Burns is the Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations and the Faculty Chair of the Future of Diplomacy Project and the Project on Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
He is also the Director of the Aspen Strategy Group and Senior Counselor at The Cohen Group. Burns served in the United States government for 27 years.
As a career Foreign Service Officer, he was Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (2005-2008), US 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 President George H.W. Bush administration.