February 6, 2019 - 2:30 PM

Values in U.S. Foreign Policy

by GU Politics

A discussion with former State Department officials about the role of values in U.S. foreign policy and the conduct of diplomacy.


  • Roberta Jacobson – Ambassador to Mexico ('16-'18); Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs ('12-'16)
  • Victoria Nuland – Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs ('13-'17); Ambassador to NATO ('05-'08)
  • Maria Otero – U.S. Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights ('09-'13)
  • Eric Schwartz – U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration ('09-'11)
  • Melanne Verveer – U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues ('09-'13); Executive Director, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security (Moderator)

This event was co-sponsored with the Walsh School of Foreign Service as part of the Lloyd George Centennial Lectures on the Future of the Global Order.

On February 6,th 2019, the Georgetown University Institute of Politics and Public Service at the McCourt School of Public Policy, in partnership with the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, had the honor of welcoming former State Department officials Roberta Jacobson, Victoria Nuland, Maria Otero, and Eric Schwartz in a discussion moderated by Melanne Verveer, Executive Director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security. The panel discussed the role that U.S. values have in shaping U.S. foreign policy and diplomatic conduct.

Ambassador Verveer opened the discussion by commenting that “when you raise the importance of values, you are often greeted by rolling eyes,” and then asked the panelists how to counter this sentiment and why values are imperative of U.S. foreign policy. Ambassador Nuland was the first to respond and remarked that nations or groups that govern by repression as opposed to representation are unstable and threats to American security. On the other hand, she remarked that the U.S.'s most fruitful partnerships and alliances have been with legitimate governments that we can count on to work with us on security and trade. Ambassador Jacobson agreed with Ambassador Nuland’s remarks and added that making values part of foreign policy is “practical as well as ideological.”

In response to Ambassador Schwartz and Ms. Otero’s answers to this question, Ambassador Verveer noted that at times there have been clashes when the actions of an ally or a partner in negotiation have gone against U.S. values. Ambassador Schwartz commented that “for those of us who believe in the importance of values in foreign policy... you also believe that policy must have integrity,” even at the expense of relationships with other countries.

Ambassador Verveer then brought up how the U.S. has repeatedly left and joined international organizations such as UNESCO or agreements like the Paris Climate Accords. Ambassador Otero responded that even if international organizations are not perfect, it is the system we have and if we do not play a role in these organizations we “eliminate our ability to lead.” An example of this is the UN Human Rights Council through membership of which the U.S. has been able to provide leadership and value guidance to other nations. She added that the U.S. has to be part of making the agenda or we “can’t be leaders.”

After grappling with specific examples such as U.S. policy in Venezuela and Iran, the panel moved on to an audience Q&A session. One student asked, “at a time when the U.S. is changing what our values are, how do we find a consensus on our values and what does it mean to have American values?” Ambassador Schwartz concluded that through institutions such as the McCourt School of Public Policy, we have been able to train very adept evidence-based policy experts but that there is still a lot of work to be done on educating the general population to come to a consensus on our shared values.

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