Former United States Secretary of State James A. Baker III received the 2012 Great Negotiator Award Thursday. The award, given by the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School and the Future of Diplomacy Project at Harvard Kennedy School, recognizes individuals who have made a lasting impact through their work in negotiation and dispute resolution.
The event featured a panel discussion with Baker led by HKS Professor R. Nicholas Burns and Harvard Business School Professor James K. Sebenius.
Baker, who served as President George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of State, amassed a wealth of experience in the United States government as the Secretary of Commerce for President Gerald R. Ford, Jr. and the Secretary of the Treasury for President Ronald Reagan.
As he related the hectic life of a Secretary of State through tales of his greatest accomplishments—the reunification of Germany within NATO and the Gulf War Coalition—Baker shared negotiation advice with the audience.
“You’re never going to be a good negotiator unless you are willing to walk away from a negotiation when it isn’t going to succeed,” Baker said. “You don’t ever stake out a maximalist position. If you’re not ready to walk, you’re not going to get anywhere.”
During the discussion, Baker also offered his opinion on matters including the United States’ economic standing, Korean unification, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“If we didn’t have the dollar as the reserve currency of the world, we’d be Greece,” Baker said.
“But you don’t want to hear from the Secretary of the Treasury today, you want to hear from the Secretary of State,” Bake said, referring to his experience in both positions and sending a wave of laughter through the audience.
Event attendees pressed Baker for his opinion on Gulf War issues, including the efficacy of the Patriot missile defense system in deterring Israel from reacting to Iraqi attacks and the refusal of minor concessions to Saddam Hussein in calling for his forces to leave Kuwait.
“We’ve heard a lot of stories about James Baker’s actions during that time, and it’s interesting to hear his firsthand account to either corroborate or tweak the official history of the situation,” said HKS student Christopher W. Gustafson.
Over 275 attendees packed Ames Courtroom in the Law School’s Austin Hall during the three-and-a-half-hour event.
The attendees were mainly students and faculty from the Law, Kennedy, and Business Schools.
Harvard Law School Dean Martha L. Minow underscored the significant role Baker has played in world events of recent memory.
“This is a great man,” she said. “The world is different because of the actions, steps, and negotiations undertaken by James Baker.”