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

Former Secretary of State Rice Discusses Persuasive Diplomacy

| June 2016

Professors Nicholas Burns of Harvard Kennedy School, James Sebenius of Harvard Business School, and Robert Mnookin of Harvard Law School traveled to Stanford University in February to interview former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about diplomacy and her most consequential negotiations while in office. The interview with Secretary Rice, now a professor at Stanford, was the latest in a series of recorded discussions with former secretaries of state by the three faculty directors of The American Secretaries of State Project (SOSP). Rice discussed major negotiations with which she was involved during President George W. Bush’s administration and shared lessons she has learned about diplomacy.

Key themes in the wide-ranging interview included the importance of detail in diplomatic agreements, negotiating within alliances, and knowing when to use diplomatic leverage. Senior diplomats, Rice said, should not shy away from immersing themselves in the most granular details of diplomatic negotiations. Also, she said, it is critical to present a united front going into any negotiation. Rice credits her diplomatic successes in part to a strong relationship with President Bush, to clear communication within the upper levels of government even when others disagreed with her, and to building support and enthusiasm for policy choices among State Department employees.

Secretary Rice also discussed the importance of persistence and forthrightness in diplomacy. She described Russian President Vladimir Putin as a negotiator who respects toughness and directness, citing as an example the clear communication by the United States when it withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002. Secretary Rice also shared stories of strong mutual support between Russia and the United States in anti-terrorism efforts following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Rice gave an example of persistence and persuasive diplomacy from the 2005 civil nuclear negotiations with India. As negotiations appeared to falter, she continued to believe that the deal was in the mutual interest of both parties. She insisted on meeting with the Indian prime minister to overcome a major obstacle in the talks, a move that ultimately led to the signing of the deal.


The American Secretaries of State Project

The American Secretaries of State Project is a collaboration between the Future of Diplomacy Project at Harvard Kennedy School, the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, and Harvard Business School. The Project aims to interview all former U.S. secretaries of state about the most consequential negotiations they conducted while serving in the nation’s highest foreign policy office. Professors Burns, Mnookin and Sebenius have interviewed former Secretaries Kissinger, Shultz, Baker, Albright, Powell, and Rice. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also agreed to participate.

SOSP has inspired a first-of-its-kind interdisciplinary course, “Negotiation and Diplomacy,” that Professors Burns, Sebenius and Mnookin taught at Harvard in Spring 2015 and will again offer in Spring 2017.  Future plans include a book about Henry Kissinger's approach to negotiation and another that will synthesize insights from all of the secretaries of state on diplomacy, negotiation, and leadership. Additional plans include documentary films and case studies for use in teaching, along with an archive of associated research materials for scholars studying conflict resolution, mediation, negotiation, and diplomacy.

For past interviews and to learn more about The American Secretaries of State Project, see here.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Braun Katrina and Eugene B. Kogan. Former Secretary of State Rice Discusses Persuasive Diplomacy.” Belfer Center Newsletter (June 2016).