On Wednesday, Nov. 11, the Political Awareness Committee’s (PAC) fall speaker, Admiral James Stavridis, spoke to several hundred students in Boe Memorial Chapel. The audience was captivated by his lecture, which showcased his extensive knowledge of foreign policy and his humor. Stavridis spoke about the national security challenges facing the United States and possible solutions to those challenges.
PAC chose to host Stavridis because of his national security and foreign policy expertise. Unlike past events, PAC wanted to host someone who would speak about a larger political issue rather than strictly liberal or conservative topics.
“In the past few years, [PAC] had one conservative speaker for the fall and one liberal speaker for the spring and vice versa. But this year we wanted to sway away from the traditional red versus blue, and [bring] more views into politics. Politics isn’t just about Republican vs. Democrats, it’s also about international affairs, it’s also about stuff happening elsewhere besides America,” PAC Event Coordinator Yishu Dai ’18 said.
Stavridis began his lecture by examining some of the failures of 20th century security, including the number of human casualties in World War I.
“Why did 20th century security fail? Many reasons, but the principal one is that we tried to create security by building walls,” Stavridis said. “Walls will not create security. Bridges create security.”
Stavridis then spoke about many of America’s larger national security issues in the context of today’s world, including the threat of ISIS. Stavridis described ISIS as a top priority security threat for a number of reasons.
“This group is different and more dangerous than anything I’ve described up to now. Why? Because they are extremely effective at raising money, selling humans, selling antiquities, smuggling hydrocarbons, extortion and bank robbery… and secondly, because of branding – creating a global view of themselves through a whole series of violent incidents,” Stavridis said.
While Stavridis believes that ISIS poses the largest terror threat to the United States, North Korea is the country that America should be most concerned with right now.
“Their young leader is very emotionally unstable, medically challenged, very much driven to contain power and has a really bad haircut. But worst of all, he has the means to deliver nuclear weapons,” Stavridis said.
Stavridis also emphasized the threat of cyber warfare. He argued that it is one of the biggest security threats of all because it will quickly become a popular weapon in coming years and it has the ability to affect millions of people personally as well as do millions of dollars in damage.
“People would ask me when I was the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, what kept you awake at night? Afghanistan, the Balkans, Syria, piracy? No, what I worried about most is cyber. As nations develop these cyber weapons, we have the potential for very large incidents going forward, and that’s what I worry about more than anything else,” Stavridis said.
Stavridis outlined a few possible solutions to world security problems, including turning to fiction as inspiration for peace and policy, encouraging more women to become involved in international affairs, increasing world literacy rates and striving for energy independence. He remains confident that the United States has the ability to face its threats.
“I don’t think we can or should be the world’s policeman. I don’t think we should drive every event that happens. But, I do think the United States does have a great deal of capability that, if applied well, can create security,” Stavridis said.
Some students felt that some of the solutions that Stavridis proposed were lacking in substance and specificity.
“He didn’t flesh out specifically how any of his solutions would be implemented. I believe his talk was foundational for understanding the situation but never delved deeper into a specific area of study,” William Seabrook ’16 said.
Dai thinks that this is because Stavridis had such a short time to cover such a large topic. She got a different impression of his ideas during a discussion PAC had with Stavridis beforehand.
Stavridis enjoyed speaking at St. Olaf and came away from the talk with a favorable impression of the student body.
“I do a lot of public speaking, and I found that the questions I was asked tonight by the St. Olaf students were the highest quality that I have heard in a year, both in terms of the breadth of questions, in other words the various topics, but also in the level of sophistication of the questions. So I go away very impressed with the student body.”