Panelists address global anxieties of today, tomorrow

L.A. Cicero Roundtable

More than 4,000 people attended the Saturday-morning event in Maples Pavilion titled “Anxious Times: Seeing Beyond a World of Perpetual Threats.” The two-hour panel discussion, featuring distinguished Stanford alumni and scholars, was moderated by veteran newsman Ted Koppel, left, as part of 2006 Reunion Homecoming.

The North Korean nuclear crisis and the looming threat of a global flu pandemic were among the hot-button issues addressed during an Oct. 14 forum moderated by veteran newsman Ted Koppel.

More than 4,000 people attended The Roundtable at Stanford. Titled "Anxious Times: Seeing Beyond a World of Perpetual Threats," the two-hour panel discussion in Maples Pavilion featured prominent alumni and scholars. It was held as part of Reunion Homecoming.

Panelists were President John Hennessy; Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy of the U.S. Supreme Court; George P. Shultz, the Thomas W. and Susan B. Ford Distinguished Fellow at the Hoover Institution and former U.S. secretary of state; former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry, a professor in the Department of Management Science and Engineering; Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang; Jean-Pierre Garnier, chief executive officer of GlaxoSmithKline; and Lucy Shapiro, the Virginia and D. K. Ludwig Professor and director of the Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic Medicine.

On the same day that the United Nations voted to impose sanctions on North Korea for having tested a nuclear device, Perry said members of the six-party talks must work together to impose "coercive diplomacy"—diplomacy backed by strength—on the authoritarian nation. "I'm sorry to say, all the good alternatives are now behind us; we're faced now only with bad alternatives," he said. The danger North Korea poses is not simply from the eight to 10 nuclear weapons it currently possesses, he said, but from its capacity to build another 10 weapons a year unless it is stopped. "Proliferation increases the probability of a terrorist getting a nuclear bomb," he said. "The threat is that some years from now there will be a nuclear bomb detonated in one of our cities—not by North Korea attacking us, but coming on a freighter or a truck from a terrorist group. The danger is that North Korea gets a sufficient number of real weapons and, given their desperate economic situation, they're going to sell some. That's the danger."

With the failure of official diplomatic channels and the ineffectiveness of world organizations in negotiating with North Korea, Koppel asked whether academic institutions could play a role in helping to resolve the crisis. "We're generally better in academia in thinking about the long-term trajectory, beyond nuclear weapons," Hennessy replied. "There are other threats down the road. That's where universities can play a role—in thinking about policies and doing the analysis." Ultimately, Hennessy said, governments must negotiate with one another, but universities can formulate policy and provide a venue for bringing leaders together. Since Perry left government office, he said that he has been involved in unofficial "track two" diplomacy in the region through the Preventive Defense Project, a Stanford-Harvard research collaboration that he co-chairs. And he said that John Lewis, professor emeritus of Chinese politics, and visiting Professor Siegfried Hecker have visited North Korea's nuclear facility at Yongbyon and have been invited to return next month. "I hope they go," Perry said. "I think academic delegations can play an important role … [in making policy] recommendations, [but] we don't have any authority to act for the government."

While the nuclear crisis in North Korea dominates the headlines, a potentially larger threat to humanity is pandemic disease, including the possibility of the H5N1 avian flu virus mutating into a strain easily transmissible among humans. If this were to happen and not quickly contained, Shapiro warned, consequences could be similar to the 1918 Spanish influenza, which killed about 50 million people worldwide. "We are a global village," she said. "In the past 30 years, this world has seen 32 new diseases [emerge]. They are increasing at a faster rate because of the way our globe is structured."

Following the 2003 SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control established a 122-city integrated network in the United States to report and follow all emerging infectious diseases, said Shapiro, a leading molecular developmental biologist. "The trouble is that this must be global," she said. "If the outbreak is in Jakarta or a town in central Africa, we need to know that, so that we can put out the fire then."

Despite the need for a global response, national governments want to protect their own citizens first, said Garnier, the CEO of GlaxoSmithKline. "The solution is not to defend every single country" in the event of an outbreak, he said. "The solution is to nip it in the bud—find where the infection starts, draw a circle [around the affected area] and vaccinate everybody. This is our best shot at the problem."

Pharmaceutical companies also face antitrust laws that prevent them from working together to produce an effective vaccine quickly in the event of a pandemic, Garnier said. "I've met with representatives of major countries several times, and it's taken forever for the bureaucracies to give us the authorizations so we can set up [a plan] ahead of time. We'll forget about competition, money, profits—this is much bigger than us. We have to create some kind of safety net." In the United States, Garnier said, President George Bush and his administration support the plan, but, so far, bureaucratic red tape has stymied collaboration.

Given the level of divisive partisanship in American politics today, Koppel asked Justice Kennedy whether it would be possible for an American president to ship U.S.-stockpiled vaccine to help another country stamp out a potential pandemic without being pilloried by the political opposition. "What has to occur over the next generation is an awareness that, because of globalization, this generation of Americans has less control over its economy, politics, culture, life than any previous generation," Kennedy replied. "Our destiny is linked—for good or bad—with the rest of the world."

Kennedy stressed that democracy is a basic value that must be taught to all Americans. "Democracy must be preserved, transmitted, defended," he said. "You can't preserve something you don't understand, you can't transmit something you haven't learned, and you can't defend something you don't know."

William Perry

Lucy Shapiro

Ted Koppel

John Hennessy