Past Event

Insanity Is Not Destiny: Opportunities in National Security

April 13, 2021
1:00 PM - 2:30 PM
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Join the Center on Global Economic Governance for the Annual Ambassador Donald and Vera Blinken Lecture, entitled "Insanity Is Not Destiny: Opportunities in National Security."

April 13th, 2021 1:00 – 2:30 pm EDT

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Address by: 
Jane Harman, Distinguished Fellow and President Emerita, Wilson Center

Welcome Remarks: 
Merit E. Janow, Dean, School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) and Professor of Practice, International Economic Law and International Affairs, Columbia University 

Moderated by:
Jan Svejnar, James T. Shotwell Professor of Global Political Economy and Director, Center on Global Economic Governance, Columbia University 

Everyone knows that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Jane Harman spent three decades in the defense and intelligence space, and remains vexed at how the policies designed to protect America are actually making the nation less safe. She calls this the “insanity defense:” doing the same thing again and again and expecting it to enhance our security.
Consider the track record of the past 30 years. We slashed defense and intelligence spending at the end of the Cold War without a strategy for what the world would look like. We blew off multiple terrorism warnings and then created a homeland security apparatus neglected and misused by successive presidents and Congresses. We ran the intelligence community on a 1947 business model, reforming it after the Iraq debacle then undermining it through repeated purges of experienced career leadership. We ignored the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions when detaining and interrogating so-called enemy combatants. We adopted a massive extrajudicial domestic surveillance program. We allowed successive presidents to conduct military operations, drone strikes, and arms sales launched without congressional approval or oversight. A fourth decade following the end of the Cold War is about to begin in an atmosphere of crisis and recrimination. Can we do better? Yes. Will we? Harman would argue we don’t have a choice. Insanity is not destiny. 

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Center on Global Economic Governance