The Sedona Forum

Thank you to our friends of the McCain Institute for a successful first-ever virtual Sedona Forum. With the theme of “Defending Democracy,” top experts, policymakers, humanitarians and business leaders from around the globe and on both sides of the aisle engaged in civil and thoughtful discussions about the issues facing the world today. This year’s conference featured the speaker of the House of Representatives, the Senate minority leader, 43 former and current elected officials, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the UN secretary general, two former heads of government, two former secretaries of state, two former secretaries of defense, two Academy Award winners, an NBA hall of famer, a future first-ballot NFL hall of famer, and many more experts, policymakers, humanitarians and defenders of democracy.

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Keynote Highlights

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Prevention Practitioners’ Network

In partnership with the Anti-Defamation League and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, we are building a national network of interdisciplinary professionals dedicated to addressing targeted violence and terrorism, and its impacts, within the United States. This network is both increasing the efficacy of local prevention frameworks and programs and expanding referrals to qualified programs throughout the country.

A National Policy Blueprint to End White Supremacist Violence

In a joint effort with the Center for American Progress, we conducted interviews, round table discussions, surveys and research to inform a comprehensive national policy blueprint, designed to serve as a starting point for a whole-of-government response. This blueprint focuses areas of broad consensus, providing dozens of recommendations that Congress, the Biden Administration, and partners at the state and local level can pursue to counter white supremacist violence.

Invent2Prevent

Expanding on the Peer-to-Peer initiative, we partnered with EdVenture Partners and Credence Management Solutions to challenge university students to develop their own dynamic products, tools, or initiatives to prevent targeted violence and terrorism. University teams compete for cash awards, education scholarships, and optional entry into a one-year sustainment program.

Preventing
Targeted Violence

In October 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security concluded that racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists, particularly white supremacist extremists, are “the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland.” The UN also identified violent extremism as the “number one internal security threat in several countries.” In response to this threat, the McCain Institute established the Preventing Targeted Violence program, which facilitated student innovation contests on 46 campuses, developed a Prevention Practitioners Network, and crafted a comprehensive Policy Blueprint to End White Supremacist Violence. In its first year, the PTV program has grown into one of the Institute’s most notable programs.  

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Diverse Stakeholders Convened

To inform Policy Blueprint to End White Supremacist Violence.

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Practitioners Participated

In the first seven Prevention Practitioners’ Network virtual workshops. 

Advocacy at All Levels

Preventing and reducing the impact of domestic terrorism and hate-based violence requires actions from character-driven leaders, no matter their role. To empower changemakers to disrupt extremism, our work builds broad, bipartisan support among policymakers, centralizes resources for practitioners and nurtures innovation among college students.

Prevention Practitioners’ Network

The McCain Institute is building a national network of interdisciplinary professionals dedicated to addressing targeted violence and terrorism, and its impacts, within the United States. This network is increasing the efficacy of locally based prevention frameworks and programs and will expand referrals to qualified programs throughout the country.

The network launched a workshop series convening international and domestic experts on various topics from Needs, Risk, and Threat Assessment to Staffing Multidisciplinary Teams in the Prevention Space. These experts explore existing frameworks, lessons learned, and promising practices they incorporated into their work. To date, over 350 violence prevention and intervention professionals have registered for our virtual workshop series and expressed interest in joining the national network. Workshop recordings have garnered over 1,000 views.

A National Policy Blueprint to End White Supremacist Violence

In 2020, the McCain Institute launched a joint project with the Center for American Progress (CAP) to address the rising threat of white supremacist violence in the United States. Seeking to build a broad, bipartisan coalition of support, we hosted roundtable discussions and interviews with over 150 community leaders and experts to create a comprehensive National Policy Blueprint to End White Supremacist Violence which provides a starting point for a whole-of-government response. Since its publication in April 2021, we have conducted 21 briefings to Congressional committees, government agencies and the White House. The blueprint has been featured in nine publications and received endorsements from 13 members of Congress. The blueprint rollout event recordings have received 761 views. CNN reported that the Blueprint recommendations influenced the White House’s first ever National Strategy to Counter Domestic Terrorism.

Peer-to-Peer

The Preventing Targeted Violence team completed two semesters of the Peer-to-Peer: Protective Project in the United States and one semester of the Peer-to-Peer: Creating a Message Against Hate program in France. Both programs empowered students to address hate- and school-based violence, giving teams funding to design and implement a product, tool, or initiative with measurable results. At the end of the semester, the best teams won awards to continue their project. Projects ranged from educational programming for elementary schools and university students, online tools for schools to ensure students have access to community-building extracurriculars and awareness campaigns combatting covert racism. 

Invent2Prevent

Following the success of Peer-to-Peer, the McCain Institute secured a contract with DHS’s Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships to launch Invent2Prevent with EdVenture Partners and Credence Management Solutions. Invent2Prevent challenges students at universities across the country to develop, over the course of a semester, their own dynamic products, tools, or initiatives to prevent targeted violence and terrorism. University teams compete for cash awards, education scholarships, and optional entry into a one-year sustainment program.​ In Spring 2021, 25 teams competed in the first semester of competition reaching over 1.2 million impressions combined. The top four teams featured in the final competition included Mission in Transition from The Citadel, FUSE from Missouri State University, VOICES from Columbia University, and the THiNK Campaign from University of Massachusetts Amherst. $9,000 was awarded to the top teams and $6,000 in scholarships to students pursuing targeted violence studies following the competition. 

Combatting
Human Trafficking

From raising awareness through the R.E.A.L. Friends Don’t campaign to training law enforcement, service providers and school personnel in Arizona, our team takes a dynamic and innovative approach to building capacity and support for vulnerable populations locally, nationally and globally. The fight against modern slavery continues to be a significant priority of the Institute.

Direct Action Where It Matters

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International
The McCain Institute and its partners are building a vibrant global practitioners’ network of experienced human trafficking prosecutors to align on best practices for prosecuting human trafficking cases with a victim-centered approach and develop specific, targeted practical recommendations to improve the global criminal justice response to human trafficking.
Arizona
Through our Arizona CHT programs, we’ve trained over 3,000 individuals in prevention and identification of human trafficking. We are proud to partner with the Arizona Human Trafficking Council and stakeholders across the state to provide expertise and support in ongoing initiatives. In addition to the anti-human trafficking work, the Arizona program partners with the Phoenix Committee on Foreign Relations to provide rich, informative, and timely programming to diverse individuals and organizations with a passionate interest in national and global affairs.
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We have trained over 15,000 stakeholders to-date through specialized and scenario-based human trafficking programs. Additionally, we’ve centralized risk data for stakeholders through the Labor Data Dashboard.

Outreach to Low-Wage Essential Workers

With a team of experienced farmworker outreach advocates, the McCain Institute has provided farmworkers safe, confidential methods to reach beyond the control of labor traffickers to access social services, legal aid, and support from the criminal justice system. Guided by geospatial analysis tools, deep community networks and data, the Institute’s field team has reached over 11,000 farmworkers in the last four years.

R.E.A.L. Friends Don't

One of the many consequences of COVID-19 has been the sharp increase in the number of hours that school-age children are spending online and, concurrently, an increase in reports of online child sexual exploitation. In response, the McCain Institute was proud to launch R.E.A.L. Friends Don’t, a national safety campaign focused on increasing awareness and empowering parents, caregivers and young people to protect themselves and their loved ones from harmful content, grooming or online exploitation.

It’s time to get R.E.A.L. about online child exploitation:

Raise the topic of online safety with your kids. 
Educate yourself on the technology your kids are using.
Act if something makes you or your child uncomfortable.
Learn more about how you can help your kids navigate their digital lives.

Human Rights
& Democracy

There has never been a more important time to advocate for human rights and democracy, in the United States and around the world. Our program continues to bring human rights to the forefront of conversations in Washington, D.C., and protect human rights activists around the world.

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Closed-door meetings

Hosted by 4 working groups to discuss problems and solutions that affect today’s foreign policy.

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Diplomatic virtual events

Hosted by the Women, Peace and Security Initiative to advance the WPS agenda across governments.

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Articles published in 2020

By the We Hold These Truths campaign to promote activism among American youths.

Human Rights Defenders

With the COVID-19 pandemic, Human Rights Defenders faced unprecedented challenges in both operations and magnifications of injustices. While our authoritarian regimes imposed restrictions limiting travel and safety, the Human Rights Defenders Program still succeeded in supporting brilliant and resilient activists around the world.

Map of Human Defenders Locations as of 7-2021
Rohingya Refugee Support
In 2021, we supported an award-winning Rohingya human rights activist and a former political prisoner from Myanmar, who continued her critical work for Rohingya refugees. She has been very active in engaging with policymakers and speaking in different events. Hear her testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the Asia Pacific.
Investigative Journalism in Nicaragua

We’ve been working with an award-winning, investigative journalist from Nicaragua, whose report had an enormous impact in Nicaragua and internationally. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights took up the findings of his investigation in their respective reports on Nicaragua, and used it to determine the government's crimes against humanity.

Opposition in Uganda
A leading human rights lawyer from Uganda, who has been representing the most vulnerable and marginalized people since 2005. As the presidential elections approach, he has been kidnapped and then detained due to his legal representation of the leading opposition candidate for the presidency.

Working Groups

The Human Rights and Democracy Program regularly hosts a series of working groups focused on several topical areas. These meetings, held monthly, are used to convene high level groups of experts on a certain topic to hold closed-door discussions about problems and solutions that affect foreign policy today. This year the HR&D program added two new working groups to make a total of four standing working groups: The Democracy and Human Rights Working Group; the Russia Working Group; America’s Alliances Working Group; and the Working Group on Great Power Competition.

Russia Working Group

Over the course of 2020, the RWG was convened 14 times and hosted speakers from the Russian opposition, American and international experts, senior U.S. government officials, NGO community, academia and more. Aside from the regular monthly meetings, the group was also convened to address specific time-sensitive topics such as elections in Belarus, the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and protests in Russia’s far east.

Democracy and Human Rights Working Group

Over the course of 2020, the DHRWG was convened seven times and hosted speakers from the NGO community, experienced activists working in the field, journalists and editors of major publications and academia. Each meeting of the DHRWG produced a working group paper which summarized the discussion and provided a series of recommendations for the U.S. government and international community. This year the group covered issues such as: Iran, North Korea, Russia, international press freedom, global labor rights, impact of COVID-19 on human rights around the world, and impact of COVID-19 on elections.

Learn More

America’s Alliances Working Group

The AAWG was kicked off in October of 2020 and focuses its efforts on reinvigorating the United States’ transatlantic partnerships. The group hosted several high-level speakers including former heads of state, Members of the U.S Congress, leaders of international organizations, members of the European Parliament, U.S.-based NGOs and academia. This working group was convened three times over the course of 2020.

Learn More

Working Group on Great Power Competition

The WGGPC was kicked off in November 2020 and focuses on countering China’s malign influence around the globe. This group’s inaugural meeting was centered on framing the main issues of China’s aggressive foreign policy and speakers from prominent U.S.-based NGOs, former heads of U.S. Federal departments and experienced activists who have dealt directly with Chinese foreign aggression.

Women, Peace and Security Initiative

Over the course of 2020, the Human Rights and Democracy Program’s WPS program has led and organized a series of activities in Washington D.C. that advance the U.S. government’s work on the WPS Agenda:
Sudan
In May 2020, the HR&D program hosted a virtual event featuring DAS Makila James (U.S. Department of State), Huda Shafig (Gesr Center for Development – Sudan), and Susan Stigant (U.S. Institute of Peace) to discuss how women shaped the revolution, how they are continuing to fight for a more inclusive and prosperous Sudan, and how the international community can support these efforts.
Belarus
In September 2020, the HR&D program hosted a second virtual event featuring Natalia Arno (U.S.-Russia Foundation), Melinda Haring (Atlantic Council), Olena Suslova (Human Rights and Gender Activist – Ukraine) and Olga Karatch (Our House – Belarus) to discuss how women shaped the revolution, how the international community and U.S. policy can support their efforts, and lessons learned from Belarus for other regional WPS efforts.
Women, Peace, and Security and Great Power Competition
Discuss the specific impacts of malign actors (ex: China, Russia, Iran, etc.), how they exploit gender norms and women and girls in fragile states, and how to integrate these concerns in Global Fragility Act implementation as well as in broader USG strategic and diplomatic messaging on Great Power Competition.

Leadership
Programs

Committed to continuing Senator McCain’s legacy of character-driven leadership, the McCain Institute empowers individuals around the world to educate others in the Institute’s leadership curriculum.

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Leadership Program alumni

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NGL Program

Through our Next Generation Leaders (NGL) programming, the Institute has continued to develop character-driven leaders across the globe. With over 65 program graduates working across 50 countries, we’re proud of the high-level success and accomplishments each is bringing to their area of expertise.

Esther Akafia

2020 Cohort

Founder of Pioneers International Academy in Ghana, Esther solidified a partnership with ASU’s Digital Prep Academy to build and deliver virtual learning platforms to Ghanaian students.

Ximena Lainfiesta

2020 Cohort

Ximena successfully launched her fair-trade company, Mielanaria, selling out the entire first batch of Mayan honey across Guatemala within weeks. She has secured alliances with Guatemala’s Ministry of Economy and plans to scale to the international market in 2021

Marija Dautartaite

2020 Cohort

In partnership with EdVenture Partners, this project empowers university students to address hate- and school-based violence. Each semester, university teams were given $1,000 in seed funding for the development and deployment of dynamic products, tools, and initiatives that produce measurable results. Our 2020 finalists came from Arizona State University, Boise State University, Johns Hopkins University, Missouri State University, and Ohio Dominican University.

In the Arena

NGLs were “In the Arena” in the global fight against COVID-19. Many courageously answered the call to “start where you are, use what you have and do what you can” to make a difference in their communities. Nine NGLs received COVID-19 microgrants from the Institute to bolster their grassroots relief efforts, enabling them to provide medical supplies and mitigate the economic effects of the pandemic in their communities.

Sonam Tobgay

2015 Cohort

As the Director of the Bilateral Department of Bhutan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sonam worked tirelessly to ensure the uninterrupted supply of food items and medical supplies from India, which constitutes 80% of Bhutan’s imports. He led the organization of the 47 evacuation flights to repatriate a total of 4,570 Bhutanese who had been stranded abroad. Finally, he mobilized financial and in-kind assistance from Bhutan’s bilateral partners.

Ilze Vinkele

2018 Cohort

As the Minister of Health in Latvia, Ilze led the way in combatting COVID-19 in her country. Due to her strong leadership, Latvia has remained one of the top 5 countries in Europe in terms of lowest infection rates and highest test numbers performed, helping not only to reduce the number of COVID deaths but also to shield the Latvian economy from the grave impacts that other countries have experienced. In addition, the political party which Ilze founded, Movement For!, won the mayorship of Riga this summer.

Train the Trainer

Despite the pandemic’s disruption on all educational activities, the NGLs’ Train the Trainer work continues. Since the inception of the Train the Trainer initiative in 2018, NGLs have used the Institute’s toolkit to train 6,807 people across the globe in the principles of character-driven leadership. Many NGLs successfully pivoted to online training in 2020 or found creative ways to deliver safe, socially distant in-person trainings.

Dael Dervishi

Albania, 2017 Cohort

Dael launched a virtual learning platform of online leadership training modules in Albanian, through which Albanians can obtain a self-paced leadership certificate. He also graduated his fourth class of young Albanian leadership fellows.

Judge Jerlie Requerme

The Philippines, 2020 Cohort

Judge Requerme conducted a training on character-driven leadership to over 500 educators in her region of Mindanao to support them in their leadership.

Zaw Tu Hkawng

Myanmar, 2020 Cohort

Upon his return home in fall 2020, Zaw Tu Hkawng completed his first session at his training outpost, graduating 100 student leaders, most of whom gathered in a classroom and received their training via a single smartphone.

Modou Sowe & Nathalie Mondesir

The Gambia, 2018 Cohort
Haiti, 2018 Cohort

Modou Sowe and Nathalie Mondesir conducting international Train the Trainer sessions, both in person and online, training a total of 40 and 82 people, respectively.

Ljubomir Filipovic

Montenegro, 2019 Cohort

Ljubomir Filipovic launched virtual “Leadership Talks” series, through which he hosts two talks in Montenegrin on character-driven leadership per week – to date he has hosted several NGLs, diplomats, professors from US-based universities, and civil society leaders from around the world.

National Security
& Counterterrorism

The National Security & Counterterrorism Fellowship program brings together the bright and brightest emerging leaders from the Five Eyes nations to build an enduring community of young national security professionals. The fellowship program is preparing to welcome its second cohort of leaders.

NSCT Fellowship

The 12 inaugural fellows hailed from four of the Five Eyes countries – the USA, the UK, Australia, and Canada – and brought with them a wealth of experience in national security, intelligence, and counterterrorism. Throughout the fellowship, in-person modules were held in D.C. and the UK, with virtual programming in the interim. In Fall 2020, the inaugural cohort of fellows concluded its year-long programming with a virtual Australia module, spread out over the course of several months. In Spring 2021, the McCain Institute opened applications for the second cohort of fellows.  The 14 selected fellows will be announced in Fall 2021.

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The programme so far has been an invaluable opportunity to understand how our close allies approach shared challenges. Learning with and from experts across the Five Eyes community has been a unique experience, and I have no doubt that the relationships we build will have a long- lasting impact at individual and international levels.”

~ Fellow Chris Selim, Head of Operational Policy and Secretariat, Home Office, United Kingdom

“Hearing from Admiral McRaven was an incredible opportunity in its own right, but resonated even more strongly now as we all reflect on the importance of leadership during crisis. His perspectives on maintaining transparency, owning failure, and building strong teams were particularly poignant in this moment.”

~ Fellow Anna Wallis Dietrich, Analyst at the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center

“There is no doubt that the experiences I gained as a fellow have given me an incredible perspective to advance the study and debate of today’s complex intelligence, security and human rights issues, and inspire a new generation of security experts ready to tackle the ever-evolving war on terror.”


~ Fellow Leah West, lecturer on National Security and Intelligence, Norman Patterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, Canada

Bringing Together Global Leaders

The fellows began their program in 2019 with two week-long modules in Washington, DC / New York and London / Belfast. Fellows were set to convene for the third and final time in Canberra and Sydney in spring 2020; however, COVID-19 disrupted this plan. Instead of meeting in person, fellows convened on Zoom across various time zones in Washington D.C., Ottawa, London, Brussels and Canberra to engage with top national security experts from Australia and the United States.

During one Zoom session, Australian Diplomat and first director-general of the Office of National Intelligence (ONI) Nick Warner encouraged fellows to gain a variety of experiences across various national security and intelligence agencies and reminded them that laughter is an important part of effective leadership. In another session, Admiral William H. McRaven drew upon his 37 years of experience in the U.S. military to offer a range of lessons about leadership under crisis conditions and personal resilience during times of adversity. Finally, during the culminating session of their fellowship, the Institute’s 2021 Kissinger Fellow, the Honorable Julie Bishop, spoke with the fellows about the challenges of the U.S.-China competition, the importance of diversity of voices around the decision-making table and the need for leaders to be both resilient and adaptable.

International Rule
Of Law & Security

Our most academic program, the International Rule of Law & Security program, continues to provide resources and learning opportunities to future lawyers interested in supporting the stability and development of growing democracies around the world.

Where We Work

balkan-platform
Balkan Platform
Formed with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Networke (BIRN) the platform seeks to foster debate and amplify credible voices to positively impacting the future of democracy in the Western Balkans.
georgia-project
Georgia Project
Partnering with the Economic Policy Research Center, we created the “Tracking and Refuting Disinformation in Georgia” project, as funded by the U.S. Department of State Global Engagement Center. The project tracked and spread local awareness of disinformation being spread from Russia to the new Republic.
asu-college-of-law
ASU College of Law D.C. Program
Despite the COVID-19 Pandemic, our academic partnership with ASU continues to grow. In the past year, 36 ASU law students have taken our Washington, D.C.-based courses and 26 students have been welcomed as IRLS Fellows to the 2020-21 cohort.

Reaffirming America's
Strategic Alliances

The McCain Institute launched the America’s Alliances Working Group (AAWG) in October of 2020 to focus on reinvigorating the United States’ transatlantic partnerships. The group hosted several high-level speakers including former heads of state, Members of the U.S Congress, leaders of international organizations, members of the European Parliament, U.S.-based NGOs and academia.

Convening Transatlantic Leaders

In an effort to reaffirm America’s commitment to the transatlantic alliance, as well as other global partnerships that have waned, the McCain Institute convenes the action-oriented and forward-looking America’s Alliances Working Group. It includes high-level American, Canadian, and European political and thought leaders that will assert long standing alliances and create fresh partnerships to ensure that the close transatlantic relationship endures for future generations.

On Russia

NATO Parliamentary Assembly (PA) needs to have internal cohesion when facing up to the Russian threat. Since Vladimir Putin looks to exploit weakness and division, he must be met “collectively and robustly.” Accepting the illegal annexation of Crimea would lead to a slippery slope. “The U.S. non-recognition of the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states proves that resolve on such issues is by no means a fool’s errand.” Russian cyberattacks need to be addressed with clear investments across the Alliance. “We should also not be afraid to prove to Putin that two can play this game.”

On China

China poses a clear challenge to the Alliance. The Belt & Road initiative is a strategic foray into Europe. We can have a working relationship with China without being naïve enablers. The rules of engagement must therefore be made clear. Allowing Chinese tech companies such as Huawei to make investments in critical infrastructure like 5G networks is “a price too high.”

On the role of the U.S.

America must retake the seat of leadership but “do it with humility.” A new administration should reaffirm its assurances to NATO but also to other global treaties and commitments. The recent troop withdraw from Germany was done without any strategic review or discussion within the Alliance. Since this is now seen as a punitive action against Germany and sends a message of disunity to Russia, the decision should be reversed.

On NATO’s Open Door policy

Eastern Europeans believe that “America disappeared strategically from the region since the failure of the Bucharest 2008 summit.” The vision of a Europe “Whole, Free, and at Peace” was left incomplete. NATO PA needs to send a clear signal of recommitment to NATOs Open Door policy to Georgia and Ukraine. The Eastern Europeans have great experience on how to deal with Russia but America’s strength is needed to back the policies up.

On democracy

The recent democratic backsliding among some NATO member states needs to be acknowledged. NATO works because it’s a community of values. “It will not survive simply as a transactional security arrangement.” NATO should create a Center of Excellence on Democracy to fortify the principles the Alliance is based on.

Empowering NATO to Counter Authoritarian Mis- and Disinformation

In partnership with Bakamo Social, the McCain Institute has created an interactive dashboard displaying unique data on public perception of NATO and mis- and disinformation. This dashboard presents analysis of disinformation based on explicit discussions on disinformation to shed light on the level of awareness of the threat, not the presence of adversarial narratives. The analysis discriminates between discussion in the media and peoples’ organic discourse and also displays the evolution of the conversation over time. 

The dashboard analyzes millions of sources (Twitter, Facebook, blogs, news sites and other social media) to measure the volume and trend of the conversations around NATO. The tool also measures when NATO is mentioned together with Russia, China, or the topic of disinformation; essentially determining the level of association of the aforementioned threats with NATO.

Fellows

The Institute was privileged to welcome Secretary Mark T. Esper, former Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Army, as the inaugural John S. McCain Distinguished Fellow. We are equally honored to announce the Honorable Julie Bishop, former Foreign Minister of Australia as the 2021 Kissinger Fellow.

2021 Fellowship Recipients

Hon. Julie Bishop
Hon. Julie Bishop

Kissinger Fellow

Hon. Julie Bishop
Hon. Julie Bishop

Kissinger Fellow

The Honourable Julie Bishop is regarded as one of Australia’s finest Ministers for Foreign Affairs and is the first woman appointed to that role.

Elected to the House of Representatives in 1998 following a highly successful legal career, Julie has served as Minister for Ageing; Cabinet-level Minister for Education, Science and Training; and as the Minister supporting the Prime Minster on Women’s Issues. She was the first woman to be elected as the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party when elected to that position in 2007, which she held until 2018.

In addition to a slew of internationally acclaimed responses, resolutions, and awards throughout her political career, Julie established the Innovation Xchange with a mandate of finding solutions to some of the most intractable development and health challenges globally. The Xchange has worked with international organisations including Bloomberg Philanthropies and The Global Fund.

Julie graduated with a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Adelaide in 1978 and attended Harvard Business School in 1996, completing the Advanced Management Program for Senior Managers. In 2017, the University of Adelaide awarded her the Honorary Degree of Doctor of the University for her contribution to Australian parliamentary service.

Dr. Mark T. Esper
Dr. Mark T. Esper

John S. McCain Distinguished Fellow

Dr. Mark T. Esper
Dr. Mark T. Esper

John S. McCain Distinguished Fellow

Dr. Mark T. Esper became the 27th Secretary of Defense in July 2019 when he was confirmed 90-8 by the U.S. Senate. As Defense Secretary, Esper was responsible for ensuring the United States’ national security, protecting the American people at home and abroad, and advancing the country’s interests globally. In this capacity, he led one of the largest, most complex organizations in the world given its nearly 3 million service members and defense civilians, $740 billion annual budget, and trillions of dollars of weapons, equipment, and infrastructure located at 4,800 sites in over 160 countries. Esper’s broad scope of responsibilities ranged from organizing, manning, training and equipping the joint force, to the research and development of future weapons, concepts, and equipment; and from defense trade, diplomacy, and cybersecurity, to healthcare, hospitals, housing, and schools. During his tenure, Esper developed key relationships with senior officials throughout the Executive Branch, Members of Congress, major business and philanthropic leaders, and a wide range of international partners.

As Secretary of Defense, Dr. Esper made major strides in shaping and implementing the National Defense Strategy, which called for a return to preparing for high intensity conflict in a new era of great power competition. Esper established the Space Force and Space Command, proposed a dramatic change in the size and composition of the U.S. Navy, enhanced the resourcing and operations of Cyber Command, and led a major reform effort that reorganized the department and freed up billions of dollars for higher priorities. He worked hard to strengthen alliances and grow new partners, especially in the Indo-Pacific, and helped drive a major increase in the readiness of NATO members, all while advancing new warfighting, operational, and readiness concepts in the U.S. military.

Esper oversaw the largest R&D budget in the department’s history, drove spending on cutting-edge technologies such as AI, directed energy, advanced networking, robotics, and hypersonics, and launched the biggest initiative in decades to improve diversity and inclusion in the armed forces. Finally, Dr. Esper successfully led the department through one of the most challenging times in the nation’s history: from conflict with Iran, an ongoing military campaign in Afghanistan, and counter-terrorist operations in the Middle East; to open competition with China and Russia amidst a fundamental shift in the weapons and character of war; and from the greatest civil unrest and political turmoil America has seen in decades, to the spread of a global pandemic the world hasn’t experienced in over 100 years.

Prior to becoming Defense Secretary, Dr. Esper served as the 23d Secretary of the Army from November 2017 through June 2019. In this capacity, he was responsible for over 1.5 million active, Guard, and reserve Soldiers and Army civilians, a budget of $180 billion annually, and all aspects of leading the world’s most capable ground combat force. During his tenure, Esper launched a renaissance in how the Service organized, manned, trained, and equipped the force as it shifted its focus back toward large-scale combat operations against great power competitors. Dr. Esper was a reformer who spearheaded an extensive review process that reduced organizational inefficiencies and eliminated scores of programs to free up funding for critical modernization initiatives. He also established a new U.S. Army Futures Command designed to improve the Army’s acquisition process and bolster its broader effort to field a modernized force capable of fighting in all domains. Finally, he directed an overhaul of Army recruiting standards and processes, the lengthening and toughening of Infantry Basic Combat Training, and the development of a new Talent Management system for the Service, all while advancing important initiatives for Army spouses and families.

Dr. Esper graduated from West Point with distinction in 1986 and received his commission in the Infantry. During 10 years on active duty, he served in the 101st Airborne Division and participated in the Gulf War with the “Screaming Eagles,” and later commanded an airborne rifle company in Europe. He then served another 11 years in the National Guard and Army Reserve. From 1996 to 1998, Dr. Esper was chief of staff at The Heritage Foundation, and later served in senior staff positions for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senate Government Affairs Committee, and House Armed Services Committee. Esper was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Negotiations Policy from 2002 to 2004 and National Security Advisor for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist from 2004 to 2006.

From 2006 to 2007, Dr. Esper was the Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President of Defense and International Affairs at Aerospace Industries Association. He then worked as the National Policy Director on the 2008 presidential campaign of Senator Fred Thompson and as a Senate-appointed commissioner on the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. From 2008 to 2010, he served concurrently as the Executive Vice President for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center and as Vice President for Europe and Eurasian Affairs. He was Vice President for Government Relations at the Raytheon Company from 2010 to 2017. And from 2006 to 2010 he was an Associate Professor at the Missouri State University Graduate Studies program in northern Virginia.

Esper holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the United States Military Academy, a Master of Public Administration degree from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and a doctorate in Public Policy from George Washington University. He is a two-time recipient of the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, and received numerous awards during his military career, including the Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge.

Dr. Esper is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the American Legion. He is also the Distinguished Chair of the Modern War Institute at West Point.

He and his wife, Leah, have been married since 1989 and have three adult children.

Events & Forums

At the core of our strategy is constructive engagement and convening experts. By hosting forums and events that assemble subject-matter experts, we can better promote our values through solution-oriented and substantive conversations. 2020 and the Coronavirus Pandemic provided us the opportunity to pivot and create virtual content that helped make these in-depth conversations more accessible.

Authors & Insights Book Talk Series

This year, we launched its successful virtual book talk series where Institute leaders interview authors of important newly released books on American politics, policy and leadership with the intention to engage the American people in a dialogue that affirms the importance of character-driven leadership and America’s leadership in the international community.

Madeleine Albright: Foreign Policy Crossroads: Where We Are & How We Got Here

355 Attendees

As a professor, author, international democracy organization chair, U.N. ambassador – not to mention America’s 64th secretary of state and highest-ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government at that time – Madeleine Albright has played a role in nearly every major foreign policy debate of our time. Along the way, she’s learned lessons, gained insights and managed to keep her sense of humor.

Cindy McCain: A Conversation with Ambassador Josette Sheeren

140 Attendees

This event featured McCain Institute Board of Trustees Chair Cindy McCain alongside McCain Institute Executive Chairman Ambassador Josette Sheeran for a discussion of her new book “Stronger: Courage, Hope, & Humor in My Life with John McCain.”

Josh Rogin

186 Attendees

Washington Post Foreign Policy Columnist and CNN Political Analyst Josh Rogin joined Ambassador Mark Green to discuss his new book, “Chaos Under Heaven: America, China and the Battle for the 21st Century,” in the latest installment of the McCain Institute’s Authors & Insights Book Talk Series. As one of America’s preeminent foreign policy journalists, Rogin has covered the U.S.-China relationship from both sides of the Pacific and uses that experience to take a deep look at the past and future of this critical great power relationship.

Anne Applebaum: Reinforcing the Importance of Modern Democracy

285 Attendees

With the rise of authoritarianism in many parts of the world, the need for a renewed commitment to free and open democracy has never been clearer. In “Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism,” Anne Applebaum dissects the shift of declining liberal democracies and rising authoritarianism and argues that before reestablishing the commitment to democratic values globally, we need to reaffirm it back here in the United States.

Mark Salter: A Portrait of Character-Driven Leadership and Service

229 Attendees

Mark Salter has collaborated with John McCain on all seven of their books, including The Restless Wave, Faith of My Fathers, Worth the Fighting For, Why Courage Matters, Character Is Destiny, Hard Call, and Thirteen Soldiers. For 18 years, Salter served as Sen. McCain’s speechwriter and advisor in both the U.S. Senate and on the campaign trail.

H.R. McMaster: The Roles of Freedom and Democracy in American Foreign Policy

287 Attendees

When making critical national security decisions, what role should principles of democracy, freedom and human rights play in the decision-making process? As the 26th National Security Advisor to the President, H.R. McMaster constantly considered this question and more as he helped shape American foreign policy from inside the West Wing.

Robert Zoellick: A Diagnosis of America's Foreign Policy

185 Attendees

In the first edition of the McCain Institute’s Authors & Insights event series, former World Bank President Robert Zoellick joined Ambassador Mark Green to discuss his newest book, “America in the World: A History of U.S. Diplomacy and Foreign Policy.” Having served as deputy secretary of state and U.S. trade representative throughout his career, Zoellick has had unique and consistent insight into American decision-making in the foreign policy arena and can speak to what the country’s future aspirations should be.

Conversations with
Secretary Mark Esper

President Joe Biden made his first overseas trip to Europe to attend the G7, NATO and EU Summits, as well as met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The world’s eyes looked to Europe as the trip represented the United States’ potential return to a more traditional approach to its transatlantic alliances. To continue the critical work of Senator John McCain on this issue, the McCain Institute hosts a new public conversation series between Dr. Mark T. Esper, the John McCain Distinguished Fellow and former U.S. Secretary of Defense, and experts on various issues related to challenges and threats to U.S. national security – a rising China, increasing international authoritarianism, the global plague of disinformation, etc.

Former Prime Minister & Foreign Minister of Sweden and Co-Chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations Carl Bildt on Biden’s Trip to Europe
Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Theresa May on the State of the Transatlantic Alliance
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Straight Talk Live

In the spirit of debate and open forums, Straight Talk Live convened a panel of experts to discuss current issues in American politics. Featuring prominent experts ranging from campaign managers to pollsters to a former FEC Chairman, we hosted two Straight Talk Live forums in 2020 to discuss the historic election and implications.

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