Announcement - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

50 Years of Excellence: The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

May 18, 2024

Cambridge, Massachusetts – May 18, 2024 – The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs commemorated its 50th anniversary with a landmark event, highlighting half a century of leadership at the nexus of technological advancement and global challenges. The event welcomed back over 300 alumni—past fellows, faculty, students, and staff—and showcased the enduring impact of the Center's contributions to policy, research, and analysis.

A Reunion Celebration

Against the stunning backdrop of the Boston Harbor skyline at the State Room on Thursday, May 9, 2024, the Belfer Center honored its vibrant community of over 1,700 individuals who have propelled the Center's remarkable journey.

Director Meghan L. O'Sullivan led the celebrations, saying that as the global landscape evolves, the insights shared at the Belfer Center continue to serve as a platform for engaging debate on confronting contemporary challenges. She expressed gratitude to all participants, stating, "I feel very confident that there is no place better positioned than the Belfer Center to meet the challenges of our time."

The evening began with a special recognition by Graham Allison, whose visionary leadership laid the foundation for the Belfer Center and the Harvard Kennedy School since its earliest days.

"The Belfer Center's founding fathers made seminal contributions over the decades as the U.S. and the Soviet Union engaged in arms control negotiations with agreements like the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program," said Professor Allison recounting some of the Center's most meaningful policy interventions. "This is also a fragile achievement, not to be taken for granted. It requires constant work, actual work that the Belfer Center is continuing to do today."

Laurence Belfer, whose parents Robert and Renée Belfer endowed the Belfer Center in 1997, announced a new gift to ensure generational support for the Center's critical work.

"One of the best ways to help the most people... is by training better public servants," Belfer said on the occasion. "Suffice to say, my family is enormously proud of what has been accomplished over the last 50 years, and we have every hope and every confidence that the best is yet to come."

Professors Stephen Walt and Eric Rosenbach emphasized the pivotal role of individuals in driving the institution forward, underscoring how ideas generated at Belfer translate into tangible impacts on the world. Professor Walt spoke about the International Security Program and the outstanding record of rigorous analysis, challenges to conventional wisdom, and contributions to policy-relevant academic research of its fellowship and academic journal, International Security.

The evening's featured event showcased one such product of the International Security Program: CNN's Fareed Zakaria, a former Belfer International Security Fellow, joined Meghan L. O'Sullivan for a thought-provoking fireside chat.

Reflecting on his history at the Belfer Center, Zakaria noted, "For me to be in an environment with [former Belfer Center Directors] Paul Doty, Joe Nye, and Ash Carter, and for us to be sitting around a table and for me to be able to ask a question or make a comment in a flat hierarchy with them was extraordinary."

Convening Belfer Experts for Critical Conversations

Demonstrating an ongoing commitment to shaping global discourse, the Belfer Center convened the following day (Friday, May 10) to offer insights into pressing contemporary challenges. From discussions on U.S.-China relations to the multifaceted potential of artificial intelligence, the Middle East to Emerging Technology, the full-day conference provided a platform for rigorous analysis and debate through a program made up entirely of former Belfer fellows, faculty, staff, and students.

The conference began with an engaging panel discussion with Kevin Rudd, Australian Ambassador to the U.S. (and former Belfer Senior Fellow); Rana Mitter, Professor of U.S. – Asia Relations at Harvard Kennedy School; and Meg Rithmire, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School; and Graham Allison, who recently met Chinese President Xi Jinping during a visit to Beijing.

Ambassador Rudd challenged the notion of China's economy peaking and urged vigilance regarding potential policy shifts at the upcoming summer plenum. Professor Rithmire emphasized today's political discourse often overlooks the benefits of economic engagement with China. Professor Mitter drew attention to the perspectives of China's Gen Z youth, whose voices are increasingly influential in shaping the nation's future.

A point of polite disagreement arose regarding China's confidence in attaining global supremacy. While Professor Allison suggested China's unwavering confidence, Professor Rithmire argued that China's foreign policy stems from a place of fear and vulnerability. 

In addition to U.S.-China relations, the conference addressed pressing global security challenges, including the role of artificial intelligence (AI). Carme Artigas, Co-Chair of the UN AI Advisory Body, Spain's former Secretary of State for Digitization and Artificial Intelligence, and incoming Belfer Senior Fellow (Fall 2024), discussed AI with Meghan L. O'Sullivan. She crucially pointed out that “AI autonomy changes countries’ interactions with each other – this affects the global balance of power.” Also discussed: AI's vast energy needs. In the industrial revolution, Artigas said, we built an economy dependent on limited resources. Now we risk doing the same.

The conference featured additional breakout sessions on various topics, such as rising states in a shifting global order, Ukraine's conflict, emerging technologies, and gender and security issues. Experts engaged in lively discussions, offering diverse perspectives on these critical issues. These included:

Beyond Great Powers: Rising States Navigating a Shifting Global Order

  • Barham Salih, Former President of Iraq, and Belfer Center Senior Fellow
  • Gita Wirjawan, Former Minister of Trade, Indonesia, and Belfer Center Fisher Family Visiting Fellow
  • Moeed Yusuf, Former National Security Adviser, Pakistan, and Belfer Center Senior Fellow
  • Natalie Colbert, Belfer Center Executive Director

Ukraine's War and U.S. Staying Power

  • Ivo Daalder, CEO, Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, and Former Belfer Center International Security Fellow
  • Karen Donfried, Former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, and Belfer Center Senior Fellow
  • Stephen Hadley, Former U.S. National Security Adviser, and Belfer Center Senior Fellow
  • David Sanger, White House and National Security Correspondent, New York Times, Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School, and Belfer Center Senior Fellow

Emerging Tech: Security, Strategy, and Risk

  • Aditi Kumar, Deputy Director for Strategy, Policy, and National Security Partnerships, Defense Innovation Unit, and Former Belfer Center Executive Director
  • Ezinne Uzo-Okoro, Former Assistant Director for Space Policy, Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Belfer Center Senior Fellow
  • Eric Rosenbach, Senior Lecturer, Harvard Kennedy School, and Former Co-Director of the Belfer Center

Gender and Security

  • Charli Carpenter, Professor, Department of Political Science and Legal Studies, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and Former Belfer Center International Security Fellow
  • Megan MacKenzie, Simons Chair in International Law and Human Security, School for International Studies, Simon Fraser University, and Former Belfer Center International Security Fellow
  • Zoe Marks, Lecturer in Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School
  • Dara Cohen, Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School

One World or None: The Risks of Nuclear War in the 21st Century

  • Vipin Narang, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, U.S. Department of Defense, and Former Belfer Center International Security Fellow
  • Bonnie Jenkins, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, U.S. Department of State, and Former Belfer Center International Security Fellow
  • Francesca Giovannini, Executive Director of the Project on Managing the Atom, Belfer Center

Technology Innovation to Combat the Climate Crisis

  • Kelly Gallagher, Dean Ad Interim and Professor of Energy and Environmental Policy at The Fletcher School, Tufts University, and Former Director of Energy Technology Innovation Policy research group, Belfer Center 
  • Henry Lee, Senior Lecturer in Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School, and Director, Environment and Natural Resources Program, Belfer Center

The afternoon session featured Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell (former Belfer Center Associate Director) sharing insights on today's political challenges during a conversation with HKS alum Vidya Neelakantan, Director for Strategic Planning at the National Security Council. He emphasized the significance of American domestic politics on the global stage and highlighted the evolving nature of alliances with the U.S., particularly with countries like Japan and South Korea.

Deputy Secretary Campbell suggested that the depth of the leader-driven relationship between Russia's Putin and China's Xi Jinping may have been underestimated, akin to missing the Sino-Soviet split in the 1960s. However, he noted that authoritarian coordination faces limitations due to deep-seated suspicion and mistrust.

Finally, to discuss the myriad challenges in the Middle East region, Tarek Masoud, Faculty Chair of the Middle East Initiative, led a discussion with Middle East Initiative Senior Fellows Youssef Chahed, former Prime Minister of Tunisia; Edward Djerejian, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel; and HKS alum Gidi Grinstein, founder and President of the Reut Group and former Israeli Negotiator. The panelists acknowledged the severity of current challenges in the Middle East and for Israel, highlighting October 7 as a potential "tectonic shift" with long-term consequences yet to unfold.

Grinstein remarked that countries which are successful are pragmatically led, and the common denomination for failure is being overstretched – Israel is, according to him, stretched on their ideology, territory and electoral system.

Ambassador Djerejian said leaders have been “spineless” on both sides of the conflict – and asked where the leaders are? In Israel, Europe, the United States, or even Palestine? To provide statecraft, vision and leadership, and ultimately negotiation and peace.

Chahed pointed out the political and religious divides across the Arab region, noting the challenges to durability of alliances and creation of power vacuums, which in the past have ultimately given rise to populist movements.

The conference underscored the Belfer Center's commitment to fostering dialogue and generating innovative solutions to complex global challenges. By convening experts from academia, policymaking, and beyond, it provided valuable insights and actionable recommendations for navigating today's complexities.

About the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs is the hub of Harvard Kennedy School's research, teaching, and training in international security affairs, environmental and resource issues, and science and technology policy. The Center has a dual mission: to provide leadership in advancing policy-relevant knowledge about the most important challenges of international security and other critical issues where science, technology, environmental policy, and international affairs intersect; and to prepare future generations of leaders for these arenas.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:50 Years of Excellence: The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.” Announcement, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, May 18, 2024.