Home United States Secretary Antony J. Blinken During a Conversation at Rice University’s Baker Institute...

Secretary Antony J. Blinken During a Conversation at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy Moderated by Ambassador David Satterfield

Secretary Antony J. Blinken During a Conversation at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy Moderated by Ambassador David Satterfield
Secretary Antony J. Blinken During a Conversation at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy Moderated by Ambassador David Satterfield

SECRETARY BAKER:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you, all, very, very much.

This is a wonderful program we have for you, and it’s a very special one.  Since its founding in 1993, the Baker Institute has been committed to bringing our nation’s and the world’s leading diplomats to Rice University.

Now, before we begin our program, I want to recognize three people in the audience today who play special roles in making Rice a great university.  First of all, Robert Ladd, the chairman of the Rice board of trustees – (applause) – Matthew Loden, dean of the Shepard School of Music – (applause) – and Paula DesRoches, wife of Rice University president Reginald DesRoches.  (Applause.)

And later this month, at our 30th anniversary gala celebration, we will host former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Hillary Clinton.

Today, we are honored to welcome the current U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.  Secretary Blinken is taking credit for this beautiful rain that we’re receiving today – (laughter) – and I’m delighted to give it to him, because we really needed it.  Secretary Blinken has one of the most thorough resumes of any individual who has ever held that office.  Prior to becoming Secretary of State in January 2021, he served as deputy secretary of state from 2015 to 2017 and then as deputy national security advisor from 2013 to 2015.

From 2009 to 2013, Secretary Blinken was foreign policy advisor to then-Vice President Joe Biden.  He also held a number of senior positions at the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton.

One thing is certain: Given his long association with Joe Biden, our guest possesses the full confidence of the president whom he serves.  I was, of course, privileged to share such a relationship with President George H.W. Bush when I was secretary of state.  I cannot tell you how vital this close relationship between the president and his secretary of state is to the effective conduct of U.S. foreign policy, although the ability to grab sleep on airplanes is a close second.  (Laughter.)

While every U.S. secretary of state faces unique challenges, I think we can all agree that Secretary Blinken has a full foreign policy agenda.  The Russian invasion of Ukraine, which to someone of my generation who remembers Hitler’s dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in 1938 and the failure of the allies to do anything about it, bear an uncanny resemblance to each other.  That’s why I feel that President Biden and Secretary Blinken are absolutely correct in supporting the lethal assistance that America is now giving to Ukraine.  (Applause.)

There are, of course, other global issues that Secretary Blinken must address on a daily basis, including rising tensions with China and the possibility of a Saudi-Israeli normalization in the Middle East.  And all of them occur against the backdrop of ideological polarization and political dysfunction here at home.

Secretary Blinken is an individual with impressive experience, a shrewd strategist and a shrewd strategic sense, and an absolute commitment to public service.  He is, in short, a serious man doing serious work for our country, and it is my honor, ladies and gentlemen, to introduce to you the Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.

Now, he will be having a discussion with the director of the Baker Institute, Director David Satterfield, who is himself an outstanding diplomat.  So, Secretary?  (Applause.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We’ll memorialize this right now.  (Laughter.)  Thank you.

AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD:  Mr. Secretary, thank you for coming to Rice, to the Baker Institute, to Houston, to Texas.  The work we do here, the work we’ve done here over these past 30 years, is focused on local, state, national, and international policy issues that are material to the people of the United States, to their prosperity and security.  And I know that’s the mission of the Department of State as well.

The Baker Institute will be commemorating, as Secretary Baker said, 30 years of its existence.  Now, thirty years is an interesting number to contemplate because just a little over 30 years ago there was a historic inflection point in the world – Eastern Europe freed itself from Soviet domination.  And then a few years later, the Soviet Union collapsed, did away with itself.

There are views that we’re in another inflection point now – the end of the post-Cold War period, which in many ways presents challenges we didn’t face in ’89 to ’91, at that inflection point.  I welcome your thoughts on how diplomacy advances our interests in this extraordinarily challenging and complex world.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you all for being here.  David, a longtime colleague, an extraordinary Foreign Service officer, I think this institute, this university, is incredibly well served to have you at the helm.

And I think it’s appropriate that we’re talking about inflection points because, as it happens, I gave a talk about a week ago, and it focused on precisely the point that David’s making – our conviction that we are at an inflection point right now.  And what do we mean by that?  We mean a point that comes along not every year, not every decade, but every few generations, where the changes are so fundamental and monumental that the decisions that you make in that period will not just shape the next few years, but probably the coming decades.  And this is one of those points.

But it’s particularly appropriate – if I can just take one second on this, David – to be here talking about an inflection point, because as David suggested, the last great inflection point, the end of the Cold War, as it happened, Secretary Baker was at the helm.  And I think it’s safe to say that it’s hard to think of a period when we can say with the same conviction that we had the right man in the right place at the right time.  Secretary Baker’s told me that of all the extraordinary responsibilities he’s held – cabinet secretary twice over, a White House chief of staff twice over, running five presidential campaigns – the job that he loved the most was being secretary of state.  And believe me, I understand that.

But think about what happened in the 43, 44 months that Jim Baker was secretary of state.  The peaceful end of the Cold War; arms control, the existential issue of that time with the Soviet Union; the invasion of Iraq – of Kuwait by Iraq, and the extraordinary work to build an international coalition to counter that; the first time really with the Madrid Conference that peace was on the horizon for the Middle East – all of that happened during Secretary Baker’s watch.

But here’s the point.  It didn’t just happen.  It never just happens.  These moments are a call to leadership, to vision, to an ability to get things done.  And no one better epitomizes that than Jim Baker.  For those of us who’ve had the extraordinary privilege of following in his footsteps, Secretary Baker is the gold standard.  And I think many of us will judge ourselves and our tenure by that standard.  And when it comes to foreign policy, the area that I’ve been focused on, a truly extraordinary administration with President Bush, with Jim Baker, with Brent Scowcroft as national security advisor.

So David, for me, being here, in what we do see ourselves as an inflection point, really resonates because this – the kind of vision that Secretary Baker showed, that President Bush showed, is what we hope to be able to demonstrate now.

And the last thing I’ll say is this.  In these moments of profound change, it’s easy to feel like you’re in a fog.  It’s hard to see the exact contours of what’s actually happening.  But real leaders like Secretary Baker move forward.  They act.  They make decisions.  And I think, as former President Bush said, that’s exactly what Jim Baker was doing.  When others were still trying to understand what was happening, he was acting and he was getting things done.

So that’s what we aspire to, and there’s a lot to talk about when it comes to how we’re dealing with this particular moment, and I’m happy to get into it.

AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD:  Mr. Secretary, in so many ways the promise of those years, ’88 to ’91, were not fully realized, certainly with respect to the future of the new Russia.  Too much of the old Russia —


AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD:  — expansionist, xenophobic, paranoid, imperialist – have resurrected themselves, if they ever in fact had gone away completely.  How do you deal with Putin’s Russia, and how do you deal with the challenge of Ukraine?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I think the first thing is to try to make sure you have a good understanding of what’s actually happening.  And this, to us, is very clear.  Look, if you’re stepping back and looking at the moment we’re in, we have the end of an era, the post-Cold War era.  We have an intense competition that’s underway to actually shape what comes next. One of the competitors is Russia and Putin’s Russia.  And the actions that he’s taken, that they’ve taken, not just in the last year and a half but going back certainly to at least 2014 and arguably before that in Georgia, 2008, 2009, are a demonstration that he rejects the order as it’s been or, for that matter, the maintenance of the basic premises, the basic principles, that define the order – territorial sovereignty, independence.

And it’s important to take stock of that, too, because we were just in New York about a week ago for the annual UN General Assembly – otherwise known as speed dating for diplomats.  And it was a fascinating juxtaposition because, on the one hand, we were intensely focused on trying to get back to something that the United Nations has been trying to advance for well over a decade, and that’s the Sustainable Development Goals.

But what was so powerful about the moment is it was actually a reminder of why the UN came together in the first place: two world wars, an absolute imperative in countries around the world after the Second World War to try to put in place something that would make it less likely, and ideally prevent, another global conflagration.  The UN and those principles that are the very start of the UN Charter, that’s what countries came together to agree upon was necessary to do that.  And of course, it’s been profoundly imperfect ever since.

But, as we both know, by and large, since then and leading through the end of the Cold War, the fundamental objectives – preventing another global conflagration – was achieved.  More than a billion people lifted out of poverty in a more stable international environment.  All of that came forward.  And then we had this moment of intense hope at the end of the Cold War where we thought end of history, and, of course, it hasn’t played out that way.


SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Russia is unfortunately, tragically, a challenge to these basic principles that we feel an obligation to help maintain.  Because when you think about it and you look at what’s happened in Ukraine, I think Americans are offended at the idea of one country simply going in and bullying its neighbor in the way that Russia has done to Ukraine, with the horrific human cost that we’ve seen.  But I think people also understand that if Putin’s allowed to get away with this, if he’s allowed to act with impunity in Ukraine, then the message to would-be aggressors anywhere and everywhere is we can get away with it, too.  And that’s an invitation to a world of conflict.

And we know from our history that that’s usually a world that’s not good for anyone and not good for the United States, because inevitably we get drawn in.  So standing up for these principles, it matters to our own national interest.  It’s not simply because we want to help people in Ukraine who are being aggressed.  It’s because the principles at the heart of the international system are also being aggressed, and if we don’t defend them, we’re going to be opening a Pandora’s box, and we’re going to get a world of hurt that won’t be good for us.

So those are the stakes.  What we’re doing about it is very straightforward.  We have helped to build, I think, an extraordinary international coalition of countries, not just in Europe but well beyond, that are standing with and standing up for Ukraine – military assistance, economic support, humanitarian assistance.  Often in these situations Americans get a little bit frustrated because it seems like we’re carrying so much of the load.  We are.  But in terms of burden-sharing in this particular instance, the rest of the world is doing a remarkable job.  In fact, the assistance being provided by other countries exceeds the assistance that the United States has provided, as significant as that’s been.

So we’re in this with 50 other countries.  And there remains a tremendous determination to see this through, not only to make sure that Ukrainians come out on the right side, but that, in a sense, all the rest of us do, too.  Because again, if we let this go, then we’re opening a world of hurt for many years to come.

AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD:  Mr. Secretary, your point about the challenge to the global order, the rules of the road as we’ve understood them, really not since the end of the Cold War but in many ways since the end of the Second World War.  The challenge Russia poses – and we’ll get to the Chinese challenge in a little bit – I think it’s a profound point, and I think it’s well understood.

But the question comes: If Putin believes that the world, not just the U.S. or the Alliance, NATO, is intrinsically weak, Russia is strong.  We are impatient; Russia is endlessly patient.  We can’t or we won’t absorb pain; Russia knows nothing but pain and can take it indefinitely.  He wins by outlasting and outwaiting us.  How do you counter that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first, David, I think you’re exactly right.  I think, as Putin is looking at this, his objective is to outlast, and he believes that he can.  He can outlast the Ukrainians.  He can outlast all of those supporting Ukraine.  But he’s already made a profound miscalculation, and that has played out in a way that’s been historically detrimental to Russia and its interests, because I think he believed from the outset that no one was going to stand up to the aggression.  And the fact that we did, and the fact that we did that, again not just ourselves but with dozens of other countries, have combined – and of course, the Ukrainians themselves with their extraordinary resilience and courage – have proved to be, I think it’s fair to say, a strategic debacle for Putin and for Russia.

Russia now is weaker militarily.  It’s weaker economically.  It’s weaker diplomatically.  Putin himself is a pariah in much of the world.  He’s managed to precipitate virtually everything he sought to prevent.  We have a NATO that’s not only stronger – which it is – it’s now bigger, with one new member in and another on the way, which would have been unimaginable before this aggression.  The Ukrainian people he’s managed to unite almost in their entirety against Russia for generations.  That was not the case before 2014.  And he’s also managed the incredible feat of weaning Europe off of Russian energy in the space of 18 months.

So already this has been a loss leader for him.  But your point is important because, despite all that, I think he still believes he can outlast.  Our determination is to make clear that he can’t and he won’t.

AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD:  The President, you, all of the administration and alliance leaders have made clear nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine – the just, secure, lasting peace that we seek.  At what point, though, does a political process need to start?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  If there were an opening for diplomacy, if Russia was demonstrating in this moment any semblance of being willing to engage meaningfully in diplomacy and in negotiation, the Ukrainians would be the first to jump at it because they’re on the receiving end of Russia’s aggression, and we would be right with them, and so would many other countries.  The fundamental problem we have goes back to what you mentioned a moment ago, which is Putin’s belief he can outlast.  And as long as he believes that or until he’s disabused of that notion, then it’s unlikely that he’ll be prepared to engage meaningfully in diplomacy to end the aggression.

So in a sense – and it’s almost a little ironic – the quickest path to diplomacy, the quickest path to an end to the war, is making sure that Ukraine has the strongest possible hand and, at the same time, making very clear to Putin by a variety of means that we’re all in this for the long haul.  But what does that mean?  That doesn’t mean simply continuing to do what we’ve been doing for the last 18 months, which has been an extraordinary effort by us and by dozens of other countries.  It means making sure – and this is what we’re going to be moving to – making sure that Ukraine has the ability to effectively deter aggression in the future and to defend itself.

We had a NATO summit recently, and at the very end of that summit there was a meeting that President Biden convened of the G7 countries that were present, the world’s leading democratic economies.  And each of those countries pledged that they would begin to work immediately and directly with Ukraine to help it start to build that force for the future that could deter and defend against aggression.  We now have 29 countries that have signed up to do that.  And that’s a way, over a period of time, that you get to a place that’s sustainable in terms of the support that we and others are providing, and Ukraine can stand on its own militarily.

Same thing happening on the economic side.  A couple of weeks ago, President Biden named a very deeply experienced and effective public official, Penny Pritzker, secretary of commerce for President Obama, but also steeped in the private sector, to lead our efforts on Ukraine’s economic reconstruction and other countries have senior officials doing the same thing.  Here’s the objective:  Ukraine can be a powerful magnet for private sector investment.  It has a lot going for it.  And ultimately, the way to make Ukraine successful economically is to see that investment flowing, start to see the economy really moving, build up your tax base, and as a result, have the means to get off of the need for extraordinary amounts of assistance from other countries or from international banks.  We’re starting that process, too, and I believe that you’ll see that start to take hold.

So it’s a long way of saying that we – not only when we say we’re in this for the long haul do we mean it, but we actually have a plan to be able to do that and do it in a sustainable way.

AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD:  One more question about the tactics to bring home to Putin a need to disbelieve, to lose his belief, he can attrit us all – outlive us, outwait us all.  Is there more we should be doing on the military side, not in terms of quantity, but quality?  And by this I mean the very difficult question of striking Russia on Russian territory or on the high seas.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So a lot goes into this, and I think from day one, President Biden had two North Stars in mind.  One was to make sure that we’re doing everything we possibly can to support Ukraine and to bring other countries along to do the same thing.  But the other is also to avoid being in direct conflict with Russia, because the potential of where that conflict could go is not a place that anyone wants to go and not a place that’s good for the security of the American people.  So navigating those North Stars has been, I think, central to the way he’s approached things.

Having said that, I think what we’ve seen over many months as there have been discussions, debates about one weapons system or another and what we’re providing Ukraine, what’s really important to keep in mind is this:  It’s never simply about a given weapons system, whether it’s an F-16 jet, whether it’s some kind of missile system, whether it’s about an Abrams tank.

What matters as much as the given system is:  Can the Ukrainians use it?  In other words, are they trained on it?  Because much of the technology that we’ve been providing them is technology that they haven’t been using and haven’t been trained on.  So you’ve got to train them because it doesn’t do a lot of good if you get it to them and they can’t use it.  Second, can they maintain it?  A lot of these sophisticated systems, as you know well, require a lot of work to keep them going.  If it breaks down after seven days, it’s not going to do them a lot of good.  And then, is it part of a coherent, comprehensive battle plan to be as effective as it can be?

These are all the factors that we’ve looked at each and every time, and I think with the great work that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is doing, and doing it in coordination with 50 other countries, we’ve been very focused on making sure that to the best of our ability, we get Ukraine what it needs, when it needs it.  But again, what it needs means not just the system but can it use it, can it maintain it, is it part of a larger plan.

At the end of the day, the decisions about how to use that equipment, where to use it, these are decisions for Ukraine to make.  They’re the ones who have to decide how best to defend their country, how best to get back the land that’s been seized from them by Russia.  We leave it to them.

Look, our position has been not to encourage or enable strikes outside of Ukraine, but fundamentally these are Ukraine’s decisions to make.

AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD:  To move on to another, perhaps greater, more complex – and maybe, over the future decades, more meaningful – challenge to U.S. interests: China.  How do you deal with a state which in so many ways – social, economic, political, security-wise – challenges the rules of the road, challenges the global order, and challenges directly in a fashion that impacts the lives of citizens in the U.S., around the world in an almost immediate fashion?  You’ve been there.  You’ve articulated a strategic approach to dealing with China.  I’ll let you put that in your words as to how we not just manage, but shape this issue to minimize disadvantage to the U.S., maximize advantage.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, the first thing to say is you’re exactly right that the fundamental challenge posed by China is that they have the means – military, economic, diplomatic – to pose a challenge to the current understanding of the rules of the road.  And to the extent they have a different perspective on what those rules should be and a different picture of what the future should look like, that is a challenge.  And that’s what I meant by we’re in a moment where we’re in competition to shape what comes after this post-Cold War era.  And the major competition when it comes to that is China, and we don’t shy away from the notion that we’re  in an intense competition.  And as Americans, there’s nothing wrong – and in fact in many ways everything right – with competition, as long as it’s fair and as long as we are properly resourced to succeed in that competition.

So this gets to the foundations of what we’ve tried to put in place to deal with the challenges posed by China.  It starts at home, because our strength at home goes directly to our ability to have a strong standing around the world and to deal with competition from other states.  The investments that we’ve been able to make over the past two and a half years – truly historic in nature: a bipartisan Infrastructure Act, the CHIPS and Science bill, the Inflation Reduction Act which goes to 21st century climate technology and energy technology.  All of these things have given us a much stronger competitive foundation to do the work that we have to do on, and I’m seeing that everyplace I go around the world.  People have seen what we’ve done, and this is a demonstration that America is determined to compete and America is determined to lead.

The other side of the coin is this, and that’s my responsibility, inspired very much by Secretary Baker, and that is to work with other countries – and not just countries; organizations, businesses, nongovernmental actors – to try to build convergence when it comes to the approach that we take to a challenge like China.  And I think it’s fair to say that in this moment, there is greater convergence than there’s been at any time I can think of on that approach when it comes to how we’re looking at it, how key partners in Europe are looking at it, key partners in Asia, and others.

And there is tremendous power in that convergence of approaches, because just take economic issues where we have differences with China; if it’s only the United States that is opposing something that China is doing, well, that’s significant but we’re 20 percent of world GDP.  If we’re aligned with European partners, with key partners in Asia, Japan, Korea, Australia, India, suddenly we’re 50 or 60 percent of world GDP.  And that is a weight that no country, including China, can ignore.  And that’s just in the economic dimension.  We have alignment, convergence with these countries in virtually every dimension of the approach.

Now, having said all that, I think it’s also really important to think about it this way.  I really resist the temptation of putting this on a bumper sticker.  The relationship with China is arguably the most consequential and the most complex of any that we have, and for that matter any that most other countries have.  And there are, as I said, profound aspects of competition.  There are also aspects where we are even more directly contesting, and we will do that wherever we have to.  There are also areas where we’re cooperating, or at least where we should be cooperating because it happens to be in our mutual interests and it answers some of the challenges that countries around the world are facing.

And I don’t think these things are in contradiction.  I think it’s actually possible to do all of them at the same time.  But the common denominator is approaching each of them from a position of strength, and that strength starts with our investments and our strength at home and our ability to work in alignment with many other countries around the world.  That’s the heart of what we’re doing.

AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD:  And I want to take that point you made about alignments to a subject you’ve talked about quite a bit, which are what we might call partnerships or alliances fit for specific purposes.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  That’s right.  That’s right.

AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD:  They don’t derogate from extant alliances – NATO, our Pacific partners.  They’re new.  They’re additive.  Tell me how that works.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  David, that’s exactly right.  The way we’ve thought about it is this.  The first instruction that I got from President Biden on taking this job was get out there, roll up your sleeves, and re-engage, re-energize, and as necessary rejuvenate our existing alliances and partnerships.  And we’ve don’t that across the board.  NATO is now in, for a variety of reasons – President Putin certainly helped.


SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you, yes.  But again, this stuff doesn’t just happen.  It does require American engagement and American leadership.  But beyond that, we’ve also done a few things that really amount to what I think of as variable geometry; that is, putting together collections, coalitions, groups of countries of different shapes and sizes to fit a particular issue or solve a particular problem.  And we’ve done that in ways that I think are in some cases new and novel.

And so it starts with the traditional alliances and partnerships, but then it’s sometimes using them in new ways on new issues in cross-cutting ways – cross-cutting on issues, cross-cutting on geography.  If you look at just – again, to stick with Ukraine for a second, if you look at the coalition of countries that’s involved in helping defend Ukraine, it’s not simply the transatlantic community of countries.  We have countries from the far part of the world, Asia in particular, that have been standing up with Ukraine from day one.

And that in and of itself is significant, because it’s broken down some of the silos we’ve had between our European partnerships and our Asian partnerships.  We have different collections of countries geographically that are working now in ways that they haven’t before.  We have something called the Quad with India, with Australia, with Japan that’s trying to deliver positive things for other countries in the region.  We started with vaccines.  We’ve moved now to a whole host of other issues.  So we’ve got that.

The third thing is this, though, and it comes to this question of how do we deal with these – with the other profound challenge of our time?  It’s not only the geopolitical competition that we have.  It’s also the fact that there are a series of transnational challenges, problems that are affecting Americans and affecting people around the world, that no one country can solve alone, even a country as powerful and as strong as the United States.

So whether it is the challenge of global health, manifested through COVID or in a different way now with something like fentanyl and synthetic opioids, whether it’s climate, whether it is the extraordinary need for infrastructure around the world, whether it’s the imperative of reforming the international financial system – in each of these instances and more, what we’ve done is we’ve brought together groups of interested countries that have both the intent and the ability and the resources to make a difference.

I’ll give you one quick example.  I mentioned synthetic opioids, fentanyl.  It’s afflicted community after community in the United States; torn families apart, torn communities apart.  The number one killer of Americans aged 18 to 49 is fentanyl.  And if you think about that for a second, you have to conclude that this needs to be on the top of anyone’s agenda.

So there are obviously lots of things that we have to do and we are doing here at home to deal with demand, to deal with treatment, to deal with recovery.  There are lots of things that we have to do and we are doing when it comes to our border with Mexico, where much of the fentanyl is coming in.  There is much that we have to do with Mexico itself in Mexico, and we are, to break up the enterprises that are engaged in this.

But here’s the thing.  This is, by definition – and increasingly – a global challenge, because what’s happened is this:  as our own markets become saturated, we’re seeing these enterprises engaged in producing fentanyl and synthetic opioids move to make markets in other parts of the world in Asia, in Europe.  And suddenly, this horrific thing that we’ve been the canary in the coal mine for, other countries are now starting to see this is a problem for us.  And of course, there are other synthetic drugs – Captagon, methamphetamines, tramadol, you name it.  This is a new scourge for countries around the world.

So this summer, the United States brought together what is now a coalition of more than a hundred countries to work on this together – and not simply come together and have a discussion about how terrible this problem is, but actually to set our sights on working together in very concrete ways to get at it.  Because for example, a big part of the problem is the production of precursors that go into the manufacture of fentanyl or other synthetic opioids that are perfectly legal but then get diverted into the illicit purpose of making these drugs.  And some of that’s happening in China, and then it winds up in Mexico and winds up in the United States.

We have countries now that have come together to look at how we can effectively work together to disrupt, stop the illicit manufacture of synthetic opioids, how we can come together to look at what new trends are and what’s coming around the corner that we have to get ahead of, and how we can work together effectively to deal with the public health aspect of this, and you’ve got countries that are literally rolling up their sleeves, getting together in working groups, and finding solutions.

At the end of the day, I think that the possibilities for diplomacy here and actually helping be a big part of the solution are real, significant, and imperative.  And it’s just one of the ways that we’re, again, in novel ways bringing countries together.

AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD:  You’re going to be traveling shortly to Mexico City on exactly, I’m sure, these issues —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  That’s certainly on the agenda.

AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD:  — plus others which are very close to the hearts, the wallets, the concerns —


AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD:  — of Texans and people in this city.  What do you hope to achieve in Mexico City?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So you all know this better than anyone because you live it more than most Americans every day:  The relationship with our neighbor is arguably the most important we have in terms of the practical impact that it has on the lives of our citizens every day, in so many good ways but also in a number of very challenging ways.  Mexico is now our largest trading partner in the world as of a couple of weeks ago.  That’s incredibly powerful.  The movement back and forth between our countries to do good things is a daily reality for so many of us, and our lives are intertwined.

But at the same time, we know that bad things come with it, and in both directions: drugs coming into this country, the challenge of migration which I’ll come to in a minute; but also, if you’re on the Mexican side of the border, the guns that are going into Mexico that are used by criminal enterprises, the financing and the money that also goes and supports these cartels.  We have a mutual responsibility to work together to deal with these challenges.  It can’t – it’s not a one-way street, it’s a two-way street.

When it comes to migration, I think it’s very important to put it in perspective, not by way of excuse but by way of reality.  I’ve been working on these issues for 30 years.  This moment when it comes to migration is something totally aberrational in terms of the historic import that it has.  We have more people around the world who are on the move, forcibly displaced for one reason or another from their homes, than at any time since we’ve been keeping the numbers on it.  More than a hundred million people; in our own hemisphere between 20 and 25 million people on the move.

It used to be that when there was a migration crisis, it tended to be one – maybe one source country at a time.  Maybe it was Haiti.  Maybe it was Cuba.  Maybe it was Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador, the so-called Northern Triangle countries.  Now it’s all of the above, plus Venezuela, plus Nicaragua, plus Ecuador.  And on top of that, we’re seeing an upsurge in migrants who are coming from entirely other parts of the world through our own – countries of our own hemisphere toward Mexico and toward the United States.

So the dimensions of this are unlike anything we’ve ever seen.  And here again the response has to be one of shared responsibility among many countries.  It can’t simply be the United States and/or even the United States and Mexico alone.

So one of the things that we’ve done is we had a Summit of the Americas; we brought together all the countries in the hemisphere in Los Angeles a year and a half ago.  And out of that came something called the Los Angeles Declaration, which for the first time is an expression of shared responsibility for migration in our hemisphere.  And what do we mean by that?  We mean that each country – and that’s pretty much everyone in the hemisphere that’s either a country of origin, a country of transit, or a country of destination – has things it has to do if we are going to make migration safe, humane, and orderly, which we have to do.

And what we’ve been doing since is working individually with country after country to translate that sense of responsibility into very practical things.  So for example, some countries are building up their own amnesty programs so that the only place that people go is not to the United States to seek amnesty.  We’re helping them do that.  But as they are able to take in more people through amnesty, that’s fewer people who are going to come to our border seeking it.  We have countries that we’re working with to better enforce their own laws and not simply allow a fluid transit north.  We have countries that we’re seeking to make sure are willing to repatriate people who have tried to come north and have been stopped, in other words to take them back.  We’re working with countries to expand their own legal pathways to migration, as we’re rightly doing here, so that people have outlets in those countries.  And all of this together, plus the work that we’re doing very specifically with Mexico, is a big part of the answer.

But the problem is, again, in proportions that we haven’t seen.  This is not my direct area of responsibility, but of course, our own border demands – requires – more resources.  We have an asylum system that is, in many ways – and this has been the case for years now – overwhelmed by demand.

Now, one of the things that we’ve done as well is to set up something that we found a great government term for – Safe Mobility Offices.  These are places in partner countries in the hemisphere where someone can go to determine whether they have the ability to come to the United States legally.  They can find out if they qualify for one of the legal pathways – for example, a worker or a labor visa, family reunification, one of our parole programs.  And they can do that right there in their own countries, so instead of making the incredibly hazardous journey to our border, putting themselves in the hands of the trafficker, leaving everything behind and not knowing what’s going to happen, they can make a determination about whether they actually can be entitled to come into the United States legally.

And nine out ten people – maybe ten out of ten people – given the choice between being here legally and trying to come by some other method will choose the first option.  But you have to give them an opportunity to do that.  That also has the potential to take pressure off of the border.

So we’re looking at this comprehensively.  I have to say – tell you this, David.  In my own experience, the work that we’re doing with Mexico, the partnership that we have with Mexico, for all of the challenges, has actually never been stronger.  I think we’re finding that there is a strong intent and, as a practical matter, an effect of working together cooperatively on this.  But even the two of us doing that is insufficient to the problem.

AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD:  Mr. Secretary, we can keep you for a very long time.  But I have one student question for you, and in many ways it’s a meta question.  How do you balance, how do you attempt to square the circle, between the promotion, advocacy of American values, freedoms, and liberties, human rights abroad, and diplomacy that must, in the end, look at other factors – national security interests, commercial and trade issues?  How do you, as the premier diplomat of the United States, try to put all of those into the policies you advocate, you conduct?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  It’s a great question, and I think it’s one that you’ve grappled with in your career —


SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — that in many ways generations of diplomats have had to grapple with.  Here’s the way I see it.  I don’t think it’s either/or.  I don’t think it’s zero sum.  To me, to us, human rights are a national interest.  It’s not national interest versus human rights.  Human rights are part of the national interest.  And why is that?  Because leaving aside what we believe is good and right and moral, the simple truth is that countries that actually respect the rights of their citizens are countries that are likely to be more successful, that are likely not to be engaged in conflict, that are likely not to need bailouts from us or the international community for a failing economy, that are not going to be sources of migration because people are fleeing repression or conflict, and so on down the line.

So it’s the right thing to do.  It’s also the smart and necessary thing to do.  The challenge is how to do it and how to do it effectively.  And what I’ve found is there’s no one-size-fits-all policy.  It is very country-specific and very issue-specific, and there are times and places where the public admonition, sanctions, other pressure, building coalitions to deal with the abuse of human rights, is the necessary thing to do.  There are other times where quiet diplomacy can actually advance the ball and make a difference.

It’s frustrating, because it’s never like flipping a light switch.   It’s always – almost always – going to be a process.  And sometimes you won’t see the progress until suddenly, after some period of time, it’s actually there.

So one could go down a list of countries and look at what we’ve done or haven’t done in different places, other administrations have done or haven’t done.  But I think the bottom line is that we have to see this, in my judgment, as a key part of the national interest, and we have to approach it in a way that is not simply here’s our reflexive response to how to advance human rights.  It really does matter where it is, what tools we have, what partners we have, and judgments that we have to make about the best way to advance it.  And of course no one’s judgments are infallible, to say the least.

And there’s something else that’s at play here too, I think.  People sometimes ask me, given some of the challenges we’re facing at home, how can you go and talk about democracy, human rights, when we’re manifestly facing some of our own challenges in this very moment?  And in a funny way, the challenges that we have are actually a source of strength, not in the challenges themselves but in the way that we deal with them because it remains a profound difference between the United States and so many other countries.

And the difference is this:  Faced with these internal challenges, we don’t pretend that they don’t exist.  We don’t try to sweep them under the rug.  We don’t ignore them. We confront them.  We deal with them, even when it is painful, even when it is ugly, as is unfortunately the case.  And it’s in the trying, in the confronting, in the acknowledgment, that at least up till now in our history we’ve managed to get to a better place and we’ve managed to grow stronger and somehow come together.

And so what I’m able to say to other countries around the world is, look, everything that’s happening here is open and transparent for the entire world to see, and you can see how we’re grappling with it.  At the very least we can ask you to do the same, not necessarily solving the problem immediately but acknowledge it.  Deal with it.  Confront it.  You all know – we all know because we grow up with this – that our founders sought a more perfect union.  And by definition, that means that we will always be imperfect.  But we will always be striving, always be trying, to get to that point of perfection.  That’s the story of the country.  But it remains an incredibly resonant story around the world as long as people see us trying to do it here at home.

AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD:  Mr. Secretary, great answer.  Thank you.  It’s our honor, our privilege, to have you here.  You have handled some very tough questions; there are a lot of others out there for another occasion.  But I want to thank you.  Thank you for your public service.  Thank you for being our premier diplomat.

I will have one closing comment, though.  We’re speaking at the School of Music.  This is a performance hall.  And while we’re always happy to have you come back to address foreign policy issues, we would certainly hope, with a different acoustical arrangement, we can get you here to do some Chicago blues – (cheers) – and some guitar riffs.  (Applause.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I have too much respect for this audience – (laughter) – to inflict a human rights violation on any of you.  But we did have a wonderful event at the State Department the other day.  We’re engaged in something called Music Diplomacy, using music as a tool of our diplomacy.  We’ve done it for generations, sending American musicians around the world, connecting with people through music.  It’s incredibly powerful because what I’ve found is it transcends almost any barrier.  It really is a common human language.

So we had this wonderful event the other night at the department for the new program of Music Diplomacy.  But here’s the thing:  The event was running long, and I thought the quickest way to get people out of the room would be to go on stage myself.  (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD:  Muddy Waters would have been proud.


AMBASSADOR SATTERFIELD:  Great job.  Thank you so much for coming.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  Thank you. (Applause.)

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-during-a-conversation-at-rice-universitys-baker-institute-for-public-policy-moderated-by-ambassador-david-satterfield/