USIP leaders explain the effect that events around the world and here at home will have on the U.S., and the contributions the Institute can and does make during a time of tremendous challenge – and opportunity.

This past year offered fresh proof that the world we live in is ever dynamic. Fundamental change can come from something as extraordinary as a fruit vendor’s act of defiance in Tunisia to popular revolts by reform movements across the Middle East. At the same time, a decade of war and the weak U.S. economy dictates that there must be new ways to think about the role the U.S. will play in the world in the coming years.

We asked USIP leaders, from board members to senior staff and experts, to explain the effect that events around the world and here at home will have on the U.S., and the contributions the Institute can and does make during a time of tremendous challenge – and opportunity.

Robin West is the chairman and founder of PFC Energy. He has advised chief executives of leading national and international oil and gas companies on corporate strategy, portfolio management, acquisitions, divestitures and investor relations. West served in both the Reagan and Ford administrations; under Reagan, he was an assistant secretary of the Interior for policy, budget and administration, with responsibility for U.S. offshore oil policy. Under Ford, he was the deputy assistant secretary of defense for International Economic Affairs, and, earlier, was on the White House staff. West became chairman of USIP's board of directors in 2004.

As the weak economy forces Americans to look more inward, larger and perhaps more draconian cuts to foreign affairs budgets are inevitable. What do you think this means for America’s role in the world in the next decade?

The U.S. may no longer be the Colossus that bestrides the globe, but nor is any other country. There has been a rise in other countries, but it’s not something that should alarm us. In the last 50 years, important countries have been transformed into democracies with market based economies. This is a triumph of American values and policies. It’s an opportunity.

If you look at Brazil, Turkey, or Indonesia there are all these countries coming up in the world. They are important, and they all believe they have a role to play. The U.S. should not approach this from a position of fear or inadequacy, it’s simply that the world is changing. These countries are going from childhood to adolescence to maturity. Frankly, I think it’s healthy. We have to be sure that their values and interests are aligned with ours.

What is USIP’s role in all of this? Is that role duplicative, for example, of the Department of State?

President Ronald Reagan said: “peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with conflict by peaceful means.” Our job is to find those means. We’re trying to give to practitioners the necessary tools in a changing world. We are not involved in American diplomacy. Diplomacy is defined as the conduct of relations between governments. But what’s happening is you have all these new forces, often non-state actors. We have a very important role to play to try to understand these people and places and find new means to protect our values and interests, and there really isn’t anybody else who does that. America has to be engaged in the world, but we have to find new, more cost effective ways to do it and that’s precisely what USIP is about. We do not want to compete with the Department of State. That is not our job. We are trying to complement it, and all the other agencies of government, plus important new players such as non-governmental agencies, or NGOs.

Given the political situation in Washington, is the case for USIP to Congress and to taxpayers easier to make or harder to make?

Our critics don’t get it but our friends do. What the Institute does is very important. It boils down to this: we save lives and money, and protect our values and interests. Actually, it is a very cost effective way to find the means to empower the people who are actually going to go out and do it including diplomats and soldiers. I think that for Americans to understand what USIP does in the abstract is difficult. When it can demonstrate specifically what it has done, it’s pretty impressive. In the end, the Institute of Peace is about the means, it’s the practical realities.

In a world in which “persistent conflict” is a term of art often used within national security circles in the U.S., should Americans recalibrate their notion of peace?

Yes and no. Recent studies show that fewer people have been killed violently than any other period in mankind. There are still conflicts and there are some very nasty places in the world. The Reagan quote is very useful. There is always going to be conflict, but the questions are, how do you avoid violence or if you go to war, how do you end it and win the peace? No think tank does what we do.

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  • Global Change, Peacebuilding and USIP
    USIP leaders explain the effect that events around the world and here at home will have on the U.S., and the contributions the Institute can and does make during a time of tremendous challenge – and opportunity.

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