On Wednesday, October 4, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited The University of Texas at Austin. It was the first event held in the 90-year-old Hogg Auditorium since it closed for extensive renovations. The event was sponsored by UT’s Clements Center for National Security and UT’s Strauss Center for International Security and Law.
President Jay Hartzell welcomed the secretary during the week leading up to the Texas-OU football game, and applauded “the wisdom of his choice in visiting this University on the preferred side of the Red River.”
On stage, Blinken was in conversation with Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Distinguished Alumna of UT, former U.S. senator from Texas, and former U.S. ambassador to NATO.
“I do have one extremely important statement to make before we get into the conversation,” Blinken told Hutchison, at which point he turned to the audience, raised his hand, and gave a forceful “Hook ’em, Horns!” sending the audience into wild cheers. He then sweetened the deal by saying, “And let me help you: Beat…” to which the audience replied “OU!”
Blinken spoke of the present moment as an inflection point on par with the end of World War II and the end of the Cold War — a great-power competition to shape what comes next. “At the same time, we’re having extraordinary transnational challenges, issues that are affecting people in every corner of the globe including here in the United States.” Food security, money, emerging technology, mass migration — “for each and every one of these issues and so many more I think one of the recognitions we have to have is that as strong and powerful as we are in this country none of us — not even the United States — can effectively deal with these challenges alone.”
Blinken said that in the two and a half years since he took office, he has noted, “No country on Earth has a greater ability to mobilize others in collective action as the United States.”
Blinken addressed questions submitted by UT students prior to the event. He also plugged the Foreign Service as a place where virtually any student could use their passions and skill sets to serve their country and the world, adding that there was a table next door in the Flawn Academic Center for students who wanted more information on serving in the State Department.
Hutchison asked whether Ukraine should be able to use frozen Russian assets to pay for humanitarian reconstruction. “We’re looking at what legal authority we have to actually use those assets. My own view is: you broke it, you bought it. The Russians have broken it; they ought to pay for it.”
Hutchison asked Blinken about the Southwest border, saying, “There’s no question that our communities, including very small communities on the border, have had put in their lives this terrible onslaught of illegal immigration. They don’t feel like they can take care of people in a humanitarian way.” She asked if that would be on his agenda with Mexican officials, with whom he would be meeting later in the week. He said it was and that Mexico has an interest in solving the crisis as well.
“The other huge challenge we face [at the border] is the scourge of synthetic opioids. Devastating, destroying families, communities. Fentanyl is the No. 1 killer of Americans age 18 to 49. Just let that sink in for a minute. Of everything else that’s out there — disease, guns, car accidents, you name it — the No. 1 killer is fentanyl. So we have an obligation, and here too we have a global challenge.” Blinken said the market is so saturated in the U.S. that fentanyl is finding its way to other countries, which are now waking up to the crisis.
On artificial intelligence, Blinken said, “That is the frontier. One of the things we’ve been very focused on is making sure we do what we can do to ensure that AI is used for good and that we mitigate the potential downside. The potential for what AI can do to solve the most fundamental problems facing our world is almost limitless.” One example was helping with sustainable development. His goal now is to take the understandings that the White House has reached with U.S. tech leaders and internationalize them, “get other countries to sign on so that we create a foundation of understanding about how AI can be used and how it should be used. This is just the dawn of that effort, and more than anything else, that’s going to shape the future we all live in.”
At the conclusion of the program Hutchison presented Blinken with a quarter-zip fleece printed with logos of the Clements Center, Strauss Center and the KBH Energy Center, of whom Hutchison is the namesake. Hartzell presented him with a Longhorn football jersey with “BLINKEN” on the back.
Photos by Marsha Miller