Forum on Leadership 2024: Human Rights and the New Global Order

America’s role in the world leads to competition and clashes with Russia and China, including when it comes to promoting values of human dignity and personal freedoms. Top minds on this issue will discuss how human rights and democracy factor into the great power competition.

Panel description by Igor Khrestin, the Bradford M. Freeman Managing Director of Global Policy at the Bush Institute.

On Feb. 24, 2024, the world marked two years since Russia began its brutal, full-scale invasion of Ukraine. As Ukraine fights for its freedom and independence, a resurgent theocracy in Iran is sponsoring terrorism against our ally Israel and causing major economic disruptions via Houthi terror proxies. In Asia, all eyes are fixed on China’s intentions toward Taiwan – an island of democracy that Beijing considers its sovereign territory and has threated to “reunify” by any means necessary. In North Korea, dictator Kim Jong Un’s threats to his neighbors are escalating, as are the human rights violations against his own people.

The world that emerged with the triumph of liberal democracy after the Cold War is now gravely challenged by the malign forces of autocracy. Global freedom has declined for an 18th consecutive year, according to Freedom House. Democracies like Ukraine and Taiwan are facing existential threats in this new emerging global order, where authoritarians believe that might makes right.

As the United States reorients its foreign policy toward “great power competition” with China and Russia, human rights are in danger of being considered an afterthought in shaping our approaches toward these aspiring hegemons. This would be a major mistake given the appalling human rights conditions in those countries.

Leading with our values makes us stronger, not weaker. As President Bush stated in his second Inaugural Address in 2005: “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.” Dissidents and ordinary citizens around the world are fighting for freedom every day – and are often paying for it with their own lives.

The United States should always stand by them and shape our foreign policy accordingly.

Mark Green is the President, Director, and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He was previously Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Executive Director of the McCain Institute, and President/CEO of the International Republican Institute. Before that, he was U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania and served four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from Wisconsin’s 8th Congressional District.

William Inboden is Professor and Director of the Hamilton Center for Classical and Civic Education at the University of Florida. He was previously Executive Director of the Clements Center for National Security and Distinguished Scholar at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law, both at the University of Texas at Austin; Senior Director for Strategic Planning on the National Security Council; and a member of the State Department’s policy planning staff and a Special Advisor in the Office of International Religious Freedom. His newest book is The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, The Cold War, and the World on the Brink.

Nicole Bibbins Sedaca is the Kelly and David Pfeil Fellow at the George W. Bush Institute and Executive Vice President for Strategy and Programs at Freedom House. Previously, she was Deputy Director of Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service Program, co-chaired the Global Politics and Security Concentration, and taught the Practice of International Affairs. She worked in the State Department for 10 years on democracy, human rights, human trafficking, religious freedom, refugees, and counterterrorism issues. She also directed the International Republican Institute’s local governance program in Ecuador, where she taught at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito.

Igor Khrestin is the Bradford M. Freeman Managing Director of Global Policy at the George W. Bush Institute, where he oversees the global policy work and programmatic efforts and helps drive the organization’s overall mission, strategy, and impact. He previously served as Managing Director at FGS Global, a leading public affairs firm. For nearly two decades, Khrestin worked in the U.S. Senate in high-level roles in foreign affairs and advocacy.