William Burns: Insights from a Career in Diplomacy

22 SEP 2014 New York

Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, a member of the US Foreign Service since 1982 and former ambassador to both Jordan and Russia, discusses American diplomacy in a changing landscape.

On American leadership: “I have always thought that the power of our example is stronger than the power of our preaching. When we are setting a reasonable example in terms of how we manage our economic affairs, our social affairs and our politics, it is a lot easier to get people to pay attention to our message about the importance of pluralism, tolerance and sensible economic strategies.”

On the diffusion of power: “As I think back to the moment I entered the Foreign Service in 1982, one of the single biggest changes I’ve observed is that power is more diffuse in the world today. It’s more diffuse among states with the rise of China and India; it’s more diffuse within states, as hundreds of millions of people around the world have risen out of poverty; and it’s more diffuse beyond states and governments, as we see a steady erosion of what was once the monopoly of governments over power in the international system.”

On the role of social media: “There is no substitute for policies that work well, and no amount of clever communication is going to obscure the fact that there are people who don’t like our policies on certain issues. We do, however, need to protect our own interests as systematically as we can, and sometimes that means making the best of social media platforms. It is not just about governments, it is about connection with whole societies, and in this day and age we can’t afford to shy away from that kind of connection.”

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