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Lecturer explores policy challenges

Henry Gen | Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Jessica Tuchman Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, discussed the foreign and domestic policy challenges the United States will face in the next 15 to 20 years at the 19th annual Hesburgh Lecture in Ethics and Public Policy on Tuesday. Mathews’ talk, titled, “Can America Still Answer to History? What’s Gone Missing and How to Get it Back,” focused on six overarching issues, ranging from revitalizing domestic politics to confronting conflicts in the Middle East. Mathews highlighted the inherent uncertainty of future international relations as a result of the rapidly-changing global environment.


“There is an important area of uncertainty, and that is whether the past is any kind of reliable guide to the future,” Mathews said. “Or whether so many things have changed – globalization, the explosion of cyberspace, the interconnectedness of individuals, the development of new asymmetrical technologies such as drones – whether all these changes make the fundamentals of international relations so different that the past is not a useful guide, even as a broad outline.”


Even so, Mathews predicted the global political structure could be reasonably forecasted for the next 15 to 20 years, and America would continue to play a leading role in this structure. Since foreign policy is heavily influenced by domestic success, Mathews said the first challenge the United States needed to confront was revitalizing its citizens’ trust in the government and reversing the growing economic inequality.


“Anybody under the age of 40 has lived his or her entire life in a country where the majority of citizens do not trust their national government to do what they think is right,” Mathews said. “Think what it means for the healthy functioning of a democracy if two-thirds to three-quarters of its citizens do not believe that what it does is the right thing most of the time.”


Mathews said reconstructing trust with China is essential in recognizing the rise of another superpower without military conflict, which lacks historical precedent.


“There is a profound sense of mistrust between the [United States] and China, mostly on the Chinese side,” Mathews said. “This comes in part from United State’s military posture that constantly probes China’s defenses through air and naval operations right up to the 12-mile limit. Imagine how we would feel if Chinese planes and ships were doing the same off our coasts.”


Mathews said it was necessary to find a peaceful solution, incentivized by the effective deconstruction of sanctions, for Iran’s nuclear enrichment program goals. She said there must also be an even-handed, clear-eyed effort toward Israeli-Palestinian coexistence. Furthermore, she said implementing an American military exit from Afghanistan would create the possibility of a peaceful solution to the war.


Mathews said confronting climate change is critical. “This is primarily a matter of overcoming the ill-informed and often mindless deniers at home who have kept us from acting on what our expensively-financed research tells us is so clearly true,” she said. “We may be quite near a tipping point, however, where local impacts in the United States make it possible to overcome this unfortunate state of affairs. But we may also be near the moment where some global tipping points will occur that will accelerate the changes that we will have to cope with.”


Despite the issues the United States will face in the coming two decades, Mathewstsaid she believes the nation has a sufficiently strong foundation to address and overcome these challenges.


“We can move beyond the global ambitions of the Cold War and focus ourselves on the priorities of this new century,” Mathews said. “I do believe we can do it, but it’s a pretty steep mountain.” 

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