Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power visited Boston College this Thursday and gave a talk entitled “The State of the World: Challenges and Opportunities,” as part of the Clough Colloquium series.
Power is the youngest ever U.S. ambassador, a Pulitzer Prize winning author, a war correspondent, and one of TIME magazine’s “100 most influential people”. After eight years of government service, including four years as the U.N. ambassador, she returned to a teaching position at Harvard Law School in 2017.
Students, faculty, and community members packed the Heights Room in Corcoran Commons to hear Power’s speech. She began with accounts of her experience transitioning from a journalist to an adviser to then presidential candidate, Barack Obama.
Power then focused on four issues that she views as being particularly important for the future of United States diplomacy, starting with what she described as “the indispensability of U.S. leadership in the world.”
She described the pivotal role that America plays in global events, pointing to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa as an example of the U.S. leading a successful effort to address a major global challenge. Power described how during this period of great fear and uncertainty, the U.S. sent 3,000 aid workers to West Africa, helping to gain control over the situation.
"Suddenly we could leverage what the United States was doing and then move the world, and that’s what we did,” she said.
Power then turned to the second point—the rise of China as a global power.
“We have to acknowledge what the rise of China is going to mean for our foreign policy," said Power. "China is a global force the likes of which the United States hasn’t confronted or really found a way to coexist with in our history.”
Power noted the economic power China possesses, stating that China's GDP is likely to surpass our own in the next 15-20 years. She also compared China to Russia, noting similarities and differences in their objectives and practices.
“China now sees an international system that has to learn to accommodate its meteoric rise,” Power said. “China wants to shape that system.”
Power then described how China has stepped up to fill roles that the United States has withdrawn from, noting the prominent position China has recently taken in climate change mitigation, administering foreign aid, and forming partnerships with other nations.
She also pointed to remarks made by President Xi Jinping as another example of China's desire to gain international influence.
“President Xi was explicit at the Party Congress about China’s desire to provide an alternative model of development that does not imitate western values," said Power.
Power advised against trying to fight or deny China’s rise, while also cautioning not to turn a blind eye to China’s negative actions.
"We have to find a way to develop a foundation for a partnership with China that is mutually beneficial," said Power.
The third point highlighted in the speech was the need for diplomats.
“We need young people to be entering our diplomatic core and to be part of what the United States is trying to do,” said Power.
To emphasize her point, Power told a story about the transition between the Obama and Trump administrations. She recounted a town hall meeting during which U.S. diplomats discussed the future of diplomacy under the new administration. The men and women who spoke at the meeting were committed to serving the country regardless of what administration was in power.
“I was left inspired by the patriotism and professionalism of these amazing public servants,” she recounted.
The last subject that Power focused on was the rise of political polarization in America. She cited several statistics about the increase in division and identified it as “the biggest threat to our national security.”
Power described how internal division benefits U.S. rivals, arguing that “sowing division in this country during the Cold War was a tactic that the Soviet Union embraced. It is something that [Russians] are relishing now, being able to access through our new technologies.”
She then said that in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, Russian bots circulated both pro and anti-gun content as an attempt to spread further division.
To remedy this growing division, Power suggested rooting out gerrymandering, removing money from politics, and reducing fake news through legislative measures. On an individual level, she advised removing ourselves from our own personal news echo chambers. She also emphasized service as a means to break away from rigid ideology, whether it be military, government, or volunteer service.
Power urged individuals to not be discouraged by problems that seem too large to solve. She encouraged BC students to engage with political and diplomatic issues, show up to the polls, and work towards solving global problems no matter how daunting they might seem.
"There is always something that each of us can do," Power concluded.