SECRETARY MATTIS: Well, good morning, everyone, and welcome to today’s event, a conversation between former Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice and our current Secretary of State Tony Blinken. At a time when America is navigating its role in a changing world, today’s talk in the finest tradition of the great university where we meet offers a unique opportunity to delve into important issues.
I’m Jim Mattis, a Fellow here at Hoover, where we seek to improve the human condition by advancing ideas that promote economic opportunity while safeguarding peace. Thanks to their record of devoted service to our nation, little introduction is needed for these two patriots. America is one great, big, promising, exasperating, inspiring, and vexing experiment with all the political volatility inherent to a free and open society.
Admired leadership in our republic calls for certain characteristics: first, a humble awareness of each generation’s responsibility to improve on this experiment in forming a more perfect union; and second, competence. The two citizens on this stage are exemplars of both characteristics. Dr. Rice’s contribution over many years of leadership cannot be summed up in a few words. Suffice that through merit, conviction, and a keen perceptiveness of the world we must live in, she rose to the apex of our government, ultimately splitting eight years of leadership between service as our National Security Advisor and as our 66th Secretary of State. We’re proud to call her boss and coach of the Hoover team.
Secretary Blinken has also accumulated a lengthy portfolio of foreign affairs experience before becoming our Secretary of State. It wasn’t long after graduation from Harvard and Columbia that he entered government service, ultimately serving as the Deputy National Security Advisor and Deputy Secretary of State following his time on Capitol Hill, where he served as the staff director for the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee.
In a recent talk with graduates, he suggested that if they’re going to spend a lot of their lives at work, then they should work at something they love. Our nation is fortunate that both these leaders devote their best efforts to something they love, and that is America. In so doing, their leadership by example reminds each of us that government service in a democracy is both privilege and responsibility. As problem solvers during these tumultuous years, their leadership forged trust while navigating maddeningly complex issues. Holding our values foremost, they have dealt pragmatically with a swiftly changing world filled by the good, the bad, and the ugly.
They have done so while listening and maintaining respect for those who disagreed with them, strengthening a necessary attribute for leadership in a democracy. Today’s discussion will focus on the evolution and importance of technology, diplomacy, and national security – familiar topics here in Silicon Valley and highly relevant across our nation and round the world.
Hoover Institution was established to advance the principles of freedom. We ask bold questions and propose solutions to help guide American policy at home and abroad. In that spirit and consistent with Stanford’s role of promoting the free competition of ideas, let’s get started. First a conversation, then Q&A. Again, please give a hearty welcome to Secretaries Blinken and Rice. (Applause.)
SECRETARY RICE: Well, thank you very much. But before we get started, I just have to say that that gentleman, Secretary Mattis, served as our Secretary of Defense but also many years of service as a Marine, something also carried by a great patron of this place, George Shultz. And so I’d like you to give Secretary Mattis a hand, please. (Applause.)
Welcome. Welcome to Stanford. Welcome to Hoover. Welcome to the Silicon Valley.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s wonderful to be back. Thank you.
SECRETARY RICE: And it’s probably nice to be here, right?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: There’s something about occasionally getting out of Washington that isn’t a bad thing. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, it’s a good thing. A good thing, right. (Laughter.)
Well, we’re going to have a conversation and then we will open for a few questions and answers. I’m still a professor; I will call on somebody if nobody raises their hand – (laughter) – so get ready with your questions.
You’ve just had a pretty momentous week, and I don’t just mean what’s going on in the world, but I mean the release of the National Security Strategy. And for those who don’t fully follow these things, I think the National Security Strategy is an opportunity for the President to really ask his team: What should we be doing now to prepare for a better future? And the National Security Strategy has a number of elements that I’d like you to speak to, and I’m going to start with one that’s kind of near and dear to the heart of every secretary of state probably going back to our long-long-time predecessor Thomas Jefferson. In case you didn’t know it, he was the first secretary of state.
But you start with talking about American values but also the competition between autocracy and democracy. Can you expand a little bit on how you think about this moment? The United States has had many competitors across its history, but this particular moment, how do you think about this big issue?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first let me just say how wonderful it is to be back at Stanford, to be with my friend Dr. Rice. Jim, I’ve been an admirer of yours and your leadership for many, many years, and today you again reaffirmed why you have such a strong, powerful, eloquent voice. It’s great to be with you. Thank you.
And first of all, I’m wondering: Do you have classes? (Laughter.) What – are you getting credit? (Laughter.)
One of the things that I think is almost visceral to us right now is that we’re at an inflection point. And to put it in broad perspective, the post Cold War era is over and there is now an intense competition underway to shape what comes next. That’s the moment we think that we’re living in.
Part of this is the renewed but also new great power competition, and that’s very much at the heart of the strategy. Part of this is trying to figure out ways, and in ways that we haven ‘t before, how to solve some really big challenges that are actually having a direct impact on the lives of our people, whether it is global health – and we’ve been living through COVID – whether it’s the impact of climate change, whether it’s just the role of all of the emerging technologies, so many of them coming from here, that are shaping our lives. All of that is reflected in the strategy.
Now, this is – Dr. Rice and I both worked on a few of these in our time. Rarely have so many labored for so long —
SECRETARY RICE: And you can drop the Dr. Rice if you – right, right.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. But rarely – I think we would both say rarely have so many in government worked for so long on something read by so few. (Laughter.) But having said that, it is an important document because it does try to give coherence to what we’re doing. And it’s important across the government so that all of the different agencies and departments are kind of working off of the same blueprint, and internationally so that both friend and foe alike have a good idea about what we’re all about, why we’re doing what we’re doing, why we’re saying what we’re saying.
SECRETARY RICE: You talked about the great power rivalry, and this is something that I don’t think we really ever thought we would see again after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But indeed it has come back and it’s come back with force, and I’d like you to address the two big rivals.
The National Security Strategy talks about restraining Russia and outcompeting China, and that’s two very different ways to think about the great powers. So – and perhaps you want to weave a little bit of Ukraine into the Russia story, but can you start with restraining Russia – some would say a declining power in the great power competition, but one that is on the front pages now every day?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I think declining power is probably a fair assessment, but one that has an enormous capacity if it chooses to use it to do damage, to be a disrupter. And of course, we see that front and center on our front pages every day in Ukraine.
When we started out – and again, we’ve both been dealing with this for a long time, and Condi knows more – has in a sense forgotten more about Russia than I’ll know for many years of working these issues. I think many administrations have come in with the hope that we might have a more stable, predictable relationship with Russia precisely because we have so many big things that we want to be working on that go to the betterment of the lives of our people and people around the world.
However, Russia – especially under President Putin – is a major disrupter and one that can make tremendous trouble. We see that in Ukraine. But we see it in its basic opposition and Putin’s basic opposition to the order that emerged after two World Wars and then after the Cold War with a basic set of rules and principles that we thought were necessary to try to help keep international peace and security.
This is in direct opposition to what President Putin is trying to do in reconstituting – take your pick – a Russian empire or a Soviet one. And it’s manifesting itself in the actions he’s taken. We’ve seen this play out over the last almost decade now. But for us – and I’ll just say this very briefly – the reason there’s so much focus on Ukraine is twofold. One is Ukraine itself. I think it bothers all of us profoundly when one country tries to lord it over another, when it tries to assert a world in which might makes right, in which it changes borders by force, in which it tries to subjugate another country to its will. That’s what’s going on.
But what’s also going in this: It’s not only an aggression against Ukraine. It is an aggression against the basic principles that are embodied in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and a whole series of norms and rules that many generations labored to build. And are they perfect? Far from it. Have we made many mistakes both in designing them and in their application? Yes. But fundamentally they have helped make sure that we didn’t have another global conflict after two world wars. And what Russia is doing, what Putin is doing, is in direct opposition to those.
SECRETARY RICE: It’s not your job exclusively, but there are Americans who say: Why Ukraine? Why not Peoria or Des Moines? And you just talked about the rules-based order. Can you sharpen it for Americans as to why this conflict is so important? Because this may go on a while, and we may have to sustain American support and therefore democratic support for a long time.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: At least from my perspective, if we and others are not standing up for these basic understandings, these basic rules, the idea that countries’ independence should be respected, its territorial integrity should be respected, not changed by force; if we don’t stand up for that – and we can do that in a variety of ways, which we can come to – if we don’t stand up to that where it’s being challenged, then the risk you have is opening a Pandora’s box, where aggressors – not just in Europe, not just Russia – will take a lesson and say: I can act with impunity; I can do this. And that’s going to stir up conflicts in many parts of the world.
And the one thing we know from history is that inevitably, one way or another, this pulls us in. And if we can do whatever we can to prevent rather than having to respond and to make sure that some of these rules are upheld – even as we try to modernize them even as we try to make sure that they reflect the world that we’re living in, not just the world that they were written in, which in many cases was 70 years ago – I think it’s clearly in our interest to do that. And that’s what we’re trying to show in Ukraine.
SECRETARY RICE: Right. Let’s talk about the other great power. I’ll come to a regional power in a moment, but let’s talk about the great power, China. Big party congress going on. Lots at stake. Xi Jinping is likely to be coronated for his third term. And he’s been a little bit of a different Chinese leader. It used to be said of Chinese leaders, when I was there – Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin before him – “hide and bide.” Just keep developing China – the Chinese would always say, “Oh, we’re just a developing country; we don’t really do foreign policy.”
Well, Xi Jinping has a quite different view of China’s role. And 30-plus years of kind of a integrationist narrative about China seems to be coming apart. You’ve called it “outcompeting” China, which I think is an interesting concept. So talk about China and the United States in this regard.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, you’re exactly right. We’ve seen a very different China emerge in recent years under Xi Jinping’s leadership. It is more repressive at home, it’s more aggressive abroad, and in many instances that poses a challenge to our own interests, as well as to our own values. But I also think it’s important not to reduce this to a bumper sticker. This relationship is among the most consequential that we have. It’s among the most challenging we have. It’s among the most complicated that we have. And what we’ve seen in recent years is the emergence of – or clearly adversarial aspects to the relationship; for sure – and I’ll come back to it quickly – competitive aspects; but there also remain cooperative aspects. And we can’t lose sight of those, because some of the really big problems that we have to find ways to solve are a lot harder to solve if the United States and China are not actually engaged in trying to solve them: climate, global health, et cetera.
But the competitive aspect is front and center, because this is, as I suggested, at least from our perspective, a competition to shape what comes next after this post-Cold War period. What does it look like? Whose values are going to be reflected in what we do? And from our perspective at least, we have a basic choice, because we find – and I think this has been evident over the – especially over the period since the Second World War – the world doesn’t organize itself. And for the United States, the choice is this: If we’re not playing a part in the organizing, if we’re not taking a leadership role in that, then one of two things – either someone else is, and it may well be China, and there, again, probably not in a way that fully reflects our interests and values; or maybe just as bad, no one’s doing it, and then you tend to have vaccums that get filled with bad things before they get filled with good things.
So we have an interest in engaging, we have an interest in leading, and we have an interest in making sure that, to the extent we’re in competition over what this new thing looks like, we are bringing everything to the table. In my own judgment, China also wants an order, but it’s a profoundly illiberal order. The order that we seek – again, imperfectly – is a more liberal one, and that’s what that competition is about.
SECRETARY RICE: I’m going to come back to how we do this, because you talk a lot about investing in our own strengths —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yeah.
SECRETARY RICE: — but I want to stay for a moment on the relationship with China. You gave a very good speech a few months ago in which you talked about – I’d call it a rather nuanced approach to China. As you’ve said, that there’s some areas of conflict, some areas of competition, and some areas of cooperation. Pretty quickly, the Chinese came out and said: not gonna happen – let me put it that way – because we can’t delink these things. Do you have some hope that there might still be room? Maybe after the party congress is over, maybe after our own version of the party congress, the midterms, are over – then would there be room, and where would you see those potential areas of cooperation with China?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: The world fundamentally expects this of us, so whether China wants to find ways to cooperate or not on particularly climate, global health, maybe counternarcotics, even if they don’t want to, there’s a huge demand signal from the world. They expect us to try to find ways to advance these issues, and if we can, together, because it’s affecting them as well as us.
We know we’re not going to be able to deal with climate as we should if China is not part of the picture. It’s going to have to decide; we can’t decide for it. It has to decide whether it’s in its interests, but it’s also getting pressure from others around the world to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Same thing on global health. And this is not about pointing fingers for the pandemic – it’s about figuring out how do we build a more secure global health system so that this doesn’t happen again. China needs to be part of that answer. But it’s going to have to judge for itself whether, in its relationship with us, it finds ways to pursue cooperation, whether it just has to be responsive to demand signals that it’s getting from countries around the world to be a positive actor, not a negative actor, on issues that concern them – not just China, not just the United States.
SECRETARY RICE: We had reasonable cooperation at one time on another troublesome part of the world, North Korea. Obviously, it’s been in the news again recently. Any thoughts on whether or not that scenario – it’s really nonproliferation. Do you really want nuclear weapons in the hands of, shall we say, troublesome regimes like the North Koreans?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: This has been a challenge going back every administration I think we were each involved in, in one way or another, and one that has manifestly not gotten better over the years. I think from the leadership’s perspective in North Korea, part of what we’re seeing is it doesn’t like to be ignored.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And so when the world is focused elsewhere, this is a reminder that: We’re still here. We’re still a problem. You have to deal with it.
But there’s something else going on as well. Over the last months, going back about a year, we have significantly increased our own work with our allies and partners in the region – South Korea, Japan – both on a bilateral basis where we’ve, for example, renewed exercises that we’d had for years that were put in abeyance a few years ago – we brought them back, military exercises, to make sure that we could defend and hopefully deter any kind of North Korean aggression – as well as work that’s being done now in ways that it hadn’t been in recent years among the United States, Japan, Korea together, which has lots of benefits, including bringing Korea and Japan closer together. I think that Kim Jong-un saw that and didn’t like it, and it’s a response to that.
We’ve taken a variety of actions, including at the United Nations, including strengthening even more our defense and deterrence, but it is an ongoing problem. And it does go, Condi, to exactly what you’re talking about, which are concerns about broader proliferation. At the end of the day, one of the most important and powerful things about trying to continue to advance nonproliferation, preventing the spread of weapons, as well as arms control ourselves and being responsible actors under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, is making sure that we don’t have a world where a whole variety of countries conclude that they’re going to be better off if they acquire nuclear weapons that they don’t have. And we know that that’s a world that’s going to be even more fraught. So we have to find ways to reinforce these norms, these rules, these standards that we’ve signed on to and that need our engagement.
SECRETARY RICE: I’m going to come to technology in just a moment, I promise you, but I will get lots of messages that say you didn’t ask him about Iran. Do you want to say just a word about that situation? It’s extraordinary moments these days.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: What we’re seeing is – really is remarkable. And it starts with the incredible courage of very young people, especially women and girls, who are standing up for their most basic rights, their most fundamental freedoms, at extraordinary personal risk. And of course, we saw the prominent deaths of young women that led to this.
But what’s powerful about it is that this is – this is grassroots, this is bottom up. This is a reflection of huge frustration and huge anger that so many in Iranian society have toward the direction of their country and toward their leadership, and they’re demanding change. This is not made in the U.S.A.; it’s not made anywhere else. To the extent that leaders in Iran try to point the fingers and somehow blame us, they are profoundly misreading and misunderstanding their own people and their own country, and that’s going to be to their detriment.
What can we do? First, we can stand and speak in solidarity with those who are simply trying to stand up for their own rights. Second, we can look at the different actors in Iran who are denying those rights and do what we can to penalize them for their actions. So we, for example, had sanctions that we put forward on the so-called morality police. And then maybe most important, and this goes directly in many ways to this community, we want to make sure that we are doing nothing that gets in the way of making sure that Iranians have the ability to the greatest extent possible of communicating with each other and connecting to the outside world, and that comes with technology. So we’ve issued some licenses to make sure that we’re not doing that, that people don’t feel that our sanctions prohibit them from getting the technology that Iranians need to communicate with each other and with the world to the Iranian people.
SECRETARY RICE: A little bit more activist this time than in 2012?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Each period’s a little bit different.
SECRETARY RICE: A little different, yeah. Right?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And I think – I think our voice has been very clear – not just our voice, our actions. And not just ours, countries around the world. But fundamentally, this is about the Iranian people. It’s about their country. It’s about their future. They will decide it. But we want to demonstrate in both practical as well as rhetorical ways our solidarity with them in this moment.
SECRETARY RICE: So you’re sitting at Stanford University in the middle of Silicon Valley. A long, long history between this place and the valley. And you are seeing and talking to the people who are really leading the technology revolutions. It goes back a long way here.
So in 2007 when I was secretary, I invited the then-Foreign Minister of Australia Alexander Downer here, and we have a little trip. And I got to – got to drive an experimental car called a Tesla. (Laughter.) Alexander wouldn’t get in it. He wasn’t sure that he wanted – well, I think it was probably the Australian secret service that didn’t want him in an experimental car. But in any case, that’s now a household name, maybe giving us answers to how to think about electric vehicles and climate change and the like.
But it says something very important about another part of the National Security Strategy, which it’s – which says investing in our strengths. Very often, we get into what I call authoritarian envy. They build great airports. Democracy is so messy. But we forget that innovation has been from a place, the United States of America, that is the freest and most open. And so talk about investing in those strengths, protecting those strengths, and how that plays into the diplomacy that we must do but also the national security that we must achieve.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s quite simply foundational, and let me say a couple of things about this. First, we go back to this proposition that we’re in a moment of intense competition to shape what comes next. Technology, innovation, entrepreneurship – they are at the heart of that. This is how we are going to retool economies for the future. This is how we’re going to modernize militaries as necessary. This is, through technology, how we are quite literally reshaping people’s lives.
And so it goes fundamentally to our national strength, but it also goes to a positive vision for the future that can be incredibly attractive for the United States around the world. Because as the technologies that are developed here – and I was just at the SLAC this morning, which is extraordinary, even for someone who probably understood about 1 percent of what I was hearing – this really does go to America’s most positive role in the world.
As we’re inventing; as you’re inventing new technologies that are going to make sure that we can overcome disease and that we can actually strengthen global health and make sure that we don’t have a repeat of COVID-19; as you’re finding ways to make sure that we have sustainable, healthy food supplies for people around the world who so desperately need it and we’re living in a moment of intense food insecurity; as you’re looking at ways to make sure that we actually develop the technology to ensure an energy future that’s not dependent on fossil fuels; as you’re looking at ways to make sure we have secure supply chains for technology going forward and good jobs for the future; if we continue to get that right, if we continue to lead on that, if we continue to be seen as a beacon for the world, that goes directly to our standing around the world, our strength around the world in ways that I can’t even begin to adequately describe.
So for us it starts with investing in ourselves. If you look at the so-called American Century, the second part of the 20th century, we were making these investments in ourselves in the ‘50s, the ‘60s and ‘70s in education, in research and development, in basic science, in our infrastructure. And we moved away from that. And it is not to say at all that government should be the one making all of these investments. We’re never going to compete with, for example, a Chinese model that dedicates all of its state resources to a particular part of the economy, to a particular part of the world. But what we can do and do more effectively is making sure we’re making these basic investments and then help catalyze, help facilitate, and ultimately help get out of the way for the private sector to really carry things forward.
We’ve had two, at least from where I sit, enormous successes in the last few months, starting with the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act, a product of extraordinary work over several years by Republicans and Democrats alike to make sure that we were renewing these investments in ourselves. A lot of the focus on chips has rightly gone to renewing our ability to manufacture chips, semiconductors here in the United States, having subcontracted that out many years ago. But there are huge investments in basic science, basic research and development that are contained in the CHIPS and Science Act and the so-called Inflation Reduction Act, which has the biggest commitment to dealing effectively with climate change in the history of our country, more than $350 billion. And again, a lot of that’s going to investments in our own innovative capacity.
So I think, Condi, that is at the foundation of our strength, and it shows why the connection between what happens here and what happens around the world is stronger than it’s ever been. Since we did CHIPS and since we did the IRA, I found the conversations that I’m having with counterparts around the world have changed. There’s now this view that, wait a minute, maybe America is getting its act together and this is something that we want to be part of.
SECRETARY RICE: That’s the positive side of it, of course, that we invest in ourselves. But there’s also a question that’s constantly on the table about how much we’ve let out of the barn, so to speak, vis-à-vis the Chinese. They started down this road of indigenous development – in some ways hasn’t gone all that well. We keep reading about problems in their own high-end chip development and the like.
So how do you see the balance between investing in what we do here and making sure that it doesn’t escape to there? And it’s particularly actually hard for a secretary of state, because one of the things that you don’t want to do is make people declare loyalties. That’s the quickest way to lose friends, to say you either choose China or us. That doesn’t work very well diplomatically.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We both know that very well.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, right.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And what we’ve been saying is this: We’re not asking people to choose; we want to give you a choice. And that means we have to have something to put on the table. A big part of what we’re trying to do besides the investment in ourselves, the other – the flip side of that is trying to get greater alignment with allies, with partners, with a whole variety of countries who might not even neatly fit into the ally or partner category but who have an interest in making sure that there’s a basic understanding about the rules and that everyone plays by them. So we spent a lot of time trying to re-energize and revitalize – re-engage our alliances, our partnerships.
We’ve also been inventing or energizing some new ones – new collections of countries that may be fit for purpose on specific issues; for example, making sure we have resilient supply chains, making sure that we’re on semiconductors investing together because so much of this work has to be collaborative as well, but also protecting. And in the case of the highest end semiconductors – as you know very well, there’s only a small number of countries that either are manufacturing the highest end semiconductors or making the tools to manufacture the highest end semiconductors. We want to make sure that we keep those where they need to be. So this alignment with other countries trying to all move in the same direction, trying to work together on shaping some of the norms, the standards, the rules by which technology is used, that’s also profoundly part of our national interest and our strength around the world.
SECRETARY RICE: This is a question that could solicit a rather boring answer, but this is a university, so it’s all right. We’re accustomed to boring answers. (Laughter.) So you talked about standards. And maybe what’s not fully understood is there are international efforts, international organizations where the standards are actually written —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right.
SECRETARY RICE: — for things like the internet, for questions about ships and supply chains. And the United States has always had a reputation of being fully uninterested – completely uninterested in sending people to these conferences at the assistant secretary level to spend two years, three years writing standards.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right.
SECRETARY RICE: Are you interested in this?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We —
SECRETARY RICE: I have to admit: I wasn’t. All right. So now. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Condi, I have walked out on standards in the biggest way, and we are flooding the zone for exactly that reason. Somewhere in the world on virtually any piece of technology that may be invented here, a group of people is sitting around a table in a windowless conference room writing the rules about how these are going to be used. And whoever writes the rules is going to have a powerful impact on the use of technology going forward.
To state the obvious, technology isn’t inherently good or bad; the rules by which it’s used might be. And we want to make sure that, for example, when it comes to protecting privacy, when it comes to upholding human rights, when it comes to advancing our own security, but also enhancing our competitiveness, the rules reflect that. And as the saying goes, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. We want to make sure that we’re at the table doing that. So, yeah, this is – sometimes it seems mind-numbing.
We spent a lot of time making sure – for example, there are competition for jobs in the international system, the folks who actually turn up at these meetings. Their elections, or their appointments, including in the entire United Nations system – we’re spending a lot of time making sure that people that reflect our views and values are competing and winning those jobs. It really does make a difference. It does seem mind-numbing, but it’s incredible how at the end of the day that’s going to shape the world as well.
SECRETARY RICE: I should probably go back and apologize to my under secretary for economics who used to try to get me to pay attention. All right. So you’ve convinced me, because after all, this really is – when we talk about the competition and going back to autocracy versus democracy, if these are used in a certain way, they will be used in different ways by autocracies. So you take something like facial recognition, which might simply make it possible for you to get through an airport more quickly if you’re in the United States, and China has a very different way. So I applaud your interest in this mind-numbing part of it.
How’s it coming with others? You mentioned that we now are in the game, but when you think about particularly relations with the Europeans, we’ve not always had the greatest alignment with what you think should be our closest allies on things like privacy and the like. So can you talk a little bit about relations with the Europeans? Has it been affected by the extraordinary cooperation that we’re getting around Ukraine at this point? Someone said that Vladimir Putin had within a matter of months ended German pacifism and Swedish neutrality, which I think is probably true. But is it – is it having an effect?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It is remarkable the extent to which Putin has precipitated virtually everything he says he wants to prevent, particularly in terms of the so-called Western world sticking together and actually strengthening its cooperation across a whole variety of issues. I think we are making progress on this, because you’re right, we have to find ways to make sure that on technology we are more aligned with other countries, starting in many cases with close partners in Europe as well as in Asia and then broadening out.
We have all of these different constellations, groupings, partnerships; one of them is something called the Technology and Trade Council with the European Union. And to put it in the simplest terms, this is a way of trying to make sure we’re actually all rowing in the same direction when it comes to these norms, these rules, these standards, but also a whole variety of other things. If we have export controls on the highest end technology that we think should not wind up in the hands of some of our competitors, including China, if we’re the only ones doing it and others are not abiding by them, then it’s not going to work. So we have to try to get alignment there, and we are.
If we want to make sure that when we have concerns about some of the investment that’s coming into our own countries that may be going to critical industries, critical companies, ones that are – that affect our security, we want to make sure that countries have the tools to look at those investments and decide whether this is something they want to go forward or not. We’re working on those together with the European Union. We’re thinking about critical supply chains and particularly for semiconductors. We’ve seen what happened when these get disrupted. We’re designing together an early warning system so that if we see a disruption anywhere in a supply chain for a critical component – first of all going to semiconductors but broadening out to other technologies – a flashing red light goes off and we can act on it together. All of these things are bringing us into closer alignment.
Now, having said that, we have differences of view, differences of perspective – just as we have within our own country, because obviously we don’t have a unified technology policy in our own country – that are always going to be there. We also have competition with some of our closest friends. We have – we’re competing with Europeans, but we both fundamentally have the same interest in a system where people who play by the basic rules; where privacy is respected, even if we have different perspectives on the best way to do that; where our security is upheld, where human rights are respected, and where we can enhance our competitiveness. So the question is can we find ways to design those together, come into agreement. And then finally this: Competition when it’s fair, when it’s on a level playing field, when it’s a race to the top, is good. That’s what our own system is all about.
So for us it’s not saying, oh, we have to avoid competition with friends and partners and allies; it’s, on the contrary, making sure that together that competition is fair, it’s transparent, it has the rights of workers in mind, it has the environment in mind, it has protection of intellectual property in mind. And if we do that, then countries that don’t abide by the same way of doing things will have to decide are they going to get into the race to the top with us and raise their own standards, raise their own game – that’s good for the world – or not.
SECRETARY RICE: So let’s go now from out there to Foggy Bottom, to the place that you work, the State Department, and talk a little bit about how all of this is affecting the State Department. Let me just say that when I left the State Department, the – there wasn’t a smartphone for all intents and purposes, and I think we still – when I got there – still had Wang computers, believe it or not.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I remember those.
SECRETARY RICE: You’re all too young to even know what a Wang computer was, so it just gives you a sense. How in the world is a place that some 20 years ago still had Wang computers going to play in this world of technology? What does it mean for diplomacy and what does it mean for the State Department?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We have to be, and we’re doing everything we possibly can be, to really be fit for the purpose of this moment and the moments to come. And we both worked on this and looked at this – anyone comes into these jobs and they’re looking at their own department or agency and trying to figure out what do I need to change, what makes sense. And we spent some time doing that. And I think we came to a couple of conclusions that are reflected in what we’re doing.
First is you’re only – you’re in these jobs for a finite period of time. You’re not going to – you’re not going to change everything and probably you shouldn’t, so you’ve got to pick a handful of things that maybe you can make a difference on, get a start on, hopefully it continues when you’re no longer there. That’s one.
Second, one of the biggest challenges we face is that the things that are really having an impact on the lives of everyone in this room and all of our fellow citizens are not necessarily the issues that the State Department has been front and center on or has the expertise on. And again, whether it’s climate, whether it’s health, whether it’s food insecurity, whether it’s energy, whether it’s economics, and whether it is cyberspace and digital policy, this has not been our bread and butter. And our bread and butter remains issues of war and peace, preventing conflict, making – helping to end conflict where we can, making sure that the American people are secure through diplomacy. But each of these issues is directly tied to that.
So what we’ve done is we’re engaged in modernizing the department to make sure that we’re organized in a way and attract the talent in a way that allows us to play a leadership role on these issues. So, for example – and you’ll – Condi, you’ll appreciate this – I think land record speed, we established a new bureau for cyber and digital policy in about six months’ time. And in fact, the ambassador running that, Nate Fick, who is actually a technologist (inaudible), is with us today. This is how we make sure that we have a place that the expertise can come to in the department and, ultimately, we can grow the expertise so that we can engage effectively on these issues.
We’re in the process of doing something similar on global health. One of the most extraordinary achievements in American foreign policy over the last 25 years is something called PEPFAR, something that President Bush and Condi initiated to deal with the HIV/AIDS as well as malaria and tuberculosis crisis. I don’t think there has been a program in the recent history of the United States Government that has saved more lives than PEPFAR. Now we have an opportunity to make sure that coming out of COVID and inspired by what was done with PEPFAR we build an even better platform for dealing with questions of global health, and we want to make sure that the department’s organized to do that, that we attract the talent.
John Kerry is leading extraordinary efforts on climate, but we want to make sure that those are institutionalized so that, again, we are a leader. Because here’s the thing – and again, you all know this very well – just as if we’re not leading and we’re not engaged, we’re going to have a problem because someone else will do it or no one will do it; if we’re not finding new ways to cooperate, to collaborate, to work with other countries on these issues, we simply can’t get them done. Climate – we’re 15 percent or so of global emissions. By definition, even if we did everything right at home, we have to figure out a way to deal with the other 85 percent. That means, among other things, diplomacy to bring others along.
When we’re dealing with global health, when we’re dealing with COVID-19, we know that we are only as strong as the weakest link in the chain and that even, again, if we did everything right at home, if there’s still an environment in which a new variant is going to pop up its head somewhere around the world and we’re not able to deal with that, we’re not going to be protecting our people. We have to find ways to collaborate and cooperate on that. And the technologies themselves, we are – have to be the ones who are helping to shape the way that they’re used.
All of that is a function of diplomacy, and that’s why I want to make sure that the department has the tools, has the organization, and has the talent to do it. So I’m here to proselytize a little bit too. (Laughter.) We want you.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We need you at the department. This is an opportunity to pursue so many of the things that you’ve been studying, working on, and are passionate about, but to do it – for those of you who are American – for your country. And for me, at least, I found that – and I – Condi, I suspect you feel the same way – there are so many extraordinary things you can do with your passions and your pursuits, and you can do them in a variety of different ways. And there are different rewards in the different ways that you do them. But at least for me, going to work every day literally and figuratively with the flag —
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: — behind my back, I can’t even put a value on that. So to those of you who have an interest in actually doing public service, even for a short period of time – and it seems like the State Department, what does that have to do with what I’m interested in – it has everything to do with it because virtually everything that so many of you are working on here actually has a direct application to what we’re trying to do around the world. And we hope that a few of you will join us.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I was going to give you an opportunity for a recruitment pitch. I think we just got it. (Laughter.) But I want to join in. I do think that there is nothing like public service. There’s nothing like getting up in the morning and recognizing that you’re going to work and try to do your very best for this extraordinary country that we inherited, that we continue to try to perfect. And I don’t know about you, but whenever I would get off a plane that said “The United States of America,” I thought it was a pretty special moment. And so for all of you, particularly those out there who might have some technical skills that might be needed, consider it. There’s nothing quite like public service.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.
SECRETARY RICE: With that, we’re going to open up for some Q&A, and I know we’ll get plenty, so I’m going to take the first question right here on the front.
QUESTION: Hello. Thank you so much for your inspiring remarks, Secretary Blinken. I’m curious about what you see as the merits of diplomacy through multilateral institutions such as the United Nations when their efficacy in enforcing treaties and maintaining the international order have proved to be a little bit precarious.
SECRETARY RICE: And are you a student? Just to —
QUESTION: Yes. My name’s Mac. I’m a senior majoring in political science.
SECRETARY RICE: Great, great.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So thank you for the question, and it’s one that we work on every single day. Look, these institutions, starting with the United Nations, are only as good or as bad as the countries that make up their membership. And so, yes, there are certain things that are inherent to the institutions themselves, and their leadership is really important. But fundamentally, the members have to help make them work or not, and you’re absolutely right that we’ve seen in a number of them dysfunctions of one kind or another. The UN Security Council because of this renewed great power competition is often at loggerheads and as a result often paralyzed.
But at the same time, incredibly powerful things still happen. Just to give you one recent example, when Russia proceeded with its purported annexation of territory in Ukraine, we went to the United Nations and we tried at the Security Council to get a resolution reflecting that. Of course, it was vetoed by Russia, although we got a strong vote among the permanent and non‑permanent members of the council. But then we went to the General Assembly, to the entire body of the United Nations, and an extraordinary thing happened: 143 countries in the world stood up in opposition to the annexation, to the sham referenda that Russia had used as justification for the purported annexations. And that in and of itself is a powerful indicator of where the world actually is now on Russia’s aggression, something that the Russians have to factor into their thinking. So there is – there are things that you can still do and do effectively.
The other thing I’d say is this: Day in, day out, one of the things that gets lost in the UN system is there are different agencies that have their challenges but are doing things that in their absence either we would have to do directly ourselves or no one would do. International peacekeeping has been very troubled, but there are places in the world where the so-called Blue Helmets are. There are roughly I think 100,000 forces that are – that make up UN peacekeeping. The United States has maybe a small handful. These are folks from other countries who are taking this on. If they weren’t doing it, we might have to, or we’d have to let these crises go in ways that would make them even worse. And on things like health, on the environment, on education, these agencies are really doing important things.
Our job is to try to make them do it better, more efficiently, more effectively, cut through the bureaucracy, cut through the corruption that’s sometimes there, and work to try to make them a little bit better. But it’s a little bit like our own situation, which is there’s a need to try to forge a more perfect union, and it’s something that we’re working on every day. But here, again, if we’re not actually there in the room, it’s probably not going to happen, which is why showing up, being – participating in this, even with all the frustrations and even with all the criticism, I think makes a difference.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Going to go to the students here – right here.
QUESTION: Hi, Secretary Blinken. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today. My name is Divya Ganesan, and I’m an undergraduate student here studying computer science and political science. My question for you is that a lot of students in the room hope to be CEOs, software engineers, et cetera. How has diplomacy changed in a world where technology companies like Google and Facebook have both the network and soft power diplomacy of an actual country? And how should that affect the way that we care about diplomacy?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I think the single biggest change that I’ve seen in the 30 or so years that I’ve been doing this is precisely in the technology and information space, because one of the things – to state the obvious – that’s happened is that a whole series of new actors have been empowered with technology and the ability in one way or another to control information in ways that were not the case before.
And for those of us in government, this has profound, profound effects. Among other things, it means that if we can’t find a way to align with these different actors who wield so much power, then we know that the best-laid plans will easily be disrupted. So we have a profound stake in trying to make sure that to the best of our ability we’re actually all rowing in the same direction. One of the reasons that not only am I here for a couple of days but we stood up this new bureau is to make sure that we have day-in, day-out connectivity with this entire ecosystem.
And we’re going to disagree, and there are disagreements between the public and the private. That’s not going to go away. But where we can find ways to work through the disagreements and come out in a place where we’re trying to move things in the same direction, that’s going to make our life easier; it’s going to make it easier for the policies that we pursue to actually take root and be implemented. We – it’s in our self-interest, but it’s also the right thing to do to make sure that on any given problem we have all of the different stakeholders in on the takeoff and not just try and bring them in on the landing because the plane’s going to crash. But it’s challenging work, and sometimes there’s a different interest at stake, and we have to find ways to reconcile those. It’s going to be very imperfect, but what I can tell you is it’s more important than it’s ever been. Otherwise, we’re not going to make progress.
So – but here’s the other thing I’ve heard, and I’ve been coming out here for a long time. My strong sense is that for the multiplicity of motivations that people have for the work that they’re doing, so many people do want to be in one way or another part of something larger than themselves. They do want to be positive actors in solving problems that are afflicting our – all of our citizens. And this place, maybe more than any on Earth, has been such an incredibly positive actor in doing that.
Now, there are other things that from some perspectives are less positive. But I can’t think of how we answer this challenge now of renewed competition for how the world is going to look over the next 25, 50, or 100 years if we are not doing it together with what is at the heart of our national strength. And that is what’s coming out of this part of our country.
SECRETARY RICE: In the blue shirt over here. We’ll take a couple quick – please keep it brief because I’m going to try to take one more question.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. My name is José Raíz, and I’m an undergraduate student studying political science and economics, and I’m originally from Mexico. I would like to bring our attention to an area of the world that has not been discussed in this conversation, Latin America, my own home region, in which there is a lot going on – the rise of influence in China in investment in countries like Ecuador and Argentina, not to mention drug violence in my own home country of Mexico. Given how close geographically Latin America is to the United States, I wanted to know what the policy of the United States should be in this region in coming years.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Few countries have a greater impact on each other’s day-in, day-out lives than the United States and Mexico. We know it. We feel it. We see it every single day. As it happens, we just had our senior Mexican counterparts in Washington just last week and where the Attorney General, the Secretary for Homeland Security Ali Mayorkas, myself, were working with them on something that we re-established, which is a security dialogue. How do we work together cooperatively to get a better grip on challenges to security in both of our countries that have been afflicting us for many years – drugs coming this way, guns going that way, money fueling the whole thing. And if we’re not working on these things collaboratively, we’re not going to succeed.
And I think the collaboration now with Mexico has been quite extraordinary. Migration – we are living through a period that is – we throw around the word “historic.” This is a historic period when it comes to migration. There are more people on the move around the planet, forcibly displaced in one way or another from their homes, than at any time in recorded history since we’ve been keeping statistics on this – 100 million people. We feel that profoundly in our own hemisphere. In the Americas, we have Guatemalans, Hondurans, Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, Haitians, Cubans all on the move for one reason or another. We’ve been working very hard to create a shared sense of responsibility for dealing with migration in a safe, orderly, humane way. No single country can deal with this effectively alone. So that’s very much part of our dialogue.
But there’s also something that’s very powerful, which is there’s great potential in our own hemisphere to be an economic engine for growth for all of our countries; to have, for example, more integrated supply chains that make sure that we don’t have the disruptions that we’ve experienced on things like computer chips. The lithium that’s going to go into electric vehicle batteries – well, for example, Mexico has a lot of that lithium. Finding ways to work on it together and then to have a resilient supply chain to get it to the places where the batteries are manufactured, that’s something we’re working on. There is a tremendous amount of opportunity that I think that’s being felt in a more integrated North America – Mexico, the United States, Canada – and a more integrated hemisphere.
The last thing I’ll say is this, and it also goes back to the migration challenge that we’re facing. We have to find ways to be making smart investments in communities that people are leaving, because what we see is that the primary driver of migration in our own hemisphere – there are different ones, but the most fundamental one is a lack of basic opportunity. And if you don’t have that, if you can’t put bread on the table for your family, you’re going to try to figure something else out.
And it’s not that people get up in the morning and say, gee, wouldn’t it be fun today to put my life on the line, to put myself in the hands of a human trafficker, to leave my family behind, to leave my friends behind, to leave my culture and my language behind. It takes something very powerful to drive people to that decision. We have an ability to affect that decision over time in actually creating greater opportunity in different communities in our hemisphere. So that’s something that we’re working on as well.
But the bottom line is this. Unless we’re doing it collaboratively, unless we’re working these issues together, it’s not going to happen. So it goes back, Condi, to what you were saying about sitting in these – in these rooms with norms and standards. We’re sitting in rooms throughout our hemisphere every day, engaged, sleeves rolled up, showing up, because that’s ultimately how you build some trust, how you build some confidence, how you build actual partnership, and maybe start to get things done.
Bottom line is this. I think you’re seeing governments throughout our hemisphere who are all facing the same challenge, which is: Can they deliver the basic things that their people need or aspire to? And if they can’t they’re going to be gone. We just went through a cycle where a lot of governments in the hemisphere that happened to be, for example, from the – from the right politically are out. We have new governments that are in that are more from the left. But it’s the same thing. It’s less about ideology and it’s more about delivering for people. What the United States can offer, and it goes back to saying to people we’re not demanding that you choose, it’s we’re offering you a choice, is: Can we have the right kind of partnerships that make sense to them and help them deliver?
China, last thing I’ll mention on this. If China has extraordinary resources that it can decide as a government to put into investments in our own hemisphere or around the world, that’s a source of strength. But if those investments are done in a way where they’re piling debt on the countries that take them that it can’t – that can’t be repaid, where workers are coming in from China instead of using local workers to do the projects, or the rights of the workers themselves on the projects are not being respected, where there’s no consideration for the environment and the impact of a project on the environment, where corruption is part and parcel of what’s being done – that’s going to alienate a lot of the recipients of Chinese largesse. If we’re offering a different model that, as I said, is more of a race to the top, that’s going to be very attractive.
But for us, we have to find ways to actually mobilize and catalyze the private sector. There’s a lot of resource that sits on the sidelines. What government can do is be a catalyst, a guarantor, someone who says, yeah, this is a good place, this is a smart place, this is a reasonable place to make these kinds of investments. And then it becomes more of a win/win proposition for everyone.
SECRETARY RICE: We’ve come to the hour.
QUESTION: Can (inaudible) about Taiwan?
SECRETARY RICE: All right. All right, certainly. You want to say something quick about Taiwan?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Sure.
SECRETARY RICE: All right.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: What would you like me to say? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Hi, Secretary. I’m the MBA first student from GSB. I’m just wondering – I know you are very time-limited – maybe say something quick about like what is United States attitude toward Taiwan?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yeah, sure.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. Or not so quick.
QUESTION: I mean, like a lot of officials have —
SECRETARY RICE: Take your time to talk about Taiwan. We don’t want to – yes – have an incident twice. Yes. (Applause.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So one of the things that we’ve worked on together in a variety of ways for years is our approach to Taiwan and the challenge that is inherent in dealing with the differences between Beijing and Taiwan. And a hallmark of the policy, going back decades through Republican and Democratic administrations, has been an insistence that the differences that exist need to be resolved peacefully. And actually, it’s been, up until recently, incredibly successful. I think it’s been managed well, in a way that has avoided conflict, that has also allowed people on Taiwan to really flourish, and benefit not just their own lives, but Taiwan has so much to contribute to the world that it’s doing every single day.
What’s changed is this – it goes back to something that Condi was saying at the very beginning – there has been a change in the approach from Beijing toward Taiwan in recent years. And instead of sticking with the status quo that was established in a positive way, a fundamental decision that the status quo was no longer acceptable and that Beijing was determined to pursue reunification on a much faster timeline. And if peaceful means didn’t work, then it would employ coercive means – and possibly, if coercive means don’t work, maybe forceful means – to achieve its objectives. And that is what is profoundly disrupting the status quo and creating tremendous tensions.
And this is a matter of concern not just to the United States because it’s been a central component of managing the relationship with China for so long, but it’s of profound concern to countries around the world. The amount of commercial traffic that goes through the straits every single day and has an impact on economies around the world is enormous. If that were to be disrupted as a result of a crisis, countries around world would suffer.
The last group of people I need to tell this is right here in this room. On semiconductors, if Taiwanese production were disrupted as a result of a crisis, you would have an economic crisis around the world. So there’s a profound stake not just for us but for countries around the world in preserving peace and stability when it comes to Taiwan and the straits, and to making sure that the differences that exist are resolved peacefully. So that’s why we’ve been so engaged on this.
I hope that Beijing will come back to a place where it actually sees the merits in making sure that differences are peacefully resolved, that it doesn’t try to force things through coercion, and even worse, through force. We are determined to make good on our commitments to Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act and supporting their ability to defend themselves. We’re also – we also remain fundamentally committed to the “one China” policy as well. That hasn’t changed. That won’t change. But at the heart of that was a commitment to resolve these differences peacefully, and if that’s changing, then that does offer, unfortunately, prospects for very challenging situations going forward.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. And with that, we have come to the end of the hour. If you will join me in please thanking Secretary Blinken. (Applause.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much.