Rising Authoritarianism: Can Democracy Meet the Challenge?

This year’s symposium on April 11 and 12 will address an issue of especially vital concern to us all: “Rising Authoritarianism: Can Democracy Meet the Challenge?” Taking place on the campus of Santa Fe Community College, the Symposium will bring together six specialists who will speak individually, introducing a global overview of the underlying causes of authoritarianism and of countervailing measures against its rise, followed by sessions focusing on the specific circumstances in Europe, Latin America, and the U.S.

Also included will be a student panel of foreign and dual-national students studying at colleges and universities here in New Mexico. As in the past the Symposium will offer all attendees ample opportunity for questions, discussions, and informal exchanges with speakers.

For more than two centuries, America has advocated for democratic principles starting with its Founding Fathers who proclaimed our nation to be created by and for the people, to joining with the liberal world to fight for our beliefs in two world wars. Following those wars, the United States was in the forefront of international efforts to create global institutions dedicated to peace, prosperity and justice. Our leaders have sometimes badly faltered or made poor decisions in seeking to preserve American leadership and universal values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. But we have for the most part tried to move forward towards such aspirational goals throughout our history. Other nations have not always agreed with our individual policies, but no one doubted the American example of strong democratic institutions, a robust civil society and a desire to build a world based on common values and interests.

Now, as a new era of international strongmen emerges, are America’s traditions and institutions capable of ensuring that democratic principles continue to push back on the tyranny that has threatened every generation? The symposium examines this moment with open eyes, asking tough questions about the global authoritarian threat, its underlying causes, and how it can be, and is being, countered.

When strong democratic institutions and civil society perform their essential functions, society enjoys a good faith debate about the best way to advance global and national interests. However, when rule of law is eroded, nationalism politicized, alliances strained, the press demonized and society fractured by rising hate crimes and attacks on electoral integrity, the norms that promote and preserve a resilient democratic society become frayed. International institutions based on shared democratic values can also be undermined and weakened when the U.S. government appears to question their continuing relevance.

Can the U.S. continue to be a leader that holds others to account when we ourselves falter in meeting these challenges? What causes the authoritarian impulse to break out of the democratic norm, and why do so many here and abroad find these demagogic appeals so attractive? Has a decline in American global leadership inadvertently given other nations permission to erode their own democratic institutions? Will a fractured and divided America be able, or willing, to work with other democracies holding others accountable when we fail to do so at home?

Focusing on Europe, Latin America and the US, the symposium will examine these questions in order to better understand not only the causes and symptoms that bring us to this moment, but just as importantly, to explore what can be done to meet these authoritarian challenges to democracy.

Values, Myths and Interests: Debating American Foreign Policy in an Unstable World

American foreign policy since World War II has relied upon soft power – the ability to influence others based on key human values. Since World War II, the US goal has been to project its image as a nation that is not only strong, but also “good,” drawing on the idea of American Exceptionalism to persuade others that the country is the “shining city on the hill” and a democratic “beacon of freedom” in a troubled world.

Yet U.S. foreign policy has also been guided by national self-interest. This pursuit has at times conflicted with our aspirations and led to less than admirable policies implemented through counter-productive means that diminished America’s standing in the world.

Today a debate over fundamental values rages within the U.S. and abroad. The world’s view of America is no longer favorable. Forty-nine percent of the globe views the United States and President Trump’s “America First” slogan unfavorably. Yet Americans themselves are still admired by fifty-nine percent according to that same Pew “gold standard” poll of international opinion. Can we change this increasingly negative view of our country overall, or if not, will it spread to individual Americans? What can we do to regain the world’s trust?

Barack Obama’s 2008 election was a source of hope at home and overseas. While his administration fell short of expectations, the U.S. did regain and retain much of the international community’s respect. But in the past year, many question if the United States’ foreign policy is guided by its aspirational values.

Are there fundamental human values that all nations and cultures can agree upon or are they idiosyncratic? How are such values interpreted in U.N. documents and organizations of which the U.S. was an instrumental drafter?

Many American aspirational values are enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution. Do democracy, human rights, the rejection of tyranny, equality for all, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, constitutional government, freedom of the press and worship continue to call for respect domestically and internationally? How can we maintain a free media but deal with concerted efforts to undermine this bedrock of democracy? What about the value and importance of scientific inquiry, which has underpinned economic, health, national security, educational, social and technological foundations of the American success story since before the founding of the Republic?

Finally, can America still be influential on the international stage, or have we yielded that role to others through an “America First” form of isolationism that has diminished US stature with allies to the delight of our competitors and adversaries? What options do we have to navigate today’s unstable world?

World Order Under Threat: Protectionism, Nationalism and Extremism

April 24 – 25, 2017

Dr. Patricia Kushlis, President, Santa Fe World Affairs Forum; Santa Fe Community College Representative; Javier Gonzales, Mayor of Santa Fe, New Mexico, since 2014, after serving two terms on the City Council. He was the first Hispanic President of the National Association of Counties; Robin Raphel, US Ambassador (rtd) to Tunisia and former Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs; John Herbst, US Ambassador(rtd) (Uzbekistan and Ukraine), and Director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council; Dr. Raul Gouvea, Professor, International Business and Latin American Management, Anderson School of Management, University of New Mexico; Jerry Pacheco, Executive Director, International Business Accelerator, and international trade columnist & NAFTA specialist, The Albuquerque Journal; Dr. Fernando Lopez-Alves, Professor of Sociology, Global Studies and War & Conflict, University of California at Santa Barbara; Director of Global and International Studies, University of Salamanca; the Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Politics, Business and Economics, CEMA, Buenos Aire; Dr. Joe Jupille, Associate Professor of Political Science and Faculty Research Associate of the Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorado, Boulder; Mary Minow, Library Law Consultant; Advanced Leadership Initiative Fellow, Harvard University; attorney and specialist on disinformation; Ray Rivera, Editor in Chief, Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper.


The hope in the West for a peaceful world order following the collapse of the Soviet Union has given way in the last years to a stark new reality. The post-Cold War security order has broken down at the same time that we see the fraying of the internal order of most states worldwide. We are looking at growing fragmentation within both individual states and the global community while inequality, retrenchment, protectionism, nationalism, and ideological extremism are on the rise. Twenty-five years ago, we believed major warfare would be highly unlikely; today it is no longer unthinkable. The consequences of new technologies are unclear, and we already seem to be in the early stages of cyber warfare. Inequality of wealth in the West pales in the face of even greater inequalities in the former Communist states of Russia and China, and where that might lead is hard to gauge. The aging of populations in the developed world will put new strains on economic systems and on the young. Many Arab nations are growingly dysfunctional, while magnet states are erecting ever tougher barriers to immigration and the flow of peoples. The temptation to retrench into tribalistic tendencies like populism, economic protectionism, extreme nationalism and fundamentalist beliefs is hard to counter.

With the help of experts in some of these areas, the Santa Fe World Affairs Forum’s 2017 Symposium will discuss these issues in depth in an effort to explore solutions to this increasingly challenging situation. 

Crisis in Human Migration: A New World of Walls?

April 18-19, 2016

Dr. Demetrios Papademetriou, Distinguished Senior Fellow and President Emeritus, Migration Policy Institute and President MPI Europe;  Joseph C. Wilson IV, US Ambassador (rtd);  Andrew Purvis, former Beirut Managing Editor,UNHCR, and former bureau chief TIME Magazine; Chick Keller, Climate and Botanical Consultant to Pajarito Environmental Educational Center, Los Alamos; William J Garvelink, US Ambassador (rtd); Salvador Gutierrez, Regional Liaison and Policy Officer for Central and North America and the Caribbean, International Organization on Migration; Dr. Dieter Dettke, Adjunct Professor of European Security, Georgetown University and former Director of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Washington, D.C; Larry Rasmussen, Reinhold Niebuhr Professor Emeritus of Social Ethics, Union Theological Seminary, New York City and author of Earth-Honoring Faith (Oxford University Press, 2013); Javier Gonzalez, Mayor of Santa Fe, New Mexico


A day does not pass without reports of unprecedented flows of people who have abandoned their homes in hope of better lives in other countries. The most visible movements today are of people from war torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan struggling to Turkey and Greece in order to reach European nations where jobs are more plentiful and economies stronger. Elsewhere, Africans, Latin Americans, Southeast Asians and islanders of the Indonesian archipelago, fleeing failing countries, gang warfare, drug cartels and civil wars, also risk death to cross to countries that are closing doors and erecting fences in response to the influx.

The Symposium seeks an understanding of the origins, drivers, and cultural implications behind the news. It will search for explanations to all the complex questions: Who are these refugees?  How does today’s situation compare with human migration flows in the past? How are refugees handled? How many live in camps in neighboring countries, how are those camps organized and funded and how many of the refugees leave legally or illegally for the West?  How real are the claims that terrorists mingle within refugee communities? How do the major refugee organizations determine where refugees are to settle?  What kinds of support do cities and local organizations provide for these newcomers, And, finally, what are the plans for resettling refugees in Santa Fe and Albuquerque – both traditionally refugee-receiving cities.

A Climate of Change: the Global Imperative

April 20-21, 2015

Jeff Bingaman, Jr, former United States Senator from New Mexico; Judy Garber, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans, Environment & Science (OES); Douglas Fox, freelance science writer; Charles Keller, retired scientist with degrees in Philosophy, Physics and Mathematics, and a PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics; Shana McDermott, Assistant Professor Dept. of Economics, University of New Mexico and Senior Research Associate, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Brian Hurd, Professor of Agricultural Economics & Agricultural Business, New Mexico State University; Javier Gonzales, Mayor of Santa Fe, NM.

Scientific and anecdotal evidence tell us that the earth’s temperature is warming at rates not experienced in centuries. What exactly does this mean for the planet, for ourselves, for our children, for our children’s children? How can citizens and policy makers be made to understand that we’re all in this together? That means Washington—and Beijing, Berlin, Rio, Delhi and the Pacific Islanders. And loggers in the rain forests of Myanmar and Indonesia. And agribusiness in California. And large corporations headquartered in New York, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong. That means us, here, in New Mexico.

Talking with Enemies, Cultivating Friends: Diplomacy Revisited

April 28-29, 2014

Thomas E McNamara, Ambassador; Gregory Hicks, US Deputy Chief of Mission to Libya in 2012; James Michel, Ambassador, international development consultant, Latin American specialist and senior US AID officer; James Farwell, political consultant; Donald Bishop, Public Diplomacy Council President and former US Public Affairs Officer in Afghanistan and Beijing.

“In a world of complex threats, our security and leadership depends on all elements of our power – including strong and principled diplomacy. . .” – President Barack Obama, State of the Union Address, January 28, 2014.

Since 9/11, the Pentagon, the CIA and the NSA have held near total rein over US foreign policy.  But to what avail?  Hugely expensive military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan have produced neither peace nor tranquility:  those wars (one of which we precipitated) continue.  Moreover, civil wars – the most common ones in the world today – are notoriously difficult to stop through foreign military intervention alone. Electronic eavesdropping and cyber warfare present other challenging and disturbing dimensions: but how much cell-phone snooping is counter-productive? Isolationism – especially in a globalized, high-tech world with porous borders and interrelated economies and serious environmental problems – has also proven bankrupt.

Our World in Ferment: Views from China. Russia, Europe and Mexico

April 16-17, 2012

Dr. Dieter Dettke, Foreign and Defense Policy Professor; Teri Schultz, Brussels-based, freelance international reporter for NPR, CBS, News Radio and EU correspondent for “Global Post”; Dr. Raymond F. Smith, University of North Texas, former State Department political analyst specializing in Russian affairs; Dr. Douglas Spelman, Deputy Director of the Kissinger Institute on China, former State Department Foreign Service Officer, expert on China; Dr. Lois Meyer, Linguist and Professor, School of Education, University of New Mexico, specialist on indigenous resistance movements in Mexico and the Americas. 

Most recent commentary on the state of the world deals with revolution in one country or turmoil in a single geographic or cultural area. The Santa Fe World Affairs Forum believes that it is time to examine these challenges and upheavals as part of a global phenomenon. This symposium presented views of the clash between change and status quo in Europe, China, Russia, and Mexico, asking how they differ, what they have in common.

Spotlight on Iran

January 25, 2010

Mozafer Banihashemi, Consultant to Sandia National Laboratories Middle East Program; Arvid Lundy, Adviser to the International Atomic Energy Committee.

This all-afternoon program featured two speakers. Speakers’ Dialogue on Iran Today. General Discussion.

Meeting Minds in the Muslim World

April 1, 2008

Kenton Keith, US Ambassador to Qatar (1992-1996), Senior Vice President of the Meridian International Center and Vice Chair of the Alliance for International Educational and Cultural Exchange. U.S. Department of State’s Special Envoy to Islamabad and Spokesperson on Coalition Activity in Afghanistan (2001-2002); Dr. Emile Nakhleh, Senior Intelligence Officer and Director of the Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program in the Director of Intelligence, CIA (1991-2006); Alexandra Huddleston, documentary photographer and Fulbright grantee, Timbuktu, Mali (2006-2007); Peter Sebastian, (1926 – 2011) was United States Ambassador to Tunisia from 1984-1987. He was Deputy Chief of Mission in Rabat, Morocco, and served in the Central African Republic, Ethiopia and Paris. In Washington, D.C. he was Director for North Africa with the Department of State and Desk Officer for Mauritania, the Gambia, Senegal and Algeria. David Grimland, joined the U.S. Information Agency in 1967 and served as press spokesman, cultural officer or office director at American embassies in Greece, Cyprus. Turkey, Bangladesh and India; Patricia Lee Sharpe, studied Islam at the University of Chicago and was a Fulbright lecturer on American Literature in Lahore, Pakistan before joining USIA, handled press and/or cultural affairs in Indonesia and Pakistan, as well as India, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Tanzania and Sierra Leone, all with major Muslim populations.

An all-day program in cooperation with the Santa Fe Institute.