"Oxy in the World" Showcases Alumni Foreign Policy Expertise

What are the current challenges and opportunities in the U.S.-Russia relationship?

 

How can international cooperation prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons in rogue states? How does the speed of modern media affect U.S. response to foreign developments? Is China really the business powerhouse of the future?

These were just a few of the foreign policy questions explored by Occidental alumni experts during the "Oxy in the World" symposium held at Johnson Hall on Feb. 19-20. Organized by former CIA analyst Roger George '71 and arms-control expert Gloria Duffy '75 in honor of politics professor Larry Caldwell's 44 years of teaching at Occidental, the symposium brought 15 of Caldwell's former students together for a day of panel discussions. Topics included: "Wary Partners: The U.S. and Russia," "International Security: New Challenges, New Responses," "Diplomacy and Development: Softer Power," and "The Dynamic Global Business Environment."

Reflecting Caldwell's record-setting Oxy career, the panelists represented four decades of students, from international real estate investor William Kahane '70 to U.S. Department of Commerce staffer Jessica Abenstein '08. Their combined experience includes numerous government agencies, non-governmental organizations, the international business world, and academia. In a testimony to their respect for Caldwell's influence on their lives, most panelists flew in from the East Coast. State Department official Kristina Kvien '87 flew in from London, and Russian energy company executive Alexandre Mikhailiants '95 took a plane from Moscow.

Kicking off the symposium, Duffy remarked, "It's significant that an entire conference on foreign affairs can be made up of Oxy grads, with a quality of participants equal to that which would be presented by any professional society or that might be present at an interagency meeting within government." Later that night, speaking at a dinner held in Caldwell's honor at Hameetman Science Center, Robert Legvold of Columbia University-a noted foreign-policy scholar and longtime Caldwell friend-reflected, "When Gloria said that at the beginning of the conference, I thought she was putting too much of a gloss on it, but as I listened to the panels I realized she was right."

Although the discussions ranged widely, the underlying theme was the evolving playing field in a world that is no longer dominated by the bilateral U.S.-Soviet relationship and that faces new threats from non-state organizations such as Al Qaeda and Hezbollah. Richard Falkenrath '91, who served on the National Security Council staff during 9/11, called the attacks "the ultimate asymmetrical threat ... the highly organized, lethal, non-state actor adversary. The policy instruments you are dealing with are not treaties, not communiqués, not meetings. They are down to the nitty-gritty business of gathering intelligence on individuals and stopping them one way or another."

More than 100 alumni and current students attended the events, which included the panel discussion and dinner on Saturday followed by career discussions on Sunday morning, in which the panelists shared their career paths and offered advice to current students. Wei (Josh) Luo '13, who was born in Guangzhou, China, enjoyed discussing his native country with former CIA analyst George. "Roger told me that a weak China would be a much greater threat to the United States than a strong and prosperous one. I believe this applies to both Russia and China. If the people in these countries are starving, like China before 1949, there would be radical leaders like Mao and Lenin rising to power."

Other panelists included New York Times correspondent Erik Eckholm '71; Stanford professor Coit Blacker '72; former U.S. ambassador to Kenya William Bellamy '72; International Security journal editor Steven Miller '74, international businesswoman Natasha Seeley '98; international investor Stephan Van der Mersch '04, and State Department staffers Kyle Ballard '04 and Jessie Evans '06.