Food and fuel are the basics of foreign policy, according to Richard Lugar, a former U.S. Senator from Indiana.
Lugar delivered a talk Tuesday as part of the George Herbert Walker Jr. Lecture Series in International Studies entitled “Modern American Foreign Policy in an Uncertain World,” in which he considered a range of diplomatic and militaristic strategies across the globe. Before a crowd of approximately 150 people, Lugar — former chairman for the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations — spoke about his political experiences and advocated for promoting democracy abroad as a way of fostering long-term peace and stability.
“We are not in a world war, we no longer have mutually assured destruction,” said Lugar, who held a seat on the Senate from 1977 to 2013. “We are in a position to [act] if we choose to do so.”
Lugar argued in favor of a strong American presence abroad. Without the U.S. naval fleet, free trade on the seas would be impossible, Lugar said. Likewise, he said the international presence of the U.S. army not only strengthens American power, but also improves the stability of international alliances and agreements such as NATO.
Still, Lugar said promoting democratic institutions abroad comes with difficulties, citing the Iraq War as an example.
“It was a great dream, but it didn’t come to that,” he said.
Lugar also spoke about his role in promoting nuclear disarmament, which builds upon the 1991 bill he cosponsored with Senator Samuel Nunn to dismantle weapons of mass destruction after the fall of the Soviet Union.
As current president of the Lugar Center, a nonprofit organization that supports nuclear nonproliferation, Lugar reaffirmed the importance of reducing nuclear weapons as a matter of safety. He cited a comprehensive missile defense system — in which missiles are shot down as they are detected — as an alternative to the arms race that occurred during the Cold War.
Lugar recalled how, while serving as mayor of Indianapolis in the late 1960s and 70s, it never dawned on him that there had been missiles aimed at his city, along with other major U.S. centers. The idea of mutually assured destruction was not just political rhetoric, he said, but a reality in which each country was prepared to annihilate each other.
In addition to nuclear safety, Lugar has also been on the forefront of food politics and security. He stated that the U.S. not only has the ability to produce food for its own population, but also to produce food for a great number of people throughout the world. Lugar said food security must be a priority for foreign policy and global peace.
“People are prepared to fight and die before they starve,” he said.
Touching on policy issues inside North Korea, Iran and Syria, Lugar said it is clear that any possible solutions will require widespread international cooperation and strong U.S. support. Still, he said the intense partisanship in the U.S. makes a unified front on these issues difficult to achieve. Lugar cited the Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission case and the practice of gerrymandering as two factors that have helped lead to political polarization in America.
Lugar also expressed his optimism about the prospect of American energy independence, noting increased production in natural gas and oil.
“We are on the threshold of becoming the highest energy producer in the world,” he said.
Lugar ended with a discussion on how academia influences his policy agenda. He stressed the importance of national universities in creating dialogue and facilitating discussions that can then reach the policy makers and the American people.
Students and New Haven residents who attended the talk had differing opinions on Lugar’s view of American foreign policy.
John McGowan ’15 said he appreciated how candid Lugar was with the audience in explaining his personal and political background. McGowan said he enjoyed listening to the “insider” perspective that the former senator offered.
“He focuses on what people agree upon, and then moves forward,” Rachel Brodwin ’17 said.
Ray Noonan ’15, a former staff reporter for the News, said that he hopes Lugar’s commitment to bipartisanship will become a model in Washington.
Still, New Haven resident Mito Mardin said he was “flabbergasted” by some of Lugar’s comments and felt they expressed a “naiveté” about foreign affairs.
“Knowing that he was a former chairman of the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations is mind boggling,” Mardin said.
Lugar is the longest-serving Senator in Indiana history.