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Prof. Robert Kennedy

PhD in Political Science, President of the Atlanta Council on International Relations, Professor Emeritus of International Affairs, Sam Nunn School of Georgia Institute of Technology

Prof. Robert Kennedy

Speaker Bio

Professor Kennedy is the recipient of the Joint Distinguished Civilian Service Award from the Chairman, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, a Doctorate Honoris Causа from the Bulgarian National Defense College, and the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award.

Professor Kennedy has served on the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Executive Committee for the accrediting of joint military education, as an Academic Associate of the Atlantic Council of the U.S., as General Editor of The Atlanta Papers. He has lectured and published widely and has served as a consultant in the fields of international security and defense affairs. 

Speech

Well, thank you so much, Olga! And thanks so much to the organizers of this conference for inviting me here to speak today.

It is certainly a great honor and a privilege to join such a distinguished group of people and address what is clearly a very important topic.

Ladies and Gentlemen. Today we are living in times, as you have seen, of a great promise, but also of great trauma. On the one hand, as you have heard, we are blessed by emerging technologies that can be a great benefit to all humanity. On the other hand, we now confront a number of challenges that are disruptive and often dangerous. Challenges that in one way or another affect and will continue to affect each one of us, our families, our friends, and the generations that follow. Unfortunately, to date, our responses to these challenges have been characterized by denial, confusion, dissention, and delay, often driven by ignorance or greed or national agendas which are at odds with the broader needs of their own citizens and the greater international community. 

To mention a few briefly in the short time that I have 

1st you’ll hear much after I talk is Climate Change. Everyone is aware of the changes in climate that are currently underway.

  • Yes, at times there is climate has been warmer as well as colder than it is today. 

  • However, today scientists are seriously concerned that human activity is having a dramatic and dangerous effect on Earth’s climate. You all have heard the causes - the burning of fossil fuels, the increasing methane gases, the cutting of forests, and so on.

  • Unfortunately, the problem is not just environmental, it is economic, social, and political.

  • Higher temperatures, more frequent and more devasting weather patterns – more tornadoes, more hurricanes, more typhoons, sea levels, drying lakes will all affect billions of people.

  • Dangerous emissions affect individual health, rising seas will result in mass migrations, rising temperatures will affect what crops can be grown and wherewith resultant mass starvations and/or mass migrations.

  • And above all, climate change, ladies and gentlemen, is a political problem, because it takes politics just resolve the crisis, nations are going to have to make decisions that often will be highly controversial – both domestically and internationally. Perhaps more significantly, failure to meet the challenge of climate change will inevitably result in increased friction and conflict among peoples and nations. 

2nd the continued proliferation of weapons of mass destruction

  •  Despite international treaties limiting such weapons, several states that remain outside of these treaties are known to have developed or are developing nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction and terrorist groups are known to be seeking the fissile materials and other components needed in the production of such weapons.

  • The prospects of deliberate use of such weapons or use resulting from escalating tensions and miscalculation are a real and present danger, with massive casualties and long-term effects on the planet that cannot be easily measured.

3rd Artificial Intelligence. You’ve heard a lot this morning about Artificial Intelligence. The problems associated with the emergence of Artificial Intelligence are just now being revealed. You’ve heard much about this, as I mentioned, they include, as has been mentioned, they include as a minimum:

  • Loss of jobs, as machines, not only produce what is needed but also decide on how and what is to be produced and when.

  • The safety problem: the robot gone rogue

  • The trust problem: can artificial intelligence achieve cognitive levels equal to or better than human beings and if so, can they be trusted to do the right thing – the moral and the ethical thing. Pull it hard

Finally, Income inequality, both within and among nations,

  • Just 8 people now possess the same wealth as 3.6 billion people or nearly ½ of all human begins

  • Within nations, the disparity in wealth can be stark, with the rich growing richer, and the poor incomes that stagnate.

  • The problem is perhaps worse globally. For example, per capita income measured in Purchasing Power Parity in 2020 by the International Monetary Fund range from Luxembourg at $118,000, at the top level, to Burundi at c. $760, at the bottom level.

Such inequality not only breeds contempt, but also discontent among the poorest peoples and nations and gives rise to conflicts within and among nations.

In many ways these challenges are unprecedented. However, today we also are presented with an unprecedented opportunity. Never before in the history of mankind have we been more connected to each other. The airplane, the internet, the smartphone, Zoom have nearly eliminated barriers of time and distance. We can chat with someone halfway around the world. We can learn about other peoples, other cultures, other religions, simply by typing a few words on our computer. We have facetime, we have Facebook, Twitter and so on as further means of communication.

Yet none of this will matter.

As long as we, as people and nations, continue to pursue our own personal desires and individual self-interest without consideration of the interests and needs of the greater community, mankind will not be able to successfully address the increasingly dangerous challenges that lie ahead. Consequences, ladies and gentlemen, of such a failure will be terrible in terms of loss of human life, national treasure, and human deprivation. 

The question we must therefore ask ourselves is: can we overcome our differences and work together as peoples and nations? The world will not change on its own. It is up to us to act. Differing points of view will remain a natural and permanent feature of human existence. They arise from such factors as differences in culture, traditions, beliefs, experiences, even language. Yes, indeed, differences can divide. But they need not. Differences can be the source of creative thinking that only derives from differing points of view. And, ladies and gentlemen, to meet the challenges ahead we need to work together and think creatively. 

We need to move beyond the narrow definition of individual and national self-interest and think creatively about how to solve the pressing problems that threaten our future and the future of our planet.

Is this possible? Yes, I believe so. 

However, it will require leadership – a new breed of leaders – men and women of all creeds, races, ethnicity, sexual orientation and so on who are prepared to listen before they speak, to engage in dialogue, to acquire the requisite knowledge, leaders who put others before themselves, leaders will fight for the greater good, leaders who will seek to truly understand and analyze before they decide, who have the moral courage to do what is right, not what is expedient, the humility to recognize that they are not always right, and the integrity to slavishly commit themselves to speak the truth. I am not talking about some abstract persons. I am talking about you and me. We need to mark today as the day we decided to act for the greater good of humanity and demand that our nations’ leaders do the same. Only then will we be able to confront the daunting challenges that lie ahead.

Again, thanks so much for inviting me to speak today.