Former senator Richard Lugar discusses state of U.S. foreign relations in annual lecture

Paige Leskin, Reporter

Despite numerous concerns about the current state of America’s foreign policy, former Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) said Wednesday night at Northwestern he still has faith the United States is the “strongest country on Earth.”

Lugar explained that America remains the only nation with the resources to send troops anywhere in the world and stability to control the seas. The senator spoke to a crowd of more than 125 people in Harris Hall for the 24th annual Richard W. Leopold Lecture.

Established by the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences in 1990, the lecture was named after an NU history professor who specialized in foreign policy. Leopold, who died in 2006, was remembered for his “high standards” and “unmatched intellectual drive,” Weinberg Dean Sarah Mangelsdorf said.

“I never knew anyone who cared so much about what he was teaching,” said Phil Friedman (Weinberg ’76, Law ’79), who was once a student of Leopold’s. “It was an around-the-clock job for him.”

Friedman said Lugar was a logical choice to be selected as the lecturer. The Leopold speaker is chosen each year by a special committee, currently led by history Prof. Michael Sherry. Sherry said the team looked for “a distinguished person who has had an important role in American foreign relations.”

“(Sen. Lugar) is just the kind of guest Dick Leopold had in mind,” he said.

Lugar served in the Senate for 36 years, from 1977 to 2013. During that period, he was named chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee two different times. His work toward dismantling nuclear weapons around the world led to the creation of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which led to the destruction of such weapons in the Soviet Union. He was defeated in the Indiana Republican primary in 2012 by tea party challenger Richard Mourdock.

In his speech, Lugar emphasized the improvement in American foreign policy that has occurred since the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.

“Whether we knew it or not, we were under the gun for 40 years,” he said.

He outlined the good and bad of the country’s current international relations. He said it is a “blessing” that Europe has been at peace since NATO was founded; however, Lugar said, a crisis still lies in the continent’s economy. He also said German chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent discovery of spying by the National Security Agency gave the world reason to distrust America.

Lugar also addressed the U.S. involvement in the Middle East, praising the scheduled removal of troops from Afghanistan by 2014. He also expressed concern about the effects of air pollution in China on global warming.

“People can barely see their ways across the highway,” he said.

He defended the American government with regards to the recent government shutdown. He said that although it was “embarrassing,” it only showed “the nature of our political system.”

Before the lecture, Lugar held a question-and-answer session Wednesday afternoon for a group of 15 students. Besides discussing foreign policy in countries like China and Brazil, he shared how he became interested in foreign policy. He told stories about his time as a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford, calling it a “life-changing experience.”

“I discovered there how big the world is,” he said. “So diverse, so unusual.”

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