R. Nicholas Burns

Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations
Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
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Mailing Address
John F. Kennedy School of Government
Mailbox 54
79 JFK Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
Phone: 617-496-3255
Fax: 617-495-8963
Email: Nicholas_Burns@hks.harvard.edu
Alison Hillegeist (617-495-2495)
R. Nicholas Burns


Nicholas Burns is the Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He is founder and Faculty 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.

Burns is Director of the Aspen Strategy Group, Senior Counselor at the Cohen Group, and serves on the Board of Directors of Entegris, Inc. He also serves on the boards of several non-profit organizations, including the Council on Foreign Relations, Special Olympics International, the Diplomacy Center Foundation, the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, The Trilateral Commission, the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, the Atlantic Council, America Abroad Media, the Association of Diplomatic Studies and Training, the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, the Boston Committee on Foreign Relations, and the Gennadius Library. From 2014-2017, he was a member of Secretary of State John Kerry’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board at the U.S. Department of State. 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 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 Presidential Distinguished Service Award, the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award, the 2017 Ignatian Award from Boston College, the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service from the 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.



  • IGA-116 Great Power Competition in the International System


  • IGA-109 Negotiation and Diplomacy

Media Expertise

R. Nicholas Burns welcomes media inquiries on the following subjects:

Additional experts may be found by clicking on each subject listed. You may contact faculty directly or if you need assistance contact the Communications Office at 617-495-1115.


For a complete list of faculty citations from 2001 - present, please visit the HKS Faculty Research Connection.

Selected Publication Citations:

  • Commentary
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Barack Obama Has Risked US Credibility in the Middle East." Financial Times, March 22, 2016.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "The diplomatic case for America to create a safe zone in Syria." Washington Post, February 5, 2016.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Talk to Tehran, but Talk Tough." New York Times, January 18, 2016.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "What Should Obama Do Next on Iran." New York Times, September 1, 2015.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "The Deal is Historic, but the US Must Now Act to contain Iran." Financial Times, July 14, 2015.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Syria’s Worsening Refugee Crisis Demands Action from the West." Washington Post, July 9, 2015.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Save Brittannia: As Britain's Malaise Grows, So Do Worries for U.S." Boston Globe, April 30, 2015.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "The Iran Deal’s Rare Achievement." Boston Globe, April 16, 2015.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Imperfect Deal will Help an Uneasy Peace." Financial Times, April 3, 2015.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "How Obama Can Win on Iran." Boston Globe, April 2, 2015.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Will Congress Torpedo Obama’s Iran Deal?" Boston Globe, March 18, 2015.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Boris Nemtsov Illuminates Anew the Problem with Putin." Boston Globe, March 2, 2015.
    • Burns, R. Nicholas. "Winning the Generational Struggle with Putin." Boston Globe, February 17, 2015.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Greece’s Gamble." Boston Globe, January 30, 2015.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Remembering Auschwitz." Boston Globe, January 29, 2015.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "A US-India Comeback?" Boston Globe, January 15, 2015.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Obama’s Daunting New Year." Boston Globe, January 1, 2015.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "The Peacemakers of 2014." Boston Globe, December 23, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "A Srebrenica Moment in Syria?" Boston Globe, February 13, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Obama needs to act on Syria." Boston Globe, December 4, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Obama's Revival in Foreign Policy." Boston Globe, November 19, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Henry Kissinger’s Words of Wisdom." Boston Globe, November 6, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Where Does the US Stand with India?" Boston Globe, October 24, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Don't Forget Canada and Mexico." Boston Globe, October 9, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Obama’s Opportunity with India and its New Leader." Washington Post, September 29, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Arab Allies Key in Fight Against ISIS." Boston Globe, September 23, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Passage to India: What Washington Can Do to Revive Relations With New Delhi." Foreign Affairs, September/October 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Obama's battle plan." Boston Globe, September 11, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Three Critical Tests for NATO Leaders in Wales." Financial Times, August 31, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Why do Some Hostages Die, and Some are Released?" Boston Globe, August 28, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Obama’s Greatest Foreign Policy Test." Boston Globe, August 14, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Learn, But Don't Overlearn, Vietnam's Lessons." Boston Globe, August 3, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Stronger Sanctions are Needed to Stop Putin." Boston Globe, July 31, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "A Cold War Lesson for Iran." Boston Globe, July 17, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "The Middle East at a Tipping Point." Boston Globe, July 3, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Ready for Hillary Clinton?" Boston Globe, June 19, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "D-Day's meaning." Boston Globe, June 5, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Obama Needs to Reset his International Strategy." Boston Globe, May 22, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Where’s the US on Ukraine?" Boston Globe, May 8, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Obama’s longer-term foreign policy challenges." Boston Globe, April 24, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Playing to Putin’s End Game." Boston Globe, April 10, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Three Myths about Putin’s Russia." Boston Globe, March 26, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "In Ukraine, The End of Act One." Boston Globe, March 13, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Putin's Clever Game of Chess." Boston Globe, March 4, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "The US and EU have Options to Outmaneuver Russia." Financial Times, March 2, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Cold War Passions in Ukraine." Boston Globe, February 26, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "The New American Isolationism." Boston Globe, January 30, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "The Trouble with China." Boston Globe, January 16, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Obama's 2014 Foreign Policy Challenges." Boston Globe, January 2, 2014.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Peacemakers, 2013." Boston Globe, December 19, 2013.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Diplomacy to the Rescue." Boston Globe, December 5, 2013.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Three Lessons from the Kennedy Presidency." The Boston Globe, November 21, 2013.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Mideast Allies Crave Leadership from US." The Boston Globe, November 7, 2013.
    • Burns, Nicholas, and Stephen Kinzer. "Advice To The Next President: Foreign Policy." WBUR's Cognoscenti Online, October 24, 2012.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Four Foreign Policy Flashpoints." Boston Globe, September 27, 2012.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Obama or Romney — Who Will be the Better President on Foreign Policy?" The Boston Globe, June 21, 2012.
  • Edited Volumes
    • Burns, R. Nicholas, and Jonathan Price, eds. Blind Spot: America's Response to Radicalism in the Middle East. Aspen Institute, 2015.
  • HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series
    • James K. Sebenius, R. Nicholas Burns, Robert H. Mnookin, L. Alexander Green. "Henry Kissinger: Negotiating Black Majority Rule in Southern Africa." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP16-059, December 9, 2016.
  • Public Testimony
    • Burns, Nicholas. "The Implications of Sanctions Relief Under the Iran Agreement." Testimony Before the Banking, Housing, & Urban Affairs Committee, U.S. Senate, August 5, 2015.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the Military Balance in the Middle East." Testimony Before the Committee on Armed Services, U.S. Senate, August 4, 2015.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action." Testimony Before the Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate, July 29, 2015.
    • Burns, Nicholas. "Implications of a Nuclear Agreement with Iran." Testimony Before the Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives, July 14, 2015.

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