2018: Tribalism and the Perils of Self-determination

  The American Academy of Diplomacy
The Robert H. Smith International Center
for Jefferson Studies at Monticello


Tribalism and the Perils of Self-determination

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 the conference addressed.

To answer these questions the conference brought together experts with diverse global perspectives. Professor Frank Cogliano provided 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 focused on concrete case studies of Bosnia, Iraq, Syria and South Sudan.

The keynote address was 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.