Tribalism and the Perils of Self-determination

presented by

The American Academy of Diplomacy


The Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello

Saturday, October 27, 2018

9:30 a.m. – 3:15 p.m.

The Robert H. Smith Center at Montalto

Charlottesville, Virginia

Since President Wilson’s time, American foreign policy has consistently supported the principle of “national self-determination.”  In the 20th Century, this concept initially focused on nation-states moving from under colonialism.  Today, ethnic and religious “tribalism” in the Middle East increasingly threatens the breakup of existing states, but Europe is not immune, as the Catalans in Spain and many Scots in the United Kingdom have demonstrated recently.

How should “tribalism” be defined in the international sphere?  Is self-determination really in the interest of the United States today?  If so, what lessons have we learned from our experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and the Balkans?  These are among the questions this conference will address.

To answer these questions the conference will bring together experts with diverse global perspectives. Professor Frank Cogliano will provide a historical background on the American approach to self-determination, and the panel discussion between Ambassador (ret.) Robert Beecroft, Ambassador (ret.) Ryan Crocker, and Ambassador (ret.) Linda Thomas-Greenfield will focus on concrete case studies of Bosnia, Iraq, Syria and South Sudan.

The keynote address will be delivered by Ambassador (ret.) Wendy Chamberlin, a career U.S. diplomat and an expert on the Middle East and East Asia. As part of her 29-year career with the U.S. Foreign Service she was an ambassador to Pakistan and Laos and held numerous other assignments, including director of press and public affairs for the Near East Bureau, deputy chief of mission in Kuala Lumpur, Arab-Israeli affairs and postings in Morocco, Malaysia and Zaire. Upon her retirement from U.S. government she served as deputy high commissioner for the UN Refugee Agency before assuming the presidency of the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. from which she retired in July, 2018.

The conference is free and open to the general public, and will take place from 9:30 am to 3:15 pm. It is part of a series of annual discussions exploring the role of diplomacy in US foreign relations, and encouraging discussions of foreign affairs across the country.  The event is organized by the American Academy of Diplomacy and The Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello. For more information email: