João Vale de Almeida, the current European Union ambassador to the United Nations, gave a lecture on international affairs at Burke Auditorium Wednesday afternoon.
Framing the discussion by contrasting optimistic and pessimistic outlooks on international politics, Vale de Almeida condensed his analysis into three developments in recent history — post-Cold War optimism, the accompanying social and political changes and recent instability in global affairs — and followed up with a description of the fault lines that such developments brought about. His lecture touched upon topics ranging from the Brexit negotiation process to climate change to international security. The one-and-half-hour talk attracted 100 students and faculty.
Vale de Almeida is a recipient of the Chubb Fellowship, which is administered by Timothy Dwight College to cultivate student interest in public affairs.
“Events like this are the most rewarding part of my job: engaging with the world outside the EU, especially young people and the teachers who form them,” Vale de Almeira, who also served as the first EU ambassador to the United States, told the News after the talk. “My main message to them is to keep focused on the big picture — global affairs, state of the world — for this generation will be the one called upon to consolidate the good things our generation has achieved, and to work on the problems that remain.”
He identified two ways of looking at the world: one that saw it as being in better shape than ever, focusing on unprecedented peace, prosperity, democracy and respect for human rights. Access to knowledge, education, technology and higher life expectancy were other reasons for optimism. The other view, however, focused on how the world could be on the brink of chaos, with the West in decline, governments weak and terrorists, refugees and migrants dominating the landscape, Vale de Almeida said.
“None of these two views is entirely accurate,” he continued, adding that both provide valuable but incomplete pictures of the world. To help attendees better understand current affairs, Vale de Almeida emphasized three important facts in recent world history.
The first was that the three decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall were “extremely rich and extremely fast,” characterized by hyper-globalization, trade liberalization, deregulation, exponential growth of mobility and connectivity.
Global politics shifted from bipolar to unipolar to a state of “increasing multipolarity.” This was accompanied by massive cultural and behavioral changes including advancements in minorities rights, increase in local diversity, the development of a global public space and the rise of social media.
However, Vale de Almeida said not all the world was ready for this change.
“This tension between change and adaptation is maybe an explanation for some of the problems we have today,” Vale de Almeida said. “Adaptation is sometimes a slower process than change.”
Vale de Almeida added that this lag brought about the third development — turbulence in the last six to eight years.
The instability started with the 2008 financial crisis, which exposed how governments were not adapted to new economic realities. The financial meltdown was followed by the Syrian crisis, the Russian annexation of Crimea and the Islamic State. Emerging economies have been facing problems in recent times: the catch-up many envisioned has not materialized. Finally there were two “political earthquakes” in Brexit and the recent election of Donald Trump — results largely unforeseen and likely to have large repercussions.
The result of such developments has been the creation of new fault lines that need to be taken into account if solutions are to be found, Vale de Almeida said, such as contradictions between the global and the local, opened and closed societies, political centrism and radicalism, pluralism and populism. Public discourse is forming around such tensions, and according to the ambassador, “sometime, somehow a new consensus has to emerge.”
Despite the challenges, the ambassador chose to maintain a positive outlook.
“I want to keep hope alive about our world,” he said. “I trust the wisdom of mankind against all odds. I trust the commitment and the energy of the younger generation which is well represented here tonight. I’m sure they will not let us down.”
The lecture was followed by a question-and-answer session that touched on topics ranging from the rise of China to Vale de Almeida’s role as a diplomat to refugees.
Attendee Nicole Odzer ’20 said the lecture “touched on many relevant issues” and was inspiring.
“The talk was interesting despite being generally diplomatic,”said Sophia Carpentier ’20, who said she attended the because she was interested in global affairs and climate policy.
Established in 1941 with the donation of Hendon Chubb and run by Timothy Dwight Head Mary Lui, the Chubb Fellowship brings leaders in civic and cultural fields to the University. In addition to the lecture, the fellowship facilitates a longer-term relationship between students and the fellow, who is encouraged to involve him or herself in the life of the college and the University.
Recent Chubb Fellows have included figures such as Paul Simon, Susan Rice, Morgan Freeman and Aung San Suu Kyi.
“It’s important that the Chubb fellows we bring in are truly interested in engaging with Yale students and use the lectureship as a platform to inspire,” Lui said.