Hoover Institution (Stanford University) – Before a full crowd of mostly students in the Hoover Institution's Hauck Auditorium, Secretary of State Antony Blinken engaged in a conversation with his predecessor Condoleezza Rice on a broad spectrum of issues impacting the security and prosperity of the United States and like-minded partners, including aggression by Russia and China against the post–Cold War security architecture, and how the free world can best grapple with challenges resulting from the rapid pace of technological innovation.
During the program, which was introduced by former secretary of defense James Mattis, Blinken reflected on the Biden administration's new national security strategy. As Blinken explained, the document underscores the importance of deterring Russian aggression, especially regarding Russia's ongoing assault on Ukraine.
Blinken said that although the Biden administration had hoped, in the tradition of its predecessors, for a stable and predictable relationship with Russia, President Vladimir Putin has been, and continues to be, a major disruptor in Eastern Europe and more broadly to international security.
In response to a question by Secretary Rice as to why Americans should care about wars that occur in faraway lands rather than place one hundred percent focus on matters of more immediate domestic concern, Blinken said that international rules and norms would be seriously undermined if a large country could with impunity redraw borders by force and subjugate a sovereign people against their will.
In upholding the liberal order, he argued that, although international institutions are far from perfect, they have been integral to helping prevent global conflict. As an example, he pointed to the UN General Assembly's overwhelming rebuke of Russia's annexations of Ukrainian territory.
"An extraordinary thing happened, 143 countries around the world stood up in opposition to the annexations, a sham referendum that Russia had used as justification," Blinken said. "That in and of itself is a powerful indicator of where the world actually is now on Russian aggression."
Blinken also explained how Beijing has challenged the liberal order that emerged at the end of the Cold War, as well as the nature of the Sino-American relationship that was forged half a century ago during rapprochement. He maintained that although there are adversarial features of the relationship that need to be managed, they shouldn't overshadow areas of cooperation in which the two nations can reap benefits for the global commons.
These issues include climate change and proliferation of infectious diseases. Of the former, Blinken explained that the United States is only as strong as the world's weakest link. Americans are responsible for 15 percent of global emissions. Using diplomatic tools at its disposal, the US needs to work with China and other major countries throughout the world to do their part in reducing greenhouse gases. Similarly, Blinken said, without singling out any one nation for mishandling their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world depends on a more coordinated public health response between the US and China to mitigate the deadly effects of infectious diseases, which are unconstrained by borders.
Blinken is, however, concerned by the detrimental effects of Beijing's aggression toward Taiwan. A conflict over Taiwan would cause an enormous global crisis—not least because of the enormous volume of commercial maritime traffic that passes through the strait, but also because of the disruption it would cause to semiconductor production, which industries and consumers across the world rely on as an essential component for various electronic devices and computing systems.
"I hope Beijing will come back to a place where it actually sees the merits in making sure that differences are peacefully resolved [and] that it doesn't try to force things through coercion, [or] even worse, through force," Blinken said.
Blinken described how the United States is present in international consortiums that establish norms that govern technology. He said that for the State Department, being at the table means that US leadership, in partnership with nations with a shared commitment to peace and prosperity, can help formulate technology policies that respect privacy, protect human rights, and bolster security. To this end, he says, Foggy Bottom has been active in the US-EU Trade and Technology Council to ensure the two major economic powers are closely aligned on areas ranging from export controls and investments made by foreign actors in industries impacting national security, to the fortification of critical supply chains, including the development of semiconductors.
Blinken maintains that these and other frameworks in which the US is actively involved are intended not only to increase technological competitiveness, but to do so in a manner that isn't to the detriment of any one nation, or to workforces, the natural environment, or ownership of intellectual property.
"Competition, when it's fair and it's a race to the top, is good. That's what our own system is all about," Blinken said.
In support of American competitiveness, Blinken also emphasized the importance of increasing America's capacity for innovation on the home front. He hailed the recent passage of the CHIPS Act, which facilitated funds for research and development as well as manufacturing to overcome the scarcity of the much-coveted semiconductor technology. He also praised investments made in green innovation under the Inflation Reduction Act.
Blinken explained that this year, in a matter of six months, the State Department established a bureau of cyber and digital policy under the leadership of former tech executive Nathaniel Fick, who was present at the Hoover event today.
Blinken also maintained that Washington and Silicon Valley needed to continue to engage effectively. In an appeal to his Stanford audience, Blinken said that the diplomatic community needed more talent to better understand technology and to support ways that it can be used to foster peace and prosperity.
"I am here to proselytize too," Blinken said, amusingly. "We want you. We need you at the department. This is an opportunity to pursue so many of the things you've been studying, working on, or are passionate about, but to do so, for those of you that are American, for your country."
In addition to the conversation with Secretary Rice, Secretary Blinken also visited SLAC, and attended a Stanford student recruitment event with Ambassador-at-Large Fick, hosted by Stanford Law School (SLS) Dean Jenny Martinez on behalf of the Cyber Policy Center, a collaboration between SLS and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. The event included approximately 100 students for a conversation about STEM career opportunities at the U.S. State Department.