On Monday, Ambassador Richard Boucher delivered a lecture to students at the Ford School of Public Policy Monday, addressing the United States’ changing role as a world leader and how the rise of social networking and new technologies have affected modern diplomacy.
Boucher’s tenure as assistant secretary of state for public affairs at the U.S. Department of State was the longest in history. After earning a B.A. from Tufts University and doing graduate work at George Washington University, he worked as an ambassador to Cyprus and U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong. He also served as the spokesman of the Department of State for six secretaries of state, including Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright.
In his lecture, Boucher said the power of the Internet has changed the dynamics of international diplomacy. He said the United States wields the most power internationally, not only due to its large army and reach in foreign markets, but also through its global connectivity through branding and culture exporting.
“We no longer live in a world of blocks and paths, we live in a world of nodes and connections,” Boucher said. “In our world, everyone’s connected. Countries and teenagers, NGOs and corporations, students in universities and parents. Traditional measures of power don’t capture the changing nature in the power of diplomacy.”
For the United States to stay a leader in international relations, Boucher said it must make its actions open to the modern media and accessible for citizens to build credibility around the world because “trust is what turns power into influence.”
The ambassador said the United States can better the world if they “stop trying to be Mr. Fix-It,” and instead give the people of other nations the tools to fix their own countries. During the lecture, he used his iPhone to show the audience an app that monitors air quality in Beijing. By making this information clear and accessible, the United States gave the Chinese citizens the spark they needed to pressure the government into bettering their lives, according to Boucher.
“I have to say, I think our best diplomacy is diplomacy where we put the tools in other people’s hands,” Boucher said.
Public Policy Dean Susan Collins introduced the ambassador, lauding his extensive career and breadth of expertise in his field. In her opening remarks, she said the rise of social media has changed the relationship between the public and the government, but that Boucher is “no stranger” to addressing these influences on in American governmental affairs.
“Having somebody with his breadth of experience at the high levels of the tenure, who is now out of office and can be candid, that’s a real opportunity,” Collins said after the talk.
Boucher currently teaches two classes at the Ford School through the Towsley Foundation Policymaker in Residence Program, which brings experts in the field of national or international policymaking to work with students and University faculty members.
Public Policy graduate student Kiana Shelton, who is currently enrolled in a seven-week course taught by the ambassador called “Wielding Economic Power,” said she appreciated Boucher’s wit and extensive knowledge in foreign relations both in class and during the lecture on Monday.
“It was very candid and had a bit of humor to it, but it is highlighting something that is extremely important – the world is getting smaller via technology, how we get along with different countries, we’re not sending cables anymore,” Shelton said. “We have the ability to respond and react at anytime no matter what.”