It is, I think, de rigueur for every university to brag about the famous speakers that it attracts to campus. In Georgetown's case, there is actually some merit to this boast: during my time here, we've hosted Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Tony Blair, General Petraeus, and, I am sure, many other instantly recognisable names that I cannot recall. Of course, because my sense of timing is crap -- Blair, ironically, spoke on campus while I was essay crisising at his alma mater, Oxford -- I've managed to miss most of them. When I heard that British Foreign Secretary William Hague was due to speak at Georgetown on November 17 during an afternoon free of classes & other such obligations, I immediately pencilled the event into my diary and showed up to it nice and early. Mostly so that I could snap the following photograph as inconspicuously as possible:
Because I am a hip and forward-thinking citizen of the twenty-first century, I live-tweeted the event -- and managed to get re-tweeted by the British Embassy here in DC in the process, a brush with useless Twitter fame only rivalled by the time Matt Yglesias and I had a brief conversation about sleep -- but, being, in reality, a rather square person, I also took notes with curious implements known as pen and paper so that I could type up a more thorough recap later. Given I am writing this almost two weeks after the speech took place, I am clearly fulfilling the promise of "later."
Hague's speech was entitled "International Security in a Networked World," which is a fancy way of saying really nothing at all. Though he prefaced his talk with a joke about Prince William and Kate Middleton's engagement -- regarding the press coverage surrounding it, he quipped, "Perhaps you're missing [the monarchy] a little" -- and a brief remark about the coalition government ("remarkable general election"), his talk was largely about Britain's place in the current international system. Two general themes emerged. The first was, expectedly, the Anglo-American relationship, which, he argued, remains fundamental to both countries. He furthermore stressed that the UK would never shirk its international responsibilities, hearkening back to the country's "restless and outward looking" orientation.
The second concerned the new configuration of international relations to which Britain must adapt if it is to remain a strong and effective actor in international politics. Hague spoke of strengthening bilateral relations with rising powers like Brazil and China, displaying strong leadership within the EU vis-à-vis Iran and the Balkans, and addressing potential threats in a "far-sighted" and "rounded" manner. Hague concluded by emphasising the need to stand up for British values abroad, noting that influence and leverage in the international system stems from having a moral advantage.
In sum, his speech contained what was more or less standard material, though, as a student of the Georgetown School of Foreign Service -- I usually forget this, as my coursework is typically more mathematical proofs and statistical regressions than foreign policy -- I feel somewhat obliged to provide a marginally knowledgeable opinion on it. In an interesting coincidence, the one debate I attended at the Oxford Union was about the special relationship between the U.S. and UK, so I suppose I will begin there.
I've always been of the (admittedly American) belief that the special relationship matters much more to the Brits than it does to the Yanks, in terms of international affairs, simply because the U.S. looms much greater in general British consciousness than visa versa. In Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson wrote that, in the average Briton's mental conception of world geography, the Atlantic Ocean separating him from the U.S. is literally no bigger than a pond, whereas, for instance, the massive body of water known as the English Channel divorces him from continental Europe. I saw this reflected in the astoundingly widespread coverage that American politics gets in the British press; the most recent general election in the UK partially notwithstanding, I cannot say the same for British politics and the U.S. media. This is not to say that the U.S. and the UK do not share the closest thing that two states can to friendship -- whatever such a concept means in international politics -- but, rather, that there is a clear imbalance within that friendship.
From a Rumsfeldian perspective, that a middling Old European power wants to establish an independent voice in global politics is perhaps laughable, but, given the constraints imposed on Britain's ability to project power abroad, the concept of cultivating good relations with other countries on as broad a scale as possible is quite logical. U.S. foreign policy undoubtedly concerns itself with just about every corner of the world, but, to a certain extent, it can more readily focus itself on a few places at the expense of others (e.g., Yemen) or permit a limited amount of deterioration in its relations with, say, China (if campaign rhetoric in the run-up to the midterm elections was any indication). As a smaller power, Britain lacks this kind of leeway, and the minds behind British foreign policy are acting rather wisely in electing to minimise sources of possible antagonism with other countries.
Anyway, I do believe I've rambled enough for now. Another foreign minister -- that of Turkey -- is speaking at Georgetown later today, but, alas, a prior time commitment prevents me from being in attendance.