By Michelle SchneiderNovember 8, 2019
The U.S. Military Academy hosted the 71st annual Student Conference on U.S. Affairs conference Oct. 31 through Nov. 2.
This year's theme was, "Advancing the National Interest: The Intersection of Domestic Politics and American Foreign Policy." More than 180 foreign and national student delegates alongside 90 West Point cadets discussed challenging and thought-provoking issues surrounding national and foreign policy.
Thirty former U.S. Ambassadors, diplomats in the state department, Department of Defense officials, congressional staff and members of several think tanks attended SCUSA this year. They served as keynote speakers as well as discussion facilitators during the conference.
"Each round-table has two senior practitioners to add their perspective from the real world. They have experience and knowledge based on these different round-table topics we developed regarding foreign and national policy," SCUSA Executive Secretary Maj. Michael Wright said. "They are not there to teach or lecture but offer guidance to cadets and student delegates as mentors who have expertise within each round-table topic."
Past keynote speakers have included Henry Kissinger, Madeline Albright and George H. W. Bush. SCUSA Cadet Commander and Class of 2020 Cadet Kathryn Seyer said their ability to attract high profile participants showcases the level of expertise and professionalism of the conference and speaks volumes about its influence.
This year, Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchinson was invited to attend SCUSA as a keynote speaker. She was sworn in as the Permanent Representative of the United States to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Aug. 15, 2017, and as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Hutchinson has gained deep and extensive international experience from a military standpoint.
During her keynote address to cadets and student delegates during the Friday night banquet, Hutchinson stressed the importance of NATO and how its 29 international alliances serve to protect and strengthen America's democracy from collective threats.
"Our adversaries have one thing in common: none of them have democracies, human rights as a value, none of them have a rule of law," Hutchinson said. "We do have those values and that is what our alliance is; we work together to deter our adversaries and assure that our way of life is protected, that freedom and democracy and the value of human rights are protected for the world. We have got to be willing to fight for that and protect it for future generations."
Hutchinson previously served as chairperson for the Board of Visitors at West Point and shared how the fact that the academy welcomes international students has helped with military to military interventions, references and de-confliction. She said SCUSA allows people the opportunity to network and creates an interconnection that benefits their future in a multitude of ways.
Cadets and student delegates explored challenges and came up with solutions regarding their round-table topic of choice, to include globalization, weaponized information, domestic political polarization, cyberspace security, immigration, climate change, weapons technology, and alliances and multilateral organizations.
Seyer shared that SCUSA helps cadets gain a more well-rounded global perspective in addition to developing policies that determine the next direction the United States should go in where national interests and strengthening allies are concerned.
"It allows them to think outside the box and learn how to listen to other people's perspectives to use it and build off it," Seyer said. "We as officers will be going forward in our careers and you never know what country, what ally, what people you must work with. I think that by exposing them to it in this academic setting, it will profit them in the future."
The purpose of SCUSA is to recognize new political, economic and social dynamics and to bolster allies. Cadets and student delegates analyzed how these components affect domestic and foreign relations in Europe, the Middle East, regions of Africa, the Indo-Pacific, China and Russia from a team-oriented perspective.
"It's one of our biggest focus with regards to SCUSA-building those teams and partnerships -and especially getting to bring them to a place like West Point and experience the U.S. military for the first time, but it's in this academic setting," Seyer said. "They can see that we are not just Soldiers, we are Soldier-scholars, and that is a big thing we like to focus on."
Over the course of three days of debate and resolution, cadets and student delegates also participated in social mixers and nightly receptions with keynote speakers. Throughout the two days of round-table discussion, each group produced a three to five-page policy proposal. They presented their policies to SCUSA attendees Saturday, the last day of the conference, and defined national interests and how to pursue them.
"SCUSA is a chance to talk to people with different perspectives from people all over the world, and very few opportunities like this ever occur," Class of 2020 Cadet Don McLaren said. "I learn more interacting here and applying theory than I do sitting in a classroom reading from a textbook. These are ideas I could never conceptualize before and comes with simply interacting with different groups of people. To me, that's invaluable."