necessarily the most important player in dealing with these challenges, but it does have a role to play along with other major powers in handling these transnational issues. So those, I think, are three sort of broad points that help set the stage for our discussion. Now let me turn sort of very briefly to the questions about U.S. policy. How do we deal with this Russia? What are sort of—the way we should think about American foreign policy? And here the point I would make is that we should think of the policy in terms of what I would call the three Ds: defense, deterrence, and dialogue. Now, defense and deterrence in many ways go together. If you have a very good defense, if you demonstrate an ability and willingness to defend your interests effectively and deliberately, then you tend to deter another power. They have less reason to want to attack you. But if deterrence fails, you very much need to be able to defend yourself—to disrupt Russian operations in cyberspace, for example, or disrupt military operations by the Russians that you find problematic in some way. So defense and deterrence go together, and we need to think about that. Now, you build these elements on a number of other things that we’re all familiar with. A strong military—strong, capable military—is, obviously, an element of both defense and deterrence, and something that we have managed quite well in the past and I imagine will manage quite well going into the future. Cyber defenses are also an important element of constraining Russia on the global stage. Now, here the United States really has much room for improvement. We built our internet, our cyberspace largely for the accessibility, the ability to pass information from one entity to another, and we spent much less attention to the security of that system. As cyberspace has become more important to our socioeconomic and political lives, we really need to devote much more attention to cybersecurity, hardening our commuter—computer networks, for example, making sure we have strong passwords and so forth, something that I think we now recognize but we need to put a much greater effort into doing that. Third area of defense and deterrence is strong alliances. When we’re thinking about Russia, this is clearly the transatlantic community, NATO, our relations with our other European partners. And here, we need to develop the types of military/defense cooperation that we need to demonstrate quite clearly that the United States, along with the rest of the NATO allies, is ready and prepared to meet its Article 5 guarantees to collective security should the Russians do something that is untoward in our neighborhood. And then, finally, and I think of increasing importance, is the question of national unity. National unity, national resilience, has really become a key element in defense and deterrence at this point. We need to demonstrate to the Russians that we have sufficient national unity to clearly identify what our interests are and pursue them on the international stage. One of Putin’s close colleagues several years ago said that what Putin is doing is messing with the Americans’ minds, and certainly we’ve seen that over the past several years. Putin hasn’t sowed the discord in the United States, but he certainly has tried to exploit it for Russian purposes. And this is something that he’s going to concentrate on in the future, in part because he recognizes the dangers of military confrontation with the United States. So great-power competition, from the Kremlin’s standpoint, is going to move very, very quickly from the kinetic realm to the cyber realm, and we need to be able to deal with that. So building national unity at home, overcoming our polarization, is really perhaps one of the key steps in constraining Russia on the global stage. And then, finally, some very brief words about dialogue. We tend to downplay this in our national discussion. Many believe that diplomatic relations are—should not be branded as a reward for bad behavior. But I think if you look at this objectively, you’ll see that diplomatic relations are very important as a way of defending and advancing our national concerns. It’s a way that we can convey clearly to the Russians what our expectations are, what our goals are, what our redlines are, and the responses that we’re capable of taking if Russia crosses them. At the same time, we can learn from the Russians what their goals are, what their motivations are, what their redlines are, and we can factor that into our own policy. This is a major element of managing the competition between our two countries responsibly. You’ll see that we have begun to engage in negotiations and diplomacy with the Russians much more under President Biden than we did under President Trump. We’ve already launched strategic stability talks with the aim of coming up with a new concept of strategic stability that’s adequate to the strategic environment of the present day and the near future. We’ve engaged in cybersecurity talks, which my understanding is have, in fact, had some success over the past several weeks. Where we, I think, have lagged is in the discussion of regional issues—Europe, Ukraine, the Middle East, for example. These are areas where there is still potential for conflict, and the United States and Russia ought to be sitting down and talking about these issues on a regular basis. So three Ds—defense, deterrence, and diplomacy or dialogue—are the ways that we should be thinking about our relationship with Russia. And obviously, we’ll need to adjust each of these three elements to the specific issue at hand, whether it be in Europe, whether it be in the nuclear realm, cyberspace, and so forth. Now, with that as a way—by way of introduction, I am very pleased to entertain your questions. FASKIANOS: Tom, thanks very much for that terrific overview and analysis. We’re going to go to all of you now for your questions. You can either raise your hand by clicking on the icon, and I will call on you, and you can tell us what institution you are with; or you can type your question in the Q&A box, although if you want to ask it you can raise your hand. We encourage that. And if you’re typing your question, please let us know what college or university you’re with. So I’m going to take the first raised-hand question from Babak Salimitari. And unmute yourself. Q: Can you guys hear me? GRAHAM: Yes. FASKIANOS: Yes. Q: Hello. I’m a third-year UCI student, economics. I have a question. I’m going to sound a bit like Sean Hannity here, so please forgive me, but I have a question about that Nord Stream 2 pipeline that you constantly hear on the news, and it just doesn’t make that much sense for me of why this pipeline was allowed to be completed into the heart of Europe considering Russia’s strength with natural gases and the leverage that they have over Europe with that pipeline. Why was that allowed to be completed? GRAHAM: Well, I think from the standpoint of the Biden administration this was a matter of what we call alliance management. Germany is clearly a key ally for the United States in Europe, and the Germans were very committed to the completion of that pipeline, starting with Chancellor Angela Merkel down through I think both the leading political parties and the German business community. So I think they made the decision for that. But let me step back because I’d like to challenge a lot of the assumptions about the Nord Stream 2 project here in the United States, which I think misconceive it, misframe the question, and tend to exaggerate the dangers that is poses. The first point that I would make is that Europe now and in the future will have and need Russian gas. It’s taken a substantial amount in the past—in the past decades, and even as it moves forward towards a green revolution it will continue to take considerable amounts of Russian gas. It can’t do without that gas. So the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, contrary to what you hear in the United States or at the U.S. Congress, I don’t think poses an additional threat to Europe’s energy security, no larger than the threat that was posed before that pipeline was completed. The Europeans, I think are aware of the problems that that poses, and they’ve taken steps over the past several years to integrate the gas—the gas distribution network in Europe, to build facilities to import liquified natural gas, all as a way of eroding the leverage that Gazprom might have had over energy markets in Europe. And that has been quite successful over the past—over the past several years. Now, I think, you know, the other issue that comes up in the discussion in the United States is Ukraine, because Nord Stream 2 clearly provides Russia with a way to import the gas into Europe and bypass Ukraine at the—at the same time. And Ukraine is going to suffer a significant loss in budgetary revenue because of the decline in transit fees that it gets from the transportation of Russian gas across its territory. You know, that is a problem, but there are ways of dealing with that: by helping Ukraine fill the budgetary gap, by helping Ukraine transition away from a reliance on gas to other forms of energy, of helping Ukraine develop the green-energy resources that will make it a much more important partner in the European energy equation than it is now. And then finally, you know, it strikes me as somewhat wrongheaded for Ukraine to put itself in a position where it is reliant on a country that is clearly a belligerent for a significant part of its federal revenue. So we need to think hard with the Ukrainians about how they deal with this issue, how they wean themselves off Russian transit fees, and then I think we have a situation where we can help Ukraine, we can manage the energy-security situation in Europe, we can reduce any leverage that Russia might have, and that Nord Stream 2 really doesn’t pose a significant risk to the United States or our European allies over the long run. FASKIANOS: Thank you. We’re going to take the next question from the written queue from Kenneth Mayers, who’s at St Francis—sorry, that just popped away; oh, sorry—St. Francis College. Thinking beyond this triangular framework, what pathways and possibilities can be envisioned for a more positive dimension of working together in mutually, even globally, beneficial ways? GRAHAM: What triangular relationship are we talking about? FASKIANOS: His—thinking beyond this triangular framework and— GRAHAM: Oh, OK. So I think it’s defense, deterrence, and diplomacy is the— FASKIANOS: Correct. GRAHAM: OK. Can you repeat the final part of the question, then? FASKIANOS: What pathways and possibilities can be envisioned for a more positive dimension of working together in mutually beneficial ways? GRAHAM: Well, there are a number of areas in which we can work together beneficially. If you think about proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, for example, the United States and Russia over the past two decades have played a major role in both securing weapons that were located in Russia, but also in securing highly-enriched uranium that was in Soviet-designed reactors throughout the former Soviet space. We have taken a lead together in setting down rules and procedures that reduce the risk of nuclear material—fissile material getting into the hands of terrorist organizations. And we have played a role together in trying to constrain the Iranian nuclear program. Russia played an instrumental role in the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that we signed in 2015 that the Trump administration walked away with, but they will continue to play a role in constraining Iranians’ nuclear ambitions going forward. And we’ve also worked in a cooperative fashion in dealing with the North Korean nuclear program. So there are areas in nonproliferation where the two countries can work together. On climate change, I mean, I think the big challenge for the United States is actually persuading Russia that climate change is a significant threat to their own security. They’re slowly beginning to change that view, but as they come around to recognizing that they have to deal with climate change there are a number of areas where the two countries can cooperate. One of the things that climate is doing is melting the permafrost. That is destabilizing the foundation of much of Russia’s energy infrastructure in areas where gas and oil are extracted for export abroad. The United States has dome technologies that the Russians might find of interest in stabilizing that infrastructure. They suffer from problems of Siberian fires—peat-bog fires, forest fires—an area that, obviously, is of concern to the United States as well. And there may be room for cooperation there, two. And then, finally, you know, the United States and Russia have two of the leading scientific communities in the entire world. We ought to be working together on ways that we can help mitigate the consequences of climate change going forward. So I see an array of areas where the two countries could cooperate, but that will depend on good diplomacy in Washington and a receptivity on the part of the Russians which we haven’t seen quite yet. FASKIANOS: Thank you. Let’s go next to Jeffrey Ko. You can unmute yourself. Thank you. Q: Hi. So I’m Jeffrey Ko. I’m an international relations master’s student at Carnegie Mellon. And my question has to deal with these private military forces, and especially the Wagner Group. And so I would like to know, you know, how does this play into our security strategy regarding Russia in countries that have seen proxy warfare? And how does this—how difficult will it be to engage with Russia either diplomatically or militarily on the use of these gray-zone tactics, and specifically utilizing the Wagner Group as an informal branch of Russia’s military? GRAHAM: Well, look, I mean, I do think that we need, one, to sit down and have a discussion with Russia about the use of these private military forces, particularly the Wagner firm, which has played a significant role in a number of conflicts across the globe in the Middle East, Africa, and in Latin America. But we also ought to help the countries that are of interest to us deal with the problems that the Wagner Group causes. You know, the United States had to deal with the Wagner Group in Syria during the Syrian civil war. You know, despite the fact that we had a deconfliction exercise with the Russians at that point, tried to prevent military conflicts between our two militaries operating in close proximity, when the Wagner forces violated those strictures and actually began to attack a U.S. facility, we had no hesitation about using the force that we had to basically obliterate that enemy. And the Wagner Group suffered casualties numbering in the hundreds, one to two hundred. I think the Russians got the message about that, that you don’t—you don’t mess with the United States military, certainly not while using a private military company like Wagner. You know, in places like Libya, where Wagner is quite active, I think the United States needs a major diplomatic effort to try to defuse the Libyan crisis. And part of the solution to that would be negotiating an agreement that calls for the withdrawal of all foreign military forces and certainly private military groups from Libyan territory, and lean on the Russians to carry that through. In any event, you know, this is not going to be an easy issue to resolve. I think we deal with this by—country by country, and we focus our attention on those countries where our national interests are greatest. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question from Jill Dougherty, who’s at Georgetown University. The Putin administration appears to be hardening its control of Russia’s society with the purpose of keeping Putin in power at least until 2036. Most recent example is the Duma elections that just took place. Will this crackdown domestically affect or damage U.S.-Russia relations? GRAHAM: Thank you, Jill. Always a good question and always a difficult question to answer. You know, I think the issue here is the extent to which the Biden administration wants to make the domestic political situation in Russia a key item on its agenda with Russia over the next—over the next few years. You know, my impression from the conversations I’ve had with people in the administration—in and around the administration is that President Biden is not going to focus on this. You know, his focus really is going to be China, and what he wants to do is maintain something of a status quo in the relationship with Russia. You will notice that the second round of sanctions that the United States levied with regard to the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, something that was mandated by U.S. law, were actually quite mild—much less extreme, much less punitive than the legislation allowed—I think a signal that the Biden administration was not going to let domestic political issues in Russia overwhelm the agenda that the United States has, which is going to be focused on strategic stability, cyber issues, and so forth. So my immediate reaction is that the Duma election is really not going to have a dramatic impact on the state of the relationship between our two countries. We accept the fact that Russia is an authoritarian system. It is becoming more authoritarian. We will continue to try to find ways to support those elements of civil society we can, but always being careful not to do it in ways that causes the Russian government to crack down even harder on those individuals. This is a very sort of difficult needle to thread for the United States, but I think that’s the way we’ll go and you won’t see this as a major impediment to the improvement of relations—which, as we all know, are at a very low level at this point in any event. FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you. Let’s go next to Sujay Utkarsh. Q: Hi, yeah. Can you hear me? GRAHAM: Yes. FASKIANOS: Yes. Q: Awesome. So, regarding the issue about cyber warfare, I was wondering if you can go into more detail about what advantages the Russians have in cyberspace and what the United States can do to compete with those advantages. GRAHAM: A good question and a difficult question for people outside the government to answer, since we’re not privy to all the information about Russian cyber capabilities nor are we privy to the information about American cyber capabilities. Both countries cloak those programs in a great deal of secrecy. You know, it seemed to me that one of the advantages that perhaps Russia has is that it’s a much more closed society than the United States. Now, I’m thinking simply in terms of the way societies can be disrupted through cyberspace. We’re a much more open society. It’s easier to access our internet. We are—just as I mentioned before, we are a polarized society right now. That allows Russia many avenues into our domestic political system in order to exacerbate the tensions between various elements in our society. The United States can’t reply in the same way in dealing with Russia. You know, second, Russia, in building its own internet, its own cyberspace, has paid much more attention to security than the United States has. So, you know, I would presume that its computer systems are somewhat harder to penetrate than American systems are at this point, although another factor to take into account here is that much of the initial effort in building up cyberspace—the Web, the computer networks—in Russia was built with American technology. You know, the Googles, the Intels, and others played an instrumental role in providing those types of—that type of equipment to the Russians. So I wouldn’t exaggerate how much stronger they are there. And then, finally, I think what is probably one of the strengths, if you want to call it that, is that Russia is probably a little more risk-prone in using its cyber tools than the United States is at this point, in part because we think as a society we’re more vulnerable. And that does give Russia a slight advantage. That said, this shouldn’t be a problem that’s beyond the capability of the United States to manage if we put our minds to it. We have done a lot more over the past several years. We are getting better at this. And I think we’ll continue to improve in time and with the appropriate programs, the appropriate education of American society. FASKIANOS: Thank you. The next question is a written one from Kim-Leigh Tursi, a third-year undergraduate at Temple University. Where do you see Russia in relation to the rise of China, and how does that affect how the U.S. might approach foreign policy toward Russia? GRAHAM: Well, you know, that’s an important question, obviously one that a lot of people have focused on recently. You know, Russia and China have developed a very close working strategic relationship over the—over the past several years, but I think we should note that the Russian effort to rebuild its relations with China go back to the late Soviet period to overcome the disadvantages that then the Soviet Union felt they had because of the poor relationship with China and the ability of the United States to exploit that relationship to Moscow’s detriment. So relations have been improving for the past twenty-five, thirty years; obviously, a dramatic acceleration in that improvement after 2014 and the breakdown in relations between Russia and the West. Now, there are a number of reasons for this alignment at this point. One, the two countries do share at a very general level a basic view of for—a basic dislike of what they see as American ambitions to dominate the global—the global security and economic environment. They don’t like what they consider to be American hegemonic goals. Second, the economies seem to be complementary at this point. Russia does have a wealth of natural resources that the Chinese need to fuel their robust economic growth. You have similar domestic political systems. And all of this, I think, is reinforced by what appears to be a very good personal relationship between President Putin and President Xi Jinping. These two leaders have met dozens of times over the past five to seven years and have maintained, I think, very robust contact even during the—during the pandemic. So there are very good strategic reasons why these two countries enjoy good relations. They are going to step those up in the near term. The Russians are continuing to provide the Chinese with significant sophisticated military equipment. They’ve also undertaken to help the Chinese build an early warning system for ballistic missiles, and when that’s completed it will make China only the third country in the world to have such a system along with Russia and the United States. Now, I would argue that this strategic alignment does pose something of a challenge to the United States. If you look at American foreign policy or American foreign policy tradition, one of the principles that has guided the United States since the end of the nineteenth century, certainly throughout the twentieth century, was that we needed to prevent the—any hostile country or coalition of hostile countries from dominating areas of great strategic importance, principally Europe, East Asia, and more recently the Middle East. A Russian-Chinese strategic alignment certainly increases the chances of China dominating East Asia. Depending on how close that relationship grows, it also could have significant impact on Europe and the way Europe relates to this Russian-Chinese bloc, and therefore to the United States as a whole. So we should have an interest in trying to sort of attenuate the relationship between the two countries. At a minimum, we shouldn’t be pursuing a set of policies that would push Russia closer to China. Second, I think we ought to try to normalize our diplomatic relationship with the Russians. Not that we’re necessarily going to agree on a—on a range of issues at this point, but we need to give the Russians a sense that they have other strategic options than China going forward—something that would, I think, enhance their bargaining position with the Chinese going forward and would complicate China’s own strategic calculus, which would be to our advantage. I think we also should play on Russia’s concerns about strategic autonomy, this idea that Russia needs to be an independent great power on the global stage, that it doesn’t want to be the junior partner or overly dependent on any one country as a way, again, of attenuating the tie with China. The one thing that I don’t think we can do is drive a wedge between those two countries, in part because of the strategic reasons that I’ve mentioned already that bring these two countries together. And any very crude, I think, effort to do that will actually be counterproductive. Both Beijing and Moscow will see through that, quite clearly, and that will only lead to a closing of the ranks between those two countries, which as I said is a strategic challenge for the United States going forward. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question from Holli Semetko, who’s at Emory University. Polarization is something we must overcome, as you said, but those of us working on social media have some evidence to suggest that social media has fostered political polarization in the U.S. Yuri Milner, a Russian Israeli entrepreneur, invested in an early round of Facebook funding with help from VTB, a Russian state-controlled bank, as well as his investment in Jared Kushner’s real estate firm. What is the level of FDI from Russia in the U.S. and do you see it as a threat to national security? GRAHAM: Well, look, I mean, the actual level of Russian FDI in the United States is quite small. You know, you have some few, I think, good examples of it—the one that you’ve mentioned with Yuri Milner, for example. There was some investment in a steel factory some years ago. But by and large, there hasn’t been a significant amount of Russian foreign direct investment in the United States. I think our growing concerns about Russia have made us even more leery of allowing Russian investment, particularly in sectors that we consider critical to American national security. So I’m not deeply concerned about that going forward. I think we probably face a much greater challenge from the Chinese in that regard. Of course, you’ve seen efforts by the United States to deal more harshly or look more closely at Chinese investment in the United States over the past several years. Let me just make one sort of final point on social media since it’s come up. You know, Russia is a problem. We need to pay attention to Russia in that space. But again, I don’t think that we should exaggerate Russia’s influence, nor should we focus simply on Russia as the problem in this area. There is a major problem with disinformation in social media in the United States, much of that propagated by sources within the United States, but there are a host of other countries that also will try to affect U.S. public opinion through their intrusions into American social media. You know, given our concerns about First Amendment rights, freedom of speech and so forth, you know, I think we have problems in sort of really clamping down on this. But what we need to do, certainly, is better educate the American public about how to deal with the information that crosses their electronic devices day in and day out. Americans need to be aware of how they can be manipulated, and they need to understand and know where they can go to find reliable information. Again, given the political polarization in our country today, this is a very real challenge and difficult one. But I think if we think long term about this problem, the key really is educating the American public. An educated American public is going to be the best defense against foreign countries, other hostile forces trying to use social media to undermine our national unity and exacerbate the politics of our country. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question from Eoin Wilson-Manion, who’s raised his hand. Q: Hello. Can you hear me now? GRAHAM: Yes. FASKIANOS: Yes. Q: Awesome. Well, thank you. I just wanted to ask if you could touch a little bit more on Russia’s presence in Syria and what that means for U.S. interests in Syria and I guess the larger Middle East. I’m Eoin from Carnegie Mellon University. Thanks very much. GRAHAM: Well, you know, the Russians entered Syria in 2015 militarily largely to save Assad from what they thought was imminent overthrow by what they considered a radical Islamic force, a group of terrorists that they thought would challenge Russian interests not only in Syria but would fuel extremist forces inside Russia itself, particularly in the North Caucasus but farther afield than that—even into Moscow, into areas that were Muslim-dominated inside Russia itself. So they had very good national security reasons for going in. Those ran—I mean, the Russian presence in Syria clearly has run counter to what the United States was trying to do at that point since we clearly aligned against Assad in favor of what we considered moderate reformist forces that were seeking a more sort of democratic future for Syria as part of this broader Arab Spring at that time. So there was a clear conflict at that point. You know, subsequently and in parallel with its continued presence in Syria, the Russians have extended their diplomatic—their diplomatic effort to other countries in the region. Russia enjoys a fairly robust diplomatic relationship with Israel, for example, that has been grounded in counterterrorism cooperation, for example. They have a sort of strange relationship, largely positive, with Turkey that they have pursued over the past several years. We know of the ties that they’ve had in Tehran, in Iran for some time. They have reached out to the Saudis and the Saudis have bought some military equipment from them. We see them in Egypt and Libya, for example. So they’re a growing presence, a growing diplomatic presence in the Middle East, and this does pose some problems for the United States. From the middle of the 1970s onward, one of the basic thrusts of American foreign policy was to limit the role the Russians played in the Middle East. We sidelined them in the negotiations between the Arabs and the Israelis in the 1970s and in the 1980s. We limited their diplomatic contacts to countries that we considered critical partners and allies in that part of the world. Now I think the geopolitical situation has changed. Our own interest in the Middle East has diminished over time, in part because of the fracking revolution here in the United States. Gas and oil, we’ve got close to being independent in that area. We’re not as dependent on the Middle East as we once were for energy sources. And also, as, you know, the Biden administration has been clear, we do want to pivot away from the Middle East and Europe to focus more of our energies on what we see as the rising and continuing strategic challenge posed by China. So I think that means that going forward the United States is going to have to deal with Russia in a different fashion in the Middle East than in the past. We’re going to have to recognize them as a continuing presence. We’re not going to be able to push them out, in part because we’re not prepared to devote the resources to it. We have countries that are still important to us—Saudi Arabia, Israel for example—that do want a Russian presence in the Middle East. And so what we ought to do, it seems to me, is to begin that discussion about how we’re going to manage the rivalry in the Middle East. Now, it’s not all simply competition. There are areas for cooperation. We can cooperate in dealing with Iran, for example, the Iran nuclear dossier, as we have had in the past. Neither country has an interest in Iran developing nuclear weapons. Second, I think the two countries also would like to see a Middle East that’s not dominated by a single regional power. So despite the fact that the Russians have worked together quite closely with the Iranians in Syria, they don’t share Iranian ambitions elsewhere in the Middle East. And if you look at the diplomatic ties that the Russians have nurtured over the past with Turkey, with Israel, Saudi Arabia for example, none of these are friends of Iran, to put it mildly. So we can talk, I think, to the Russians of how our—you know, we can conduct ourselves so as to foster the development of a regional equilibrium in the Middle East that tends to stabilize that region, makes it less of a threat to either country, less of a threat to America’s European allies, and use this as a basis for, again, sort of not escalating the tension in the region but moderating it in some ways that works to the long-term advantage of the United States. FASKIANOS: Next question from Michael Strmiska, who’s a professor at Orange County Community College in New York state. Do you see any hope of persuading Russia to abandon its occupation of Crimea in the near term? Or do you think this is like the occupation of the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia after World War II, where a very long timespan was needed before any liberation was realistically possible? GRAHAM: Well, I guess my answer to those two questions would be yes and no, or no and yes. On Crimea, you know, I see no sort of near-term scenario that would lead to the Russians agreeing to the return of Crimea to Ukraine. Quite the contrary, Russia has taken steps since 2014 they continue at this point to further integrate Crimea into the Russian Federation politically, economically, socially, and so forth. The Russians have also built up their military presence in Crimea as a way of enhancing their domination or their influence in the greater Black Sea region. So I see no set of circumstances that would change that, certainly not in the—in the near term. And I think, you know, the Ukrainian effort to focus attention on Crimea is not going to, in fact, gain a great deal of traction with Europe nor with the United States going forward, though we will maintain the principled position of not recognizing Russia’s incorporation or annexation of Crimea. You know, I don’t think that the Crimean and Baltic situations are necessarily analogous. You know, in the Baltic states there was a significant indigenous element, governments in exile, that supported the independence of those countries. There was a fulcrum that the United States or a lever that the United States could use over time to continue pressure on the Soviets that eventually led to the independence of those countries as the Soviet Union broke down and ultimately collapsed at the end of the 1980s into 1991. I don’t see any significant indigenous element in Crimea nor a movement of inhabitants of Crimea outside Crimea that wants Crimea to be returned to Ukraine. I think we need to remember that a significant part of the population in Ukraine is Russian military, retired Russian military, that feels quite comfortable in—within the Russian Federation at this point. So if I were being quite frank about this, although I think the United States should maintain its principled position and not recognize annexation of Crimea, I don’t see anything over the long term, barring the collapse of Russia itself, that will change that situation and see Ukraine (sic; Crimea) reincorporated into the Ukrainian state. FASKIANOS: So there are a couple questions in the chat about Russia’s economy: What is their economy like today? And what are the effects of the sanctions? And from Steve Shinkel at the Naval War College: How do you assess the tie between Russia’s economy and being able to continue to modernize its military and ensure a stable economy? And will economic factors and Russia’s demographic challenges be a future constraining factor? So if you could— GRAHAM: Yeah. No, no, just take the economy. Obviously, a big issue, and it will be a constraining factor. I mean, the Russian economy is stagnating and it has for some—for some time. They enjoyed—the Russian economy enjoyed a very rapid period of growth during President Putin’s first presidential—two presidential terms in the 2000s, but since the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 Russia has run into very difficult economic times. In fact, it’s never really recovered from that crisis. If you look at the past ten years, barely any growth in the Russian economy at all. If you look at the impact that that has had on Russians themselves, there’s basically been no growth in real disposable income; rather, a decline over the past six or seven years. I think the Russians recognize that. The question is whether they can come up with a set of policies that actually will reverse that and that lead to a more robustly growing economy. Now, what the Kremlin has tried to do is not so much reform the economy—which I think is necessary if they’re going to enjoy robust economic growth—as much as professionalize the economy; that is—that is, bring in a younger sort of cadre who are well educated, many of them educated in the West, who understand how modern economies function and can keep the economy stable at least at the macro level. And this is one of the reasons that Western sanctions have not had nearly the impact on Russian behavior that many had hoped for or anticipated back in 2014 when we began to turn repeatedly to this tool in response to Russian activities and operations against Ukraine. You know, it has had some impact. I think the IMF would say that it’s probably taken a percentage point off—or, not a percentage point, but a tenth of a percentage point off of Russia’s GDP growth over the past several years. That certainly hasn’t been enough to change Russian behavior. But it hasn’t been more, in fact, because the governors of the—of the central bank have dealt quite adeptly with that, and maintain said Russian macroeconomic stability and some sort of foundation for the economy to grow going forward. I imagine that’s going to continue into the—into the future as well. So it is a constraining factor. Then I would end with what I—with a point that I made in my introduction. Russia does have a tremendous ability to mobilize its resources for state purposes, to extract what it needs from society at large to modernize the military, to maintain certainly Russia’s defenses and also some capability to project power abroad. So I wouldn’t write them off because of that. I think it’s going—still going to be a serious power, but not nearly as great a challenge to the United States as if it, in fact, solved its demographic problems, its economic problems, and had a robustly growing economy, greater resources that it could devote to a whole range of things that would improve its standing on the global stage vis-à-vis the United States and vis-à-vis China. FASKIANOS: Well, with that we are at the end of our time. And I apologize to everybody. We had over twenty written questions still pending and raised hands. I’m sorry we couldn’t get to all of you, but we do try to end on time. So, Thomas Graham, thank you very much for sharing your insights and analysis with us today. We appreciate it. And to all of you for your terrific questions and comments, we appreciate it. Our next Academic Webinar will be on Wednesday, October 6, at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time. And we will focus on the Indo-Pacific with Dhruva Jaishankar, who is the executive director of the Observer Research Foundation America and nonresident fellow at the Lowy Institute. And in the meantime, I encourage you to follow CFR at @CFR_Academic and visit,, and for new research and analysis on global issues. So, Tom, thank you very much. GRAHAM: Thank you. Good luck to all of you. (END)
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  • Education

    Travis L. Adkins, deputy assistant administrator for Africa at USAID and lecturer of African and security studies at the Walsh School of Foreign Service and in the Prisons and Justice Initiative at Georgetown University, and Brenda Gayle Plummer, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, led a conversation on race in America and international relations. FASKIANOS: Welcome to the first session of the CFR Fall 2021 Academic Webinar Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach at CFR. Today’s meeting is on the record, and the video and transcript will be available on our website if you would like to share it with your colleagues or classmates. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy. We’re delighted to have Travis Adkins and Brenda Gayle Plummer with us to discuss race in America and international relations. Travis Adkins is deputy assistant administrator in the Bureau of Africa at USAID, and lecturer of African and security studies at the Walsh School of Foreign Service, and in the Prisons and Justice Initiative at Georgetown University. As an international development leader, he has two decades of experience working in governance, civil society, and refugee and migration affairs in over fifty nations throughout Africa and the Middle East. Mr. Adkins was a CFR international affairs fellow and is a CFR member. Dr. Brenda Gayle Plummer is a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research includes race and gender, international relations, and civil rights. Dr. Plummer has taught Afro-American history throughout her twenty years of experience in higher education. Previously she taught at Fisk University, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of Minnesota. And from 2001 to 2005, Dr. Plummer served on the Historical Advisory Committee of the U.S. Department of State. So, thank you both for being with us today. We appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts with us. Travis, I thought we could begin with you to talk about the ways in which you’ve seen race relations in America influence U.S. foreign policy. ADKINS: Sure. Thank you so much, Irina. And welcome to everyone. Thank you for joining. The first thing I would say is that America’s long history of violence, exclusion, and barbarism towards Black people and indigenous people and Asian communities and immigrant communities in the United States have worked to give the lie to the notion of who we say we are in terms of freedom, in terms of democracy, in terms of the respect for human rights. And these are the core messages that we seek to project in our foreign policy. And we’ve not been able to resolve those contradictions because we have refused to face this history, right? And we can’t countenance a historical narrative in which we are not the heroes, not the good guys, not on the right side of history. And the challenge that we’ve had is that we’ve seen that play out in so many ugly ways domestically. But it also has resonance and relevance in our foreign policy, because what it ends up doing is essentially producing a foreign policy of platitudes and contradictory posturing on the issues of human rights, on the issues of racial justice, on the issues of democratic governance when the world can see not only this history but this present reality of racial discrimination, of police brutality, of efforts to suppress the political participation of specific groups of people inside of America. They can see children in cages at the Southern border. They can see anti-Asian hate taking place in our nation, and they can hear those messages resounding, sometimes from our White House, sometimes from our Senate, sometimes from our Congress and other halls of power throughout the United States. And that works against the message of who we say we are, which is really who we want to be. But the thing that we, I think, lose out on is pretending that where we want to be is actually where we are. And I think back a couple weeks ago Secretary Blinken came out saying to diplomats in the State Department that it was okay for them to admit America’s flaws and failings in their diplomatic engagements with other countries. But I would—I do applaud that. But I also think that saying that we would admit it to the rest of the world—the rest of the world already knows. And who we would have to need to focus on admitting it to is ourselves, because we have not faced this national shame of ours as it relates to the historical and the present reality of White supremacy, of racialized violence and hatred and exclusion in our immigration policy, in our education policy, in our law and customs and cultural mores that have helped to produce ongoing violence and hatred of this nature in which our history is steeped. I think the other part of that is that we lose the opportunity to then share that message with the rest of the world. And so, what I like to say is that our real history is better than the story that we tell. So instead of us framing ourselves and our foreign policy as a nation who fell from the heavens to the top of a mountain, it’s a more powerful story to say that we climbed up out of a valley and are still climbing up out of a valley of trying to create and produce and cultivate a multiracial, multiethnic democracy with respect for all, and that that is and has been a struggle. And I think that that message is much more powerful. And what it does is it creates healing for us at home, but it also begins to take away this kind of Achilles’ heel that many of our adversaries have used historically—the Soviet Union, now Russia, China, Iran—this notion that democracy and freedom and the moral posturing of America is all for naught if you just look at what they do at home. Who are they to preach to you about these things when they themselves have the same challenges? And so I think that we would strengthen ourselves if we could look at this in that way. And I would just close by saying that we often speak of the civil rights movement and the movement for decolonization in the world, and specifically in Africa where I mostly work, speak of them in the past tense. But I would argue that both of them are movements and histories that are continuously unfolding, that are not resolved, and that haven’t brought themselves to peaceful kinds of conclusions. And this is why when George Floyd is killed on camera, choked for nine minutes and loses his life, that you see reverberations all over the world, people pushing back because they are suffering from the same in their countries, and they are following after anti-Asian hate protestors and advocates, Black Lives Matter advocates and protestors, people who are saying to the world this is unacceptable. And so even in that way, you see the linked fates that people share. And so I think that the more we begin to face who we are at home, the more we begin to heal these wounds and relate better in the foreign policy arena, because I think that it is a long held fallacy that these things are separate, right? A nation’s foreign policy is only an extension of its beliefs, its policies and its aspirations and its desires from home going out into the world. So I will stop there. And thank you for the question. FASKIANOS: Thank you very much. Dr. Plummer, over to you. PLUMMER: Well, your question is a very good one. It is also a very book-length question. I’ll try to address that. First of all, I would like to say that I find Mr. Adkins’ statement quite eloquent and can’t think of anything I disagree with in what he has said. There are a couple of things that we might consider as well. I think there are several issues embedded in this question of the relationship between race relations in the United States and it’s policies toward other countries. One of them is, I think there’s a difference between what policymakers intend and how American policy is perceived. There is also the question of precisely who is making and carrying out U.S. foreign policy. Now there was a time when that question I think could be very readily answered. But we’re now in an age where we have enhanced roles for the military and the intelligence community. We have private contractors executing American objectives overseas. And this really places a different spin on things, somewhat different from what we observe when we look at this only through a strictly historical lens. I think we also need to spend some time thinking about the precise relationship between race and racism and what we might call colonial, more of imperialist practices. You might look, for example, at what is the relationship between the essentially colonial status of places like Puerto Rico and the Marianas and the—how those particular people from those places are perceived and treated within both the insular context and the domestic context. Clearly, everybody on the planet is shaped to a large degree by the culture and the society that they live in, that they grew up in, right? And so it is probably no mystery from the standpoint of attitudes that certain kinds of people domestically may translate into similar views of people overseas. But I think one of the things we might want to think about is how our institutions, as well as prejudices, influence what takes place. People like to talk, for example, about the similarities between the evacuation of Saigon and the evacuation of Kabul and wonder what is it called when you do the same thing over and over again and expect different results? We might want to think about what is it, institutionally, which creates these kinds of repetitions, creates situations in which diplomats are forced to apologize and explain continually about race and other conflictual issues in American society. We might also think about what you perhaps could call a racialization process. Do we create categories of pariahs in response to national emergencies? Do we create immigrants from countries south of the United States as enemies because we don’t have a comprehensive and logical way of dealing with immigration? Do we create enemies out of Muslims because of our roles in the Middle East and, you know, the activities and actions of other states? There’s some historical presence for this—the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, for example. So it seems to me that in addressing I think, you know, some of this very rich question, there are a number of ways and facets that we might want to look at and discuss more fully. FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you very much. And now we’re going to go to all of you for questions and comments. So you can either ask your question by raising your hand, click on the raised hand icon and I will call on you, or else you can write your question in the Q&A box. And if you choose to write your question—although we’d prefer to hear your voice—please include your affiliation. And when I call on you, please let us know who you are and your institution. So the first question, the first raised hand I see is from Stanley Gacek. Q: Yes, thank you very much. Thank you very much, Professor Plummer and Mr. Adkins, for a very, very compelling presentation. My name is Stanley Gacek. I’m the senior advisor for global strategies at the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, representing 1.3 million working women and men in the United States and Canada in the retail, wholesale, food production, healthcare, and services industries. Practically all of our members are on the frontlines of the pandemic. I also served as deputy director and interim director of the ILO mission in Brazil in 2011 to 2016. And my question is this. I wonder if the speakers would also acknowledge that an issue for the United States in terms of its credibility with regard to racial justice, human rights, and of course labor rights, is a rather paltry record of the United States in terms of ratifying international instruments and adhering to international fora with regard to all of these issues. One example which comes to mind in my area is ILO Convention 111 against discrimination in employment and profession, which could—actually has gone through a certain due diligence process in former administrations and was agreed to by business and labor in the United States but still the United States has failed to ratify. I just wondered if you might comment more generally about how that affects our credibility in terms of advocating for racial justice, human rights, and labor rights throughout the world. Thank you very much. FASKIANOS: Who can address that, would like to address that? PLUMMER: Well, I have very little immediate knowledge of this, and I have to say that labor issues and labor rights have been kind of a missing element in terms of being heavily publicized and addressed. I think it has something to do with the fact that over the course of the decades the United States has been less responsive to the United Nations, to international organizations in general. But in terms of the specifics, you know, precisely what has fallen by the wayside, I, you know, personally don’t have, you know, knowledge about that. ADKINS: And I would just say more generally, not to speak specifically in terms of labor, where I’m also not an expert, but there is, of course, a long history of the U.S. seeking to avoid these kinds of issues in the international arena writ large as Dr. Plummer was just referring to. I just finished a book by Carol Anderson called Eyes Off the Prize, which is a whole study of this and the ways in which the U.S. government worked through the United Nations to prevent the internationalization of the civil rights movement which many—Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Fannie Lou Hamer, and others—sought to frame it in the context of human rights and raise it into an international specter, and that was something that the U.S. government did not want to happen. And of course, we know that part of the genius of the civil rights movement writ large was this tactic of civil disobedience, not just to push against a law that we didn’t like to see in effect but actually to create a scene that would create international media attention which would show to the world what these various communities were suffering inside of America, to try to create pressure outside of our borders for the cause of freedom and justice and democracy. And so there is that long history there which you’ve touched on with your question. Thank you for that. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Mojubaolu Olufunke Okome. Q: Good afternoon and thank you for your presentation. I just wonder about U.S. foreign policy, how it lines up with the domestic politics, you know, in terms of race relations, because if one was to believe U.S. propaganda, you know, this country is doing good in the world, it’s the country to emulate. But you know, the events of—well, I guess the George Floyd case brought into graphic relief what most astute observers of the U.S. know, that race relations of the U.S. do not line up very well with the constitutional aspirations of the U.S. So what’s going to change now, you know? And then there’s also this pandemic and the way which race and class is showing us about the real serious inequalities in the U.S. So what’s going to change in terms of lessons learned? And then moving forward, is also multilateralism going to come back into U.S. foreign policy in some way? That’s it. PLUMMER: I think—I’m getting kind of an echo here. I don’t know if other people are. I don’t think anyone is—you know, who is thinking about this seriously doubts that the United States is in a crisis at the moment—a crisis of legitimacy not only abroad but also domestically. We have a situation in which an ostensibly developed country has large pockets, geographic pockets where there are, you know, 30, 40, 50 percent poverty rates. We have people who are essentially mired in superstition, you know, with regard to, you know, matters of health and science. And you know, I don’t think anyone is, you know—is, you know—who is, you know, thinking about this with any degree of gravity is not concerned about the situation. Once again, I think we’re talking here about institutions, about how we can avoid this sort of repetitive and cyclical behavior. But one thing I want to say about George Floyd is that this is a phenomenon that is not only unique to the United States. One of the reasons why George Floyd became an international cause célèbre is because people in other countries also were experiencing racism. There—other countries had issues with regard to immigration. And so really looking at a situation in which I think is—you know, transcends the domestic, but it also transcends, you know, simply looking at the United States as, you know, the sort of target of criticism. FASKIANOS: Do you want to add anything, Travis, or do you want to—should we go to the next question? ADKINS: Go on to the next question. Thank you. FASKIANOS: OK, thank you. Let’s go to Shaarik Zafar with Georgetown, and our prior questioner was with Brooklyn—teachers at Brooklyn College. Q: Hey, there. This is Shaarik Zafar. I was formerly the special counsel for post-9/11 national origin discrimination in the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division—sorry, that’s a mouthful—and then most recently during the Obama years I was a special representative to Muslim communities. So this—I first applaud the presentation. These issues are very near and dear to me. I think it’s clear, you know, we have to own up and acknowledge our shortcomings. And I think, you know, I was really sad to hear that we actually worked against highlighting what I think is really an example of American exceptionalism, which is our civil rights movement and our civil rights community. When I was at State during the Obama years, we had a very modest program where we brought together U.S. civil rights leaders and connected them with European civil rights leaders. And the idea wasn’t that we had it all figured out but rather that, you know, in some respects the United States has made some advances when it comes to civil rights organizing and civil society development in that respect—and perhaps more so than other countries. I was just thinking, I would love to get the panelists’ thoughts on ways that we can continue to collaborate and—you know, on a civil society level between civil rights organizations in the United States and abroad and the way the U.S. government should actually support that—even if it means highlighting our shortcomings—but as a way to, you know, invest in these types of linkages and partnerships to not only highlight our shortcomings but look for ways that we could, you know, actually come to solutions that need to be, I think, fostered globally. Thanks so much. ADKINS: You know, the first thing I would say, Shaarik—thanks for your question—I thought it was interesting, this idea of framing the civil rights movement as a kind of example of American exceptionalism. And I think there’s a way in which I would relate to that in the sense that folks did, at least nominally or notionally, have certain kinds of freedom of speech, certain kinds of rights to assembly. But even those were challenged, of course, when we see the violence and the assassinations and all of the machinations of the government against those who were leaders or participants in that movement. And so in that sense, perhaps I would agree. I might push back, though, in terms of American exceptionalism as it relates to civil rights, because these people were actually advocating against the U.S. government, who actually did not want them to have the rights that they were promised under the Constitution. Of course, many of us would not be free or able to speak up without the 13th and 14th and 15th Amendments. And so there’s a sense in which we celebrate them, but there’s also a sense in which they are actually indictments of the original Constitution which did not consider any of those things to be necessary elements of our society. In terms of civil society and where the U.S. government is engaged, I think that, you know, sometimes when we deal with these problems that are foreign policy related, you know, sometimes the answer is at home. Sometimes the answer is not, you know, a white paper from some high-level think tank. It’s not something that starts ten thousand miles away from where we are, because I don’t think that we would have the kind of standing and credibility that we would need to say that we believe in and support and give voice and our backing to civil society movements abroad if we don’t do the same thing at home. And so everything that we want to do somewhere else, we ought to ask ourselves the question of whether or not we’ve thought about doing it at home. And I don’t mean to suggest—because certainly no nation is perfect, and every nation has its flaws. But certainly, we would be called to the mat for the ways in which we are either acknowledging or refusing to acknowledge that we have, you know, these same—these same challenges. And so I think there still remains a lot of work to be done there in terms of how we engage on this. And you have seen the State Department come out and be more outspoken. You’ve seen the Biden administration putting these issues more out front. You have now seen the Black Lives Matter flag flying over U.S. embassies in different parts of the world. And some people might view that as co-optation of a movement that is actually advocating against the government for those rights and those respects and that safety and security that people believe that they are not receiving. And others might see it as a way to say, look, our nation is embracing civil society and civic protests in our nation as an example that the countries in which those embassies are in should be more open to doing the same kinds of things. And so it’s a great question. I think it remains to be seen how we move forward on that—on that score. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Molly Cole. Q: Hi. My name is Molly Cole. I am a grad student of global affairs at New York University. I was just curious sort of what y’all thought about what the consequences of foreign policy on punishment systems and institutions as it pertains to race relations in the United States would be, also in tandem with sort of this strive for global inclusivity and equity and just sort of, I guess, hitting those two ideas against each other. ADKINS: Can you clarify the ideals for us, Molly? So one sounded like it was about maybe mass incarceration or the death penalty or things of that nature? You’re talking about punitive systems of justice? And then the other seemed to be more about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the foreign policy space? But I don’t want to put words in your mouth. I just want to make sure I understand the question. Q: You hit the nail on the head. ADKINS: OK. Do you want to go ahead, Dr. Plummer? PLUMMER: Oh. Well, again, a great question but, you know, one of, you know, it’s—could write a book to answer. (Laughs.) Well, if you’re talking about the sort of international regime of incarceration—is that what you were referring to? Q: Yes, essentially. So when we’re—when we’re considering, you know, these punitive systems, I’m thinking in terms of, you know, the death penalty, mass incarceration, private prisons, sort of this culmination of us trying to come up with these ideals, but doing it sort of on our own, while also combatting, you know, what the nation is calling for, what the globe is calling for. PLUMMER: Yeah. I think this sort of pertains to what I had mentioned earlier about just, you know, who is making and carrying out U.S. foreign policy, or domestic policy for that matter. There’s a whole question of the state and, you know, what parts of the state are involved in this whole question of incarceration and are involved in the whole question of the death penalty. One of the things that we are aware of is that prisons have—some of the prisons are actually not being operated by civil authorities. They’re operated by private entities. We saw this again in—you know, particularly in Afghanistan, where a lot of functions which normally, you know, are carried out by civil authorities are carried out by private authorities. And so this really puts a whole different perspective on the question or the relationship of citizens to the state and, you know, to any other particular group of citizens to the state. So I think that, you know, one of the problem areas then is to tease out what in fact are the obligations and privileges of government, and how do they differ from and how are they distinguished from the private sector. Q: Thank you. ADKINS: And I would just add quickly on this notion of hypocrisy and saying one thing and doing another, there was an interesting anecdote around this when President Obama visited Senegal. And he was delivering a fairly tough message about the treatment of members of the LGBT+ community in Senegal. And President Macky Sall got up essentially after President Obama and was essentially saying that, you know, we kind of appreciate this tough love lecture, but I would remind you, you know, that Senegal doesn’t have the death penalty, right? And so on one hand we’re actually saying something that has a grounding. Of course, people of all human stripes can have dignity, and have respect and be protected. But he is then hitting back and saying, hey, wait a minute, you kill people who break laws in your own country. And we don’t have the death penalty. So who should actually be the arbiter of how is the correct way – or, what is the correct way to be? On the second part of your question, quickly, Molly, especially as it relates to the kind of diversity, equity, and inclusion piece, this is why also there has been a big push to look in our State Department, to look at USAID, to look at the face that America presents to the world. And all too often that face has been male, that face has been White. And that gives a certain perception of America, but it also means that we lose the tremendous treasure and talent of people who have language skills, who come from communities in which their own perspective on the world actually is a talent that they have. Specifically, because many of those communities—whether they’ve immigrated or come to America by different means—are also from groups who’ve been marginalized, who’ve been oppressed, who have a certain frame and a lens with which to engage with other nations in the world, either in terms of partnership, either in terms of deterrence. And so we lose out in many ways because we haven’t done a great job in that—in that matter. FASKIANOS: I’m going to take a written question from Morton Holbrook, who’s at Kentucky Wesleyan College. His question is: How should the United States respond to international criticism to the U.S.’s racial discrimination? And how will that affect the relationship between the U.S. and the international community? PLUMMER: Well, the United States, I think, has—(laughs)—no choice but to acknowledge this. Historically this has been a problem that when pressed on this issue in the past the response was always, well, you know, we know this is a problem and we’re working on it. And the most egregious examples of racism are the responsibility of people who are either at the margins of society or who represent some sort of relic past that is rapidly disappearing, right? That was the message about the South, right? OK, the South is, you know, rapidly developing and so soon these vestiges of violent racism will be over. Well, again, the reason why that doesn’t work anymore—(laughs)—is because we’re always projecting this future, right, that—you know, it’s always being projected further and further into the future. And we’re never there yet. And it seems to me, again, that this is a problem of institutions. This is a problem of the embeddedness of racism in American life, and a refusal on the part of so many Americans to acknowledge that racism is real, and that it exists. And you know, I think we see many examples of this. I’m thinking of one instance where a George Floyd commemorative mural was painted on a sidewalk and some folks came along with some paint and painted over it, because they said it wasn’t a racism corner, you know, while engaged in a racist act. So, you know, there really needs to be, I think, on a very fundamental level, some education—(laughs)—you know, in this country on the issue of race and racism. The question is, you know, who is—who will be leaders, right? Who will undertake this kind of mission? ADKINS: One thing I would say, quickly, on that, Irina, just an anecdote as well that also relates to really in some ways the last question about who our representatives are and what perspective they bring. Several years ago, I was on a trip—a congressional delegation to Egypt. And I was with several members of the CBC. And we met with President Sisi. And they were giving him a fairly rough go of it over his treatment of protesters who were protesting at that time in Tahrir Square, many of whom had been killed, maimed, abused, jailed. And he listened to them kind of haranguing him. And at the end of that speech that they were giving to him he said basically: I understand your points. And I hear your perspective. But he said, can I ask you a question? They said, sure, Mr. President. We welcome you to ask questions. And he said, what about Ferguson? And the day that he said that Ferguson was on fire with surplus military equipment in the streets of America, with, you know, tear gas and armed military-appearing soldiers in the streets of America who were seen, at least optically, to be doing the same thing, right? Not as many people were killed, certainly, but the point is you have this same problem. However, if that had been a different delegation, he might have scored a point in their verbal jousting. But President Sisi had the misfortune of saying this to two-dozen 70-plus-year-old Black people. And no one in America would know better than they what that is like. And so what they ended up replying to him by saying, exactly. No one knows this better than we do. And this is exactly why we’re telling you that you shouldn’t do it. Not because our country doesn’t have that history, but because we do have that history and it has damaged us, and it will damage you. Which takes on a completely different tone in our foreign relations than if it was simply a lecture, and that we were placing ourselves above the nations of the world rather than among them. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go to Ashantee Smith. Q: Hello. Can you guys hear me? ADKINS: We can. FASKIANOS: Yes. Q: OK, perfect. Hi. My name is Ashantee Smith. I am a grad student at Winston-Salem State University. In regards to some of the responses that you guys gave earlier, it gave me a question. And I wanted to know how you guys were putting the correlation between racism and immigration. PLUMMER: Well, yeah. The United States has a history of racialized responses to immigrants, including historically to White immigrants. Back in the day the Irish, for example, were considered to be, you know, something less than White. We know, however, that society—American society has since, you know, incorporated Europeans into the category of Whiteness, and not done so for immigrants from Latin America, Asia, and Africa, who remain racialized, who are perceived as being, in some respects by some people, unassimilable. We also have a phenomenon of the racialization of Muslims, the creation of outcast groups that are subjected to, you know, extremes of surveillance or exclusion or discrimination. So immigration is very much embedded in this, is a question of an original vision of the United States, you know, and you can see this in the writings of many of the founding fathers, as essentially a White country in which others, you know, are in varying degrees of second-class citizens or not citizens at all. So this is, I think, an example of something that we have inherited historically that continues to, you know, be an issue for us in the present. Yeah. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Pearl Robinson. Q: Hello. I am just so thrilled to see the two panelists here. I want—I actually raised my hand when you were talking about the labor rights issue. And I’m at Tufts University. And I’m currently working on an intellectual biography about Ralph Bunche. And I actually ran over here from the U.N. archives where I was actually reading about these issues. (Laughs.) And I wanted to just say that the discussion we’re having now, it’s sort of disjointed because we’re dealing with lots of erasures, things that are overlooked, and they are not enough Carol Andersons and Brenda Gayle Plummer professors out there putting these things in press. But even more importantly, they are not sufficiently in our curriculum. So people who study international relations and people who do international relations don’t know most of these things. So my quick point I just wanted to say was during World War II when Ralph Bunche was working for the OSS military intelligence, his archives are full of it, he went and he was interviewing our allies at their missions and embassies in the U.S.—the French, the British—asking them: What are your labor relations policies in your colonial territories? And this was considered important military information for the United States, as we were going to be—as Africa was an important field of operation. When you get to actually setting up the U.N., I was struck in a way I hadn’t, because I hadn’t read archives this way. (Laughs.) But I’m looking at conversations between Bunche and Hammarskjöld, and they’re restructuring the organization of the United States—of the United Nations. And there are two big issues that are determining their response to the restructuring—the Cold War as well as decolonization. And I actually think that those two issues remain—they’re structuring that conversation we’re having right now. And they—we say the Cold War is over, but I love this phrase, of the racialization of the current enemies or people we think of as enemies. So I actually do think that this is a really good program we’re having where we’re trying to have the conversation. But the dis-junctures, and the silences, and the difficulties of responding I think speak volumes. The last thing I will say, very quickly, that incident about the discussion with President Sisi that Mr. Adkins—that needs to be canned. That needs to be somehow made available as an example that can be replicated and expanded and broadened for people to use in teaching. ADKINS: Well, I always listen when my teacher is talking to me, Dr. Robinson. Thank you for sharing that. And I’m working on it, I promise you. (Laughter.) FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to—we have lots of questions and raised hands, and we’re not going to get to all of you. So I apologize right now. (Laughs.) We’ll do the best we can. Jill Humphries. Q: Hello. My name is Jill Humphries. And I’m an adjunct assistant professor in the Africa Studies Program at the University of Toledo, and have been doing Africa-based work, I’m proud to say, for about thirty-three years, starting at the age twenty-two, and have used Dr. Plummer’s work in my dissertation. And hello, fellow ICAPer (sp). So my question is this: There’s an assumption that I believe we’re operating in. And that is race and racism is somehow aberrant to the founding of this country, right? So we know that Saidiya Hartman and Frank Wilderson, the Afropessimist, make the argument that it is clearly key that it is fundamental to the development of our institutions. And so my question is this: You know, the—in the domestic scene the sort of abolitions clearly state that unless we fundamentally transform our norms and values, which impact, of course, our institutions, then we will continue to have the exact outcomes that are expected. The killing of George Floyd and the continuing, I think, need to kill Black bodies is essential to this country. And so my question is, in the context of foreign relations, international relations, are we also looking at the way in which, number one, it is not aberrant that racism is a constituent element in the development of our foreign policy and our institutions? And that unless we fundamentally first state it, acknowledge it, and then perhaps explore the way in which we dismantle, right—dismantle those norms and values that then impact these institutions, that we’re going to continue to have the same outcomes, right? So for example, when Samantha Powers visited Ethiopia, if you’ve been following that whole narrative, there was a major backlash by the Ethiopian diaspora—major. My colleagues and friends, like, I’ve had intense conversations, right, around that. Same thing about the belief about Susan, former—Susan Rice’s role, right, in continuing to influence our foreign policy, particularly towards the Horn of Africa. So my question is: What does that look like, both theoretically, conceptually? But more importantly for me, because I’m a practitioner on the ground, what does that look like in practice? And that’s where I think Professor Adkins, working for USAID, could really kind of talk about. Thank you. ADKINS: Thank you. Yeah, you know, I think it goes back to Dr. Robinson’s question a moment ago. And that is the first the acknowledgement and the calling out and the putting into relief and contrast the context in which we’re operating, especially when we think about not even USAID specifically, but the industry of development—aid and development assistance kind of writ large. Because essentially what we have is a historical continuum that starts with the colonial masters and the colonial subjects. And then that because what is called, or framed, as the first world and the third world, right? And then that becomes the developing world and the developed world. Then that becomes the global north and the global south. All of which suggests that one is above, and one is below. That one is a kind of earthly heaven, the other kind of earthly hell. That one possessed the knowledge and enlightenment to lead people into civilization, and the other needs redemption, needs to be saved, needs to be taught the way to govern themselves, right? That this kind of Western notion of remaking yourself in the world, that your language, that your system of government, that your way of thinking and religious and belief and economics should be the predominant one in the world. And so I think, to me, what you’re saying suggests the ways in which we should question that. And this is where you start to hear conversations about decolonizing aid, about questioning how we presume to be leaders in the world in various aspects, of which we may not actually be producing sound results ourselves. And thinking again about this notion of placing ourselves among nations rather than above nations in the ways in which we relate and engage. And I think that it’s one of the reasons that we continue to have challenges in the realm of development assistance, in the realm of our diplomacy and foreign policy. Because, again, there is a pushback against that kind of thinking, which is rooted in a deep history that contains much violence and many types of economic and diplomatic pressures to create and sustain the set of power relations which keeps one group of people in one condition and one in another. And so it’s a huge question. And how to bring that kind of lofty thinking down to the granular level I think is something that we will have to continue to work on every day. I certainly don’t have the answer, but I’m certainly answering—asking, I should say—the questions. PLUMMER: I think I might also think about how is in charge. And this is—you know, it goes back to something we talked about before, when U.S. foreign policy is no longer exclusively rooted in the State Department? So in terms of, you know, who represents the United States abroad and in what ways, and how is that representation perceived, we’re really looking at, you know, a lot of different actors. And we’re also looking at, you know, changes in the way that the U.S. government itself is perceiving its role, both at home and abroad. And one of the questions was previously asked about the system of incarceration speaks to that, because we have to ask ourselves what are—what are—what are the proper roles and responsibilities and burdens of the state, the government and, you know, what is leased out—(laughs)—in some ways, for profit to private concerns? So I think that, you know, some of this is about, you know, a sense of mission that I don’t see out there, that I think will in some respects have to be restored and reinvented. FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Erez Manela. Q: Thank you very much for this really terrific and important panel. My name is Erez Manela. I teach the history of U.S. foreign relations at Harvard. And my question actually—I don’t know if Irina planned this—but it follows on directly from the previous question. Because I kept on wondering during this panel what—I mean, the focus that we’ve had here, the topic that’s been defined, is the way in which domestic race relations, domestic racism, have shaped U.S. foreign policy. But of course, U.S. foreign policy has been shaped—as the previous questioner noted—has been shaped directly by racism and perceptions of racial hierarchy for—well, since the very beginning. And Professor Adkins spoke very eloquently about it. And of course, Professor Plummer has written eloquently about that, including in her books on Haiti and international relations. But I guess I’m wondering if you could speak more about the specifics about the history that needs to be recognized in that realm, and then—and this is maybe self-interested—whether you have any recommendations, in the way that you recommended Carol Anderson’s really terrific book—for reading that we can read ourselves or give our students to read, that would really drive that point home, the influence of racism, race perceptions, race hierarchies themselves on—directly on the conduct of U.S. foreign relations historically. PLUMMER: Well, Professor Manela, I appreciate your own work on Wilson. And you know, that in some respects—that would be a book that I’d recommend. (Laughs.) Might also think about Mary Dudziak’s work on Cold War civil rights, and her law review article, Desegregation as a Cold War Imperative, which, you know, directly addresses these questions. Again, what I would like to see is some work that will—perhaps not necessarily a historical perspective—but will address this whole question of the sort of growing, I don’t know what you’d call it, multiplicity or multivariant character of American policymaking, you know, as we—as we go forward, you know, past the Cold War era. There’s an interesting item by a man named Andrew Friedman, who wrote a book called Covert Capital. I think the subtitle is something like Landscapes of Power, in which we discussed the rise of Northern Virginia as what he sees as the true capital of, you know, parts of the U.S. government, in being a center for the military and for intelligence community. And their shaping of that environment at home, as well as their influence in shaping U.S. policy abroad. So, you know, there’s a lot of room for work on these—on these issues. ADKINS: And I would also just follow up—and thank you for the question—and add another book that I just finished. Daniel Immerwahr, from Northwestern University, How to Hide an Empire, which deals in many ways with U.S. foreign policy and the way in which it is explicitly racialized and ways in which that goes understudied in our—in our policy circles, and certainly in the world of education. FASKIANOS: I’m going to try to squeeze in one last question. And I apologize again for not getting to everybody’s question. We’ll go to Garvey Goulbourne as our final question. Q: Yes. Hi. Can you hear me? FASKIANOS: We can. Q: Yeah. My name’s Garvey Goulbourne. I’m a student at the University of Virginia, actually studying abroad this semester in Rabat, Morocco. And my question to you both is: What mechanisms do we have to orient the narratives that our foreign policy leaders are brought up with? Thinking particularly of American exceptionalism and how we kind of place ourselves on a pedestal, whether they be foreign affairs schools or various institutions at different levels of American education, what tools do we have to address the foundations of American perspectives of themselves and our nation in relation to the rest of the world, particularly the global south? FASKIANOS: Who wants to go first? An easy question, of course, to close with. PLUMMER: Go ahead, Mr. Adkins. ADKINS: Sure, sure. Thank you for your question, Garvey. And congratulations on the move out to Morocco. Great to see you there. I think the first thing I would say, of course, is our tools, as far as I am concerned, relate certainly to education. And it’s one of the reasons that I am in the classroom. But I know what that fight is like, because even education is taken over by these notions of White supremacy, by these notions of singular historical narratives. And this is why there’s been such a push against the 1619 Project of the New York Times, why there is this kind of silly season around the misunderstood origins and contexts of critical race theory. There is this battle over who gets to tell the story of what America is, because it is more than—but it is more than one thing, obviously, to a multiplicity of people. And so I am kind of remiss—or, not remiss. There’s no way for me to elucidate for you now a series of tools that will resolve these problems, because these are challenges that people have been wrestling with before our mothers’ mothers were born. And so we only are continuing that fight from where we sit. And certainly, in the classrooms that I am in, whether they are in prisons or on campuses, we are always digging into the origin of these themes. And the main frame through which I teach is not just for students to understand this history for their health, but for them to understand this history as a lens through which to view the current world and all of the events and challenges that we find ourselves facing, to see if we can come up with new ways to address them. PLUMMER: Well, one of the things that Mr. Goulbourne could do, since he is in Morocco, is to make use of his own insights in his conversations with Moroccans. So, you know, there is still a role, you know, for individual actors to play some part in attempting to make some changes. FASKIANOS: Well, with that we unfortunately have to close this conversation. It was very rich. Thank you, Travis Adkins and Brenda Gayle Plummer or sharing your insights and analysis with us. We really appreciate it. To all of you, for your questions and comments. Again, I’m sorry we couldn’t get to all of you. You can follow Travis Adkins @travisladkins, and that’s on Twitter. And our next Academic Webinar will be on Wednesday September 29, at 1:00 p.m. (ET) with Thomas Graham, who is a fellow at CFR. And we’ll talk about Putin’s Russia. So in the meantime, I encourage you to follow us at @CFR_Academic, visit,, and for new research and analysis on global issues. So thank you all again and we look forward to continuing the conversation. ADKINS: Take care, everyone. Thank you. (END)
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