GOP's Chuck Hagel opens CU's World Affairs Conference

By Kathrine Warren

The 61st annual Conference on World Affairs kicked off in Boulder this week with a nice dose of Republican energy as Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel delivered the keynote speech to a packed Macky Auditorium.

Bruce Benson, left, Chuck Hagel, Marcy Benson and CWA Director Jim Palmer catch up prior to Hagel’s keynote address to kick off the 61st Conference of World Affairs at the University of Colorado at Boulder on Monday.
Photo by Kathrine Warren/The Colorado Statesman

Hagel’s speech, “21st Century International Relations,” stressed the need for engagement based on common interests rather than on differences.

“In this new world, we are defining the early part of the 21st century — which is defining new relationships, new centers of gravity and new geopolitical influences,” he said.

Stressing the difference between engagement and appeasement, Hagel pointed to President Barack Obama’s participation in the G-20 summit as an example of successful engagement.

During his 12 years representing Nebraska in the Senate, Hagel served on the Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees. He now serves as chairman of the Atlantic Council of the United States, a job that recently took him to Russia to work on a commission on U.S.-Russian bilateral relations.

He cited the historian Arnold J. Toynbee, who worked from the premise that all civilizations face “challenge and respond” — a commonality that, according to Hagel, “determines the fate of all people and all societies.”

Bruce Benson and his wife, Marcy, watch Chuck Hagel’s keynote address at Macky Auditorium on Monday.
Photo by Kathrine Warren/The Colorado Statesman

“Every society is challenged, and how they respond not only determines the outcome of that episode but it also sets an order,” Hagel said.

Hagel said that once or twice each century, a new world order must be created, and that a post-9/11 new order has yet to emerge. He pointed to the creation of such international institutions as NATO and the United Nations after World War II as an example of such reorientation.

“From that time, the new world order was based on common interest,” he said. “We saw a world for the most part do pretty well. There was no World War III or nuclear exchanges.”

However, he noted, certain parts of the world, including the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa were left out of the post WWII equation.

“For the next 25 years, we’re going to have to focus on those parts of the world, using all the instruments of power, diplomacy, engagement, development, trade, intelligence gathering and sharing and a strong military,” he said.

The procession kicking off the 61st annual Conference on World Affairs at CU was led by president Bruce Benson, left, Chuck Hagel, Roger Ebert and other conference participants, employees and volunteers.
Photo by Kathrine Warren/The Colorado Statesman

Hagel stressed that this can be achieved through strong leadership and strong institutions. He also said this new form of international relations will require the participation of individuals who are trying to make a difference in their world.

He commended the conference attendees.

“What’s encouraging, as a father of two children is ... that over 2,000 of you would come together to open up a conference that is going to explore so many dimensions of our lives, our futures and our international relations,” he said.

He then took questions from the audience, many of which focused on Iraq, Afghanistan and Hagel’s potential role in the current financial crisis.

“Please, no shoe-throwing,” he joked.

Conference director Jim Palmer said that most people enjoyed the question and answer part of the address.

“We’ve had different responses, as you might expect, from different constituencies, depending on different expectations people carried into it,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

Palmer said Hagel was chosen to kick off the conference because of his range of experience in the Senate.