An Interview with Fletcher School Dean James G. Stavridis

by Forum Staff

Admiral James G. Stavridis, USN (Ret) is the 12th Dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy having assumed his duties in July 2013. He is the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO (2009-2013), and holds both a MALD and a Ph.D. from The Fletcher School.

In an interview with The Fletcher Forum, Dean Stavridis discusses the future of diplomacy, twenty-first century security, and provides shrewd advice to young professionals pursuing careers that navigate the challenges of today’s globalized world.  

FLETCHER FORUM: You are joining us as the 12th Dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy during our school’s 80th anniversary. In your view, how is or how should The Fletcher School grow and evolve to meet the unique and ever-changing global challenges of our time?

STAVRIDIS: As to the future of the school, we have just this month embarked on a year-long strategic planning effort, the first since 2004. This study will produce a plan based on broad input from alumni, students, faculty, and administrators. It will be published in November-December of 2014, and will address growth, curriculum, facilities, student life, diversity, and other key topics.

FLETCHER FORUM: The “D-word” in our school’s name is seeing an impressive resurgence in utility and power in recent months. Indeed, diplomacy has been bearing fruit in Syria, where we are seeing chemical weapons disarmament. We are also witnessing an unprecedented détente between the United States and Iran, as their respective leaders recently spoke on the phone for the first time since 1979. What role do you think diplomacy plays in solving some of our world’s most pressing problems, and what do you think the future of diplomacy is in today’s globalized world?

STAVRIDIS: I think in the long throw of history, diplomacy is a more powerful tool than military action. We are seeing that over the past fifty years since the end of World War II. Despite many smaller conflicts around the world, we have avoided major bloodshed on the scale of events in the twentieth century. Diplomacy has helped solve problems in Central America, Northern Ireland, the Balkans, and Colombia—although in each of those areas there is still work to be done. Over time I am very hopeful that diplomacy will help with conflicts in Iraq, Syria, North and South Korea, and Afghanistan. It remains an integral part of a nation’s tool kit (along with development, defense, economics, finance, and so forth).

FLETCHER FORUM: One of the unique economic and national security challenges we face as a global community is cybersecurity. We have witnessed computer sectors in critical sectors of the U.S. economy and others being increasingly targeted. In your view, how might the United States adapt and defend to a growing cyber threat?

STAVRIDIS: In the world of cyber, we have a great deal of work to do. I believe we need a national, civilian authority to focus on cyber, perhaps modeled on the Federal Reserve. In the military venue, we need a military cyber force, just as we have an Air Force. And we should examine splitting command of the NSA and the military entity CYBERCOM. We need appropriate education and development projects for the nation, and education will ultimately get a significant overhaul as we “flip the classroom” and use cyber to deliver content educationally. All of this should include international, inter-agency, and private-public cooperation. So we should roll up our sleeves and get to work.

FLETCHER FORUM: As is evident from the increasing cyber threat in today’s world, the concept of security in the twenty-first century is changing. How do you imagine the future of global security, and how do you think our approach to security can or should change to confront the unique challenges we face?

STAVRIDIS: Twenty-first Century Security is about building bridges, not walls.  The walls of twentieth century security—the Berlin Wall, the Iron Curtain, the Bamboo Curtain, the DMZ—have failed. Only by connecting internationally, through the inter-agency, and via private-public partnerships can we build bridges and create collective security. The fusion of Defense, Diplomacy, and Development is at the heart of this concept here in the United States and should be the basis of our approach.

FLETCHER FORUM: We are proud and humbled that you have joined us at The Fletcher School as Dean this year. As a Fletcher alumnus yourself, in what ways do you think The Fletcher School is uniquely positioned to train future global leaders?

STAVRIDIS: The real heart of the Fletcher style is multi-disciplinary work—fusing a curriculum that is essentially hand-tailored for each student from over 150 course offerings in security, development, economics, finance, international law, diplomacy, and many other facets of international relations. It is also the merger of a huge diversity among our student body, with fifty-nine nations represented this year alone. On our vibrant campus, so many different backgrounds and views are represented—giving rise to informed debate. All of this produces twenty-first century leaders who are ready to graduate and change the world.

FLETCHER FORUM: Given your distinguished career in public service, what knowledge or experience would you share with aspiring public servants and young professionals as we embark upon and navigate our careers?

STAVRIDIS: To all who seek to improve the world, bring humility and check your ego at the door; live as a servant to others to be a good leader; and know your own skills and limitations. Constantly seek to improve yourself by reading, thinking, writing, and publishing. Communicate boldly and be unafraid in sharing your ideas.

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