Former EU foreign policy chief shares tools for success

There is no one singular way to achieve successful foreign policy, according to Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s former foreign policy chief.

In a lecture at Northeastern’s Fenway Center on March 4, Ashton gave examples of what she believes are important tools for strong foreign relations. Some of the best practices she highlighted included collaboration, the use of hard and soft power, and utilizing various assets.

“I say foreign policy is about security, stability, and prosperity,” said Ashton, who served as the keynote speaker at Northeastern’s latest installment of the Global Leaders Forum. “And that’s for people in the countries we represent…but also for people around the world.”

Ashton played key roles in resolving major crises while serving as High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy from 2009 to 2014. These included helping victims of the 2009 Haiti earthquake, curbing piracy off the coast of Somalia in 2012, and brokering a deal to normalize relations between Serbia and Kosovo in April 2013.

“You have to have the capacity to be able to work together,” Ashton explained. “The willingness to collaborate, to find the common ground that is the highest common factor not the lowest common denominator, is so important.”

The Global Leaders Forum was created by Northeastern’s Center for International Affairs and World Cultures as an opportunity for the university and Boston community to interact with world leaders and discuss global changes. Former Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga served as keynote speaker at the inaugural event in October.

During introductory remarks, Mitchell Orenstein, chair of the Department of Political Science and co-chair of the Center for International Affairs and World Cultures, noted many of Ashton’s achievements. “She’s really the best of Britain,” he said.

Ashton, who is an advocate for nuclear disarmament, was named a member of the United Kingdom’s House of Lords in 1999 and served in a number of parliamentary under-secretary positions through the early 2000s. She has also served as the leader of the House of Lords.

During her lecture, Ashton brought up the topic of women in leadership positions, stressing that women can take on any leadership role as well as men can. But, she said, there aren’t enough female leaders to know whether women lead differently than men do.

“What I do know is you can’t solve 100 percent of the world’s problems with only 50 percent of the talent,” Ashton noted. “Every time a woman fails to be recognized for what she can do, the world is a little bit poorer.”