The overarching question imparting urgency to this exploration is: Can U.S.-Russian contention in cyberspace cause the two nuclear superpowers to stumble into war? In considering this question we were constantly reminded of recent comments by a prominent U.S. arms control expert: At least as dangerous as the risk of an actual cyberattack, he observed, is cyber operations’ “blurring of the line between peace and war.” Or, as Nye wrote, “in the cyber realm, the difference between a weapon and a non-weapon may come down to a single line of code, or simply the intent of a computer program’s user.”
The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs is proud to host a Directors’ Seminar with Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, the Department of State’s third ranking official.
As Under Secretary, he oversees U.S. policy in each region of the world and serves in the most senior career Foreign Service position at the Department.
Prior to his current assignment, Ambassador Burns was the United States Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. As Ambassador to NATO, he headed the combined State-Defense Department U.S. Mission to NATO at a time when the Alliance committed to new missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and the global war against terrorism, and accepted seven new members.
From 1997 to 2001, Ambassador Burns was U.S. Ambassador to Greece. During his tenure as Ambassador, the U.S. expanded its military and law enforcement cooperation with Greece, strengthened our partnership in the Balkans, increased trade and investment and people-to-people programs.
From 1995 to 1997, Ambassador Burns was Spokesman of the Department of State and Acting Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs for Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Secretary Madeleine Albright. In this position, he gave daily press conferences on U.S. foreign policy issues, accompanied both Secretaries of State on all their foreign trips and coordinated all of the Department’s public outreach programs.
Mr. Burns, a career Senior Foreign Service Officer, served for five years (1990-1995) on the National Security Council staff at the White House. He was Special Assistant to President Clinton and Senior Director for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia Affairs. He had lead responsibility in the White House for advising the President on all aspects of U.S. relations with the fifteen countries of the former Soviet Union.
Under President George H.W. Bush, he was Director for Soviet (and then Russian) Affairs. He began his Foreign Service career in Africa and the Middle East as an intern at the U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott, Mauritania, Vice Consul and Staff Assistant to the Ambassador in Cairo, Egypt and then Political Officer at the American Consulate General in Jerusalem. In this position, he coordinated U.S. economic assistance to the Palestinian population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Mr. Burns has been awarded the State Department’s Superior Honor Award for outstanding performance three times, the Department’s James Clement Dunn Award for Excellence, and the Charles E. Cobb Award for Trade Development by an Ambassador. He has been decorated by the governments of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania for his work in securing withdrawal of Russian military forces from the Baltic region in the 1990s and for helping to secure their admittance to NATO.
Mr. Burns is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Order of St. John and a life-long member of Red Sox nation.