SSASA » Overview

A Long History of American Studies Programs at Salzburg Global Seminar

Since Salzburg Global's founding in 1947, with the first American Studies program at Schloss Leopoldskron, the study of America has played a vital role in the history of this organization. For decades, scores of prominent intellectuals - academic and non-academic - have gathered in Salzburg to examine and debate American politics, foreign policy, economics, literature, history and culture, and America's role in the world. More than 30 American themed seminars have been organized, all are self-funded.

Session in 2016:

Images of America: Reality and Stereotypes
September 23 to 27, 2016


Interviews and coverage from our SSASA programs

Report now online - The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World
Report now online - The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World
Louise Hallman 
The report from the latest symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) is now available online to read, download and share. The September 2015 session The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World examined how the US has influenced the current geopolitical environment, what challenges the US now faces, and how the US may change its position in relation to other rising global powers and intervene (or not) in future conflicts.  In chapters titled "Looking Back," "Looking (from) Abroad," and "Looking Ahead," the report chronicles the debates had in Salzburg and offers key insights from the diverse group of Fellows who came from 27 countries on five continents. The session is part of the long-running series on American Studies held by SSASA since 2004, which itself was a follow-on series from the earlier American Studies Center which held sessions from 1994 to 2003. Salzburg Global Seminar has a long history in American Studies, having been founded as the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies in 1947.  The 2015 session was held in partnership with the Roosevelt Study Center in the Netherlands, with scholarships and travel supported by US Embassies in 11 countries. Download the report as a PDF (low-res)
To read more about the session, please visit: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/ssasa13 
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Riham Bahi - The US’ non-interventionist approach is exacerbating the Middle East crisis
Riham Bahi - The US’ non-interventionist approach is exacerbating the Middle East crisis
Heather Jaber 
Recent events in the Middle East, including the Arab Spring, the Syrian Civil War, and the offshoot of ISIS, are shining a spotlight on the relationship between the US and the region. At the most recent Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World, Fellow Riham Bahi discussed the US' non-interventionist approach, its implications for the region, and misconceptions about the Middle East. In the past three presidential administrations, said Bahi, assistant professor of international relations at Cairo University, we have heard that human rights and democracy promotion are important components to US foreign policy. But these seem to be at the bottom of the list when it comes to their approaches to the Middle East, she said. “It's more about security and stability, again, one more time, in the old sense,” said Bahi. “As if nothing has happened, no revolution took place, no Arab Spring took place.” Part of the issue seems to come from the mischaracterization of the region as undemocratic, violent, and religious, said the assistant professor. “It’s not fair to say that the region is undemocratic,” she said. “This is not fair to the thousands and thousands of people who lost their lives, men and women, who are in prison because they defended or demanded democracy, social justice, freedom, equality.” Nor is the region inherently violent, said the Fellow, as opposed to what some may posit. Bahi cited the 18 days of peaceful protest that removed Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, rather than the years of violent extremism by Al Qaeda. And while representations of the region may paint it as religious, the same region removed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi. In terms of violent Islamism, ISIS fighters do not only come from the region, but are recruited from abroad. One of the biggest obstacles to the relationship between the US and Middle East is the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is not witnessing serious plans for peace negotiations. Another issue is the foreign policy of the US and Europe towards the region. “This non-interventionist approach has led to the exacerbation of the crisis,” said Bahi. “We should have dealt with Syria in the beginning of the conflict instead of waiting. Four years later we have this big refugee problem facing Europe.” Still, the atmosphere at the seminar led to dialogue of timely issues such as these. “The collegial atmosphere that people are tough on the issue but easy on each other [was] really good,” said Bahi. “Where else do you get to see participants from 27 countries? It is as international as you can get.” Check out the full interview below.
Riham Bahi was a participant at the Salzburg Global Program The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World, which was held by the Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). The session was hosted in partnership with the Roosevelt Study Centre. More information on the session can be found here: ssasa.SalzburgGlobal.org.
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Wang Dong - China and the US must strive for co-evolution, not collision
Wang Dong - China and the US must strive for co-evolution, not collision
Heather Jaber 
A hot topic in international relations today is the evolving relationship between the US and China. How can these global powers maintain their national interests but avoid a collision course? Wang Dong, associate professor school of international studies at Peking University, commented on these issues at the latest Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World. Dong is also deputy director of the Institute for China-US People to People Exchange at Peking University. His areas of focus include American foreign policy, US-China relations, Chinese foreign policy, and international relations. He was part of a panel discussion which looked at policy trends in China, India, Japan, and the West. In his view, there are three main perspectives on America’s changing role in the world: that it is in a state of decline and is no longer hegemonic, that it remains vibrant and prosperous, and a third and perhaps more nuanced view, which falls between the two. Dong belongs in this academic camp. “They acknowledge there’s a relative decline of American power in certain aspects,” he said, “but while believing that on an overall power basis, America remains the most powerful country in the world.” Economically speaking, he said, the world is becoming more multipolar. While US GDP currently surpasses China’s in terms of world GDP, estimates say that in the next decade, Chinese economy will overtake the American economy as the largest in the world. Still, American military spending and its network of allies makes it perhaps the most preponderant global power, he said. “China, in my view…is transitioning from a regional power to a global power,” said the Fellow, “but that process probably will take another 20 years or even longer for China really to learn how to…behave as a global power.” Some of the biggest obstacles in balancing between a US-led alliance system and China’s growing influence in the region, said Dong, come in the form of misconceptions. From an American perspective, there may be fears of China pushing America out of Asia, and from a Chinese perspective, of American containment. These misunderstandings must be dealt with through pragmatic cooperations, said Dong. Here, strategic communication is key. “I think they should try to increase their strategic trust and try to avoid misperceptions and misunderstandings about each others intention.” An example of this, he said, was in the recent meeting between US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping on issues of cyber security. Co-evolution and not conflict or confrontation is key, he said. In order to co-evolve without running on a crash-course, the powers must instead identify mutual interests in order to work together. The meeting between the nations’ presidents then reflects this co-evolution, showing that “…together they are able to work together to try to solve the global and regional challenges and to demonstrate that there are more constructive ways to think about US China relations going forward.” For more on China’s transitionary path to becoming a global power and its relationship with the US, listen to the interview below.
Wang Dong was a participant at the Salzburg Global Program The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World, which was held by the Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). The session was hosted in partnership with the Roosevelt Study Centre. More information on the session can be found here: ssasa.SalzburgGlobal.org.
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Hasan Ayoub - Without functional nation states, instability will dominate international relations
Hasan Ayoub at the SSASA program on America's Changing Role in the World
Hasan Ayoub - Without functional nation states, instability will dominate international relations
Heather Jaber 

The discussion of US foreign policy would not be complete without considering America’s relationship with the Middle East. Hasan Ayoub, assistant professor at An-Najah National University in Palestine, offered insight into the impact of US foreign policy in the region.

Ayoub, who was a participant of the latest Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World, touched on strategic mistakes of American foreign policy, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and the potential impact of the future US administration in an interview with Salzburg Global during the session.

“I would say that in the last maybe two decades, it seems like what Winston Churchill said once about American foreign policy - that America does the right thing all the time, but after exhausting all other wrong options - seems to hold in this case.” Mistakes made by American administration in the Middle East, said Ayoub, are having impact in regional conflicts, including the failure of states and new alliances which serve to further exacerbate tensions.

“In some respect, foreign policy of the US in the region in the last 20 years was counter-productive,” he said, adding that trying to figure out the best course of action for these complex tasks will not be easy. “I don’t believe the United States can with one prescription solve all those problems.”

At the heart of the matter, though, said Ayoub, is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In order to stabilize and maintain a balance between national interests and the interests of those in the region, new approaches will need to be taken. “Maybe it’s time for the United States to think of the Palestinians not as a liability,” he said, “but as a nation who deserves the full attention of the United States and the full recognition of the United States.” Without addressing this question, said Ayoub, there is little chance of success in the region.

Looking to the US presidential elections next year, Ayoub reflected on the potential impact a Republican administration would have on the legacy and impact of Obama’s foreign policy, which was marked by a stress on less interventionism and more reliance on allies to ease tensions and conflicts. A Republican administration, said Ayoub, would reduce the accomplishment and impact of strategies like the recent Iran nuclear deal or a new openness to Cuba.

To maintain national interests and a global balance, the answer may lie in the delicate balance between the basic units of the international community, or the nation state, said Ayoub. “There’s no single state that can isolate itself today apart from the effects of…the foreign policy of other states, [the] interests of other states.” Appreciation and understanding of this interdependence then is necessary in balancing the national and the global, he said.

Listen to him discuss US foreign policy in the Middle East and more in the interview below.


Hasan Ayoub was a participant at the Salzburg Global Program The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World, which was held by the Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). The session was hosted in partnership with the Roosevelt Study Centre. More information on the session can be found here: ssasa.SalzburgGlobal.org.

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Hillary Rising by James D. Boys
James D. Boys, author of Hilary Rising, at the SSASA program on America's Changing Role in the World
Hillary Rising by James D. Boys
Heather Jaber 

Discussion of the Clinton administration and its implications for the current world order was right at home at The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World. While attending the latest session by Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), Fellow James D. Boys gave some context on his new and timely book on Hillary Clinton. 

The book, called Hillary Rising, is set to come out in January 2016 by Biteback Publishing and is part of a unique collection of books written by Boys on the Clintons. Hillary Rising covers Hillary Clinton’s path to the potential nomination of Democratic Party candidate for the 2016 presidential elections. The book offers a non-partisan look at her possible future as president of the United States and the choices she made along the way.

His earlier books, Clinton’s Grand Strategy and its follow up, Clinton’s War on Terror, help put 9/11 into context and provide synthesis and analysis of primary sources and interviews with key players from the administration and other associates. 

Boys, Associate Professor at Richmond University, sat down with Salzburg Global Seminar to discuss his latest book.

SGS: Why did you decide to write and continue writing about the Clintons?

JDB: I worked on Capitol Hill in 1995 and was very fortunate — I got to meet the president at the height of his time in office. When I finished working on Wall Street in 2001, I returned back to Britain and decided to do a Ph.D. I’d always wanted to write about the Clinton presidency, which had just ended at that point. So, I began looking at Bill Clinton’s first term in office and his development of national security strategy…

It was something that was of interest to me not just because I met the president, but I saw a lot of people being drawn to academia who were being drawn to the Cold War and subsequently in the post 9/11 era, and...that left an eight-year gap during which Clinton was president which was not being examined. That, therefore, presented both an opportunity to develop an area of expertise, as well as a void that needed to be filled on the basis that if you don’t understand what’s happening under Clinton, then you can’t understand what comes afterwards. And I think there’s far too many people within academia and within the media who see 9/11 as the beginning of a process rather than part of a process, and it was a indeed a process that was under way when Bill Clinton was president…

SGS: How did you conduct the research for your books? Can you give us a little insight into the process?

JDB: For any research to be valid, I fundamentally believe that to justify a book, you’ve got to offer something new. There’s too many books in existence written by journalists and academics that singularly fail to do so. They merely regurgitate secondary sources and old news, so what’s the point? It was nothing I was interested in doing, so particularly for the Clinton’s Grand Strategy book, I made absolute sure it was based upon primary documents and primary sources. 

I conducted elite interviews with senior members of the Clinton administration…Also, I wanted to interview people who had covered the election. What I was trying to do was get not only the perspective of the administration from inside, but also the perspective of key players at the time who were interacting with the administration…So this proved vital in terms of getting a sense of how the administration was acting was perceived as well…I also managed to get access to a whole host of previously classified material...and really made sure that they were data-mined as much as possible. No other work on Clinton has done any thing of this so far; all of the other work on Clinton has been very much based upon newspaper work and secondhand thoughts…

SGS: You mentioned a “Clinton dynasty” in your book. Do you think it’s realistic to call it that?

JDB: There is a chapter in the Hillary Rising book that talks about the concept of a “Clinton dynasty,” and what I tried to do in the book is to lay out exactly what a dynasty is, what an American dynasty looks like, and to question whether the Clintons are in fact a dynasty. My conclusions are basically that at this point, they are a very powerful family, they have come from a relatively poor background, that they don’t fit the classic pattern of an American dynasty. At the moment, the problem with calling them a dynasty is only one member of the family has held office at any one time. It’s often forgotten now that Hillary’s Clinton’s time in office doesn’t begin until after Bill Clinton has left office. 

It has never become multi-generational, so we’re talking about one generation of the family which has held office so far. There’s no doubt, I think, that Chelsea Clinton is being prepared, to put it politely, for office…If that were to happen then you could start looking at concepts of dynasty, because it’s this idea of power being passed from one generation to another. At the moment, I think it’s too early to call them a dynasty, they are a very powerful and influential American political family who have dynastic ambition.

SGS: You said in Clinton’s Grand Strategy that Bill Clinton was elected at the only time where it was theoretically possible. Do you feel the same way of Hillary Clinton? Is this the time where it’s theoretically possible for her to be president?

JDB: I don’t think it’s the only time, I think it was more than theoretically possible that she could and should have been elected eight years ago. 2008 in many ways represented a better opportunity for Hillary to become president. She was running against the legacy of George W. Bush. It was generally perceived at that time that whoever got the democratic party nomination was going to become president. So all she had to do, really, was get the nomination. It was hers to lose, and lose it she did. 

The story of 2008 is really not just about the rise of Barack Obama, but the collapse of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for office and a big section of what I’m looking at in Hillary Rising is what explains that. Because if you want to look at how she might do well in 2016 you need to look at what she did wrong in 2008 to make sure that she’s not repeating the old mistakes. The old adage of the definition of madness is to do the same thing over again and expect different results. So it’s important to understand where she went wrong in 2008 so that we can then say, ‘Well, has she learned from this? Is she doing anything different? And if not, how does she expect to win?’

SGS: You and other participants discussed whether Hillary Clinton’s potential presidency would be a continuation or departure from the presidency of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. Could you give some commentary on that?

JBD: There’s no doubt that Hillary Clinton is attempting to position herself as an independent candidate and not merely as someone who would complete a third term for either her husband or for Barack Obama. She has to say that, but realistically, I think it’s important to note that there will be echoes of her husband's administration, as well as Barack Obama’s, and this will be felt in personnel as much as anything else.

If you look at Hillary Clinton’s campaign team, what you see are basically three different power groups…people advising her who used to work for her husband directly, people who used to work for her in what’s known as Hillary Land -- her inner core of mainly female advisors, it must be said -- as well as people who have come to her campaign from Barack Obama’s team. She’s brought these three disparate groups together very much to try to present a united front and to tap into the energy and skills that they bring to American politics.

By doing so…you’ve got advisors who have come of age and know how to practice politics because of their time with either Barack Obama or Bill Clinton. Human nature would suggest that they will continue politics and policies that they believe to be valid under both Obama and Clinton under a Hillary Clinton…administration. She will be her own president, I think she is singularly-minded most of the time, but that you will see continuation as well as some change from both Bill Clinton’s as well as Barack Obama’s.

SGS: Could you give us some insight into your next book, Clinton’s War on Terror?

JBD: Clinton’s War on Terror will be the direct follow up to Clinton’s Grand Strategy and it will look at the eight years that Bill Clinton was president, and what his administration did to address acts of political violence and terrorism. It will also be two things in terms of context. It will place Clinton’s time in office addressing these issues in the wider context of American history by considering what previous administrations had done, going right back to the revolution, and it will also serve therefore to put 9/11 in context...and therefore hopefully to try and dispel some of these myths that: a) 9/11 was the beginning of something, which it was not, and b) that the Clinton administration had done nothing to try to address terrorism during its time in office, which is singularly not true.


James D. Boys was a participant at the Salzburg Global Program The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World, which was held by the Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). The 2015 session was hosted in partnership with the Roosevelt Study Centre. More information on the session can be found here: ssasa.SalzburgGlobal.org.

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Irakli Alasania - USA has an obligation to lead, defend, and assist people defending their own freedom
Irakli Alasania speaking at the SSASA session on America's Changing Role in the World
Irakli Alasania - USA has an obligation to lead, defend, and assist people defending their own freedom
Heather Jaber 

With experts in the form of academics and practitioners participating in The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World, the latest session of Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), Irakli Alasania’s political experience and perspective as former Defense Minister of Georgia added to a well-rounded discussion.

Alasania, who heads the liberal Our Georgia – Free Democrats party in Georgia, was Georgia’s ambassador to UN when war between Georgia and Russia broke out in 2008. He was also Defense Minster of Georgia from 2012 to 2014, giving him experience in diplomacy, security, and conflict resolution.

In an interview with Salzburg Global, Alasania discussed Georgia’s current political climate, mentioning his country’s prospective NATO membership and a transition away from a Soviet path towards a European one. “To be part of the free liberal democratic societies is the only way Georgia feels we can secure our identity, [to] secure our development as an independent state,” he explained.

Alasania, who is gearing up for Georgia’s parliamentary elections in 2016, shared that although his country is developing a bilateral relationship with the United States, he would like to see more US involvement in the region. “We want to see on a more regional level, US involvement in the countering of resurgent Russia,” he explained. “It doesn't mean that we’re offering that the United States has to have the military deterrent on the ground in Georgia like US troops. We’re talking about providing Georgia, Ukraine, and other freedom-loving and aspiring states with the tools, even military tools as well, to defend our freedom from the aggressors.”

Much of the September session discussion centered around the global power balance, especially in relation to the future foreign policy of the United States, and the tension between an interventionist or isolationist strategy. Alasania touched on this tension between maintaining national interests as well as a global balance of power.

“I think domestically the United States is having legitimate debate over how much US power, soft or hard, can be extended and I think its a legitimate discussion,” he said. “But we have to insert into these discussions whether the US will be better served, from a security standpoint, from counterterrorism, [from a] counter insurgency standpoint.”

He expanded on this by saying that there is an obligation for countries like the US to lead, defend, and help those who are defending their own freedom. “I think that's the core value of the United States,” he said. “I think it's how it this country was established, and I see that these kind of values will be preserved and introduced in foreign policy as it was before."

Of the session itself, the former minister praised the open and comfortable setting: “What is most important is you are really creating the atmosphere where different opinions can be voiced without rancor, without bitterness, and in the atmosphere that will likely give us more food for thought.”


Irakli Alasania was a participant at the Salzburg Global Program The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World, which was held by the Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). The 2015 session was hosted in partnership with the Roosevelt Study Centre. More information on the session can be found here: ssasa.SalzburgGlobal.org.

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More Questions than Answers for the New Global Order
More Questions than Answers for the New Global Order
Heather Jaber 
The Search for a New Global Balance: America’s Changing Role in the World wrapped up on September 28, leaving the Fellows with more nuanced approaches to global issues of power. In the latest program of Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), participants tackled the complex question of America’s role in a shifting world balance. Researchers and practitioners from 27 different countries gathered to share diverse perspectives of the future of US foreign policy and the implications for the rest of the world. At the culmination of the session, the Salzburg Global Fellows identified some dominant strands of thought, with mixed views on many issues of global concern. Chair and long-time SSASA faculty member Ron Clifton moderated the wrap-up, inviting the group to offer their final insights. More nuanced questions than simple answers emerged, as participants discussed their views on media usage, the concept of the American century, and the role of the US in future world affairs. The participants suggested four different roles that the US could take in future affairs: a hegemonic leader with negative imperialist connotations; an indispensable leader acting as an honest broker; the leader of a multipolar world with problematic conflicts of interest; or a leader which considers offshore balance and calculated interdependence. “Do people want more American power and intervention in global affairs, do they call for greater invention?” asked one Fellow. “It’s a question people could not decide on.” “Is it even in America’s interest to solve every crisis?” asked another. However, the Fellows generally agreed that the US cannot continue as a unilateral power, and that it must take a more nuanced approach to power as it navigates within a potentially multipolar age. The participants also complicated the notion that the US is in a state of decline. “Is change not maybe a better way to describe what’s going on?” asked a Fellow.  There were mixed thoughts on the role of social media in foreign affairs, with some participants offering that it can be used as a tool for change and mobilization, and others citing negative impacts, like its use by fundamentalist groups. Contrasting perspectives seemed to stem from the age or level of media usage of the participants.  The uncertainty about both mainstream and social media’s roles in global affairs also reflected the recency of the topic. Without hard facts, it is difficult to come up with conclusive answers to these questions.  “It might just be too soon to tell what the digital revolution has brought about,” concluded a Fellow. As a final wrap-up, majority views were shared through the results of a questionnaire on the US’ role in the world. Fellows identified major issues in Washington’s support of dictators and its relationship with the Middle East. China was identified as both a great challenge and an opportunity for the US. There were also mixed opinions on US interventionism, with some suggesting that the US should take a less interventionist approach, and others supporting a strong approach for national security. America, the participants agreed, faces a transitioning global arena and an urgent need to use calculated collaboration to maintain stability. The next SSASA session, Images of America: Reality and Stereotypes, will focus on the representation of America in media. A full report on the discussions and conclusions from the 2015 program will be published later in the year.
The Salzburg Global Program The Search for a New Global Balance: America’s Changing Role in the World is part of the multi-year series Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). The session was hosted in partnership with the Roosevelt Study Centre. More information on the session can be found here: ssasa.SalzburgGlobal.org.
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