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Former ambassador to address Burma’s future

Ambassador Derek Mitchell
Ambassador Derek Mitchell

Derek J. Mitchell, who served as U.S. ambassador to the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (Burma) during its recent shift to civilian rule, will visit Cornell to give a public lecture as part of the Einaudi Center’s Distinguished Speaker Series.

Myanmar’s Political Transition: Looking Ahead” will take place Thursday, November 17, 2016, from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. in the Lewis Auditorium in Goldwin Smith Hall.

Mitchell will provide an insider's view of the ongoing social, political, and economic changes sweeping the country where he lived for three and a half years.

On Friday he will meet with students in the course IARD 4020, "Agriculture in Developing Nations," which focuses on the challenges facing Burma's rural sector. Students in that course will travel to Burma this winter. 

Mitchell's visit is cosponsored by the Southeast Asia Program, the Department of Asian Studies, and International Programs of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The Southeast Asia Program has led a campus-wide Myanmar Initiative since 2013. Cornell is one of only two universities in the U.S. where the Burmese language is taught at all levels.

Eyewitness and participant

Mitchell served as ambassador from July 2012 to March 2106. It was a critical time for Burma, as well as for U.S.-Burma relations.

When Mitchell began his tenure, he was the first U.S. ambassador to Burma in 22 years. The country's military junta, widely condemned for its repressive policies, was showing signs of loosening its grip on power, and the U.S. had pledged to assist in the transition.

Mitchell left his post on the same day that Htin Kyaw, a confidant of Nobel Prize-winning opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, was officially named the country’s first civilian president after more than 50 years of military rule.

Suu Kyi is prohibited from leading the country by Burma's constitution. She is widely acknowledged to be exercising power through Htin Kyaw.

As ambassador, Mitchell served as the point of contact between Washington and both Burma's government and the opposition. He oversaw visits by President Barack Obama in 2012 and 2014.

A specialist in defense and security in the Asia-Pacific region, Mitchell is currently the CEO of Shwe Strategies LLC. He also serves as a senior advisor to both the Albright Stonebridge Group and the U.S. Institute of Peace. 

In 2011, Mitchell was appointed the U.S. Department of State’s first Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma. From 2009 to 2011, he served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Asian and Pacific Security Affairs (APSA), overseeing the defense department’s security policy in Northeast, Southeast, South, and Central Asia.

From 2001 to 2009, Mitchell was senior fellow and director of the Asia division of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). He was special assistant for Asian and Pacific affairs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 1997 to 2001.

In the 1990s, Mitchell served as Senior Program Officer for Asia and the former Soviet Union at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs in Washington, DC. He began his work in Washington as a foreign policy assistant in the office of Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) from 1986-88. 

He has authored numerous books, articles, and policy reports on Asian security affairs, and co-authored China: The Balance Sheet – What the World Needs to Know about the Emerging Superpower (Public Affairs, 2006). He received a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia.