Academy shines at 2011 Assembly showcase

  • Published
  • By David Edwards
  • Academy Spirit staff writer
The delegates have gone home, and the echoes of the speakers at the 53rd annual Academy Assembly have begun to fade.

But the ideas presented and debated are still fresh in the minds of those who attended -- and probably will be for years to come.

Carrying on a tradition started by Brig. Gen. Robert McDermott, the Academy's first dean of the faculty, cadets once again orchestrated an event that brought in eminent speakers and college-age delegates from around the country.

"As the two cadets responsible for all elements of this year's Academy Assembly ..., we have witnessed firsthand the leadership reinforcement that cadets receive at the strategic, organizational, and tactical levels," wrote Cadets 1st Class Zach Crippen and Clayton Schmitt, the director and deputy director, respectively, of this year's Assembly.

A heavy-hitting lineup of speakers laid the groundwork for roundtable group dialogue. This year's conference was titled "Power and Influence: Global Dynamics in the 21st Century." The breadth of the theme allowed the speakers to come at it from assorted angles.

Gillian Sorensen, a senior adviser at the United Nations Foundation in New York City, delivered an impassioned defense of the UN. She lamented the absence of the UN in most American schools' curriculums and urged her listeners to learn more about the organization. She also pleaded for the U.S. to re-engage with the world body it was instrumental in founding.

Other big-name speakers at the Assembly included Peter Brookes, the senior research fellow for national security affairs at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, and Christopher Hill, a veteran diplomat who is now the dean of the University of Denver's Josef Korbel School of International Studies.

Following Sorensen on the Fairchild Hall stage the first day of the Assembly was a panel consisting of Olmsted scholars. One of the panelists was Lt. Col. Ken Gjone, a member of the 317th Operations Support Squadron at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas. He enjoyed the chance afforded by the Assembly to meet and converse with his fellow Olmsted scholars.

Gjone addressed the audience on Turkey, noting its interaction with the European Union, its current government and its situation with neighboring countries, particularly as it relates to the Kurds. He also led a roundtable discussion.

"From the Assembly, I took away the fact that even though we face an uncertain future we will have extraordinary leaders guiding our country through the uncertainty," Gjone said. "All of the students at my roundtable are going to be future leaders in some capacity, be it the Air Force, business, government, or even in an activist role at a leading NGO. I truly enjoyed spending time and discussing this year's topic of global dynamics with each one. "

The Assembly's keynote address is typically attended by the junior and senior classes of the Cadet Wing, and a near-capacity crowd gathered in Arnold Hall for an especially appropriate keynote speaker: Erin Conaton, the undersecretary of the Air Force.

After showing a clip from the film "The Hunt for Red October," Conaton delivered a wide-ranging talk on the future of American air power, a subject near and dear to the hearts of the cadets.

One point of particular emphasis was the increased usage of remotely piloted aircraft, or drones, that is already taking place and is likely to continue into the future.

Hill's closing address analyzed several areas of conflict that have severely tested the traditional sources of American power. A dinner preceding his talk allowed delegates, professors, speakers and other attendees to mingle.

A lively and eclectic group sat around Brookes' table. Cadets from the Air Force Academy and Coast Guard Academy joined Gjone and Tim Sandusky, a State Department visiting professor at the Air Force Academy, in engaging the Heritage Foundation senior fellow.

The capstone evening and all the events leading up to it epitomized why the Academy Assembly is the Political Science Department's premier showcase and is a tradition the Academy has seen fit to rekindle for more than 50 years.

"Especially in today's world of asymmetrical conflict, this ability to stand next to our Ivy League counterparts and examine foreign policy implications of the changing global scene is essential," Crippen and Schmitt wrote. "As cadets go on to become senior officers, legislators, cabinet members, community leaders, or executives in the private sector, a proper understanding of these issues will prove critical."

Quoteworthy speakers:

Dr. Schuyler Foerster DR. SCHUYLER FOERSTER

Brent Scowcroft professor of national security studies at the Air Force Academy

Summary: Foerster's main point was that power was not what it used to be. He said that even seemingly simplistic notions of power such as those expressed by Stalin and Mao require nuanced interpretation. He quoted from commentaries that give varying interpretations of American power and what role the United States should play in the post-Cold War world. He asserted that the context of power lies in three dimensions: the domain in which the power is to be applied, vulnerabilities that may come into play and the desired effect.

-- "The title of this Assembly is 'Power and Influence,' and I submit to you that the best way to think about power is as the capacity to influence."
-- "The first thing we must understand about power is that it changes from one circumstance to the next. And if that's true, then what does it mean to say that we are 'powerful' in a generalized sense, or 'more powerful' than someone else in that same generalized sense?"
-- "Power is not a blunt object that fits all policy domains. ... Values in foreign policy are relevant because they are the basis of moral power."
-- "The exercise of power requires a sound grand strategy. And ladies and gentlemen, it will be your job to write that strategy. I hope you will succeed."

Under Secretary of the Air Force Erin Conaton ERIN CONATON

Under secretary of the Air Force

Summary: Conaton noted that international situations are likely to drastically change the duties of Air Force leaders from what cadets envision now. She outlined the budget constraints and downsizing of the military as well as the need for balance between military needs and available resources. She emphasized the importance of having leaders who are well-read, knowledgeable in a range of disciplines and adaptable to the wide assortment of challenges they will face.

-- "I'm convinced that 20 years from now, you'll have seen a similar evolution of conflict. ... As (former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates) has frequently said, 'We have a perfect record at predicting the future: We have never once gotten it right.' So how, then, as rational and vested members of the military, do we think about a blurry future?"
-- "You need to know that our nation and the Air Force are no longer discussing impending financial challenges. These challenges are here, and I'm sorry to say, will probably be with us for most of the coming decade."
-- "We have the responsibility to ensure the nation will always have the global reach, power and vision of the Air Force to rely on. But we must never presume our station as the world's premier Air Force. We're fortunate to have lived our entire lives in a world where we have never known any different."
-- "We recognize the lasting importance of alliances and friends. Indeed, as our budget declines, our partnerships are going to become more important. For that reason, we will continue to need leaders who possess robust language and cultural skill sets to help us foster these relationships and who care what is happening around the globe. That is why events like this one are so important."


Senior research fellow in national security affairs at The Heritage Foundation

Summary: Brookes defended the global influence that the United States wields. He laid out the case for why the United States is a force for good, discounting alternatives such as the United Nations, China and Russia. He said the international system is changing and that future leaders will determine whether the United States continues to provide stability to the system.

-- "It seems that there are plenty of people out there, especially abroad, and perhaps a few at home, sadly, who would welcome the absolute decline of American strength and influence across the globe. In my opinion, for those who feel this way, another old adage applies: Be careful what you wish for."
-- "When the 911 call comes in for the crisis du jour, the first thing the world wants to know is what Washington thinks and what it's willing to do diplomatically, economically and especially militarily about it."
-- "While enemies, and sometimes friends and allies unfortunately, criticize Lady Liberty for being big, powerful and out and about, the truth is this country of ours has provided and continues to provide a world of good."
-- "The challenges for you, as the generation that will begin to move into these positions of leadership, (are) to think about the full range of possibilities for the international system and what that might mean for this country and for the world."


Dean of the University of Denver's Josef Korbel School of International Studies

Summary: Hill drew on his experiences as ambassador to Iraq and chief negotiator in the six-party talks regarding North Korea's nuclear program to discuss Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Libya and Southeast Asia. He predicted the United States would continue to lead the way despite the presence of emerging powers and non-traditional sources of power. He downplayed talk of the demise of American influence in the world.

-- "I think this theme of power and influence in this 21st century is very important because there are many people kind of counting out the U.S., saying that somehow our status as a superpower (has eroded). But before you can say that the U.S. has lost its authority in the world, you have to look around and ask yourself, 'Who's doing so well that they could replace the United States?'"
-- "As a general rule of thumb, when you see a fault line that's 1,300 years old, and people are still talking about it, frankly, you ought to pay a little attention to it. And I don't think we did."
-- "There has been an issue of whether Pakistan is important because of Afghanistan or Afghanistan is important because of Pakistan. And the fact is, both are very important. ... I think we're looking at a very difficult proposition in the coming years."
-- "When you think of the use of air power to try to get someone to change his mind, it really raises some issues of what kind of target sets you're going to pick out. ... I think, appropriately, in both Kosovo and Libya, we did not get out in front."


Senior adviser at the United Nations Foundation

Summary: Sorensen chronicled the history of the United Nations and the change in prevailing American attitutes toward the U.N. She noted the benefits of the Model U.N. program at various schools and colleges and used the most recent Republican presidential debate to illustrate her discouragement about the push to make U.S. contributions to the U.N. optional. She sought to cast the work, aims and mission of the United Nations in a positive light, especially the recently adopted "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine.

-- "We (in the United States) in effect abdicate our leadership. And when we abdicate our leadership, it creates a vacuum. Everything we do is writ large and remembered by the United Nations and the rest of the world."
-- "I regret that the U.S. military does not serve as peacekeepers in U.N. missions. I've talked to many Canadian soldiers who said that peacekeeping was the highlight of their military careers."
-- "We need to age peace as hard as we wage war."