Donilon Discusses American Security

Thomas E. Donilon, national security advisor to President Barack Obama, disputed the idea that American supremacy is on the decline during a conversation at the Institute of Politics Wednesday evening.

Donilon cited military strength, national values, and geographic qualities as advantages that America retains in its relations with other countries. Furthermore, he said that, within the international community, there is “incredible demand” for American leadership.

The conversation was facilitated by Graham T. Allison ’62, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and began with advice for students interested in politics and policy.

“Even if your initial steps here are in the private sector, keep your hand in it and look for opportunities to get more involved,” Donilon said.

He also emphasized the importance of history and its role in providing an understanding of how others have dealt with various issues.


During the discussion, Allison brought up accusations that the Obama administration is “good at improvisation, not strategy.”

In response, Donilon laid out part of the administration’s strategy, including economic restoration, relationships with other nations, and an examination of the American footprint in the world.

He stressed that the Obama administration has continued to build alliances across the world.

“No other nation around the world has the system of alliances America does,” he said, adding that it was “brought about by over 5 decades of bipartisan support.”

Donilon added that by analyzing where America is over-invested—such as war zones—and under-invested—such as Asia—the Obama administration can redirect national security policy.

The discussion also covered the Administration’s attempts promote the reduction of nuclear weapons.

In particular, Donilon pointed to the “tremendous pressure” they are exerting on Iran through sanctions.

When asked to comment on the strengths of all the presidents he’s worked with, Donilon said the reason he has his job is precisely because he does not answer such questions.

After the discussion with Allison, Sietse K. Goffard ’15 asked Donilon what keeps him up at night.

“Everything,” Donilon said. “But it’s a very exciting job.”