Secretary of State discusses U.S. role in increasingly complex world

John Kerry speaks to students during Institute of Politics event

Mark Peters
News Director and Social Sciences SpecialistUniversity Communications

Author Walter Isaacson ended his public conversation at the University of Chicago with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry early, in order to take questions from students who had rushed to the microphones to ask about international policy.

Kerry fielded inquiries on Afghanistan and the future of U.S. power, climate change and intricacies of the Iran nuclear agreement, during an Oct. 26 event hosted by the UChicago's Institute of Politics. Long lines stretched down the aisles of Mandel Hall for a chance to get the secretary’s views on global diplomacy and international affairs.

“It’s not every day I get to ask the secretary of state a question,” said Sid Sachdeva, a third-year in the College, before asking about the future of military force in U.S. foreign policy.

Stepping to the microphone before him was Ronen Schatsky, whose question emerged from some reading he had done over breakfast. The first-year from New York City asked whether Kerry thought moves by recently elected Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to associate more with Russia and China—and less with the U.S—could influence the behavior of U.S. allies in the region.

Kerry told Schatsky and the audience that he had lunch the day before with an official from the Vietnamese Communist Party, who assured him that the nation wants to be more engaged with the United States. The secretary discussed working closely with other nations in the region and a conversation he recently had with the Philippines’ foreign minister.

“I think that we’ll work through this moment,” said Kerry, adding he doesn’t foresee a move by allies away from the United States.

Schatsky said it was fascinating to hear about the lunch meeting and conversation with the foreign minister and Kerry’s insights into diplomacy. “He was the right guy to ask,” said Schatsky about his interest in the future of the region.

Prior to the questions from UChicago students, Isaacson, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute and author of biographies on Steve Jobs, Henry Kissinger and Albert Einstein, discussed Kerry's background growing up in a divided Germany while his father was in the foreign service.

The secretary of state talked about the clarity of the Cold War compared with the complexity seen in global affairs today. He pointed to evolving technologies, the rapid flow of information and a world that’s less top down, factors that can seen from the fighting in Syria to the unease voters feel in the U.S. presidential race.

“The world today is a much more complicated world than my parents grew up in,” Kerry said. “We need to adjust to that and recognize that. We need to be more engaged, not less engaged with world. Because I’ll tell you, there’s no ‘over there’ anymore. Everyone is connected.”