College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

Ambassador Jack Matlock

The fourth Fulbright Annual Lecture Series will be delivered by US Ambassador Jack Matlock.

Ambassador Jack Matlock

The Ukrainian Crisis: Reflections on Power in Today's World

Event details

Date: Thursday 11 June 2015, 5.15pm - 6.15pm

Venue: Lecture Theatre G.03, 50 George Square, EH8 9JY, Edinburgh

Lecture video

About the lecturer

Jack Matlock was U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union (1987-1991), Special Assistant to the President for National Security (1983-1986), and Ambassador to Czechoslovakia (1981-1983).

During his 35-year Foreign Service career he served four tours in Moscow between 1961 and 1991, seven years in Africa (Ghana and Tanzania), five years in Central and Eastern Europe (Austria, Germany, Czechoslovakia) two years as Deputy Director of the Foreign Service Institute, and several years in Washington dealing with Soviet and European affairs.

Since retiring from the Foreign Service in 1991, Matlock has held academic positions at Columbia (1991-1996 and 2007-2012), the Institute for Advanced Study (1996- 2001), Princeton, 2001-2004, Hamilton College (2006 and 2009) and Mount Holyoke College (2007).

He received a BA summa cum laude from Duke University in 1950, an MA and Certificate of the Russian Institute at Columbia University in 1952, and a PhD (Slavic Languages) from Columbia in 2013. He is the author of numerous articles on foreign policy and international relations and of the following books: Superpower Illusions: How Myths and False Ideologies Led America Astray--And How to Return to Reality (2010), Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended (2004); Autopsy on an Empire (1995), as well as a handbook to the Russian edition of Stalin’s Collected Works (1955, 2nd edition, 1971).

Lecture abstract

The Cold War ended by negotiation, not by the victory of one side. Nevertheless, the unfounded triumphalism by the “West,” and the exaggerated Russian reaction to it has produced a new, cold-war-type confrontation over the governance and orientation of Ukraine.

While a country with numerous nuclear weapons may have the capacity to destroy the world, military and economic power, no matter how great, cannot by themselves transform other societies. “Unipolarity” is a mistaken concept while “multipolarity” oversimplifies a complex web of relationships, many among institutions, movements, and groups that are not nation-states.

Many of the most important elements of change are not amenable to state control. As Moises Naim pointed out in his recent book, power is increasingly diffuse and increasingly difficult for political leaders to exercise. Given the many factors that influence and limit the exercise of power, it is pointless to postulate a hierarchy of power. To say that Russia is only a "regional power" ignores its size, astride two continents, its possession of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), its equivalence or superiority in space technology, and its presumed capacity to wage cyberwar if it should ever occur. By ignoring or deprecating Russia’s perception of its vital interests, Western policy has exacerbated Ukraine’s internal problems, estranged Russia, and, if not altered, could produce another dangerous nuclear arms race.