A Weekend in Monterey Thinking About the Global World in 2020

I spent the long weekend in Monterey at the World Affairs Council 60th Annual Conference, the most prestigious international affairs conference on the West Coast.

It was a fantastic event with A-list speakers, interesting attendees, and an idyllic location. The theme "Global Balance of Power in 2020" raised several important points. I have publicly said for a long time that globalization is going to be perhaps the single biggest influence my generation will have to deal with. After this conference, I can safely expand that assertion: a strong grasp of international affairs can no longer be an "elective" for anyone under 40; if you are unable or unwilling to get a handle on the political, economic, and cultural implications of the changing balance of power around the globe, you might as well not show up.

I don’t yet have a strong grasp, but after a few days chewing on this stuff and being exposed to some incredible minds, I have a lot racing through my mind. Here are my rough notes from the conference.

Friday night we started with an excellent panel on the geopolitics in the world in general. At 10 PM I went to a policy simulation on a 2020 Middle East boycott of oil which lasted till midnight! (Well past my bedtime.) Saturday featured excellent discussions on China, India, and Brazil. In the afternoon I went for a run on the Monterey beach coast, a spectacular setting with the sun beating down on the ocean (and on me). In the evening I had the good fortune of dining next to World Affairs Council CEO Jane Wales, an extremely impressive person (formerly on the National Security Council under Clinton) and thinker. We had a good conversation.

This morning we wrapped up with some additional talk about China and other wild cards and a summation by conference chairman J. Stapleton Roy, a D.C. star and managing director of Kissinger Associates.

Before hitting the road, I grabbed lunch with an old friend at California Pizza Kitchen, and then raced up the coast on Highway 1. I felt like a classic Californian — flying up the coast on Highway 1, through the flat agricultural fields and the Pacific Ocean on my left, sun beaming, and then through the Santa Cruz mountains and predictably that good ole’ California traffic, which was so bad I was actually able to read a book while driving.

I made it home invigorated, anxious to go to the next World Affairs Council event on understanding the youth unrest in France, and as excited as ever about my upcoming gap year where I will see all these countries for myself.

Thanks to the Council for paying for all my (and other students’) conference fees, a membership, meals, and room and board!

2 comments on “A Weekend in Monterey Thinking About the Global World in 2020
  • Ben,

    I love that you take stands, I’m not sure I fully understand the boldfaced one that you did.

    How do you define a “strong grasp”? And where is it most important to have that strong grasp? (It feels like a moving target, I seem to remember Latin America 10 years ago being predicted as a huge economic force.)

    Also, what does it mean to be “unable”? I can understand unwilling to a certain extent….but remember we all bring in our sets of conditioning and international affairs are as touchy as religion.

    And the “you might as well not show up” is also confusing. Show up where?

    I’m not trying to be petulant (although it may read as such) but rather, I’m hoping that your passion will….explode I guess. I also read your post about the platforms for your ideas and thoughts. Thougtful messaging considering frames of reference helps leverage the power of carefully chosen platforms.

    Most importantly, however, keep taking stands, that’s the beauty of it. No stand is wrong or right or better or worse than any other. It’s great that you take them.


  • Tim — You’re right, I wasn’t as clear as I could have been.

    By “strong grasp” I mean a rudimentary knowledge. I have no specific metrics, but I think there is probably some base line of understanding that qualifies as “engaged citizen.” (P.S. – I’m not there yet!)

    By “unable” I mean not able to bring to bear the intellectual wherewithal to wrestle with some of these challenges. Since nothing is rocket science, I suppose “unable” is essentially the same as “unwilling.”

    By “show up” I mean showing up to a life of impact. If people aren’t going to tune in, to get engaged, to try to get the picture about what’s going on in our world and why, then they’re not “showing up.” They’re not players; they’re spectators. I can think of no better opportunity lost than to sit on the sidelines, watching the world go by.

    I agree these issues can be charged and emotional.

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