Nicholas Burns
Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics, Harvard University
Call 424.288.2898

Biography Print Bio

Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns is one of the country’s most articulate spokespeople on globalization and U.S. foreign policy, earning respect as a nonpartisan expert on public diplomacy and world affairs. Over the course of his illustrious, 27-year career, he played a leadership role in U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East and Asia and was the nation’s top career diplomat as under secretary of state for political affairs from 2005–2008. He served three presidents: George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. Burns speaks with candor and passion about his position at the forefront of American foreign relations and policy and offers a big-picture perspective of our country’s position on the world stage.

Nicholas Burns is Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He is Director of the Future of Diplomacy Project and Faculty Chair for the Programs on the Middle East and on India and South Asia. He serves on the Board of Directors of the School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and is a Faculty Associate at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.

He is Director of the Aspen Strategy Group, Senior Counselor at the Cohen Group, and serves on the Board of Directors of Entegris, Inc. He writes a biweekly column on foreign affairs for the Boston Globe.

Burns serves on the boards of several non-profit organizations, including the Council on Foreign Relations, Special Olympics, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, the Atlantic Council, American Media Abroad, the Association of Diplomatic Studies and Training, the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, and the Gennadius Library. He is Vice Chairman of the American Ditchley Foundation and serves on the Panel of Senior Advisors at Chatham House: the Royal Institute of International Affairs. He is a member of the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Trilateral Commission, the Order of Saint John, and Red Sox Nation.

Professor Burns served in the United States government for twenty-seven years. As a career Foreign Service Officer, he was Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs from 2005 to 2008; the State Department’s third-ranking official when he led negotiations on the U.S.–India Civil Nuclear Agreement; a long-term military assistance agreement with Israel; and was the lead U.S. negotiator on Iran’s nuclear program. He was U.S. Ambassador to NATO (2001–2005), Ambassador to Greece (1997–2001) and State Department Spokesman (1995–1997). He worked for five years (1990–1995) on the National Security Council at the White House where he was Senior Director for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia Affairs and Special Assistant to President Clinton and Director for Soviet Affairs in the Administration of President George H.W. Bush. Burns also served in the American Consulate General in Jerusalem (1985–1987) where he coordinated U.S. economic assistance to the Palestinian people in the West Bank and before that, at the American embassies in Egypt (1983-1985) and Mauritania (1980 as an intern).

Professor Burns has received twelve honorary degrees, the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award, the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service from the Johns Hopkins University, the Boston College Alumni Achievement Award and the Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award from Tufts University. He has a BA in History from Boston College (1978), an MA in International Relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (1980), and earned the Certificat Pratique de Langue Francaise at the University of Paris-Sorbonne (1977). He was a visiting Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in summer 2008.

He currently resides in Boston.

Speech Topics

  • Global Crises Outlook
    What are the global crises that will affect U.S. businesses and markets? Topics include the Russia/Ukraine Crisis, the Iran Nuclear Negotiations, the Syria Civil War, Chinese territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas and North Korea.
  • The President's Foreign Policy In-Box
    What are the major global challenges facing the United States for the long-term and how should the U.S. respond to them? In this speech Nick will discuss the extraordinary range of complex challenges we face from Iran and North Korea to cyber threats, climate change, international crime and drug cartels to terrorism and proliferation. He will chart how Americans can succeed in confronting them by rejecting isolationism and maintaining a lead U.S. role in the world. He will also discuss why there are reasons for us to be hopeful about our national strengths and the future.
  • The Burning Middle East
    Nick will discuss the many challenges we face in just one region of the world--The Middle East. As a former U.S. negotiator on Iran's nuclear program, he can speak in detail about how the U.S. should respond. He also covers our complicated relationship with Egypt, the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Syria and the threat of terrorism in the region.
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