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Senator Richard G. Lugar

Speech to the Fulbright Association on the Occasion of the
Acceptance of the Fulbright Prize for International Understanding


I am deeply honored to receive the Fulbright Prize for International Understanding.  I thank the Fulbright Association and the Selection Committee for the award and for the opportunity to address this gathering of distinguished friends who are committed to the ideals espoused by the visionary J. William Fulbright.

The Fulbright Prize is especially meaningful to me because of my personal experiences with Senator Fulbright.  I did not have the pleasure of serving with him in the Senate.  He left office in 1974, two years before I was elected to represent Indiana.  But his influence on my career and development was profound and permanent.

In 1954, I was fortunate to receive a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University.  I chose Pembroke College, where during my first year, I was the only American in attendance.  Soon after I arrived at Pembroke, my tutor in politics, the Master of Pembroke, R.B. McCallum, told me about his tutorial work with Senator William Fulbright of Arkansas.

Emboldened by Master McCallum’s Fulbright stories, I decided to write to Senator Fulbright.  He was in the midst of an embattled relationship with Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, and he shared with me his thoughts about the McCarthy era in a series of letters as our correspondence expanded.  I was deeply moved that he took the time to write to me then and during my Mayoralty and Senate careers and even more astonished to learn, years later, that he had kept my letters.

Senator Fulbright and I shared a remarkable number of common experiences, though generally these occurred decades apart.  Both Senator Fulbright and I won Rhodes Scholarships after earning our bachelor’s degrees.  Both of us chose to study at Pembroke College.  Both of us focused much attention on government and economics while at Oxford.  And both of us were blessed with the same tutor, R. B. McCallum.  Senator Fulbright studied under him near the beginning of his career, while I was tutored much later.

Both of us were elected to the Senate from our home states – Arkansas in his case, and Indiana in mine.  Both of these states are in the interior of the United States and neither was typically associated with international interests a half-century ago.  But both of us sought a seat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which has oversight of U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy.  Both of us, ascended to the chairmanship of this Committee.  Senator Fulbright, in fact, holds the record as the longest serving chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a remarkable tenure from 1959 to 1974.

Like Senator Fulbright, I discovered the extraordinary challenges and opportunities of international education at Pembroke College — my first trip outside of the United States.  The parameters of my imagination expanded enormously during this time, as I gained a sense of how large the world was, how many talented people there were, and how many opportunities one could embrace.

He was especially generous to me when I became chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in 1985 for the first time.  He wrote: “It is an unusual coincidence that two Rhodes men from Pembroke should be Chairmen of the Committee.”  He continued to offer encouragement during visits that we enjoyed at Senate receptions and reunions.  In September 1986, I had the great pleasure to join Senator Fulbright at the University of Arkansas, where he had served as President, for a celebration of the Fulbright Scholarship Program.

Senator Fulbright is known throughout the world for the educational exchange program that bears his name.  Since Senator Fulbright’s legislation passed in 1946, the program has provided more than 360,000 participants the opportunity to study, teach, and conduct research in a foreign country.  As Master McCallum declared in 1963, “Fulbright is responsible for the greatest movement of scholars across the face of the earth since the fall of Constantinople in 1453.”

The Fulbright Program’s remarkable contributions to the development of hundreds of thousands of participants provide ample justification for the program.  But Senator Fulbright expected much more.  He always was unabashed in his advocacy of the program as a foreign policy tool.  For him, the Fulbright Program was not intended merely to benefit individual scholars, or more generally to advance human knowledge — though those goals have been fulfilled beyond his original expectations.  The program was meant to expand ties between nations, improve international commerce, encourage cooperative solutions to global problems, and prevent war.  In his book, The Price of Empire, he wrote: “Educational exchange is not merely one of those nice but marginal activities in which we engage in international affairs, but rather, from the standpoint of future world peace and order, probably the most important and potentially rewarding of our foreign-policy activities.”  He called the Fulbright Scholarship Program, “a modest program with an immodest aim – the achievement in international affairs of a regime more civilized, rational, and humane than the empty system of power of the past.”

For Senator Fulbright, the program was intended to give participants a chance to develop a sense of global service and responsibility.  Alumni of the program are among the most visible leaders in their respective countries.  Over the decades, they have explained to their fellow citizens why diplomacy and international cooperation are important.  They have been advocates of international engagement within governments, corporations, schools, and communities that do not always recognize the urgency of solving global problems.

In my judgment, the impact of the Fulbright program as a foreign policy tool has extended well beyond the accomplishments and understanding of its own participants.  It has been the most influential large-scale model for promoting the concept of international education, and it has been a primary validation of the American university system to the rest of the world.

In the United States, we have critiqued and even lamented some aspects of our public diplomacy since the end of the Cold War.  But hosting foreign students has been an unqualified public diplomacy success.  Nearly a million foreign students now study at U.S. universities and the number is growing.  The success of American universities with foreign students would not have been as profound without the stimulation of foreign interest in American higher education provided by the Fulbright program.

Funding a great foreign exchange program is a sign of both national pride and national humility.  Implicit in such a program is the audacious view that people from other nations see one’s country and educational system as a beacon of knowledge — as a place where thousands of top international scholars would want to study and live.  But it is also an admission that a nation does not have all the answers – that our national understanding of the world is incomplete.  It is an admission that we are part of a much larger world that has intellectual, scientific, and moral wisdom that we need to learn.

In a speech on the Senate floor in 1966, during the Vietnam War, Senator Fulbright underscored his concern about our national humility by saying: “Power tends to confuse itself with virtue and a great nation is particularly susceptible to the idea that its power is a sign of God’s favor.”

Senator Fulbright understood that a great nation must continue to invest in its own wisdom and capabilities for human interaction.  He understood that no amount of military strength or even skillful decision-making could make up for a lack of alliances, trading partners, diplomatic capabilities, and international respect.  Maintaining alliances and friendships between nations is hard work.  No matter how close allies become, centrifugal forces generated by basic differences in the size, location, wealth, histories, and political systems of nations tend to pull nations apart.  Alliances work over long periods of time only when leaders and citizens continually reinvigorate the union and its purposes.

Often we need to pause to remember that the practice of foreign policy is not defined by a set of proposals or even a set of decisions.   Unfortunately, reporters, politicians, and even most historians portray foreign policy as a geopolitical chess game or a series of great diplomatic events.  This perception is reinforced by books and movies about dramatic moments in diplomatic history, like the Cuban Missile Crisis or President Nixon going to China.  These events capture our imagination, because we relive the struggles of leaders during times of great risk as they weigh the potential consequences of their actions.  We ask whether Presidents and Prime Ministers were right or wrong in adopting a particular strategy.

But Senator Fulbright understood that crisis decision-making is a small slice of a nation’s foreign policy.  He understood that a successful foreign policy depends much more on how well a nation prepares to avoid a crisis.

When a nation gets to the point of having to make tactical choices in a time of crisis – it almost always is choosing between a bad option and a worse option.   Crisis decision-making is to foreign policy what a surgeon is to personal health.  Whether a body will resist disease depends on good nutrition, consistent exercise, and other healthy preparations much more than the skill of a surgeon employed as a last resort after the body has broken down.  The preparation for good health and for a strong foreign policy is the part that we can best control, and it is the part that must receive most of our energies and resources.

In this century, the ability of nations to communicate and work with each other across borders will determine the fate of billions of people.  The effectiveness of our response to pandemics, nuclear proliferation, environmental disasters, energy and food insecurity, and threats of conflict will depend foremost on the investments we have made in knowledge, relationships, and communications.

Since September 11, 2001, the United States has been engaged in a debate over how to apply national power and resources most effectively to achieve the maximum degree of security.  Recent foreign policy discussions have often focused on simplistic and demagogic policy proposals, including carpet bombing ISIS, rolling back trade agreements, reducing commitments to allies, and building a wall on our southern border.  These and many other similar policy prescriptions have offered the false hope that we can solve our problems by insulating American society from the rest of the world.

But to survive and to prosper in this century, the United States must assign U.S. economic and diplomatic capabilities the same strategic priority that we assign to military capabilities.   We must commit ourselves to the painstaking work of foreign policy day by day and year by year.  We must commit ourselves to a sustained program of repairing and building alliances, expanding trade, fighting disease and hunger, pursuing resolutions to regional conflicts, fostering democracy worldwide, controlling weapons of mass destruction, and explaining ourselves to the world.

As Senator Fulbright explained in a 1945 Senate speech, just before the end of the war in Europe, “Peace does not consist merely of a solemn declaration or a well-drafted Constitution.  The making of peace is a continuing process that must go on from day to day, from year to year, so long as our civilization shall last.”

The success of such peacemaking will depend on our willingness to prepare for the long-term future as Senator Fulbright did – through enlightened investments in people and relationships.   And it will depend upon our devotion to movements exemplified by the Fulbright Program that reaches out to the world with both pride and humility.


The George Washington University, Jack Morton Auditorium

November 10, 2016