Biography

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Ambassador (Ret.) Nicholas Burns is the Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He is founder and Faculty Director of the Future of Diplomacy Project and Faculty Chair for the Programs on the Middle East and on India and South Asia. He serves on the Board of Directors of the School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and is a Faculty Associate at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.

Burns is Director of the Aspen Strategy Group, Senior Counselor at the Cohen Group, and serves on the Board of Directors of Entegris, Inc. He also serves on the boards of several non-profit organizations, including the Council on Foreign Relations, Special Olympics International, the Diplomacy Center Foundation, the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, The Trilateral Commission, the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, the Atlantic Council, America Abroad Media, the Association of Diplomatic Studies and Training, the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, the Boston Committee on Foreign Relations, and the Gennadius Library. From 2014-2017, he was a member of Secretary of State John Kerry’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board at the U.S. Department of State. He is Vice Chairman of the American Ditchley Foundation and serves on the Panel of Senior Advisors at Chatham House: the Royal Institute of International Affairs.  He is a member of the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Order of Saint John and Red Sox Nation.

Professor Burns served in the United States government for twenty-seven years. As a career Foreign Service Officer, he was Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs from 2005 to 2008; the State Department’s third-ranking official when he led negotiations on the U.S.–India Civil Nuclear Agreement; a long-term military assistance agreement with Israel; and was the lead U.S. negotiator on Iran’s nuclear program. He was U.S. Ambassador to NATO (2001–2005), Ambassador to Greece (1997–2001) and State Department Spokesman (1995–1997). He worked for five years (1990–1995) on the National Security Council at the White House where he was Senior Director for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia Affairs and Special Assistant to President Clinton and Director for Soviet Affairs in the Administration of President George H.W. Bush. Burns also served in the American Consulate General in Jerusalem (1985–1987) where he coordinated U.S. economic assistance to the Palestinian people in the West Bank and before that, at the American embassies in Egypt (1983-1985) and Mauritania (1980 as an intern).

Professor Burns has received fifteen honorary degrees, the Presidential Distinguished Service Award, the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award, the 2017 Ignatian Award from Boston College, 2016 New Englander of the Year from the New England Council, the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service from the Johns Hopkins University, the Boston College Alumni Achievement Award, and the Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award from Tufts University. He has a BA in History from Boston College (1978), an MA in International Relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (1980), and earned the Certificat Pratique de Langue Francaise at the University of Paris-Sorbonne (1977). He was a visiting Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in summer 2008.

Last Updated: Sep 7, 2017, 6:30pm

Featured Research

Nicholas Burns testifies before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee on possible Russian interference in European elections

CSPAN

Testimony

Senate Testimony: Russian Interference in European Elections

| June 28, 2017

On June 28, Nicholas Burns testified before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee on Russian interference in European elections. He called President Trump's response to Russia's cyber attacks on the U.S. democratic system both "dismaying and objectionable." He says it's the "president's duty to be skeptical of Russia and that his refusal to take action is "a dereliction of his basic duty to defend the country."

Nicholas Burns HFAC Hearing

House Foreign Affairs Office

Testimony

Congressional testimony on Budget, Diplomacy, and Development

| Mar. 28, 2017

On March 28, 2017, Professor Nicholas Burns, alongside Stephen Krasner of the Hoover Institution and Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the implications of the Trump Administration's proposed 31% reduction in the budget for the State Department and USAID for fiscal year 2018.

Senate Hearing on Russia Sanctions

U.S. Senate

Testimony

Senate Testimony on U.S. Sanctions Against the Russian Federation

| Apr. 27, 2017

On April 27, 2017, the COMMITTEE ON BANKING, HOUSING, AND URBAN AFFAIRS met in open session to conduct a hearing entitled, “Countering Russia: Further Assessing Options for Sanctions.” The witnesses were: The Honorable Nicholas Burns, Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations, Harvard Kennedy School of Government; and Mr. Chip Poncy, President and Co-Founder, Financial Integrity Network.

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Analysis & Opinions - NPR

The Aftermath of the G20 - Wisconsin Public Radio

| July 11, 2017

President Donald Trump's time at the G20 Summit in Germany last week gained attention for his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. But it also included negotiations on a Syrian cease fire, millions of dollars toward a women's empowerment fund and disagreements on trade and climate. Where does this year's summit of world leaders leave the U.S.?

Nicholas Burns talks to PBS NewsHour about the second Trump/Putin conversation

PBS

Analysis & Opinions - PBS NEWSHOUR

Why Trump and Putin’s undisclosed conversation is noteworthy

| July 19, 2017

After President Trump sat down with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 7 for a highly anticipated meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg, he met with Putin a second time for a lengthy meeting, that was unattended by advisors and previously undisclosed. Nick Burns talks with PBS NewsHour on why this is significant. 

Donald Trump

Michael Vadon

Analysis & Opinions - Financial Times

Donald Trump’s welcome show of U.S. global leadership

| Apr. 07, 2017

Nicholas Burns's April 7 op-ed in the weekend edition of the Financial Times on the U.S. cruise missile strikes against the Syrian Air Force. His major points are:

  • He supports President Trump's decision. The U.S. should not tolerate Asad's use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians.
     
  • The Trump Administration needs a strategy for what comes next. They may consider working with Turkey to establish safe havens for civilians protected by a No Flight Zone. This carries enormous risk. Tread carefully.
     
  • The U.S. should push hard to resume UN-sponsored negotiations for a cease-fire and an eventual settlement to end the war. It may take years. But this is how the war will end.
     
  • Trump should reverse course and admit Syrian refugees into the U.S. This is the most direct way to help in the most horrific refugee crisis since World War Two.
     
  • Finally, this often brash and impulsive President should not conclude that the Syria strikes can be replicated easily elsewhere, such as in North Korea.  

Analysis & Opinions - The Washington Post

Trump’s cuts would cripple the country’s diplomats when we need them most

| March 4, 2017

The Trump Administration’s threatened 37 percent budget cuts for the State Department and USAID, the most severe for any federal agency.  Professor Burns warns if these reductions are implemented, they will cripple the Foreign and Civil Service when we need them the most to cope with a weakening Europe, violent Middle East and strategic challenges to U.S. power from Russia and China.  He warns that this is simply not a sensible or wise path.

As President Kennedy said more than a half century ago:  “Diplomacy and defense are not substitutes for one another.  Either alone would fail.”

Awards

2016 New Englander of the Year
Presidential Distinguished Service Award
Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award
Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service from the Johns Hopkins University
Boston College Alumni Achievement Award
Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award from Tufts University

 

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