Update: Join a panel of experts for the public launch of the research volume, “Reputational Security: The Imperative to Reinvest in America’s Strategic Communications Capabilities,” at 6 p.m. on Feb. 23, 2023, at the W&M Washington Center. You may register to attend in person or to livestream the event. – Ed.

Leading figures in U.S. national security and foreign policy convened last week at William & Mary to kickoff the inaugural Gates Forum.

The forum, which was hosted by the Gates Global Policy Center in partnership with William & Mary’s Global Research Institute (GRI), brought to Williamsburg prominent policymakers and officials, alongside experts from government, higher education, journalism and the private sector.

Under the leadership of Chancellor Robert M. Gates ’65, L.H.D. ’98, the forum engaged participants with a singular focus: What concrete actions can the United States take to reimagine its strategic communications capabilities in an era of resurgent great power competition?

“In the global competition with China, and to a lesser extent with Russia, the United States for too long has neglected strategic communications as a critical non-military instrument of power,” said Gates. “Reviving and renewing this capability is essential. The forum was intended to help jumpstart that process.”

Conferees included:

  • Hon. Robert M. Gates, Chancellor, William & Mary
  • U.S. Senator Chris Coons 
  • U.S. Senator Todd Young
  • Sophia Lafargue, Staff Director of the House Foreign Affairs Committee
  • Elizabeth M. Allen, Senior Official, Office of the Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
  • Admiral John Kirby, National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications
  • Dr. Mara Karlin, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans, and Capabilities
  • Dr. William Prillaman, Chief of Analytic Strategy, Central Intelligence Agency
  • Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, Press Secretary, Department of Defense
  • Brent Colburn, Senior Vice President of External Relations and Communications, University of California Office of the President
  • Tom Gjelten, Former NPR News Correspondent
  • Thom Shanker, Director, Project for Media and National Security
  • Vivek Varma, Chief Executive Officer, Emes Project LLC

“As the Alma Mater of the Nation, William & Mary is committed to the pursuit of facts as a public good,” said W&M President Katherine A. Rowe. “William & Mary is the place to come when you have pressing questions about our country’s foreign policy, you want to investigate those questions in a data-informed way, and you need new methodologies to find actionable answers. We are honored to put that prowess in the service of our nation’s public servants.”

To inform their policy recommendations, the conferees drew upon eight original research papers  to understand historical, comparative, and forward-looking perspectives on strategic communication and public diplomacy as tools of foreign policy. The papers were produced by AidData, a research lab at the Global Research Institute and the research partner for the first Forum, and external experts under the leadership of Samantha Custer, AidData’s director of policy analysis.

“AidData produces cutting edge research that answers timely policy questions with real world impact,” said Custer. “We are proud to partner with the Gates Forums as we see this as a way to equip U.S. leaders with clear insights to navigate pressing national security challenges.”

As a critical bridge drawing leaders across the political spectrum, Gates Forums produce policy recommendations informed by the best available evidence. Each respective Gates Forum will focus on issues where improved data and analysis helps participants diagnose the policy problem, weigh the merits of possible solutions, and increase the credibility of the final menu of policy recommendations.

Moving forward, GRI will organize follow-on events in Williamsburg and Washington, D.C., publish original research papers and datasets, and engage with policy practitioners on the topic of strategic communications in foreign policy.

The next Gates Forum will tackle a different subject and is scheduled to take place in fall 2023.

, University News & Media