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Adlai Stevenson's Lasting Legacy

February 05, 2008 // 1:00pm3:00pm
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This event was co-sponsored by the Project on Leadership and Building State Capacity, the United Nations Association of the National Capitol Area, and the Georgetown University Institute for the Study of Diplomacy.

February 5, 2008

Speakers:
Alvin Liebling, Sr. US Administrative Law Judge and Editor of Adlai Stevenson's Lasting Legacy
Adlai E. Stevenson, III, former U.S. Senator from Illinois
Richard N. Gardner, former Ambassador
John Brademas, President Emeritus, New York University
James Goodby, former Ambassador
Felicity Yost, United Nations Graphic Designer and Electoral Observer
Moderator: Thomas R. Pickering, former U.S. Ambassador to the UN

Also featured:
Lee Hamilton, president, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Ed Elmendorf, President, UNA-NCA
Casimir A. Yost, Director, Georgetown University Institute for the Study of Diplomacy

This symposium on February 5, 2008, launched Adlai Stevenson's Lasting Legacy, a compilation of stories and analysis of the life of a great American ambassador. The speakers, who had all contributed to the book, knew and worked with Adlai Stevenson, II, at various times in his political career, from early gubernatorial races to negotiating nuclear test ban agreements at the United Nations.

Thomas Pickering opened the discussion, noting that the current state of global affairs is different and perhaps worse than it was. Pickering said that in his time as UN permanent representative, his main task was to come a quarter of the way to Stevenson's standard, saying that Stevenson set the model for all others to follow, representing the highest possible American diplomatic achievement.

Pickering highlighted the hallmark of Stevenson's legacy, the treaty prohibiting above-ground testing of hydrogen bombs, which eventually led to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty of 1996. Pickering said that Stevenson was a man of wit and intelligence; quoting him, he said that the job was "1/3 alcohol, 1/3 protocol, and 1/3 Geritol," to laughter from the audience.

Ed Elmendorf said that the event held particular meaning for him, as he was a junior Foreign Service officer to the United Nations during Stevenson's time there. He worked as Stevenson's personal assistant during the last days of his life, before he died in May 1965. Elmendorf felt that the stresses of US engagement in both Vietnam and the Dominican Republic took a toll on Stevenson, who once said that he had "only one stomach to give to the US."

Alvin Liebling opened his remarks with his personal and political introduction to Stevenson in 1947, when he headed a college campaign, "Stevenson for Governor." That first experience, he said, was a motivating factor for the book. He noted that the occasion was not only commemorative of the book's release, but also of Stevenson's birthday, February 5, 1900. He explained that the book contains twelve chapters from those who knew and served with Stevenson.

Liebling outlined Stevenson's career as the 33rd governor of Illinois, two-time presidential candidate, and permanent representative to the United Nations between 1961 and 1965. The book includes an essay by Stevenson himself, reasoning his opposition to further above-ground testing of hydrogen bombs. Though his opposition was initially met with strong resistance, the Eisenhower administration adopted the policy just two years later. This is a testament, Liebling said, to Stevenson's courage—not to pursue the generally popular view, but the course which he felt was the best.

Liebling cited the never-completed nuclear weapons inspections in Iraq and the subsequent invasion to illustrate that patience and diplomacy were trumped by haste, an outcome that Stevenson would surely have lamented. Finally, Liebling reinforced the idea that Stevenson stood for a higher standard of internationalism, diplomacy, and nuclear security. He advocated a more sensitive foreign policy "for an era that demanded peace, that emphasized consensus-building and patience, collaborative diplomacy, not unilateral action and preemption." Stevenson's legacy offers timely insight for America's next steps forward.

Adlai E. Stevenson III opened his remarks with a look at his father's origins, as a product of World War I and the enlightened politics and internationalism of Woodrow Wilson. He described his father, "the Guv," as he was known by some, as an intellectual, though not a scholar. Stevenson was a student of the world, always listening and absorbing history. It was for this reason, Stevenson III surmised, that his father's politic was so devoid of dogma and ideology.

Stevenson III also mentioned that while Woodrow Wilson fell among Stevenson's sources of influence, much of his inspiration came from Abraham Lincoln. He cited a long family history of active political participation as evidence. For Stevenson, "democracy was not a means to power. It was an end in itself, and fragile. 'Trust the people with the truth,' he said, 'All the truth. What wins is more important than who wins.'"

Stevenson disliked the idea of televised presidential campaigns, beginning in 1952 and 1956, which he likened to product advertising, cheapening the meaning of democratic process. Stevenson lost the presidential elections in both years, but won the hearts and minds of many Americans and laid the foundation for better government and diplomacy.

Finally, Stevenson III noted that a center for the study of democracy is being planned, to commemorate his father's life and legacy.

Richard N. Gardner opened his remarks by telling a story from one of Stevenson's presidential campaigns. Steveson got off of an airplane and saw a handful of supporters there on the tarmac. One man held a sign saying that Adlai Stevenson was the "Candidate of the Thinking American," to which Stevenson replied, "Oh god, now I know I've lost."

"Just what is Adlai Stevenson's lasting legacy?" Gardner asked. While it certainly could be his intelligence or his eloquence, Gardner stated that the real legacy is one of international cooperation and the legitimacy for our foreign policy that it can provide. He cited the consensus of the Organization of American States before imposition of the Cuban trade embargo. President Kennedy did not do this alone, and it was not perceived as unilateral American action due to Stevenson's insistence on an international approach.

He believes Stevenson raised the intellectual level and moral authority of American engagement and representation in the United Nations. Gardener said that we had never had a team of such quality before, nor have we since. During his tenure, the world experienced the greatest ever period of United Nations enlargement, with the advent of United Nations Development Programme, the World Food Programme, Principles on Outer Space, the first treaties on Human Rights, and the first semblance of institutionalized peacekeeping.

In closing, Gardner quoted Stevenson: "UN is not a substitute for a strong defense, or for bilateral diplomacy, or for regional arrangements, but that it offers a uniquely valuable place for building institutions where global interests are involved and global cooperation is absolutely necessary." As we face new problems and conflicts, Adlai Stevenson's vision of constructive and realistic internationalism is more important than ever, he concluded.

Felicity Yost began by saying that her chapter of the book focuses on the relationship between Adlai Stevenson and her father, Charles Yost, and their relationship with the United Nations. Both of them, from the outset, believed that the principles upon which the UN was founded, would serve as a guide for foreign relations.

In 1961, Charles Yost became Stevenson's deputy at the UN. It was a time when the UN was regularly called on to intervene in international crises, often at the request of the United States. Felicity Yost said that Stevenson despaired at the United States' ignorance of the United Nations' effectiveness for people all over the world.

Felicity Yost spoke of their views on peacekeeping. Both Stevenson and Yost supported a standing peacekeeping force for the Security Council. Currently, the states who do contribute peacekeeping troops often provide poorly trained and unprofessional ones. During Stevenson's time, the UN would deploy peacekeepers in as little as two weeks from the decision to send them, a far cry from the state of modern UN peacekeeping.

Finally, Yost said that she hopes that the UN will continue to meet the challenge. She quoted Stevenson: "Our job is to save the peace. If you're ready to try, we are."

James Goodby said that he was inspired by Stevenson. A certain phrase came to his mind, he said, printed in Latin in a cathedral in London, It says "if you seek his monument, look around you." Goodby noted that our cities are still here, and that we are still here. This outcome was not guaranteed during the depths of the Cold War. Stevenson's positions were unpopular at the time, but he was correct. Goodby cited the ferocious backlash that followed Stevenson's essay proposing limits on the testing of thermonuclear weapons. This position was unpopular then, and continues to be now. Stevenson set the course for those who support some restraint for nuclear testing.

By 1958, however, Eisenhower declared a moratorium on such testing. Kennedy picked up the idea when he took office, and made clear that he supported a comprehensive test ban. Kennedy persevered and achieved a limited test ban treaty, which Ambassador Pickering helped to draft. This was the first treaty that limited nuclear testing of this kind, signed in 1963. Johnson supported this view and tried to further it. Nixon and Kissinger carried the initiative, and Regan did as well. Since Stevenson's tenure, the trend has been slow but steady downward. The newer threat of nuclear terrorism makes Stevenson's stance even more relevant and timely. Goodby asked the audience to consider Stevenson's memory and legacy, and try to apply it to today's issues.

John Brademas began by saying that there were several reasons why he was happy to be in attendance, one of which being that he helped draft the law which created the Wilson Center. He was also for a time, on the Center's advisory council.

In 1956, Brademus to join Stevenson's presidential campaign, becoming Stevenson's executive assistant for research on issues. It was, as Brademas described it, one of the most fascinating and influential years of his life, as he became a part of Stevenson's staff and brain-trust. Dwight Eisenhower won the presidential election, however, and Stevenson was defeated.

Brademas cites Stevenson's example of political leadership as a model, which contributed greatly to his approach to his own commitments, both as a congressman and at New York University. Brademas maintained that Stevenson elevated the value of politics as an honorable and dutiful vocation. Brademas noted that political cohesion is often evasive, especially with 100 senators and 453 representatives. He honored Stevenson's commitment to democratic participation.

Drafted by Gregor Young

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