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Perry World House takes on a world of issues

July 20, 2017

Professor Bill Burke-White has acquired a deep well of knowledge about global affairs the hard way: he’s set foot in much of the world and studied the most difficult challenges as a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Burke-White, a scholar in the areas of international criminal and international economic law, is drawing on his expertise and experience as the Richard Perry Professor and Inaugural Director of Perry World House. This Q&A originally appeared in the Penn Law Journal.

What is the mission of Perry World House?

Our mission is to make Penn a global agenda-setter around some of the world’s most pressing policy concerns. It will serve as a hub for events and activities, as well as a focal point for visits from world leaders. It will also work with and encourage students with an interest in global policy. In addition, it will be a premier research institute, exploring themes such as urbanization, migration and demographics.

Can you speak about the challenges of migration?

Sixty percent of the world’s communities are going to be urban areas within two decades. This will create stresses on infrastructure but will also create economic opportunities. There will be challenges for individuals disconnected from their home communities. There are enormous population shifts going on, both within and between countries. What happens when rising sea levels force people to try to relocate due to climate change? What are their legal rights? What are the challenges to countries who are host to a rising refugee population? What happens when countries decide to build walls rather than open their borders?

What is the single most pressing global challenge?

In light of Brexit and the U.S. election the real question that we all face and that Perry World House has to take on is, how do we produce a global order in a world moving in a more closed and isolationist direction? How do we preserve a global order that was built by the United States after World War II and has been the bedrock of our security and prosperity for the last 70 years? How do we do that in a way that includes all of the different people in the United States and abroad who are sometimes displaced or hurt by that order?

Is there an issue that is not on our radar that we will have to address in the near future?

The challenges of climate change are going to be huge and interdisciplinary and cross borders in entirely new ways. And I think that’s one where we’re aware of it but we’re not really dealing with it yet. And then I think new technologies will uproot everything we think we know about how individuals and states exercise power in the international system. That’s everything from cyberwar to information security and privacy. To me, that’s where the source of conflict and future instability is likely to lie.