By Julia Ferrante
LEWISBURG, Pa. – The United States is on the threshold of a new era in global leadership on a scale not experienced since World War II.
At this historic moment, the decisions President Barack Obama and his new administration make will affect the entire international community and could have lasting effects for issues such as war, poverty, economic development and climate change, former South African President F.W. de Klerk told a group of students, faculty and community members Thursday night at Bucknell University. || F.W. de Klerk audio clips
"The future well-being depends on how the United States will play its global role, its global leadership role in a world full of threats," de Klerk told an audience of about 800 people at the Weis Center for Performing Arts.
De Klerk was the inaugural speaker in the new Bucknell Forum series, "Global Leadership: Questions for the 21st Century." In his talk, "Bridging the Gap: Globalization without Isolation," he challenged the nation to hold on to the ideals of its foundation and to lead by example.
In introducing the former South African president, Bucknell President Brian C. Mitchell said de Klerk was a man of "leadership and moral courage" who challenged the very system that empowered him.
Following a career in South African government, Frederik Willem de Klerk was elected president in 1989. He immediately began calling for a nonracist government and was instrumental in dismantling the country’s century-old system of apartheid, despite intense and violent resistance from the country’s white population. He lifted the ban on the African National Congress and other opposition parties, and in 1990 released Nelson Mandela from prison.
De Klerk’s leadership brought apartheid to its end and led to the adoption of South Africa’s first fully democratic constitution, which allowed for a multiracial government, in 1993. Mandela succeeded de Klerk as president in 1994, and de Klerk became one of two vice presidents in a government of national unity.
In addition to the Nobel Peace Prize, Mandela and de Klerk also shared the Philadelphia Peace Prize in 1993. In 2002, President Thabo Mbeki bestowed on them the order of Mapungubwe: Gold in honor of their exceptional contribution to the process of peace, national reconciliation and nation-building in South Africa.
Since his retirement from government in 1997, de Klerk has run The Global Leadership Foundation, a group of former heads-of-state who assist world leaders by offering impartial advice on peace, democracy, economic development and political challenges. He published his autobiography, The Last Trek – A New Beginning, in 1999.
De Klerk cited and commended the policies of President Theodore Roosevelt, who said the nation must "speak softly and carry a big stick" in dealing with international issues. As a world power, the United States cannot isolate itself from the rest of the international community and must forge partnerships to build "stability, prosperity and freedom," de Klerk said.
World leaders must work together to address issues of economic development, poverty, war and global warming. The actions of the nation and the Obama administration will have lasting effects on the world at large, and the world is looking to the United States as an example.
In shouldering the burden of world leadership, Americans should not forget what made the country so great," de Klerk said. "You have no idea how your policies impact the global village."
De Klerk said the United States was right to take on terrorism as an enemy and to overthrow the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, who still would be oppressing the Iraqi people. But, he cautioned, "it is much easier to start wars than end them."
The challenge confronting President Obama will now be "to disengage in as responsible a manner as possible," de Klerk said.
The next speaker in the Bucknell Forum will be Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a noted leader and author who has faced death threats for her criticism of Islam’s treatment of women.
Ali's talk will be given at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 31, in Trout Auditorium. The talk is free and open to the public.
Named one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” of 2005, one of Glamour’s Heroes of 2005 and Reader’s Digest’s European of the Year for 2005, Ali published a collection of essays, The Caged Virgin, in 2006, and a memoir, Infidel, in 2007.
For more information about the Bucknell Forum and the "Global Leadership, Questions for the 21st Century" series, go to Bucknell Forum.
Contact: Division of Communications