A symposium held May 16 to honor the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Center for International Studies portrayed with candor and enthusiasm the center's early history, its evolving mission and its innovations in research and policy.
The event followed a presentation, on May 15, of a gift of $10 million to the center from the Starr Foundation. The major gift for endowment is the largest grant ever from a private foundation in support of a program within MIT's School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.
The day-long symposium was held in Wong Auditorium. Among the 15 speaker-participants in the four panel discussions were former U.S. presidential advisors; former CIS faculty and current faculty at MIT and elsewhere, and a former vice president of the International Court of Justice.
The group of panelists with distinguished public service at the national and international levels included Francis Bator, deputy national security advisor to President Johnson, 1965-1967; Carl Kaysen, national security advisor to President Kennedy, 1961-1963, who is a senior lecturer in CIS; Ernest J. Moniz, a professor of physics and former undersecretary of energy, 1997 to 2001; and, via videotape, Walt W. Rostow, co-founder of CIS in 1951 and special assistant for national security affairs to President Kennedy, 1961.
None shied away from the center's roots in the Cold War, and their personal memories sounded sometimes like a veritable Who's Who among late 20th century U.S. foreign policy makers.
As Bator (S.B. 1949, Ph.D.) asked rhetorically in the first discussion, "Did the Cold War affect policy research at CIS? Yes, and why not? CIS was founded to do policy-relevant work in the context of Stalin's invasions."
Bator supported access to government and influence within, for universities. On the panel topic "Research and the National Interest," he commented, "Too close to the prince is dangerous; too far, courts irrelevance."
Thomas Schelling of the University of Maryland noted, "Academic research and teaching has more effect on defense policy than on any other, including environmental, social and transportation policies." This is due in part to the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force sending "colonel-level" people to study at universities, he said.
Moniz, also serving on the CIS opening panel, discussed how the terrorist attacks on Sept.11 created a new general perception of the "security environment" to which universities should adapt with "pro-active strategies" of their own. These might include incentives for faculty and for students to work on behalf of national security.
Balakrishnan Rajagopol, director of the CIS Program on Human Rights and Justice, moderated a panel on human rights and justice.
C. G. Weeramantry, retired vice president of the International Court of Justice, declared, "We must think in terms of the confluence of civilizations, not the clash of civilzations."
Saskia Sassen, of the University of Chicago, described the human rights and public health effects of "hyper-indebtedness," payments made in service of debt in developing countries. Increased trafficking in women was a sign of "strategies of despair" being used increasingly, she said.
Joshua Cohen, head of the department of political science, a professor of philosophy and the Leon and Anne Goldberg Professor of the Humanities, said, "A world without torture and with genuine assurances of bodily security is no small hope. And we can hope for more. A doctrine of human rights should be stated autonomously of nation or religion, a shared terrain of argument to which governments, corporations and others can be held. Human rights are an essential part of international society."
The other panels were on war and peace in the 21st century, moderated by CIS associate director Stephen Van Evera; and the significance of global education, moderated by Suzanne Berger, professor of political science.
A videotaped greeting from Rostow, now Rex G. Baker Jr., Professor Emeritus of Political Economy at the University of Texas at Austin, set the tone. Rostow combined historical perspective and a near-gleeful glimpse of work yet to be done in his comments.
"Our work was not determined by the Cold War but by the analysis of men who assumed responsibility for developing countries. We hoped to maximize the chance of transforming those countries, of resisting the blandishments of the communists, with a minimum of violence," he said, speaking of the founding mission of CIS.
Looking ahead, Rostow wished CIS "as much fun as we had in the first 10 years."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 22, 2002.