Three former secretaries of state engaged in a panel discussion Thursday before a crowd of over 4,000 at Rice University to discuss foreign policy issues affecting the United States on the eve of the twenty-first century.
Participants in the panel, which was moderated by CNN's Bernard Shaw, included Henry Kissinger, James A. Baker and Warren Christopher.
The panel agreed that issues such as NATO expansion, actions towards China and better relations with Latin and South America were vital to American interests for the next century.
"When we talk about expanding the North Atlantic alliance, we should take great pains to make it very clear we're not talking about that because we fear Russia as an enemy," said Baker.
The panel urged that it is essential to establish a cooperative relationship with China. "To declare somebody (China) an enemy who does not want to be an enemy and thereby make him an enemy, that is stupid," Kissinger said.
The panel also stated that the U.S. has not pursued interests in Latin and South America enough.
A surprise visit by former President George Bush to the Third Annual Conference of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy was greeted by a standing ovation from the crowd.
Addressing fears of continuing U.S. involvement in world affairs, Bush said, "I sometimes wonder if the current proponents of isolationism and protectionism realize that freedom prevailed in the Cold War, and I wonder if they understand that the superpower struggle ended the way it did largely because we led."
Another featured guest, Mikhail Gorbachev, received the Enron prize for Distinguished Public Service from the Baker Institute for his "tremendous personal and political courage."
Gorbachev criticized using forceful tactics instead of diplomacy as a means to transform the post-Cold War international political landscape. "My feeling is that if we base future politics on force, as would follow from this evaluation of the end of the Cold War, then, of course, everything would seem very simple. 'Big stick' politics, but I don't think that this is the right choice," Gorbachev said.