MR EDGAR: All right. Welcome, everyone. Please, if you haven’t already, take your seats, and we’ll begin the program shortly. My name is Paul Edgar, and I am the interim executive director of the Clements Center for National Security. On behalf of the Clements Center and the Strauss Center for International Security and Law, welcome to a conversation on the state of foreign affairs with Secretary Antony Blinken.
I have two important notes, and then I have three very short but important thank yous, and then I’ll welcome and thank our university president, who will formally introduce our distinguished guests. But let me open with one sentence, a quote from Governor Bill Clements, while he was still deputy secretary of defense in 1973. He said, “Let us never send the President of the United States to the conference table as the head of the second strongest nation in the world.” And in many respects, that single sentence summarizes what we are doing here today.
Okay, so two notes. First, you may be familiar with the nationwide emergency alert test, which is scheduled for about 19 and a half minutes from right now. So that we don’t interrupt the conversation, please put your phones on airplane mode. I have been told that’s the way to go about this. I also recommend that you keep your phone close at hand, not so you can text your friends but so that when you suddenly realize that you didn’t actually put it on airplane mode, you can quickly silence it when it squawks in about 19 minutes.
Second, this is for our students. Our new Texas diplomat in residence, Mr. Daniel Stewart, has a recruiting booth set up right next door on the first floor of Flawn Academic Center. So immediately after this event, all of you who are students, get five friends, go over to FAC, and tell Mr. Stewart that you want to be a State Department Foreign Service officer or a civil servant. (Laughter.).
The 2030 plan, the 2030 State Department plan – and I think the Secretary is going to mention this during his remarks – we want every single Foreign Service officer and civil servant to be from the University of Texas. (Laughter.) That’s the master plan. But seriously, go visit Daniel and learn about opportunities in the Department of State, and then go upstairs to the fourth floor and learn how the Clements Center can help you get there.
And now three brief thank yous. First, thanks to Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly and her absolutely amazing staff for the tremendous effort required to prepare this venue. Thank you to UTPD for their herculean and absolutely professional security effort. Welcome to our University of Texas System Chancellor J.B. Milliken. Thanks for joining us today. And I want to thank you and the system regents especially for your gracious and generous support of our national security and foreign policy journal, the Texas National Security Review.
Last, I’d like to welcome our University of Texas President Jay Hartzell and, while doing so, thank him for all he has done for the study of foreign affairs and national security on this campus. Jay, thanks for supporting the centers, schools, and departments that educate and train our students who are pursuing careers in this field and thank you for supporting our scholars who contribute to the improvement of policymaking. I could not think of a more appropriate person to introduce our distinguished guests. Ladies and gentlemen, President Jay Hartzell. (Applause.)
MR HARTZELL: Thanks a lot, Paul, and I have – in remarks, I want to say thanks to Paul for what he’s doing, for everything he’s doing except wearing a maroon blazer this week. (Laughter.) As I told him before, this is not the difficult part of your job. (Laughter.)
Good afternoon to all of you. And to Secretary Blinken, Senator Hutchison, all of our esteemed guests, welcome. And I want to say a special welcome and a shout-out to our students in the audience today. Seeing today’s conversation is the type of opportunity made possible by attending a world-class university such as ours, and the place that hosts centers like the Clements Center and the Strauss Center, which make all this possible. I want to say thanks to Paul Edgar, to Adam Klein, who is running the Strauss Center. I’ll say also thanks to Dean JR DeShazo from the LBJ School and Professor Sheena Greitens for all the work that went into this, so thank you for all you’re doing to lead us along the way. How about a round of applause for them? (Applause.)
This is a truly special occasion, and not only because of the nature of our guests here today, but also because it’s the first event here in this gorgeous auditorium since this remodel was finished. This was the very first theater built on the campus. And in the 90 years since its completion, it’s seen a lot of history. We’ve produced some amazing alumni in that time, including Secretary of Education William Bennett, Secretary of Commerce Don Evans, and two Secretaries of State, Rex Tillerson and James Baker. We’ve got a third Secretary of State with us today, Secretary Antony Blinken.
Secretary Blinken was confirmed in 2021, but his distinguished service record began long before that. His expertise in the public sector over the last 30 years and for three presidential administrations has been shaping U.S. foreign policy to ensure the protection of this country’s best interests and upholding the values that define us. After translating his background as a successful attorney in the private sector, Secretary Blinken founded WestExec Advisors, an international strategic consulting firm focusing on geopolitics and national security.
Also joining us here today is an amazing alumna of UT, the first woman from Texas to serve in the U.S. Senate, Kay Bailey Hutchison. Senator Hutchison served in the U.S. Senate from 1993 to 2013. After her service as a senator, she was named the U.S. permanent representative to NATO in 2017, a position she held until 2021. Senator Hutchison has protected our interests on the global stage, and we could think of no better person to represent both UT and to host this conversation with Secretary Blinken on our behalf. Senator, thank you for being here today and for your service to our university, our state, and our country.
Mr. Secretary, thank you for coming to The University of Texas, and thank you for your service to our country. This is an important occasion for our university, and it fits our role. Former UT President Harry Ransom described the UT campus as a field of ideas, and that is certainly true today, as we welcome our esteemed guests.
We also have another field on our minds this week, Mr. Secretary, one that’s about 200 miles north of here. (Laughter.) Amidst our anticipation and preparation for Saturday, it is great for you to be here and help us focus on these important and weighty issues facing our country and the broader world. That said, in addition to saying thank you, we want to applaud the wisdom of your choice to visit this university during this week – (laughter) – on the preferred side of the Red River. (Laughter.)
Please join me with a round of applause welcoming Secretary Blinken and Senator Hutchison before they take the stage. (Applause.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks for the great words. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Well, I welcome you to the University of Texas.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: And I want to tell all of you how unusual it is for a secretary of state to be able to travel within our country because he has so many responsibilities outside our country. And we appreciate you making time —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you, Kay.
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: — for us and to be able to learn some of the things that you’re dealing with and that our future generation will also deal with. So we are glad you’re here.
I want to say that you have written – you have such a long history of foreign policy, being the head of the Foreign Relations Committee, and so you have known all of the things that have been happening. And I would like for you to take a look at where we are now and where you think we are going, and what you are going to try to put forward for a way forward in a world that’s very, very tough right now.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you, Kay. And first, it’s wonderful to be with you. I had the great privilege of working in the Senate when the senator was a senator, and it was a privilege to be able to work with you then, and of course your remarkable service as our ambassador to NATO at a tumultuous time. And it’s wonderful to be back here today. Mr. President, thank you very much for your kind introduction.
I did have one extremely important statement to make before I get into the conversation: Hook ‘em Horns. (Cheers and applause.) And can I just add to that, maybe with a little help: Beat –
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Oh, man, you know your audience. We can tell that. (Laughter.) So with that great beginning, tell us what you are seeing out there with the bad guys that are festering and where we ought to be in dealing with them.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So I think as we’re looking at it and the President’s looking at it, he talks about the moment we’re in as being an inflection point. And if you think about it, what that is is something that comes around not every couple of years, not even every decade, but maybe every five or six or seven generations where the changes are so profound and also so complex that in that moment, the decisions that you make then are going to have repercussions not just for the next few years but likely for the next decades. We had an inflection point after World War II. We had another one after the end of the Cold War. And we believe we’re in one of those right now.
You have a re-emerging great power competition that is primarily engaged in shaping what the future looks like. We’ve hit the end of the post-Cold War era, and now there’s a competition on to shape what comes next. And at the same time, we have extraordinary transnational challenges, issues that are affecting people in every corner of our globe, including here in the United States, whether it’s food security, whether it’s climate, whether it’s the way all of these emerging technologies are being used, whether it’s mass migration. And for each and every one of these issues and so many more, I think one of the recognitions that we have to have is that as strong and powerful as we are as a country, none of us, not even the United States, can effectively deal with these challenges alone.
So both in terms of the great power competition and shaping what the world looks like and dealing with some of these extraordinary challenges, there’s a premium on two things. There’s a premium on American engagement and American leadership because in the absence of us doing that, one of two things: either someone else is going to do it, and probably not in a way that reflects our interests or values; or maybe just as bad, no one does it, and then you have a vacuum that’s likely to be filled by bad things before it’s filled by good things. But equally, there’s a premium on finding new ways to cooperate, to coordinate, to work with other countries toward common purpose. And here it’s my profound conviction – and I’ve seen this play out over the last two and a half years – no country on Earth has a greater ability to mobilize others in positive collective action than the United States. So as we’re thinking about all of these problems, that’s what we’re doing.
Last thing is this, Kay. I think it all starts at home. It starts with our strength at home, our investments in ourselves. We’ve made historic investments over the last few years – the bipartisan Infrastructure Act, the CHIPS and Science bill, the Inflation Reduction Act – all going to put us in a stronger position not only to do well by people at home but also to compete effectively in the world. And if you have a strong foundation at home, it does wonders for your standing and your strength around the world. That’s what we’re seeing play out every single day around the world.
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Let’s drill down into Ukraine because a number of people have said, this is not our war; why should we be putting our treasure into Ukraine? And I’d like for you to address that because it’s very important. If we’re going to stay the course, we need to have the reasons to stay the course.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: You’re absolutely right, and I think it’s really important that we continue to have this conversation about why it is important, at least from our perspective. Although I believe – when we continue to see it – very strong support, really, both parties, both houses in Congress, and also even public opinion as I’ve seen it.
But here’s what’s going on and why we thought it was so important for the United States to lead. There are really two reasons and they’re, again, flip sides of the same coin. On the one hand, we see the incredible human tragedy that is the Russian aggression against Ukraine. We see that human tragedy in what’s being done to the Ukrainian people. And I think most Americans see that, and it’s something that bothers them that they want to, if we can, help put a stop to.
Quick aside: I was in Ukraine for, I guess, the fourth time since the Russian aggression a couple of weeks ago, and visited a town called Yahidne, which is about two and a half hours’ drive outside of Kyiv. Very small town. We visited a schoolhouse, and when the Russians came in back in February of 2022, they took over this town, they herded up all of the folks in the town, and they had a command post in – on the first floor of the schoolhouse. They put everyone else in a basement.
Now, the basement was not fit for human habitation, but they herded everyone into a room that was probably maybe about the size of this stage, a little smaller – 130 people, for 28 days. Children as young as a month and a half old. Adults as old as 85, 90. In that room, which didn’t have proper ventilation, 10 people died during those 28 days. The Russians would not allow the bodies, if the people died after noon, to be removed. So young children, 3, 4, 5 years old, were living in this room, and there was not even enough room to lie down for most people, with the bodies of people who had died there.
That’s just one small microcosm, one small town, one small schoolhouse. So that’s one side of the coin. But here’s the other side of the coin, and here’s fundamentally why it’s so important. (Phone alarm rings.) Ah, this might be our Russian friends interrupting us. (Laughter.) But I’m glad to know the national alert system works. (Laughter.)
Here’s what’s so important. A couple of weeks ago, we were in New York at the United Nations General Assembly, an annual gathering of all the countries at the UN. We call it “speed dating for diplomats.” (Laughter.) And it’s a useful reminder, though, that the UN came together for a reason, and that reason was this. We’d had two world wars, and there was a fierce determination by people around the world, starting in the United States, to figure out a way to organize ourselves such that another world war wouldn’t happen. And so an entire system was developed, starting with the United Nations, and it put in place basic principles, basic understandings among countries about how they would act or not act toward each other. And it’s all in the United Nations Charter.
And among other things, it commands respect for the territorial integrity of other countries, for their sovereignty, for their independence, because if you don’t have those basic principles, and if big countries can simply lord it over small ones, you’re going to have a world where might makes right. And in this case, if we had allowed Russia to do what it did toward Ukraine, to allow that to go forward with impunity, then the signal, the message that sends around the world to other would-be aggressors is if they can do it and get away with it, I can do the same thing. It’s opening a Pandora’s box of conflict.
And in that kind of world, a world of conflict, a world of aggression, that’s not going to be good for anyone. It’s not going to be good for us. It’s not going to be good for people around the world. And if you look at history, invariably, in that kind of world, we’re going to be drawn in, and drawn in in much more costly and difficult ways than we have been in Ukraine.
So I think, Kay, it’s the combination of something that sort of hits our hearts when we see this aggression, but also something I hope that touches our minds, our heads, because we know that if the United States – and by the way, it’s not us alone. There are 50 other countries engaged in actively supporting Ukraine. You know this so well from your leadership at NATO. One of the complaints we’ve sometimes had in the past when we’ve been engaged around the world is: How come we’re carrying all the load? Why aren’t others doing their fair share?
Well, here they are. If you look at the support being provided to Ukraine right now across military, economic, humanitarian lines, actually the rest of the world is doing a little bit more than we’re doing. So we’ve got great burden sharing. And I think the fact that so many countries are standing up for the basic principles that are within the UN Charter and that have very imperfectly helped keep the peace over the last 80 or so years, that’s why it’s so important.
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: I – when I was at NATO, our military – this is anecdotal – but our military leaders said that when they met with the Soviet military, that they are brainwashed that the worst part of history in the history of Russia is the breakup of the Soviet Union. And that’s why Putin seems so determined to right this wrong. He has imbued in his military that Gorbachev is the worst traitor to the Mother Russia, and I think that means that they’re not going to skirt around NATO countries. They’re going to see what we will do, and they are going to act accordingly. And if we keep our resolve, as your administration is doing and I agree with, then we will protect what we have and make sure that our troops are not going to be called because if they go into a NATO country, then we are in a war.
So I think we have to be forward-leaning. I think we have to have the deterrence that we are showing, and never stopping with this support of Ukraine. And the Ukrainian people are so brave.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: They are.
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: And they have not flagged for one minute. And they deserve our support, and if we can see that through with them, then we won’t be sending our troops into a bigger conflict. And I think that’s why I have said right off the bat that this is an issue for Russia, but it’s also a signal to other countries that might decide to run over another sovereign nation, like potentially China. And so it is a signal that we would send, but it’s also the actuality of standing with Ukraine for our interest.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I couldn’t agree more. I think you’re exactly right. And the challenge that we have now and the Ukrainians have now is that one of the things that we think President Putin believes is that he can outlast us. He can outlast the Ukrainians; he can outlast the support that Ukraine is getting. And it’s very important that we disabuse him of that notion, because that’s actually the quickest path to having this resolved, having an end to the aggression, having a just and durable peace. No one wants that more than the Ukrainian people. They’re the ones on the receiving end of aggression.
But right now Putin demonstrates no interest in actually meaningfully negotiating, because – exactly as you suggest – he believes he can outlast us. So making sure he understands that he can’t, that he won’t, is actually critical to getting to peace. One of the ways we do that is by sustaining the support and the support of many other countries.
Another way we do that is showing that, in a different way, we’re in this for the long haul. By that, I mean this – what we’re working on now, besides the immediate support that we’re providing to Ukraine along with many other countries, is helping the Ukrainians to build their own force for the future that can deter aggression and, if necessary, defend against it. At the last NATO summit, we had, on the margins of that summit, all of the G7 countries, the largest democratic economies in the world, come together and say we’re going to start engaging Ukraine on how we can provide long-term assistance to them to build up that kind of force. We now have 29 countries who’ve signed on to do that. And this is a way to be able to help them build that force, to do it in a sustainable way for us, in terms of the resources that are required, because it’s going to be divided over 30 countries, and to put Ukraine in the position where it can stand on its own feet.
At the same time, economically – just as important – they have to have an economy that’s functioning. And to do that, countries have provided a lot of assistance, international financial institutions. But the way to make that durable, sustainable, and lasting is private sector investment. So we brought back an extraordinary colleague, Penny Pritzker, who was Secretary of Commerce during the Obama administration to lead our efforts on economic reconstruction for Ukraine and getting that private sector money in. And there is a tremendous opportunity there, is a way to really get the economy moving, to get the tax base up, to make Ukraine self-sustaining economically. A Ukraine that stands on its own feet is the objective. The more we’re doing that and the more we’re showing that that’s what we’re doing, the more Putin understands that he can’t play a waiting game.
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: If you can tell us what the status is of being able to use frozen Russian assets to pay for some of the humanitarian reconstruction and all of the things that Ukraine needs right now – what can you share with us about that? Because it’s a significant amount.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It is. It’s about $300 billion, and most of it actually in Europe, not in the United States. So we’re looking at what legal authorities we may have, the Europeans may have, to actually use those assets for Ukraine. My own view is you broke it, you bought it. And so the Russians having broken it, they ought to pay for it. And one way to do that would be through the use of these assets. We have to make sure that there is a legal basis to do that. And as I said, since most of the assets are in Europe, Europeans also have to be convinced that there’s a basis to do it.
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Okay. I’m going to switch gears now to why you’re here. I mean, it’s because we’re so wonderful, I’m sure. (Laughter.) But on top of that, you’re on your way to Mexico.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right.
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: And that – you did make room for us, which I really appreciate. But it is important for us right now. Not only is Mexico our largest trading partner and we want to continue that, because a good economy in Mexico is good for all of us, but also it is a crisis on the border. There’s no question that we have an influx that our communities that are very small communities on the border have put in their laps this terrible onslaught of illegal migration that they don’t feel they can take care of people in a humanitarian way. So is this going to be something that will be on the agenda, as you are meeting with the Mexican officials?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: In short, yes, very much so. But I think it’s important to take a step back and recognize where we are. Not by way of excuse but by way of reality, we are now facing around the world the largest migration challenge of all times.
Since we’ve been keeping numbers on this, we haven’t seen the kind of numbers we’re seeing now – more than 100 million people on the move, displaced from their homes around the world. That exceeds by far anything we’ve seen since we’ve been keeping the numbers. In our own hemisphere, somewhere between 20 and 25 million people on the move.
It used to be that you would have one crisis at a time – maybe Cuba, maybe Haiti, maybe it was El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, the countries in the so-called Northern Triangle. Now it’s all of the above, plus Venezuela, plus Nicaragua, plus Ecuador, plus people coming in through Latin America from parts far away from the United States, Uzbekistan, all coming towards Mexico and then coming toward the United States. And so I think it’s important to understand that this is actually something that is historically of extraordinary proportions.
Having said that, it is imperative that we do everything we can as effectively as we can to make sure that migration is humane, safe, and orderly, and we’re committed to doing that. We also recognize something that I said a little bit earlier about the imperative of finding ways to work with other countries. The scale of the problem is such that if we’re not doing that, we simply won’t have an effective solution.
We had a Summit of the Americas over – a little over a year ago, and that brought together all the countries in the Western Hemisphere. And through that summit we issued something called the Los Angeles Declaration, which was the first time that virtually every country in our hemisphere acknowledged shared responsibility for dealing with migration – the countries of origin, the countries of transit, the countries of destination, including Mexico and the United States.
And what we’ve been doing since then is translating that into practical things that countries need to do to get a better grip on migration. And that includes everything from building up their own asylum system so that people can actually, if they are going to leave their homes, find asylum in other countries, not just the United States. It means in some cases being willing to repatriate, take back people who’ve tried to come here without the legal basis to do so. It means making sure that people are treated in safe and humane ways. It means working with us to expand their own legal pathways to migration, just as we’re doing here. In a whole variety of ways, we have been working with these countries to do that.
Mexico, of course, has to be and is our closest partner on this for obvious reasons. And here I have to say we probably have more cooperation with Mexico now than at any time since I’ve been doing this. They, too, very much want to get a grip on this because they’re now the country that has the third largest number of asylum seekers in the world. This is affecting them. This is hitting them. So we’re working to do that.
We have agreements from many other countries to really step up and do what they need to do. And, of course – this is not my area directly – we have to work to strengthen what we’re doing at our own border and we have to fix what has long been unfortunately a broken asylum system, which is simply overwhelmed in terms of the demand for asylum versus the resources that are being put against it. The very first piece of legislation actually that President Biden put before the Congress was an immigration reform bill that would have, I think, dealt more effectively with some of these challenges. Unfortunately, it hasn’t gone anywhere.
But I was just with some of your former colleagues, Kay and – Republicans and Democrats – actually talking about the annual refugee program, a distinct subset of migration. And I’m convinced that, as we’ve tried in the past, there really is a good, strong nucleus of Republicans and Democrats who can come together to try to actually put in place the fixes that we need to deal with this more effectively. If we can’t do that, the problem is not going to be solved.
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: That’s absolutely true, and we need to come together on a bipartisan basis, because there are differences that would kill any bill. I was trying to get immigration reform —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yeah.
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: — when I was still there. And it’s just very difficult, but we need to do it. Because no one expected the overwhelming influx, especially on these communities in south Texas.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: You said something else, I think, that’s very, very important. And you all are living and breathing this every day. You’re living the challenges and the downsides of the migration challenge. You’re also living and breathing the extraordinary upsides of our relationship with Mexico. As Kay mentioned, Mexico is now, as of a few weeks ago, our largest trading partner in the world.
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Yeah.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We want to preserve that. We want to preserve the connections and the bonds that tie us together. And we also have our share of responsibility. One of the things that drives that drug trade that comes here and hits us – and I want to say a word about that if I could – and that facilitates it is the influx of guns coming from the United States to Mexico. We have a responsibility to help them do something about that.
And on drugs, because I think this is very important, if I could for a second, the other huge challenge we face – and you all know this so well – is the scourge of synthetic opioids, fentanyl in our case – devastating, destroying families, communities, the number one killer of Americans aged 18 to 49. And just let the sink in for a minute. Of everything else that’s out there – disease, guns, car accidents, you name it – the number one killer of Americans 18 to 49 is fentanyl. So we have an obligation, and we are putting this at the top of our agenda. And here, too, we have what is a global challenge.
We’ve been the canary in the coal mine on fentanyl, but now we’re seeing it spread to many other places in the world. The market’s so saturated here that these criminal enterprises are going to Europe, they’re going to Asia. And all of a sudden, countries are waking up to the proposition that this is going to affect them too. And then there are other synthetic opioids that are out there – everything from tramadol, to methamphetamines, to Captagon. So this is becoming a global phenomenon, moving from plant-based narcotics to synthetics.
We put together this summer a coalition of about 100 countries now that are determined to work together to better address the problem of synthetic opioids and working in very concrete, specific ways to get at the illicit manufacture of the chemical precursors that go into making them, to their trade and distribution around the world, working together to look at emerging trends so that we get ahead of the curve, and then the public health aspect, which is so important. How do we do a better job treating people, preventing people from using synthetic opioids, et cetera? And that’s really the way that you get at something like this, as well as, of course, the critical law enforcement work that we’re doing and the work that we’re doing with Mexico to disrupt the enterprises, et cetera.
We also have to see more cooperation from countries like China, where many of these chemical precursors are made and then diverted illicitly into the manufacture of fentanyl in Mexico. Then it gets into the United States. All of that is coming together, and it’s to us (inaudible) important. But it’s also an example of what we’ve been trying to do around the world. On day one, the instruction that I got from President Biden was to re-engage, re-energize, rejuvenate all of our alliances and our partnerships, like NATO, because we know how important they are to us in terms of dealing with all of these challenges that we can’t deal with alone.
But we’re also in the business of creating new ones. And the way I look at it is, especially since we’re here in an academic institution, variable geometry, putting together collections of countries and even organizations, businesses that are different shapes and different sizes but are fit for a specific purpose, that have an interest in solving a particular problem, and the means to do it. And that gets you to something like the fentanyl coalition.
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Well, I have another question on South America, but I want to get to some of the student questions, because one of the questions is exactly what I have wanted since I was able to be an ambassador for America. And it is from Angelina Braese, a Clements undergraduate fellow. And she says, “Mr. Secretary, in 2011, I lived in Alexandria, Egypt. I find myself” – excuse me. “I found myself watching in real time the Arab Spring, and I decided I wanted to be in Foreign Service.” And she wants to know what you’re looking for in a Foreign Service officer that would be part of this (inaudible).
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So I promise you that’s not a planted question. (Laughter.) So here’s the thing. If you maybe watch a popular TV show or have an image in your mind of what the State Department is and what we do, it’s accurate, but it’s not the whole deal because I think when people think of the State Department, maybe they think of issues of war and peace and trying to prevent wars or stop wars, building some of these partnerships that I was talking about.
But now, pretty much anyone in any discipline at this remarkable institution or others would find a place at the State Department to do what you’re studying, to do what you love, to do what you want to do.
Food security – we are now a leading institution in trying to work around the world to help countries develop sustainable agricultural production so that they can feed themselves and feed others.
Climate change – we’re playing a lead role in making sure that countries around the world have the technology as well as the means to adapt, to build resilience, and to deal with this existential threat, as well as looking at ways to advance their energy infrastructure for the future.
If you’re interested in global health – I mentioned fentanyl a moment ago – we played a lead role in making sure that countries around the world had vaccines to deal with COVID, and previous to that you’ll remember we have an extraordinary program called PEPFAR, the President’s program to deal with HIV/AIDS that President Bush put in place that’s probably saved more than 25 million lives around the world in the 20 years it’s been in existence.
Emerging technologies – we recently stood up a bureau on cyber and digital technology as well as an envoy for emerging technologies to make sure that the United States is at the table every single place conversations and decisions are being made about the ways the technology we carry in our pockets every day are actually going to be used. What are the rules? What are the norms? What are the standards to make sure that, to the best of our ability, technology is used for good, not for bad?
In these and dozens of other ways, no matter what your interest is, there’s actually a place at the State Department. We have colleagues who are doing remarkable things making sure that we ourselves can communicate. We have our colleagues at Diplomatic Security, who are making sure that we can do everything we do safely and securely. And we have people who are brilliant at making sure that an enterprise as big as the State Department, 80,000 people around the world, can actually function – management systems, you name it.
So it’s a long way of saying that if you take a look, you may find that whatever your passion is, whatever your skill set is, whatever your interest is, there’s a way of doing that at the State Department.
And here’s the one extra thing that you get: that flag behind your back every day, literally or figuratively. I’ve had the chance in my career to do some different things in the private sector, in the not-for-profit sector, all wonderful, and I was incredibly fortunate. But I’ve now been in government in one way or another for about 30 years, and at least for me and so many of the people I work with, whatever the other compensations may be in other pursuits, there’s nothing quite like going to work every day with the flag behind your back.
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Absolutely. I felt —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So we happen to have a table – (laughter) – outside. Check it out.
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Yeah, absolutely. We want more UT graduates to go into the Foreign Service because we bring a great educational experience and I think we could be a value-added.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: There is no question.
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: There is a question – and we really haven’t touched on economics and trade – from Ryan Ashley, a Ph.D. candidate, Air Force officer, and Clements Graduate Fellow. And he’s saying: “How can the administration address the credibility gap on economic engagement with Southeast Asia to enhance trust and complement existing security and political efforts, especially considering the U.S. hasn’t attempted to rejoin the reformed Trans-Pacific Partnership?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So the economic dimension of what we’re doing around the world is fundamental. It’s a critical part of our foreign policy. It answers what other people are looking for and what they need as well as what we’re looking for and what we need, and trade is a critical piece of that. But we want to make sure that in everything we’re doing, we’re working to create a race to the top, not a race to the bottom, to make sure that what we’re doing actually benefits not only growth but inclusive growth that everyone shares in. We want to make sure that our companies are benefitting but also our workers are benefitting from the agreements that we reach. And that’s what’s been driving us in our approach.
We also want to make sure that we are dealing with the issues that are really the dominant issues for the 21st century when it comes to the global economy, and we are, including in Asia. We have a partnership now that we have stood up with about 14 other countries in the Indo-Pacific that gets at the critical economic issues for this time, including digital technology and trade in the digital space, include – including building strong, resilient supply chains. We all experienced what it’s like when you have a supply chain that’s disruptive for something you really need, doing that. Making sure that we’re facilitating the trade that exists so that there are common understandings about regulations and so forth.
So across the board we’re trying to address the question of economic relations and trade in ways that are going to benefit us as a whole but also answer challenges that other countries are trying to face. We’ve had a lot of receptivity to what we’re doing.
There’s another component to this. There is a huge demand, an insatiable demand around the world, for infrastructure. And there is more demand than there is supply in this moment. One of the things that we’ve done is to start an initiative with the other leading economies, democratic economies of the world – the G-7 – to bring more resources to that and to use those resources to leverage private-sector investment in infrastructure, but infrastructure that is, again, a race to the top.
Other countries have been engaged in trying to provide infrastructure around the world, but I think what some countries have experienced with that is a massive piling on of debt for these projects, having workers from the country in question imported to do the projects instead of local workers, technology infrastructure built to low standards without care for the environment or the rights of the workers who are actually building the infrastructure.
We’re doing this in a way that is positive, affirmative, answers the needs of countries but does it in a way, again, that I think is not abusive of the countries in question.
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: I was in South America this summer on a NASA-sponsored tour talking to Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia about ways to cooperate in space and satellite presentations and building, and China was everywhere. They were in the infrastructure field. They were – as you said, that’s not necessarily a plus if the infrastructure isn’t going to be maintained in the right way. But they are really paying attention, and I think that we have to be focused on what we can do in the right way, and especially where countries have a democratic background. We have democracies in South America; they’re not always resilient. And how can we work with our South American interests, especially in the economy and trade, because that’s what they need the most?
But how would you say that we should be producing more for South America, which is right in our hemisphere, and what are your plans to produce more?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, it’s exactly why the President brought all of the countries of the hemisphere together at the Summit for the Americas, to look at how we can actually make our own hemisphere the champion for growth, for progress in the world. And I think he believes, we believe that we can and should be able to do that precisely because we do have, despite challenges in various places, a strong democratic foundation. We do have a hemisphere that can be more and more integrated, and that’s exactly what we’re pursuing with Mexico and Canada, our near neighbors, but also to points much, much further south. And the work that we’re doing I think is advancing exactly that objective.
There’s another aspect to this that’s so important, and again, it comes back to the migration question. Another piece to the puzzle, maybe the most critical piece to the puzzle, is this: You have to get at the root causes of migration, and depending on where you are in the world, there may be one driver or another. It may be a repressive government. It may be violence; it may be corruption. In our own hemisphere, it tends to be a lack of economic opportunity, even the most basic economic opportunity.
And here’s the thing – and I suspect if we really think about it ourselves, we’d probably come to the same conclusion. If you’re a parent and you literally cannot put food on the table for your kids, you are likely to try to do anything to be able to do that. And that includes maybe going anywhere if there’s a greater prospect of doing that somewhere else. And we know that it’s not as if people get up in the morning and say, “Gee, wouldn’t this be a great day to leave everything and everyone I know behind, to put myself in the hands of a trafficker, to make an incredibly hazardous journey, to come to a country that may or may not want me, with a language that I may not yet speak, without friends, family, community?”
Most people who make that decision make it because there are profound drivers that are pushing them to do that. So if you can address those drivers, if you can give people enough hope, real hope that they can build their lives and build their futures at home, where most people prefer to remain, that is a key part of dealing with this challenge. And that means driving investment. It means helping countries build that kind of opportunity – again, with the private sector in the lead – to create that kind of future.
The problem, of course, with that is it takes time. It’s not like flipping a light switch. But we’re very much engaged in doing it. One example: El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, these countries which have been a source of migration for some time – just over the past couple of years, led by the Vice President, Vice President Harris, we have gotten about $4.5 billion in new investment in those countries for enterprises that are going to create jobs and give people an opportunity to stay home and care for their families right there.
Now, you’ve got to do that at a massive scale, and like most things, the opportunities that we’ve actually been able to create, those numbers don’t show up at our border, but of course we don’t know that. You only see the people who do. But this is also the way to get at it, and this goes to the larger question of how we can make our own hemisphere more and more integrated economically.
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: And it is in our interest to do that for sure. The last question is going to be from Maddie Williams, a Clements Graduate Fellow, a Ph.D. student at the LBJ School. And she has read your “Global War of Ideas” in the early 2000s and she’s asking: “Do you think the perception gap has shifted favorably or unfavorably with respect to the U.S. in the two decades since you wrote that first paper?” Is the U.S. winning the war of ideas?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s a great question. And when I was thinking about that before – this is back in 2001, 2002 – it was right after 9/11. And in a very different way, we were engaged not only in a physical conflict with terrorists and terrorist groups but also in ideas and ideology that grounded that and that for one reason or another might have attracted people to extremism. And so back then what I was thinking about was how do we engage that aspect of the conflict with terrorism and how do we engage effectively in this war of ideas.
Now, of course, we’re in a very different world and a very different war of ideas, and it really does go to what I was talking about before: this competition to shape the – what comes next. We ended the post-Cold War era. The competition to shape this future, a huge component of it are different ideas about what that future should look like. We have a clear vision of what we would like the world to look like, a world that is free, that is open, that is secure, that’s prosperous, that’s connected, that’s resilient. Others have a very different vision for what the world will look like. We want a world in which people are free in their lives and in their choices, in which countries are able to decide their own policies and their own partners, in which technology is used to lift people up, not to hold them down, and in which countries agree on a basic set of rules through which they’re going to engage and work with one another.
We have adversaries, opponents who have a very different vision of a world, as I said earlier, where in different ways might makes right, where they have spheres of influence, where they dictate not only what happens to their own people but what happens in their neighborhoods, where economics are used as tools of coercion to help advance the decisions and policies that they prefer, and where technology is used in negative ways to keep people down, not lift them up. So they’re very different visions. And part of our job is to, as effectively as we can, actually communicate them because I have little doubt that if given a real and fair choice, we know where most people want to end up.
But we have another problem, and that is the very technology that we use to try to advance these visions, to make our case, to explain our case, is also used to misinform, to disinform, to distort. Many of us when you’re brought up reading the great works of social thinking and social science from centuries past, you might read John Stuart Mill, and you might read about how in the marketplace of ideas, the best ideas rise to the top, compete against each other, and the very best idea wins out. But if the very system that those ideas are emerging in is distorted, then you’ve got a fundamental problem.
So one of the biggest challenges that we have in this new war of ideas is dealing with problems of disinformation, of misinformation, of making sure that to the best of our ability we actually have real space where ideas can compete fairly and clearly. And in that world, everything that we represent, that we stand for and have long stood for, will do very well. But that’s not the world that we’re operating in, and it’s why it’s so critical that we with many other countries make sure that we preserve, create, and defend that space.
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: And that’s before we introduce AI.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s – exactly.
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: I mean, think of the changes that we’re going to have to prepare for and engage in to protect our —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right.
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: — intellectual property and our communications that will be absolute rather than an artificial intelligence coming in, and that’s a whole other technology issue.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That is – that is the – that is the new frontier. And one of the things that we’ve been very focused on is making sure that we’re doing what we can do to ensure that AI is used for good and that we mitigate the potential downsides. The potential for what AI can do to solve the most fundamental problems we’re facing around the world is almost limitless. We had – at the UN General Assembly, we brought countries together looking on how we could use artificial intelligence to advance the Sustainable Development Goals that the UN has been working on for the better part of a decade. And it is extraordinary, but at the same time – to your point – we know the damage, the harm that can be done by the misuse of AI. So we spent a lot of time with the companies – the foundational companies – that are all American that have been leading the work on AI. And they came together and agreed to certain commitments to try to ensure that the technology is used for good and at the same time to mitigate any of the downside risks.
My job now at the State Department is to take those commitments, to take those understandings reached between the White House and these foundational companies, and internationalize them, socialize them around the world, get other countries to sign on and to sign up so that we create a foundation of understanding about how AI can be used and how it shouldn’t be used. This is just the dawn of that effort, and I think you’re exactly right. Maybe more than anything else, that’s going to shape the future that we all live in.
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: If we can have an alliance of rules-based order —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right.
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: — that will require everyone to accede to the right regulations. That’s going to be difficult, as you know. So, well, we have run out of time. Actually, we’re over time, and I thank you so much for coming to visit with us. And we, of course, wish you well. Going to Mexico, there are so many issues that we need to be in partnership with Mexico to achieve for both of our sides of the border.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: And we thank you for stopping in.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. And I know it’s been – I know it’s a busy week here so thank you for having me. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you.