Christopher Hill, former assistant secretary of state and U.S. ambassador, discussed current topics in foreign policy, such as ongoing peace settlements for conflicts in Syria and North Korea, at the Ford School of Public Policy Monday evening.
Hill was nominated as an ambassador by three presidents, most recently serving as the U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2009 to 2010. He also helped bring an end to the Bosnian War through the Dayton Accords peace agreement in 1995, an agreement which he said could be applicabble to current global conflict.
While Hill noted it was not a complete success in helping bring about political change, he said he’s proud of the Accords in helping to end a violent and horrific conflict.
“There were 200,000 people killed in the Balkans, there were rape camps and all kinds of hideous things that had to be stopped,” Hill said.
Speaking to to ongoing situations with Syria, North Korea, China and Iran today, he said there were parallel that could be drawn.
Hill said after negotiating an end to the Bosnian conflict, he learned that a key to reaching agreements is a willingness to work and negotiate with all different parties involved. He added that though it’s not always fun, to reach peace conflicting parties must communicate with each other.
Touching on his experiences serving as the U.S. ambassador to South Korea and assistant secretary of state, Hill said though North Korea was one of the most difficult countries he dealt with as a diplomat, he thought the United States still needed to attempt to make agreements with the country.
“These are people only a mother can love; I have never had such an unpleasant experience as I did with North Korea,” Hill said.
He added that while over half of the people in the Republican Party today refuse to negotiate with North Korea, he commends former President George W. Bush for opening up diplomatic relations with them during his tenure.
Nuclear weapons, Hill said, is the biggest challenge for U.S. diplomacy today.
“Look at Hiroshima, could we handle another Hiroshima in this world? I don’t think so,” Hill said. “I think the issue is how to stop these nuclear wannabes.”
China could play a role in putting pressure on North Korea and their nuclear program, Hill noted. However, he stressed that the United States needs to be more transparent with China for them to consider potentially imposing heavier sanctions against North Korea.
Speaking to the current civil war in Syria involving President Bashar al-Assad, the rebels and ISIS, Hill cautioned the audience against harshly criticizing people working to obtain peace in the country.
“I think Syria is a hideous situation, probably even worse than Bosnia was,” Hill said. “It’s easy to be critical of the people working on it, but you’ve got to understand the degree of difficulty that they have to contend with.”
Hill stressed the need for the political parties of the United States to pull together and propose a bipartisan plan to reach peace in Syria.
When asked his opinion on the recently implemented nuclear deal with Iran, Hill said while the deal does limit Iran’s nuclear capability, it also unfreezes Iranian assets that they could use to support terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah.
In closing, Hill talked about how enjoyable and fulfilling it was to serve as a diplomat, and encouraged students not to be afraid of pursuing a career with the State Department.
“There’s no country in the world that’s more fun to defend than the United States,” Hill said. “American diplomacy should be something that we do, and do very well.”
Public Policy senior Madeline Hartlieb said she attended the talk because she is interested in foreign policy and pursuing diplomacy in the future.
“Just to hear how outspoken (Hill) was, especially given how morbid the foreign policy scene can seem — I would definitely say that it was inspiring,” Hartlieb said.
Public Policy junior Swathi Shanmugasundaram said she enjoyed hearing Hill speak because of his career experience and her own interest in foreign policy.
“It’s easy to get down on yourself and your career path, especially as an undergraduate student and seeing everyone pass you,” Shanmugasundaram said. “But to hear Ambassador Hill talk about how his career started and how it’s flourished is awesome, because you think ‘Wow, maybe I can do that too.’ ”