Around the Institute

Connect the Dots

July 19, 2022  • Daniel R. Porterfield

Aspen Institute President and CEO Dan Porterfield delivered the below welcome remarks at the 13th annual Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, CO on June 19, 2022. Follow him on twitter @DanPorterfield.

Welcome to the opening of the 13th annual Aspen Security Forum. We are so excited to be back home and in person for the first time in three unprecedented years.

Please join me in thanking the Aspen Strategy Group and its Co-Chairs, Joe Nye and Condoleezza Rice.

Thank you to our remarkable ASG team—including our new Executive Director Anja Manuel, Niamh King, Leah Bitounis, Deb Cunningham, and many others.

Thank you to our generous, freedom-loving Aspen Institute trustees, especially Jane Harman and Margot Pritzker.

Thank you to many partners from across the Institute, including Aspen Digital, Aspen Community Programs, the Energy and Environment Program, the Aspen Economic Strategy Group, and the Society of Fellows.

Thank you to NBCUniversal News Group for its partnership both with this Forum and with last month’s Aspen Ideas Festival, which was a big success.

In 1949, beneath these mountains, the Aspen Institute was founded in the aftermath of World War, genocide, nuclear devastation, and the rise of the Soviet Union. Our founders believed in human dignity and democracy, and knew first hand what happens when either isn’t fought for.

Today, in the spirit of our founders, we hold this Forum to address the challenges of our time, from Russian aggression to cyberwar, from the future of NATO to our relationship with China, and much more.

We come together this year with keen reverence for the life and legacy of one of the Aspen Institute’s greatest leaders, the late Madeleine Albright, who so often educated and edified us from this stage.

Secretary Albright, whose eminent family fled both the Nazis and the Soviets, was, of course, a refugee child who grew up to become the U.S. Secretary of State.

Only in America.

Whatever the issue, one of Secretary Albright’s famous maxims was that we must “connect the dots”—which at this Forum means linking global security concerns with public health, food security, technological change, the world economy, and the lessons of history.

The art of “dot-connecting” is what the Institute, the Aspen Strategy Group, and the Aspen Security Forum are all about. We work at the crossroads where domestic and global security concerns intersect;

where left and right meet center;

where past and present meet future;

where the public and private sectors meet civil society;

where science and social science meet humanism;

where tradition and disruption meet progress;

and, where idealism and realism meet diplomacy.

Today, as an organization committed to the global good, we feel a piercing and personal connection to the people of Ukraine, which is home to one of our 12 Aspen Institutes around the world. Right now, as we meet here, nine Ukrainian colleagues are working with every fiber of their beings to save their country and their future, coping with daily dangers most of us in the U.S. have to twist our brains to imagine.

But we have to try to imagine what our brothers and sisters in Ukraine are dealing with, for their good and for ours, too.

That’s why we hope you’ll find time during this Forum to visit a new exhibition in the Koch Building featuring Ukrainian paintings and photography created in response to the war. As you’ll hear in a moment, besides raising awareness, the proceeds from any art that we sell will go to Aspen Kyiv and artists from Ukraine.

This exhibition comes to us thanks to our Board Arts Committee and our colleagues Danielle Baussan, Elliot Gerson, and Lissa Ballinger. One of the most moving sequences of three photos shows an old woman holding her head in her hands, a new mother holding her baby in her arms, and a group of workers holding body bags in a desolate field.

Art has expressed the human truths of every freedom struggle, from Guernica to the poetry of Anna Akhmatova to Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” to the plays of Vaclav Havel and the death camp memoirs of Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel.

In the 1980s, the extraordinary South African playwright Athol Fugard gave a profound talk about the power of “the small personal impulses” among human beings in a repressive state. He said, “I’m talking about the living of a life at the most mundane level, and what I am saying is that at that level—at the level of our daily lives—one man or woman meeting another man or woman is finally … the central arena of history.”

Calling our personal relationships “the central arena of history” does not diminish the importance of these proceedings with their emphasis on the affairs of state and the conflicts between great powers. In fact, it increases the importance of what we do here. Thank you for being a part of it.

Now it is my pleasure to introduce Anja Manuel, Executive Director of the Aspen Strategy Group.