Belfer Center Home > Experts > Nicholas Burns

« Back to list of experts

Nicholas Burns

Mailing address

Littauer 374
John F. Kennedy School of Government
79 JFK St.
Cambridge, MA, 02138

High Res Photo
Downloadable CV

Nicholas Burns

Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics, Harvard Kennedy School

Member of the Board, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

Telephone: 617-495-2495



Nicholas Burns is Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.  He is Director of the Future of Diplomacy Project and Faculty Chair for the Programs on the Middle East and on India and South Asia. He serves on the Board of Directors of the School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and is a Faculty Associate at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.

He is Director of the Aspen Strategy Group, Senior Counselor at the Cohen Group, and serves on the Board of Directors of Entegris, Inc.  He writes a biweekly column on foreign affairs for the Boston Globe.

Burns is a member of Secretary of State John Kerry’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board at the U.S. Department of State. He also serves on the boards of several non-profit organizations, including the Council on Foreign Relations, Special Olympics, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, the Atlantic Council, American Media Abroad, the Association of Diplomatic Studies and Training, the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, and the Gennadius Library. He is Vice Chairman of the American Ditchley Foundation and serves on the Panel of Senior Advisors at Chatham House: the Royal Institute of International Affairs.  He is a member of the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Trilateral Commission, the Order of Saint John, and Red Sox Nation.

Professor Burns served in the United States government for twenty-seven years.  As a career Foreign Service Officer, he was Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs from 2005 to 2008; the State Department’s third-ranking official when he led negotiations on the U.S.–India Civil Nuclear Agreement; a long-term military assistance agreement with Israel; and was the lead U.S. negotiator on Iran’s nuclear program. He was U.S. Ambassador to NATO (2001–2005), Ambassador to Greece (1997–2001) and State Department Spokesman (1995–1997).  He worked for five years (1990–1995) on the National Security Council at the White House where he was Senior Director for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia Affairs and Special Assistant to President Clinton and Director for Soviet Affairs in the Administration of President George H.W. Bush. Burns also served in the American Consulate General in Jerusalem (1985–1987) where he coordinated U.S. economic assistance to the Palestinian people in the West Bank and before that, at the American embassies in Egypt (1983-1985) and Mauritania (1980 as an intern).

Professor Burns has received twelve honorary degrees, the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award, the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service from Johns Hopkins University, the Boston College Alumni Achievement Award and the Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award from Tufts University. He has a BA in History from Boston College (1978), an MA in International Relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (1980), and earned the Certificat Pratique de Langue Francaise at the University of Paris-Sorbonne (1977). He was a visiting Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in summer 2008.



By Date




March 20, 2015

"Will Congress torpedo Obama’s Iran deal?"


By Nicholas Burns, Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics, Harvard Kennedy School

With the Iran nuclear negotiations coming down to the wire next week, Professor Burns argues for Congress to respect the President's lead role in the conduct of our foreign policy and to avoid interfering in the negotiations with Iran.




March 3, 2015

"The problem with Putin"

Op-Ed, The Boston Globe

By Nicholas Burns, Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics, Harvard Kennedy School

In this Boston Globe op-ed, Professor Burns writes about the tragedy of Boris Nemtsov's murder in Red Square and the need for the West to continue to shine a bright spotlight on the lack of freedom in Russia. He argues that the European and U.S. response to Russia's actions in Ukraine has been insufficient. In particular, Germany, the strongest European state, appears incapable of combining diplomacy and tougher measures effectively in its dealings with Russia. Professor Burns writes that it is timer for President Obama to lead a stronger Western response to Putin through greater economic sanctions against Russia, much more substantial financial aid to the Ukrainian government, the transfer of defensive arms to Kiev and a new move to station a strong contingent of NATO ground and air forces permanently on the territory of NATO allies Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Those forces will help to make credible to Putin NATO's Article V commitment to the security of the Baltic States.




February 18, 2015

"Winning the generational struggle with Putin"

Op-Ed, The Boston Globe

By Nicholas Burns, Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics, Harvard Kennedy School

In this article, Professor Burns illustrates all that Russian President Vladimir Putin has done to destabilize Eastern Ukraine during the past twelve months. He also makes the point that President Obama and Chancellor Merkel must now push back in three ways if the current cease-fire continues to unravel: 1) to agree on significantly stronger economic sanctions; 2) to provide much more substantial economic assistance to the Ukrainian government; and 3) to deliver lethal military assistance to the Ukrainian government.




January 30, 2015

"Greece’s gamble"

Op-Ed, The Boston Globe

By Nicholas Burns, Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics, Harvard Kennedy School

Professor Burns' column—“Greece’s Gamble—forecasts a major change in Greek policy on two big issues.  First, the Syriza-led government has challenged the EU, European Central Bank and IMF to renegotiate the terms of Greece’s massive bailout package.  And, second, the new government has argued this week for a much softer European stance against Russia.  Despite the fact that Greece decided not to block expanded EU sanctions at the EU Foreign Ministers meeting yesterday, Athens is signaling it may be an obstacle in the next weeks and months on this issue.

While a European-wide debate on the merits of continued austerity versus government stimulus is necessary, the confrontational stance of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will not win his government many friends in the EU.  If Tsipras continues to drive his government hard to the left on Greek debt and foreign policy, it will be a bumpy road ahead with both the major European governments and the U.S.




January 29, 2015

"Remembering Auschwitz"

Op-Ed, The Boston Globe

By Nicholas Burns, Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics, Harvard Kennedy School

Seventy years ago this week, the Red Army liberated the Auschwitz death camp.  And today is the 83rd birthday of Professor Burns' wife's uncle, Bernie Rosner, who survived Auschwitz and three other Nazi camps as a young boy.  During this Holocaust Remembrance Week, Professor Burns and his wife Libby wanted to pay tribute to Bernie's courage and determination to survive the deadly trials of the Holocaust and to his courage in making a new, happy and successful life here in the United States.   His story and that of every survivor and every victim needs to be told so that Hitler's crimes in the Holocaust be remembered as the decades pass.




January 15, 2015

"A US-India comeback?"

Op-Ed, The Boston Globe

By Nicholas Burns, Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics, Harvard Kennedy School

When President Obama visits New Delhi on January 26 as the Chief Guest for India's Republic Day, he has a real opportunity to revive a moribund U.S.-India relationship. This is the central point of Professor Burns' January 15 op-ed piece. His host, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, wants to convince Obama and the American business community to accelerate investments in the Indian economy to restore high growth rates--his top priority. The two leaders agree India and the U.S. should strengthen their work on counter terrorism and homeland security, on cyber and on an already close security relationship. Washington and Delhi need to work through disagreements on climate change, global trade and Putin's invasion of Crimea. Still, there is a big upside for the U.S. in deepening our partnership with India--a major priority of President Obama as it was for Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton before him.



January 12, 2015

"US has a closer relationship with India than with Pakistan: Nicholas Burns"

In the News

By Nicholas Burns, Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics, Harvard Kennedy School

New Delhi: HKS professor and former US undersecretary of state for political affairs Nicholas Burns is well-known in India as the diplomat who led the negotiations on the US-India civil nuclear deal that transformed bilateral ties. In New Delhi last week for a Track-Two non-official dialogue, Burns said he hoped that the Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi would clearly articulate what his vision for a strong India-US strategic partnership would be. Burns also said he hoped the Modi government will revive the India-US nuclear deal as part of its economic agenda.




January 1, 2015

"Obama’s daunting new year"

Op-Ed, The Boston Globe

By Nicholas Burns, Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics, Harvard Kennedy School

The United States is facing a daunting array of foreign policy challenges in the year ahead.   Professor Burns writes that President Obama should try to contain North Korea; complete the two major trade deals with Asian partners and the European Union; continue to pursue a nuclear agreement with Iran; move toward further sanctions against Putin; step up to a more assertive U.S. role in Syria; push for a global climate pact and work to rebuild U.S. international credibility after damaging revelations on torture and worrying domestic racial tensions.

2015 may well be the most consequential year for the President's foreign policy legacy.  While this is an extraordinarily difficult agenda, he still commands the world's strongest military and diplomatic corps and a strengthening American economy.  He has an opportunity this year to move forward on a broad front to strengthen America's global leadership role.




December 23, 2014

"The peacemakers of 2014"

Op-Ed, The Boston Globe

By Nicholas Burns, Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics, Harvard Kennedy School

In an otherwise annus horribilis in foreign policy, who were the brave men and women working tirelessly for peace in 2014? Professor Burns asked his Harvard Kennedy School students and his three daughters for their suggestions.

Here are their and his choices: Pope Francis; two 17-year olds--Malala Yousafzai and Hong Kong Protest leader Joshua Wong; AIDS advocate Joep Lange; the Ebola doctors/nurses; international relief organizations providing food/shelter to the 11 million Syrian homeless, the millions of non-violent protesters against racial discrimination; Shimon Peres and, yes, Barack Obama and John Kerry. And, above all, the victims of ISIS, including James Foley, Stephen Sotloff, Peter Kassig, Alan Henning and David Haines.

Professor Burns finishes this op-ed wishing us all peace on earth in 2015.



Wikimedia Commons

December 17, 2014

"U.S.-Cuba ties: In from the cold"

Magazine or Newspaper Article, Harvard Gazette

By Nicholas Burns, Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics, Harvard Kennedy School

Following 18 months of secret talks facilitated by Pope Francis and the Canadian government, President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the United States and Cuba will re-establish diplomatic and economic relations, ending a political stalemate that began more than half a century ago.

Under the agreement, the United States will open an embassy in Havana; many existing travel, trade, and banking restrictions imposed on American citizens and businesses will be loosened; and Secretary of State John Kerry will review Cuba’s presence on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Additionally, Obama said, two American prisoners in Cuba, contractor Alan Gross and an unidentified U.S. intelligence officer, were released in exchange for three Cuban spies who had been jailed in the United States since 2001.

In separate phone and email exchanges, the Gazette turned to two Harvard authorities on Cuba and American foreign policy to interpret the importance of the U.S. policy shift with the island nation, one of the last bastions of communist rule in the world, and where the agreement likely will lead, both economically and politically. The changes also have implications for Harvard.

Nicholas Burns is the Sultan of Oman Professor of the Practice of International Relations at the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS). A former U.S. ambassador to NATO and Greece and a career Foreign Service officer, Burns is also director of the Future of Diplomacy Project at HKS. Here are their insights.

Jorge Domínguez is co-chair of Harvard’s Cuban Studies Program, focusing on Cuba’s domestic and international politics and economics. He is also vice provost of international affairs at Harvard and the Antonio Madero Professor for the Study of Mexico at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

These interviews were lightly edited for length and clarity.



Receive email updates on the most pressing topics in science and int'l affairs.

Events Calendar

We host a busy schedule of events throughout the fall, winter and spring. Past guests include: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former Vice President Al Gore, and former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev.