Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Condoleezza Rice explores the state of geopolitics in Goff Smith Lecture

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explored how Middle East political upheaval is affecting oil prices, and discussed other situations around the world during a lecture Wednesday at Rackham Auditorium.

  Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice participates in a question-and-answer session following her lecture. (Photo by Scott Soderberg, U-M Photo Services)

Now a professor at Stanford University, Rice delivered the 2011 Goff Smith Lecture titled "The Interface of Energy and Geopolitics," in which she offered opinions on the future of nuclear power, the Middle East, America's competition with China as an economic superpower and more.

Her lecture was followed by a question-and-answer session with James Duderstadt, president emeritus and University Professor of Science and Engineering.

Of the recent rebellions in the Middle East, Rice said, "This has been a long time in coming." The unrest likely will keep oil prices high for a while, she said, as that region produces 40 percent of global supply.

"We knew that you had aging authoritarian governments that were corrupt; you had growing youth populations that were unemployed. We knew the authoritarians had made no space for decent politics. … If you don't allow decent politics in the middle, that is precisely what you will get," she said.

Rice said that while Egypt and Tunisia will be OK, "There will be voices we don't like. But it is better than the silence of totalitarianism."

While some Middle East countries likely will form stable constitutional monarchies, "You have disaster cases like Libya and Yemen, rife with al-Qaida," countries that could become "the Afghanistans of the next decade," she said.

The nuclear disaster in Japan that followed the earthquake and tsunami will dampen interest in pursuing nuclear power in the United States and some European countries, but not everywhere, she said.

"I think China is still full speed ahead. They're too dependent on nuclear power. And likely in Russia too," despite the accident at Chernobyl, she said. The French, also deeply committed to nuclear power, won't pull back. "Probably India is another place, because it has a vibrant debating society that may slow (nuclear development)," Rice said.

Addressing speculation that China could surpass the United States as an economic power, Rice agreed that China had performed an economic miracle by raising millions of Chinese out of poverty. Still, she said, there are significant problems with labor relations and product safety. "There are lots of strains and stresses and a rigid political system," Rice said, adding the Chinese government is terrified of the Internet.

Rice also said that while serving as the country's chief foreign affairs officer was the highlight of her life, she is satisfied to return to academia. American colleges and universities are "probably at the core of the greatness of our country," Rice told the hundreds that filled the auditorium.

A Phi Beta Kappa political science graduate of the University of Denver, Rice earned a master's degree from Notre Dame and doctorate from the University of Denver, then joined the faculty of Stanford University, where she became provost in 1993.

Rice served as a foreign policy adviser to then-Gov. George W. Bush's presidential campaign, was appointed National Security Adviser by President Bush, serving from 2001-05, and served as Secretary of State from 2005-09, before returning to Stanford.

The lecture was sponsored by the College of Engineering.