A Matter of Focus

Article excerpt

LATER THIS SUMMER, THE WILSON CENTER expects to announce the creation of a new institute devoted to China, allowing a significant expansion of the Center's China-related activities. When the needed support has been secured, it will join the Center's four existing "country" institutes, which have the unique mandate to focus attention on nations with which the United States has some of its most important bilateral relationships.

The new institute will be a valuable bookend to the Kennan Institute, the oldest and largest of all the Center's units, with its ambitions agenda of seminars, briefings, workshops, and conferences (a total of more than 70 events in 2007) on Russia and the other states of the former Soviet Union. The Kennan Institute also brings more than 60 scholars and policymakers to the Wilson Center annually for months-long stays, creating the opportunity for research, writing, and exchanges with Americans. Its visiting scholars are working on topics as varied as the status of Jews in imperial Russia, the failure of health care reform, and Russia's troubled demographic future.

By bringing together scholars, policymakers, and others from the United States and other countries, Kennan and the Center's three other country institutes--devoted to Brazil, Canada, and Mexico--work to improve our expertise and knowledge, but, equally important, to foster dialogue. And just as they bring outside perspectives to Washington, they also help convey American ideas abroad. In May, for example, the Canada Institute hosted a luncheon in Toronto that brought Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle to speak to a crowd of 175 Canadian businesspeople about bilateral cooperation on conservation and other issues related to the Great Lakes. Efforts of this kind allow the Center to bring American voices to discussions of bilateral relations that would otherwise be absent.

Yet a major reason why the Center has established its country institutes is that the United States, and the Washington community in particular, simply doesn't pay enough attention to some of our most important neighbors, allies, and trading partners. …