Remarks as prepared for delivery.
Trustees of the Monterey Institute, President Ramaswamy, distinguished guests, parents, friends, and graduates:
It is a great honor for me to share this important milestone in your lives, to celebrate with you all you have learned and achieved, and to encourage you for the great opportunities — and challenges — ahead.
Many parents and friends have travelled far to be here and to honor your accomplishments – from forty nations, from all across the United States, to this beautiful place on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.
You who are graduating today have also made a significant journey of the intellect and the imagination. You have immersed yourself in the world views of other cultures, studied languages until they are no longer “foreign,” learned from your classmates as they became companions and friends.
Monterey is a remarkable institution. It combines the strengths of America’s system of higher education with a truly international sensibility. Students here are routinely influenced — and some, perhaps, even transformed — by their engagement with outstanding faculty, by their study of the trends that are changing the world, by their encounter with other cultures.
Monterey is remarkable, perhaps unique, but it is also a small part of a huge transformation that is bringing the human race into closer contact than ever before.
I need hardly remind you of the advances in technology, the web of international trade and finance, the vast movement of people and information — all the phenomena that we collectively call “globalization.”
How different is this new world? Let me share some thoughts, along the lines of how I generally look at situations — in terms of threats and opportunities.
I think there may have been too much emphasis on opportunities. Forgive me, but my background is in international security.
Twenty years ago, as the Cold War ended, there was a utopian spirit about. Understandably: the world was relieved of a long nuclear stand-off between super-powers and vicious proxy conflicts from Angola to Vietnam.
President Bush spoke to Congress in 1990 of “a new world order . . . freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace.” Francis Fukuyama wrote of “the end of history” and inevitable advance of liberal democracy. Optimists predicted an age of unprecedented prosperity.
In the State Department, somewhat irreverently, we coined a word for this mindset: “globaloney.” Indeed, one wag proposed changing “Democratic Enlargement” to “Engorgement.” It didn’t stick.
Of course many good things followed the fall of communism: China and India became economic powerhouses, totalitarian regimes were dismantled, human rights (in theory, at least) became the international norm.
But the end of a large international conflict opened the way to many smaller ones. And the threats that result from a world that is becoming more closely inter-related have become clear.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a French writer and pilot, wrote in 1939: “The central struggle of men has ever been to understand one another. And it is this very thing that . . . [the airplane] helps them to do. It begins by annihilating time and space.”
Later that year, airplanes began to bomb cities across Europe. In 2001, civilian airplanes were hijacked to attack New York and Washington, DC, in the most significant terrorist attack in history.
Saint-Exupéry’s assumption, that simply bringing people together would help them “understand one another,” is fundamentally flawed.
Ever had a roommate?
There is a good reason that religions encourage us to love our neighbors. Usually, we don’t.
When Tom Friedman tells us that the world is “flat,” he means, in part, that we are all now neighbors, with all that that implies. Modern transport and communications mean we live closer together. We share systems of trade, finance, and law. We face the same environmental, social, and security issues together. And that can lead to good things.
But the dangers of our difference are also exacerbated.
When faced with diversity or disagreement, most people retreat. Some people attack. The political scientist Robert Putnam has shown that social diversity is related to lower confidence in government, less political participation, fewer friends, and (perhaps most alarming) the assertion that "television is my most important form of entertainment."
This mistrust informs two intractable phenomena. The first is civil war and genocide. The second is international terrorism.
I worked for the U.S. government in the former Yugoslavia. I had studied regular war before. It has rules — armies, including the American Army, usually go to lengths to limit harm to civilians. But here ordinary people were hell-bent on killing, hurting, and driving away people who had recently been their neighbors or friends.
In Rwanda, Darfur, Sri Lanka, Peru, and elsewhere, civil wars have proved intractable and often genocidal. The world has been largely powerless to stop them. The “responsibility to protect,” adopted by the UN in 2005, commits the international community to intervene when nations fail to protect, or indeed attack, their citizens. But it has not so far proved effective.
Civil wars usually involve terrorism, a kind of conflict that is as old as, or older than, war. But today, terrorism is more dangerous than ever. It is internationally coordinated, often sponsored by governments, exploits failing states, and can attack almost anywhere at any time.
Our world is more vulnerable to terror than the less connected world of the past. Our systems — from cyberspace to water supply, transport to power — are extremely vulnerable to disruption.
My own work has concentrated on the threat of nuclear terrorism. We know terror groups want the impact that a nuclear explosion in a major city would give them. We know that the technology is available, and that fissile material has gone missing. What we do not know is exactly who is trying to perpetrate such an act, where they will strike, or where they are now.
We wish to live in free and open societies, but such societies make perfect targets for infiltration and terrorist violence. How to ensure our security while retaining our values remains a central problem.
The globalized world can make every war a civil war or a spark for terrorism.
That is a lot about threat. What are our opportunities?
Because I am, essentially, an optimist, I am not resigned to a world of Hobbesian conflict or Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations.”
Our entrenched divisions cannot be dissolved, but they need not distort our humanity. There are ways to make a difference.
Something Monterey has taught all of you is that you need not be another brick in the wall. You can be a bridge, or a bond, or an ambassador. The power of understanding and empathy can lead to extraordinary results.
Let me share one small example. During WWII there was a pastor, André Trocmé in Le Chambon sur Lignon, a French village near the Alps. Trocmé was of German extraction; his people, Protestant in a Catholic country, had memories of past persecution. That may have prompted what followed.
In 1942, the Nazi authorities began to round up the Jews of Vichy France. One night, a woman knocked at Pastor Trocmé's door seeking refuge. He took her in.
Trocmé challenged his people. It was their duty, he said, to identify with the persecuted and to save their fellow human beings, whatever the cost.
The villagers volunteered to lead people through the mountains to safety in Switzerland. Jews from across France headed there, and were helped. Many villagers were arrested or threatened. Trocmé's nephew was captured, and died in a gas chamber.
But this small village persevered, and saved 5,000 people. Le Chambon sur Lignon is the only town honored at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial as "righteous among the nations."
You will probably never face such extreme circumstances. But the principle that we are bound up in one another, and that our well-being is intimately connected to that of others always applies. It is the best response to our natural impulse to withdraw or become hostile in the face of disagreement and diversity. It insists that communities can be changed for the better, that individuals can make a difference.
Most of you plan to work at the fault lines of our globalized world — where languages, or cultures, or politics, or economics divide us.
Much of that work will not appear glamorous at the time. Perhaps you will not feel you are being effective. It is an unfortunate truth that our international systems and organizations are often inadequate, that civil society faces tremendous obstacles, and that there are many people who do not share your vision for the common good.
But every diplomat wrestling with an intractable conflict, every member of an NGO working on the ground to improve lives, every hardworking member of an international agency, or conscientious translator, or thoughtful advisor is making a contribution.
Such efforts are not only valuable, they are essential. They may not solve the whole problem, but each careful compromises, each "as good as possible" solution, each less bad outcome is an incremental gain.
Many of your teachers are, like me, grizzled veterans of such efforts, with the battle scars to prove it. We have experience, perhaps a touch of disappointment or self-protective cynicism. But the core idealism that propelled us into our careers has not died. It lives in institutions such as Monterey, Georgetown School of Foreign Service, and many others around the world.
Our hope and aim is to prepare a new generation to take up the challenge.
Today, at this ceremony, we pass our mission on to you. Our high hopes, our ambitions for a better future, our energy and commitment are now yours.
Art Buchwald once ended a commencement address at Georgetown University by saying: “Graduates, my generation is giving your generation a world that is in perfect condition; don’t screw it up.” It was not true that day in May. It is not true today.
You have been well prepared to serve a complex and confusing world. Today that world is yours to build and to lead. If you can save it, so much the better.
You are our very best hope.