Dr. Brett McCormick

"A Failure to Communicate: Historical Rhetoric and Diplomacy in U.S.- China Relations"
Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 2:00 p.m. in the Marvin K. Peterson Library.


When one tries to be "diplomatic," it usually involves deliberate ambiguity. Rather than boxing someone in with precision, ambiguity softens our language and allows us to communicate our basic intentions without either party overtly loosing face. The practice of international diplomacy, however, is far too important to tolerate such vagueness. Certain strategic ambiguities can be built into long term diplomatic relations as an occasional means of compromise, when genuine resolution is unattainable; but in the day to day business of conducting international relations, effective diplomacy demands two essential elements - common ground, and precision.


In recent years, both Americans and Chinese have increasingly framed their policies and positions in historical terms. This occurs both in documents (e.g. government white papers) and in dialogs (summits, conferences, etc.). The intention, presumably, is to establish a context that will provide greater meaning and significance to the information presented. Due to increasingly divergent historical perspectives and national narratives, however, these historical references and analogies often have the contrary effect. This historical rhetoric is increasingly becoming an impediment to effective diplomacy.


At the 2009 East Asia Security Symposium in Beijing (June 22-27), Dr. McCormick challenged those in attendance (including, for example, some of the primary authors of China's last six National Defense White Papers) to filter out historical references and rhetoric from their future diplomatic works. At the November 18th University of New Haven Friends of the Library lecture Dr. McCormick will present a condensed version of the appeal made in Beijing, along with a brief review of the response he received.

Biographical Information

Dr. McCormick is the Director of Global Studies in the College of Arts and Science at the University of New Haven. In the early 1990s, prior to his graduate study, Dr. McCormick lived and worked in the People's Republic of China. He received his Ph.D. in modern Asian history from Cornell University in 2002. Since that time his scholarship has focused primarily on East Asian international relations, diplomacy, and security affairs. His research regularly takes him to China, Japan, and South Korea.


Every summer, since 2003, Dr. McCormick has organized and participated in a week-long diplomacy and security affairs workshop in Beijing, hosted at the China Foreign Affairs University (CFAU). The symposium is followed by a one-day conference. Since the summer of 2008 this event has been sponsored by the University of New Haven, and has been officially re-titled the "University of New Haven-CFAU East Asia Security Symposium and Conference." Participants in this symposium regularly include high ranking military officials, diplomats, and scholars, from over a dozen different countries. The United States Navy, for example, has typically sent two participants each year, since 2004. The Chinese military has sent 2-4 participants every year, typically of Major General rank.


For additional information please visit Dr. McCormick's University of New Haven web page.