Hoover Institution (Stanford, CA) – The Hoover Institution hosted its second annual international seminar program Monday, June 19–Saturday, June 24, convening 30 mid-career diplomatic, national security, and private-sector professionals representing 19 partner and ally countries across the world to engage with Hoover fellows and hear their insights on a full spectrum of policy issues.

Cochaired by Fouad and Michelle Ajami Senior Fellow H.R. McMaster and National Security Visiting Fellow Nadia Schadlow, the seminar program is designed to create positive alignment among like-minded countries who today find themselves dealing with complex challenges.     

In an interview for this story, Schadlow explained that these pressures are both domestic and international. They come in the form of deeply polarized societies, lack of confidence in democratic institutions to deliver for their citizens, surges in migration levels, and the rapid pace of technological change that seems to favor state power over the rights of individuals.  In addition, the world is increasingly multipolar, facing threats from aggressive and expansionary forces, namely China and Russia, and cooperation among these and other countries such as Iran.

“The rationale of the program is to see if we can figure out solutions to many of these problem sets,” Schadlow said.

For the seminar organizers, convening a diverse group of people from like-minded countries also helps them to discover what National Security Visiting Fellow Zachary Shore calls strategic empathy, that is, the ability to perceive challenges from others’ perspectives instead of solely one’s own.

National Security Visiting Fellow Jakub Grygiel explained in an interview that the seminar allowed for participants to freely discuss their respective countries’ common goals and differences with one another away from the pressure of an official state setting. According to Grygiel, developing a common understanding and generating ideas together enables the participants to build a network and a foundation for solving challenges down the road.

“This was a conversation among friends,” Grygiel said.

Grygiel led an opening-day session titled “Illusions of US Foreign Policy,” which focused on misconceptions, such as China's being a responsible stakeholder in the international system, and on the potential for relationships between states to be harmonized in the environment of international institutions.

Over the five days, Hoover fellows and affiliated scholars led sessions on strategic challenges,  including the emergence of disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence and synthetic biology; the geopolitical factors that caused the Ukraine war and the war’s consequences; the future of energy security; whether the free-market capitalist system can still provide countries with a competitive edge; and how best to mitigate risks posed by China’s ambitions to be a dominant economic and military power.

Participants were organized into three groups. Each group, led by a scholar, worked on a case study in one of the following topics: cybersecurity, managing alliance relationships, and tensions related to international trade. The Hoover Institution International Seminar also featured presentations of primary documents and artifacts from the world-renowned Hoover Library & Archives.

A unique feature of the 2023 seminar was its arts and cultural component.

On Monday, the participants listened to a solo oratory performance by actor Michael Monagle, who was cast in the Emmy- and Tony Award–winning drama All The Way. In the Hoover performance, Monagle portrayed the voices of President Abraham Lincoln giving the 1863 Gettysburg Address and President Lyndon Baines Johnson delivering his 1965 inaugural speech. Together these texts conveyed the struggle for racial equality and freedom and the ideal of working toward a more perfect union, as defined in America’s founding principles. That evening also featured a performance of world music by guitarist Freddy Clarke.

During a Wednesday lunch, participants toured the Rodin Sculpture Garden at Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center. Crowning what was intended to be a full humanities experience, participants enjoyed a live variety-show performance of musicians who played songs that communicated the idea of expressing a common humanity as a basis to overcome differences and shared challenges.

In his opening remarks at the show, McMaster underscored the importance of this theme and described what music can teach about society and political life.

He said that harmony has been disrupted and the rhythm of life is off in the United States and in other parts of the world. The cause of this discordance, he explained, is identity politics and reified postmodernist philosophies conflicting with new forms of populism and old forms of racism. Further, many democracies are experiencing internal divisions, and their citizens have lost confidence in their common values that are integral to building a better world.

“Coming together requires empathy. Playing upon each other’s unique strengths, we can more confidently advance the cause of freedom,” McMaster concluded.

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