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Global Solutions: From terrorism to killer epidemics, new Strauss Center addresses the world's most pressing challenges

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Mistelle and James Bowen had the typical parental concerns when their son Hayden was born in August. Making sure they had enough diapers. Checking that their car seat was properly installed. Baby proofing their house.

But they had an additional concern—making sure that the toys they received as baby presents didn’t contain lead paint.

The Bowens weren’t alone in worrying. Parents across the country shared the same fears after Mattel and other toymakers recalled millions of toys their Chinese subcontractors had produced using lead paint.

Questions about the safety of imported goods go well beyond toys—and they trouble more than just Americans. In Panama, more than one hundred people died after taking cough medicine that was mistakenly laced with poison. The same poison was found elsewhere in Latin America in thousands of tubes of imported toothpaste. Asian shoppers worry that imported American beef carries mad cow disease. European consumers worry that American grain contains genetically modified organisms.

The concern about the safety of imported goods is one consequence of the seemingly relentless process of globalization. Thanks to technology and trade, nations’ economies and societies are increasingly interconnected. Whether the issue is product safety or terrorism or climate change or infectious disease, problems no longer stop at the border. Countries that don’t govern themselves well or regulate what happens within their borders quickly pass their problems on to others. And well-governed countries frequently struggle to mesh their different practices and policies with each other.

Making sense of the globalizing world—and devising solutions to the dangers it unleashes—is the mission of the newest addition to the University of Texas at Austin campus, The Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law. The Center, which was made possible by a $7.5 million gift from alumnus Ambassador Bob Strauss and the law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, is an ambitious effort to create a world-class think tank in the heart of Texas.

“Globalization is rapidly remaking the world as we know it,” says James M. Lindsay, the center’s director and the Tom Slick Chair for International Affairs at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. “It is creating new sources of wealth as the global economy expands. But as we saw on 9/11 and as we are seeing with concerns about the safety of imported toys, it is also spawning new problems and vulnerabilities.

The Strauss Center works to engage the best minds in academia, government and the private sector in developing practical solutions to the pressing problems of an increasingly globalized world.“The Strauss Center was founded to provide the imagination, leadership and insight needed to understand how these issues are affecting our world in the 21st century—and to generate workable policy solutions that the public can embrace and policymakers can enact.”

The Strauss Center takes a distinctive approach to its mission. It brings the most talented faculty from across the campus together with the best minds in government and the private sector. The objective is to spur discussion among groups that come to global issues from different perspectives and to foster collaborations in generating potential solutions to pressing challenges.

“UT faculty are doing research that can help people solve real-world problems,” says Francis J. Gavin, the Strauss Center’s director of studies. “At the same time, policymakers, business leaders and nongovernmental activists bring experience and insights to the discussion that enrich the research we do. The dialogue we have begun is win-win for everyone.”

The Center’s commitment to bringing together academia, government and the private sector reflects the complexity of today’s world.

“Issues like stopping terrorists, providing secure energy supplies, or protecting the environment share the same characteristic,” says Lindsay. “They are all complex. So finding solutions requires mobilizing experts from across a variety of disciplines and occupations.”

Ambassador Robert S. Strauss

Ambassador Robert S. StraussDuring Ambassador Robert S. Strauss’s remarkable career, he has made extraordinary contributions as both a public servant and a private businessman.

Strauss was an undergraduate at The University of Texas at Austin and earned his law degree in 1941. He was the chairman of the Democratic National Committee between 1973 and 1976 and served under President Jimmy Carter as the U.S. trade representative and special envoy to the Middle East. He was selected by President George H.W. Bush to be U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Strauss became the U.S. ambassador to the Russian Federation. In 1992 he returned to his law practice at Akin Gump. He occupied the Lloyd Bentsen Chair at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin.

In 1981, Strauss was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.

Learn more about Ambassador Strauss on the Strauss Center Web site.

It is fitting that a center that seeks to tackle tough, complex issues by engaging academics, government officials, and business and nonprofit leaders bears Bob Strauss’s name. The Texas native has had an unrivalled career in business and public service, leaving an enduring legacy of success on the world stage in both. He founded Akin Gump, one of the country’s largest and most influential law firms with offices around the world.

Corporate leaders at home and abroad and presidents from Lyndon B. Johnson to George W. Bush have turned to him for advice and counsel. He has served as U.S. special trade representative, the president’s personal envoy to the Middle East peace process and America’s last ambassador to the Soviet Union and its first to the newly reborn Russia. He has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian award, as well as the university’s own Distinguished Alumnus Award.

The creation of the Strauss Center reflects UT’s broader commitment to improving and expanding it programs in global affairs.

“Today, everything we do is affected by what is going on in the world around us,” says University of Texas at Austin President William Powers Jr. “To be a great university, The University of Texas at Austin must have a global impact. The Strauss Center will benefit generations of UT faculty and students by developing a premier institution that lives up to UT’s motto, ‘What Starts Here Changes the World.’”

Students and faculty are already seeing the benefits of the Strauss Center’s creation. The Center has brought a variety of speakers to campus. They have spoken on topics ranging from the war in Iraq to climate change to homeland security to Darfur. This coming year the Center is running speaker series on international security, technology and innovation, energy and the environment, and the media and global affairs.

This commitment to hosting speakers who represent a diverse set of perspectives and experiences reflects a fundamental value of the Strauss Center.

“Throughout his career, Ambassador Strauss has had a unique ability to bridge divisions and to bring together different cultures, nations and organizations,” observes Gavin. “We want to do the same thing here at UT. We want to be known as the place that encourages broad and respectful discussion.”

The research being done at the Strauss Center focuses on four broad programmatic areas: America’s role in the world, science and technology, energy and the environment, and global development and governance. Under each of these topics the center operates specific projects that bring faculty with similar interests together with government and private sector leaders.

William Powers Jr., president of The University of Texas at Austin, with Ambassador Robert S. Strauss (far right) and Jim Langdon of Akin Gump
William Powers Jr., president of The University of Texas at Austin, with Ambassador Robert S. Strauss (far right) and Jim Langdon of Akin Gump at the announcement of the $7.5 million gift to open the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law.

One of the Strauss Center’s first major projects is the Future of North America Initiative. The center is working to promote a dialogue among universities, business and government in Canada, Mexico and the United States about the deepening ties among the three countries. The discussions focus on three key topics: promoting regional economic development, enhancing mutual security and managing natural and environmental resources. The initiative will assess major economic, demographic and political trends within North America and evaluate competing policy proposals for shaping the region’s future.

“The growing interconnectedness of Canada, Mexico and the United States is a smaller example of the broader process of globalization,” says Lindsay. “It is a natural topic for the Strauss Center to tackle, given the university’s tremendous strength in Latin America and the extensive ties the state of Texas has to Mexico.”

Collaborations with partner universities will figure prominently in other Strauss Center research efforts. The center already has struck a partnership with the Moscow State Institute for International Relations (MGIMO), Russia’s premier university for the study of world affairs. Under the terms of the collaboration, the Strauss Center and MGIMO will conduct joint research on the major policy challenges created by globalization.

“By working together we can identify where Russian and American interests overlap and where they diverge,” says Gavin. “That can help Moscow and Washington develop more productive relations.”

The Strauss Center seeks to establish itself as a leader in global affairs. Its staff recognizes that is an ambitious goal.

“UT’s motto promises a lot,” says Lindsay. “We plan to deliver on it.”

Visit the Strauss Center online.

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  Updated 18 December 2007
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