“How many students here are in international relations?”
The hands of almost every Northwestern student in the Buffett Institute's conference room shot up in response to the speaker’s question.
A group of about 20 intrigued students and faculty joined the U.S. Ambassador to Georgia, Ian Kelly, Wednesday evening in a roundtable discussion of the divide between the Eastern World (think Russia, the Middle East, etc.) and the Western World (England, United States, etc). Ambassador Kelly, an alumnus of Northwestern's Graduate School, got comfortable at his alma mater, taking off his jacket to converse at the Global Cafe event, a series hosted by the International Studies department.
“I got into [diplomacy] was because I really wanted to be on the front lines of the East-West conflict,” Kelly said. “I was appalled by the system that we saw [in Russia]. It really struck me as the most oppressive system because of the economy and the control of the media.”
After a long period of serving in a number of high-level roles with the State Department, Kelly came to Northwestern in 2013 to teach, thinking he would stay for a while.
“I love teaching, and the plan was to kind of go off into the sunset and teach here,” he said. “Then Ukraine happened, and I realized there was a new East-West conflict. I wanted to be back on the front lines.”
Kelly’s discussion of policies within Russia, Ukraine and Georgia especially appealed to Allison Kaminsky, a junior majoring in international relations and theatre. This was her first time attending a Buffett Institute event.
“I went to Russia [a few years ago] with my family and thought it was an interesting place,” Kaminsky said. “It’s interesting to hear about the relationship with these countries and the Western world.”
Aside from specific policies and agreements held by former soviet states, Kelly discussed his role as an ambassador. Though there are a number of people within the EU and NATO who do not want to include new countries in their organizations given the rise in international security threats, Kelly said he thinks it is in their best interest to listen to Georgia’s desires to join the alliances.
“I’m very pleased that as ambassador, I can sum up our foreign policy in one phrase,” he said. “We are there to support Georgia’s sovereign decision to join the Euro-Atlantic community.”
The ambassador said Georgia is the furthest along of the former Soviet states in reforming its government, so by assisting the country financially and militarily, the U.S. can have an impact on changing the politics of the region.
“The lights of democracy are flickering all over,” Kelly said. “In some places they’re completely out. But Georgia is burning fairly bright.”
In light of Trump’s recent all-but-definite nomination for the GOP bid, Kaminsky wondered what would happen to the region if he was elected.
“We’re still eating here!” Kelly joked. “Those of us that want to try and preserve as much as we can the international system of norms are absolutely appalled by some of the things that Trump says.”
He went on to discuss some of the Trump policies he found most disturbing, like those which could sever alliances with other free states, but muttered to himself to “shut up,” evoking a big laugh from his audience.
Before leaving, Kelly gave advice to the students interested in pursuing careers in foreign policy. Namely, he said, study languages. He thinks Northwestern students are in a better place than most in their path to the State Department, but it’s becoming more difficult to be hired right after college.
“They want you to have more experience.”
Thanks to Kelly, however, interested students may just have an “in.”
Editor's note 5/9: A previous version referred to the event as part of the Buffett Institute's Global Cafe. The Global Cafe series is actually hosted by the International Studies department. NBN regrets this error.