The Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) has provided leadership, guidance, and a forum for discussion regarding all matters relating to international relations and foreign diplomacy. Their flagship journal, Foreign Affairs¸ provides students, scholars, and policymakers with critical discussions regarding current events and issues dealing with diplomacy, international relations, and interactions of nation states since 1922. However, what is lesser known is their commitment to higher education surrounding these same topics. Since the beginning, CFR has committed itself toward educating and training scholars in international relations. To that end, CFR began an annual series called the CFR College and University Educators workshop. These workshops target new-to-middle career educators and seek to help inform them of the various resources available from CFR for college and university educators and incorporate international relations into their curriculums. Importantly, the attendees come from a variety of social sciences with an eye toward how other disciplines beyond international relations can benefit from CFR resources and applications. The workshop is held annually at CFR Headquarters in New York City over two days. Attendance to the event is by ‘nomination’ from an individual who attended the previous year.
This year’s Educators Workshop was held in April, with a panel discussion before dinner entitled “Global Outlook” with Reuben E. Brigety, Elizabeth C. Economy, and Suzanne Maloney moderated by James M. Lindsay. The forty-five-minute discussion provided a broad overview of the current relationships the United States has with Africa, the Middle East, and China. Their lively discussion brought fresh perspectives on how the Trump administration handles diplomacy and international relations compared with the Obama and Bush administrations. Brigety discussed the current administrations seemingly lack of interest in the African continent while China moves to establish a foothold in West Africa. Suzanne Maloney provided insight into the current, as well as past, administration’s ‘hold the course’ approach to policy toward Saudi Arabia despite the recent rise to power of the unpredictable Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef. Finally, Elizabeth Economy provided some examples where, despite common perception, the Trump administration was making substantial strides with diplomatic negotiations and interactions with China. She cited several instances during her travels to China, where Chinese citizens approached her stating that living and working conditions were much better for the Chinese since Trump started putting pressure on the Chinese economy and military positions.
The workshop’s second panel, “Safeguarding the United States: Counterterrorism Efforts to Combat Extremism,” was moderated by Amy Sorkin. Panel discussants included Jen Easterly, Matthew Waxman, and noted terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman. Their conversation started with the usual debate regarding the definition of terrorism followed by how the fall of ISIS could impact a resurgence in the growth of Al Qaeda. Some questions from the audience centered on the apparent biases of the academic community and policymakers to consider all religiously inspired terrorism as being rooted in Islam. The panel replied that the current wave of right-wing/white supremacist attacks and the subsequent reporting by the media and comments by scholars would dispel the myth that the counterterrorism community does not consider all types of ideological violence when studying terrorism. Of note was the absence of meaningful discussion regarding the current status of cyberterrorism and what the future might hold in this emerging area.
After the first panel discussion of the day, CFR’s Vice President for Education, Caroline Netchvolodoff briefly introduced two new educational resources available on the CFR website, Model Diplomacy and World 101.Model Diplomacy is a “National Security Council simulation that engages students to understand the challenges of shaping and implementing foreign policy.” Model Diplomacy provides students the ability to develop critical thinking, writing, collaboration, and problem-solving skills while grasping an understanding of inter-state relations. World 101 is a visual database providing access to a wealth of information presented in different modules on such timely topics as climate change, migration of ethnic groups, and terrorism. Both these tools are free resources available to scholars, educators, and students. After the introduction of these two tools, a panel discussion followed with Nicole Bibbins, Jacqueline McAllister, Michael Nojeim, and Dan Caldwell moderating. These three educators currently incorporate these (and other) tools that CFR offers into their classrooms. The focus was on providing examples where the CFR resources provided benefit to classroom learning in international relations and government classes. Other resources mentioned included the CFR Academic Conference Calls and teaching notes for readings in international relations and global security.
Workshop attendees also selected one of five different discussion group sessions to participate: “Bridging Immigration Politics and Policy,” “The Current State of Democracy in Latin America,” Disinformation and Political Polarization Online,” “The Future of Work,” and “The Security Risks of Climate Change.” These breakout sessions provided an opportunity for small groups to engage in a more in-depth discussion regarding their respective topics held in a ‘round-table’ style. An expert on each topic moderated each small group.
The Workshop ended with the final panel discussion, “The Economics Gains of Gender Parity.” The three panelists, Kim Azzarelli, Jamille Bigio, and Richard Fry discussed the various myths and realities regarding women in the workforce from a global perspective. The panelists covered numerous topics including making the ‘business case’ for including women in executive positions, the potential global lost revenue for lack of women in critical positions within government and business, as well as the impact of career segregation. The discussion provided the context that, despite the significant gains in gender parity since the 1990s, women still fall behind in wages and access to higher-end employment.
The higher education community should be grateful to CFR for taking time to provide a venue for educators to come together to explore current topics relating to international relations, network with other educators, and learn how to incorporate international relations concepts into the curriculums of various disciplines. It is unfortunate, however, that the general panel discussions occupied so much time of the agenda. While interesting and academically stimulating, the time used could have been better suited to delve further into hands-on use and exploration of the online resources available. Despite the apparent enthusiasm and beneficial information from the ‘booths’ that had information regarding CFR resources present between panel sessions, more in-depth instruction and presentations into incorporating their resources into classroom assignments would have been beneficial. Additionally, for those individuals who teach online, asynchronous classes, some of their resources such as Model Diplomacy would prove challenging to implement.
Overall, the Council of Foreign Relations provided an outstanding venue for discussing international relations within the global context. Their far-reaching and insightful scholarship provides a foundation for scholars and diplomatic practitioners worldwide. Their efforts at incorporating international relations into various disciplines are admirable and educators worldwide should be thankful for their contributions. While challenges remain, the Council on Foreign Relations offers a solid baseline from which programs, practitioners, and educators can begin evolving and enhancing their own offerings.