SECRETARY BAKER: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you, all, very, very much.
This is a wonderful program we have for you, and it’s a very special one. Since its founding in 1993, the Baker Institute has been committed to bringing our nation’s and the world’s leading diplomats to Rice University.
Now, before we begin our program, I want to recognize three people in the audience today who play special roles in making Rice a great university. First of all, Robert Ladd, the chairman of the Rice board of trustees – (applause) – Matthew Loden, dean of the Shepard School of Music – (applause) – and Paula DesRoches, wife of Rice University president Reginald DesRoches. (Applause.)
And later this month, at our 30th anniversary gala celebration, we will host former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Hillary Clinton.
Today, we are honored to welcome the current U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Secretary Blinken is taking credit for this beautiful rain that we’re receiving today – (laughter) – and I’m delighted to give it to him, because we really needed it. Secretary Blinken has one of the most thorough resumes of any individual who has ever held that office. Prior to becoming Secretary of State in January 2021, he served as deputy secretary of state from 2015 to 2017 and then as deputy national security advisor from 2013 to 2015.
From 2009 to 2013, Secretary Blinken was foreign policy advisor to then-Vice President Joe Biden. He also held a number of senior positions at the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton.
One thing is certain: Given his long association with Joe Biden, our guest possesses the full confidence of the president whom he serves. I was, of course, privileged to share such a relationship with President George H.W. Bush when I was secretary of state. I cannot tell you how vital this close relationship between the president and his secretary of state is to the effective conduct of U.S. foreign policy, although the ability to grab sleep on airplanes is a close second. (Laughter.)
While every U.S. secretary of state faces unique challenges, I think we can all agree that Secretary Blinken has a full foreign policy agenda. The Russian invasion of Ukraine, which to someone of my generation who remembers Hitler’s dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in 1938 and the failure of the allies to do anything about it, bear an uncanny resemblance to each other. That’s why I feel that President Biden and Secretary Blinken are absolutely correct in supporting the lethal assistance that America is now giving to Ukraine. (Applause.)
There are, of course, other global issues that Secretary Blinken must address on a daily basis, including rising tensions with China and the possibility of a Saudi-Israeli normalization in the Middle East. And all of them occur against the backdrop of ideological polarization and political dysfunction here at home.
Secretary Blinken is an individual with impressive experience, a shrewd strategist and a shrewd strategic sense, and an absolute commitment to public service. He is, in short, a serious man doing serious work for our country, and it is my honor, ladies and gentlemen, to introduce to you the Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.
Now, he will be having a discussion with the director of the Baker Institute, Director David Satterfield, who is himself an outstanding diplomat. So, Secretary? (Applause.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’ll memorialize this right now. (Laughter.) Thank you.
AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD: Mr. Secretary, thank you for coming to Rice, to the Baker Institute, to Houston, to Texas. The work we do here, the work we’ve done here over these past 30 years, is focused on local, state, national, and international policy issues that are material to the people of the United States, to their prosperity and security. And I know that’s the mission of the Department of State as well.
The Baker Institute will be commemorating, as Secretary Baker said, 30 years of its existence. Now, thirty years is an interesting number to contemplate because just a little over 30 years ago there was a historic inflection point in the world – Eastern Europe freed itself from Soviet domination. And then a few years later, the Soviet Union collapsed, did away with itself.
There are views that we’re in another inflection point now – the end of the post-Cold War period, which in many ways presents challenges we didn’t face in ’89 to ’91, at that inflection point. I welcome your thoughts on how diplomacy advances our interests in this extraordinarily challenging and complex world.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you all for being here. David, a longtime colleague, an extraordinary Foreign Service officer, I think this institute, this university, is incredibly well served to have you at the helm.
And I think it’s appropriate that we’re talking about inflection points because, as it happens, I gave a talk about a week ago, and it focused on precisely the point that David’s making – our conviction that we are at an inflection point right now. And what do we mean by that? We mean a point that comes along not every year, not every decade, but every few generations, where the changes are so fundamental and monumental that the decisions that you make in that period will not just shape the next few years, but probably the coming decades. And this is one of those points.
But it’s particularly appropriate – if I can just take one second on this, David – to be here talking about an inflection point, because as David suggested, the last great inflection point, the end of the Cold War, as it happened, Secretary Baker was at the helm. And I think it’s safe to say that it’s hard to think of a period when we can say with the same conviction that we had the right man in the right place at the right time. Secretary Baker’s told me that of all the extraordinary responsibilities he’s held – cabinet secretary twice over, a White House chief of staff twice over, running five presidential campaigns – the job that he loved the most was being secretary of state. And believe me, I understand that.
But think about what happened in the 43, 44 months that Jim Baker was secretary of state. The peaceful end of the Cold War; arms control, the existential issue of that time with the Soviet Union; the invasion of Iraq – of Kuwait by Iraq, and the extraordinary work to build an international coalition to counter that; the first time really with the Madrid Conference that peace was on the horizon for the Middle East – all of that happened during Secretary Baker’s watch.
But here’s the point. It didn’t just happen. It never just happens. These moments are a call to leadership, to vision, to an ability to get things done. And no one better epitomizes that than Jim Baker. For those of us who’ve had the extraordinary privilege of following in his footsteps, Secretary Baker is the gold standard. And I think many of us will judge ourselves and our tenure by that standard. And when it comes to foreign policy, the area that I’ve been focused on, a truly extraordinary administration with President Bush, with Jim Baker, with Brent Scowcroft as national security advisor.
So David, for me, being here, in what we do see ourselves as an inflection point, really resonates because this – the kind of vision that Secretary Baker showed, that President Bush showed, is what we hope to be able to demonstrate now.
And the last thing I’ll say is this. In these moments of profound change, it’s easy to feel like you’re in a fog. It’s hard to see the exact contours of what’s actually happening. But real leaders like Secretary Baker move forward. They act. They make decisions. And I think, as former President Bush said, that’s exactly what Jim Baker was doing. When others were still trying to understand what was happening, he was acting and he was getting things done.
So that’s what we aspire to, and there’s a lot to talk about when it comes to how we’re dealing with this particular moment, and I’m happy to get into it.
AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD: Mr. Secretary, in so many ways the promise of those years, ’88 to ’91, were not fully realized, certainly with respect to the future of the new Russia. Too much of the old Russia —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yeah.
AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD: — expansionist, xenophobic, paranoid, imperialist – have resurrected themselves, if they ever in fact had gone away completely. How do you deal with Putin’s Russia, and how do you deal with the challenge of Ukraine?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I think the first thing is to try to make sure you have a good understanding of what’s actually happening. And this, to us, is very clear. Look, if you’re stepping back and looking at the moment we’re in, we have the end of an era, the post-Cold War era. We have an intense competition that’s underway to actually shape what comes next. One of the competitors is Russia and Putin’s Russia. And the actions that he’s taken, that they’ve taken, not just in the last year and a half but going back certainly to at least 2014 and arguably before that in Georgia, 2008, 2009, are a demonstration that he rejects the order as it’s been or, for that matter, the maintenance of the basic premises, the basic principles, that define the order – territorial sovereignty, independence.
And it’s important to take stock of that, too, because we were just in New York about a week ago for the annual UN General Assembly – otherwise known as speed dating for diplomats. And it was a fascinating juxtaposition because, on the one hand, we were intensely focused on trying to get back to something that the United Nations has been trying to advance for well over a decade, and that’s the Sustainable Development Goals.
But what was so powerful about the moment is it was actually a reminder of why the UN came together in the first place: two world wars, an absolute imperative in countries around the world after the Second World War to try to put in place something that would make it less likely, and ideally prevent, another global conflagration. The UN and those principles that are the very start of the UN Charter, that’s what countries came together to agree upon was necessary to do that. And of course, it’s been profoundly imperfect ever since.
But, as we both know, by and large, since then and leading through the end of the Cold War, the fundamental objectives – preventing another global conflagration – was achieved. More than a billion people lifted out of poverty in a more stable international environment. All of that came forward. And then we had this moment of intense hope at the end of the Cold War where we thought end of history, and, of course, it hasn’t played out that way.
AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD: Not quite.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Russia is unfortunately, tragically, a challenge to these basic principles that we feel an obligation to help maintain. Because when you think about it and you look at what’s happened in Ukraine, I think Americans are offended at the idea of one country simply going in and bullying its neighbor in the way that Russia has done to Ukraine, with the horrific human cost that we’ve seen. But I think people also understand that if Putin’s allowed to get away with this, if he’s allowed to act with impunity in Ukraine, then the message to would-be aggressors anywhere and everywhere is we can get away with it, too. And that’s an invitation to a world of conflict.
And we know from our history that that’s usually a world that’s not good for anyone and not good for the United States, because inevitably we get drawn in. So standing up for these principles, it matters to our own national interest. It’s not simply because we want to help people in Ukraine who are being aggressed. It’s because the principles at the heart of the international system are also being aggressed, and if we don’t defend them, we’re going to be opening a Pandora’s box, and we’re going to get a world of hurt that won’t be good for us.
So those are the stakes. What we’re doing about it is very straightforward. We have helped to build, I think, an extraordinary international coalition of countries, not just in Europe but well beyond, that are standing with and standing up for Ukraine – military assistance, economic support, humanitarian assistance. Often in these situations Americans get a little bit frustrated because it seems like we’re carrying so much of the load. We are. But in terms of burden-sharing in this particular instance, the rest of the world is doing a remarkable job. In fact, the assistance being provided by other countries exceeds the assistance that the United States has provided, as significant as that’s been.
So we’re in this with 50 other countries. And there remains a tremendous determination to see this through, not only to make sure that Ukrainians come out on the right side, but that, in a sense, all the rest of us do, too. Because again, if we let this go, then we’re opening a world of hurt for many years to come.
AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD: Mr. Secretary, your point about the challenge to the global order, the rules of the road as we’ve understood them, really not since the end of the Cold War but in many ways since the end of the Second World War. The challenge Russia poses – and we’ll get to the Chinese challenge in a little bit – I think it’s a profound point, and I think it’s well understood.
But the question comes: If Putin believes that the world, not just the U.S. or the Alliance, NATO, is intrinsically weak, Russia is strong. We are impatient; Russia is endlessly patient. We can’t or we won’t absorb pain; Russia knows nothing but pain and can take it indefinitely. He wins by outlasting and outwaiting us. How do you counter that?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, David, I think you’re exactly right. I think, as Putin is looking at this, his objective is to outlast, and he believes that he can. He can outlast the Ukrainians. He can outlast all of those supporting Ukraine. But he’s already made a profound miscalculation, and that has played out in a way that’s been historically detrimental to Russia and its interests, because I think he believed from the outset that no one was going to stand up to the aggression. And the fact that we did, and the fact that we did that, again not just ourselves but with dozens of other countries, have combined – and of course, the Ukrainians themselves with their extraordinary resilience and courage – have proved to be, I think it’s fair to say, a strategic debacle for Putin and for Russia.
Russia now is weaker militarily. It’s weaker economically. It’s weaker diplomatically. Putin himself is a pariah in much of the world. He’s managed to precipitate virtually everything he sought to prevent. We have a NATO that’s not only stronger – which it is – it’s now bigger, with one new member in and another on the way, which would have been unimaginable before this aggression. The Ukrainian people he’s managed to unite almost in their entirety against Russia for generations. That was not the case before 2014. And he’s also managed the incredible feat of weaning Europe off of Russian energy in the space of 18 months.
So already this has been a loss leader for him. But your point is important because, despite all that, I think he still believes he can outlast. Our determination is to make clear that he can’t and he won’t.
AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD: The President, you, all of the administration and alliance leaders have made clear nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine – the just, secure, lasting peace that we seek. At what point, though, does a political process need to start?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: If there were an opening for diplomacy, if Russia was demonstrating in this moment any semblance of being willing to engage meaningfully in diplomacy and in negotiation, the Ukrainians would be the first to jump at it because they’re on the receiving end of Russia’s aggression, and we would be right with them, and so would many other countries. The fundamental problem we have goes back to what you mentioned a moment ago, which is Putin’s belief he can outlast. And as long as he believes that or until he’s disabused of that notion, then it’s unlikely that he’ll be prepared to engage meaningfully in diplomacy to end the aggression.
So in a sense – and it’s almost a little ironic – the quickest path to diplomacy, the quickest path to an end to the war, is making sure that Ukraine has the strongest possible hand and, at the same time, making very clear to Putin by a variety of means that we’re all in this for the long haul. But what does that mean? That doesn’t mean simply continuing to do what we’ve been doing for the last 18 months, which has been an extraordinary effort by us and by dozens of other countries. It means making sure – and this is what we’re going to be moving to – making sure that Ukraine has the ability to effectively deter aggression in the future and to defend itself.
We had a NATO summit recently, and at the very end of that summit there was a meeting that President Biden convened of the G7 countries that were present, the world’s leading democratic economies. And each of those countries pledged that they would begin to work immediately and directly with Ukraine to help it start to build that force for the future that could deter and defend against aggression. We now have 29 countries that have signed up to do that. And that’s a way, over a period of time, that you get to a place that’s sustainable in terms of the support that we and others are providing, and Ukraine can stand on its own militarily.
Same thing happening on the economic side. A couple of weeks ago, President Biden named a very deeply experienced and effective public official, Penny Pritzker, secretary of commerce for President Obama, but also steeped in the private sector, to lead our efforts on Ukraine’s economic reconstruction and other countries have senior officials doing the same thing. Here’s the objective: Ukraine can be a powerful magnet for private sector investment. It has a lot going for it. And ultimately, the way to make Ukraine successful economically is to see that investment flowing, start to see the economy really moving, build up your tax base, and as a result, have the means to get off of the need for extraordinary amounts of assistance from other countries or from international banks. We’re starting that process, too, and I believe that you’ll see that start to take hold.
So it’s a long way of saying that we – not only when we say we’re in this for the long haul do we mean it, but we actually have a plan to be able to do that and do it in a sustainable way.
AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD: One more question about the tactics to bring home to Putin a need to disbelieve, to lose his belief, he can attrit us all – outlive us, outwait us all. Is there more we should be doing on the military side, not in terms of quantity, but quality? And by this I mean the very difficult question of striking Russia on Russian territory or on the high seas.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So a lot goes into this, and I think from day one, President Biden had two North Stars in mind. One was to make sure that we’re doing everything we possibly can to support Ukraine and to bring other countries along to do the same thing. But the other is also to avoid being in direct conflict with Russia, because the potential of where that conflict could go is not a place that anyone wants to go and not a place that’s good for the security of the American people. So navigating those North Stars has been, I think, central to the way he’s approached things.
Having said that, I think what we’ve seen over many months as there have been discussions, debates about one weapons system or another and what we’re providing Ukraine, what’s really important to keep in mind is this: It’s never simply about a given weapons system, whether it’s an F-16 jet, whether it’s some kind of missile system, whether it’s about an Abrams tank.
What matters as much as the given system is: Can the Ukrainians use it? In other words, are they trained on it? Because much of the technology that we’ve been providing them is technology that they haven’t been using and haven’t been trained on. So you’ve got to train them because it doesn’t do a lot of good if you get it to them and they can’t use it. Second, can they maintain it? A lot of these sophisticated systems, as you know well, require a lot of work to keep them going. If it breaks down after seven days, it’s not going to do them a lot of good. And then, is it part of a coherent, comprehensive battle plan to be as effective as it can be?
These are all the factors that we’ve looked at each and every time, and I think with the great work that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is doing, and doing it in coordination with 50 other countries, we’ve been very focused on making sure that to the best of our ability, we get Ukraine what it needs, when it needs it. But again, what it needs means not just the system but can it use it, can it maintain it, is it part of a larger plan.
At the end of the day, the decisions about how to use that equipment, where to use it, these are decisions for Ukraine to make. They’re the ones who have to decide how best to defend their country, how best to get back the land that’s been seized from them by Russia. We leave it to them.
Look, our position has been not to encourage or enable strikes outside of Ukraine, but fundamentally these are Ukraine’s decisions to make.
AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD: To move on to another, perhaps greater, more complex – and maybe, over the future decades, more meaningful – challenge to U.S. interests: China. How do you deal with a state which in so many ways – social, economic, political, security-wise – challenges the rules of the road, challenges the global order, and challenges directly in a fashion that impacts the lives of citizens in the U.S., around the world in an almost immediate fashion? You’ve been there. You’ve articulated a strategic approach to dealing with China. I’ll let you put that in your words as to how we not just manage, but shape this issue to minimize disadvantage to the U.S., maximize advantage.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, the first thing to say is you’re exactly right that the fundamental challenge posed by China is that they have the means – military, economic, diplomatic – to pose a challenge to the current understanding of the rules of the road. And to the