On October 21, the School of Public Policy hosted a discussion with Ambassador John D. Negroponte centered on his foreign service experience and current trends in geopolitics. Negroponte worked under nine presidential administrations during his four-decade-long diplomatic career. Through the event’s open Q&A session, SPP students and faculty gained insight into what lessons the ambassador learned over his extensive government experience and areas of consideration for those working in diplomacy now and in the future.
During the discussion, Negroponte reflected in-depth about the early years of his career during the Vietnam War. He recalled that, for his generation of graduates entering into foreign service, all personnel were assigned to Vietnam to support diplomatic relations during the conflict, creating a sense of unity amongst these officials and informing decades of diplomatic leaders. The ambassador attributes many of the failures within Vietnam not to a lack of strategy or planning but to a failure of implementation and on-the-ground leadership, which parallels with the failed pull-out of Afghanistan earlier this year.
“Afghanistan started as a response to the 9/11 attacks and morphed from a counterterrorism mission to a counterinsurgency mission,” explains Negroponte. “This resulted in leaders deploying many more people and falling down the slippery slope of nation-building, so the conflict became more expensive and they never knew when to stop.”
Negroponte also described the transformation of China’s geopolitical role over the course of his career. During his first visit to China, the ambassador witnessed severe poverty and instability. However, due to China’s rapid economic growth in the past few decades, current and future diplomatic leaders must now navigate a challenge that the U.S. has not experienced in over 150 years — a peer economic power.
“We have not yet figured out how to deal with this peer power. I think it probably needs to be dealt with both with firmness on the one hand but also an openness to opportunities for collaboration on the other,” considers Negroponte.”There are certain affairs that benefit from collaboration, but when we are hurling brickbats at each other, that becomes much more difficult.”
Currently, the ambassador serves as the vice chairman of McLarty Associates, a strategic consulting firm that supports private sector clients in navigating the diplomatic and foreign policy arena. Negroponte encourages students to take advantage of McLarty’s Fellows program, in which SPP graduate students apply their international policy coursework to the challenges faced by McLarty’s clients abroad.
“Anybody interested in either international business or foreign service would find themselves very comfortable with the people who work at McLarty Associates,” encourages Negroponte. “The fellowship is a great stepping stone to a career in international affairs, either public or private.”