At Munich Security Conference, IGP Experts Discuss Role of Universities in Navigating Election-Year Geopolitics

Posted Feb 20 2024
Munich Security Conference
L–R: Jason Bordoff, Maria Ressa, Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, Dean Keren Yarhi-Milo

In 2024, a record 64 nations representing half the global population will hold elections amidst several new global security challenges including AI, conflict, and climate change. 

The Institute of Global Politics hosted a side event at the Munich Security Conference on February 16 addressing these critical topics. Secretary Hillary Clinton, professor of international and public affairs and IGP Faculty Advisory Board Chair, moderated the panel, which included SIPA dean Keren Yarhi-Milo, IGP Carnegie Distinguished Fellow and Nobel laureate Maria Ressa and IGP Faculty Advisory Board Member and Center on Global Energy Policy founding director Jason Bordoff. The event was held in the Public Square at Hotel Bayerischer Hof. 

The conversation — “The Role of Universities in Navigating the Geopolitics of the Global Election Year” — covered a wide range of global policy issues, from mis/disinformation and the clean energy transition, to current conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza. 

Kicking off the panel, Yarhi-Milo spoke about the important role of universities in facilitating civil discourse. 

“In an election year and across different countries, it is very important that we teach the skill of engaging and disagreeing in a civil way and bring a perspective of views, which is very hard, because a lot of our students are used to being in echo chambers these days because of social media,” she said. 

“There’s a real distinction between feeling unsafe and feeling uncomfortable.”  
— Dean Keren Yarhi-Milo

Ressa noted that today’s college students “are the first generation that grew up on this technology. Yes, they are more idealistic. Yes, they can tell facts and fiction better than our generation. But they're also surfing on the surface. They're living there. They’re living performative lives. How do you find meaning in a world like this?” 

The Rappler CEO referenced the work that she and her IGP AI & Democracy Innovation Lab colead Camille François MIA ’13 (also in attendance at the conference) are doing to “tackle this problem on two levels, bottom up and top down.” 

Bordoff pointed to a “rising set of geopolitical issues associated with the clean energy transition,” noting that more climate leaders are needed at security conferences like Munich, while more national security leaders are needed at gatherings like COP29 in Dubai. The upcoming elections, he said, have huge implications for climate policy. 

“[The US] election is going to matter a lot for two divergent directions in which climate action could go,” Bordoff said. “So all around the world, these elections matter enormously with more than half the world's population voting elections this year." 

Yarhi-Milo reflected on the SIPA course she co-taught with Secretary Clinton, Inside the Situation Room, and the need for empathy in understanding policymaking. 

“Empathy is not sympathy, it’s the idea that we are having a really hard time putting ourselves in the shoes of our opponents,” she said. “And the more that they are different from us culturally, the harder it is, and this is the source of many intelligence failures, and it's a source of many policy failures.” 

Clinton added that there is “a disbelief that someone could actually be thinking of doing something that you believe sounds and looks so irrational, and you don't want it to be true. And I think we've had too much wishful thinking in our geopolitical understanding in the last 20 or so years. I think it's been way too hopeful instead of hard headed.” 

The panel concluded with a discussion about the current conflict in Gaza.

Watch the complete event: