More than 30 years after competing on Bowdoin's lacrosse fields, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Christopher Hill '74 still believes in the importance of teamwork.
"Frankly it sounds silly, but playing on team sports?on the lacrosse team?was very important because diplomacy is definitely a team sport," Hill said.
At a specially scheduled Common Hour last week, Hill defended the United States's agreement with North Korea at the six-party talks, which he helped broker, in Beijing. According to Hill, while the current pact does not provide for the complete denuclearization of North Korea, it is an important first step.
"The North Koreans are unlikely to wake up one morning and say, 'Let's get rid of our nuclear weapons,'" Hill said in his Common Hour address.
Hill maintained that the agreement sets up a framework for continued negotiations and progress toward the goal of denuclearizing North Korea.
"This agreement is not the end of the story, but these are steps we have to take," he said.
For Hill, the agreement presents North Korea with an opportunity to give up its nuclear weapons and join the international community.
"I think the government needs to make a fundamental decision between joining the international community and making nuclear weapons because they are not going to be able to do both," Hill said in an interview with the Orient on Saturday.
He added, "If they persist in making these weapons, they are going to end up even more isolated than they already are. So it is a way open for them and we have to see that they choose it."
Responding to criticism regarding the agreement, Hill defended negotiation as a means to resolve North Korea's nuclear buildup.
"We have a problem, that there is a country producing nuclear weapons," Hill said. "In October, they actually tested one, so we are confronted by a situation and we have a limited number of tools to deal with it. I think one of those tools is to work with our partners?most importantly China?on a diplomatic approach."
According to Hill, diplomacy is a valuable tool to advance U.S. interests.
"I think diplomats tend to believe in diplomacy, and I am one of them. I really believe that you can convince people to do things they wouldn't otherwise do when you work with allies, when you show a united front, but you also present an alternative for them," he said.
"You are getting the other guy to do something he wouldn't otherwise do and in so doing you are enhancing your own interests," he added.
Hill asserted that critics should formulate their own plan before condemning the negotiations.
"I would say that when you look at the flaws of any negotiating process, you have to consider what the alternative is," Hill said. "Often they say you shouldn't negotiate, but then so what are you going to do if you don't negotiate?"
He added, "So I think it behooves the critics to come up with a plan of their own and I haven't seen one."
During his Common Hour address, Hill emphasized the importance of the multilateral approach to negotiating with North Korea. According to Hill, the multilateral approach increases the likelihood that North Korea will comply with the agreement.
"I think for North Koreans to walk away from a deal with us is one thing," he said. "For North Koreans to walk away from a deal with all their neighbors is quite something else."
In particular, Hill cited China as being "very key to the whole process." Traditionally, China has maintained close diplomatic ties with North Korea, but relations were strained after North Korea conducted nuclear tests in October.
"The difference between this arrangement and previous arrangements is that we would have in this arrangement China as one of the main guarantors of the process. So that is very useful to us," Hill said in a press conference in Moulton Union.
According to Hill, China's "leverage" over the North Koreans was significant in the six-party talks.
"A lot of what we do in the six-party talks is not so much rewarding or punishing North Korea; it is developing a solid front with the Chinese so that we can bring pressure to bear on North Korea and the situation there," he said.
Hill added that the Chinese were "extraordinarily pragmatic" in their approach to the negotiations.
"The Chinese themselves are most like us, very 'transactionally' minded," he said.
Hill also highlighted the significance of the United States working with China on such an important international issue.
"I would say one of the other benefits of the six-party talks?quite apart from the question of whether we can convince North Korea to give up nuclear weapons?is that the U.S. and China have become closer as a result of our cooperating in this process," Hill said. "We absolutely share the goals with them."
As China becomes increasingly important in world affairs, Hill believes that it is in U.S. interests to develop a strategic relationship with the country.
"There are of people who have concerns that China does not share our values and China has a very different world view," Hill said in the interview with the Orient.
"Certainly there are some reasons, but I think there is a compelling reason for the United States to develop a close relationship with China?a working relationship?with a country of 1.3 billion people," he said.
Responding to a question from the audience after the address, Hill discussed how the progress of the denuclearization of North Korea could influence negotiations with Iran.
"I think if this works, people will look to it as a model," Hill said.
Specifically, Hill cited the strength of the mulitateral negotiation framework used in the six-party talks.
"We embedded bilateral processes within a multilateral framework," Hill said.
During the negotiations, Hill maintained frequent contact with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
"I agreed with Secretary Rice on what I was going to do. Then as things happened, I called her everyday or she called me," Hill said. "I knew how far I could go."
Hill told the Orient that many of the conditions of the negotiations had already been established weeks earlier in Berlin.
"I had met the North Koreans in Berlin and had gone through many of the elements that we were hoping would be an outcome of the six-party talks because the six-party talks have been a lot of talk and not a lot of action," he said.
While Hill also noted the role of his Bowdoin education, particularly his background in economics, shaped his approach to diplomacy, he maintained that negotiation is very personal.
"I think that it is a very useful to have [an] analytical, quantitative mindset. I was an economic officer in the foreign service and I have always joked that some of our political officers have to take their shoes and socks from to count to 20," Hill said.
"How directly that affects negotiations is hard to tell. I think negotiating is a very personal thing. People's negotiating styles are very personal. Holbrooke once said 'It is sort of like jazz, you kind of improvise on a theme,'" he said.