Secretaries of State Project

American Secretaries of State Project
Negotiation Insights from the Masters of Diplomacy


A joint initiative of the Program on Negotiation (PON) at Harvard Law School, the Belfer Center’s Future of Diplomacy Project at Harvard Kennedy School, and Harvard Business School, the American Secretaries of State Project (SOSP) was created to establish a historical chronicle through interviews with former U.S. secretaries of state about the most demanding and consequential negotiations they conducted while in the nation’s highest foreign policy office.

The project is led by three faculty directors: Robert Mnookin, PON Chair and the Samuel Williston Professor of Law at Harvard Law School; Nicholas Burns, professor of the practice of diplomacy and international politics at Harvard Kennedy School; and James Sebenius, Gordon Donaldson Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School—all of whom co-teach the “Great Negotiators, Effective Diplomacy, and Intractable Conflicts” class.

Former Secretaries of State Madeleine K. Albright, James A. Baker III, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Henry A. Kissinger, Colin L. Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and George P. Shultz have been interviewed about the powerful negotiation tactics they applied to managing foreign affairs, advising the president on foreign policy, and executing treaties. Former Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to be interviewed in 2017.

The living history captured by these masterful diplomats spans more than 40 years of service—from the Nixon to Obama administrations—serving as a one-of-a-kind archive for scholars studying conflict prevention and resolution, mediation, negotiation and diplomacy.

Madeleine K. Albright, 64th Secretary of State

Madeleine AlbrightAppointed by President Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright served from January 23, 1997 to January 20, 2001. Ms. Albright was interviewed for the American Secretaries of State Project in April 2015, during which she noted, “I think that the basis of any successful negotiation is to understand what the other person needs…because not everything that the person across the table needs is something that you automatically disagree with.” It was with this openness that Ms. Albright was able to promote the expansion of NATO towards former Soviet bloc nations, extend free-market democratization in the developing world, and further the momentum of the Kyoto Protocol on Global Climate Change.

James A. Baker, III, 61st Secretary of State

James BakerAppointed by President George H. W. Bush, James Baker served from January 22, 1989 to August 23, 1992. Mr. Baker was interviewed for the American Secretaries of State Project in March 2012 when he was also presented with PON’s Great Negotiator Award. As part of his remarks, he conveyed the importance of information control and streamlined management for achieving negotiation success, saying that “the most important thing for a Secretary of State, in terms of whether he or she can be effective, is the relationship with their president…nobody was going to get between me and my president.” During a 1990 Camp David meeting with President Bush and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Baker helped establish a foundation of trust that was critical to persuading a recently reunified Germany to enter NATO, despite deep Soviet misgivings.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, 67th Secretary of State

Hillary ClintonAppointed by President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton served from January 21, 2009 – February 1, 2013. Mrs. Clinton was interviewed for the American Secretaries of State Project in March 2017, during which time she discussed the diplomatic strategy and execution behind the Iran sanctions and subsequent nuclear deal – including measures to garner European Union, Russian, and Chinese support. Described by Nicholas Burns of the Harvard Kennedy School as a “genuine peacemaker,” Mrs. Clinton also negotiated an end to the rocket wars between Israel, Hezbollah, and Hamas and steered the U.S.’s response to the Arab Revolutions of 2011.

Henry A. Kissinger, 56th Secretary of State

Henry KissingerFirst appointed by President Richard Nixon and then President Gerald Ford, Henry Kissinger served from September 22, 1973 – January 20, 1977. Mr. Kissinger was interviewed for the American Secretaries of State Project in November 2014, during which he noted, “I think that in every negotiation you are trying to affect the conclusions of the other side, and you are trying to find something that both sides find sufficiently in their interest to adopt. That’s the essence of negotiation.” Early in his tenure, Kissinger found himself negotiating a series of “shuttle diplomacy” missions between Middle East capitals in order to reach disengagement agreements between enemy combatants. These efforts produced agreements between Egypt and Israel (January 1974), and Syria and Israel (May 1974), and contributed to the lift of OPEC’s U.S. embargo.

Colin L. Powell, 65th Secretary of State

Colin PowellAppointed by President George W. Bush, Colin Powell served from January 20, 2001 – January 26, 2005. Mr. Powell was interviewed for the American Secretaries of State Project in October 2015, during which he noted, “In the area of negotiations…it’s my military experience that kicks in. I always start out looking at a problem with an estimate of the situation. What’s the situation we’re in? And that begins with the enemy or the other side of the negotiation. What do they need? What do they have to get? How do I make friends with this guy while I’m kicking his butt? What does he think of me?” Powell’s strategic approach enabled him to quell a variety of international crises, including a near-war between India and Pakistan nuclear powers (2001-2002), domestic turmoil in Liberia (2003) and Haiti (2004), and the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.

Condoleezza Rice, 66th Secretary of State

Condoleezza RiceThe 66th Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, was appointed by President George W. Bush and served from January 26, 2005 – January 20, 2009. Dr. Rice was interviewed for the American Secretaries of State Project in February 2016 during which she noted, “I once told President Bush, ‘you know, if you change a comma in a statement on the Middle East, you’ve changed U.S. policy.’ In diplomacy, it’s about the words and making sure you can live with the words.” This focus on precision was prevalent in one of Dr. Rice’s most successful negotiations—the October 2008 signing of the U.S.-India Agreement for Cooperation Concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy, allowing civil nuclear trade between the two countries.

George P. Shultz, 60th Secretary of State

George ShultzThe 60th Secretary of State, George Shultz, was appointed by President Ronald Reagan and served from July 16, 1982 – January 20, 1989. Mr. Shultz was interviewed for the American Secretaries of State Project in March 2014 and again in February 2016 at Stanford University, during which he noted, “I think the first principle in any negotiation is to start with reality, describe it to yourself as best you can. That’s your starting point. Don’t kid yourself. Rose colored glasses don’t belong in your pocketbook.” It was Mr. Shultz’s clear-eyed vision that enabled him to progress the foreign policy that led to the successful conclusion of the Cold War and helped foster stronger relationships between the U.S. and China, Japan, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

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