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Madeleine Albright Offers Insights and Advice to Student Leaders

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright addresses student leaders in a session at the Miller Center.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright addresses student leaders in a session at the Miller Center, February 4, 2013. Photo by Amber Lautigar Reichert.

On Monday, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright addressed a packed Miller Center Forum. Earlier in the afternoon, she was generous with her time and met with more than 50 students from politics, history, and other classes taught by Miller Center faculty and from the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. She was pleased to see such a multi-disciplinary gathering, and remarked on the importance of aspiring leaders to have such a wide and diverse background of study. Today, we bring you some highlights from her exchange with the students.

Albright began by noting that we are living in a very complicated time in which there are more forces that are less and less controllable and don’t lend themselves to the tools of statecraft that we possess. The tools of statecraft that we possess – aid, trade, sanctions, threat of force, force, etc. – work in relations between states. But now we are dealing with non-state actors and they are both difficult and bring different forms of war.

In a book she prepared for the president in 2008, she argued that there are five big umbrella issues the U.S. must effectively deal with:

  1. fighting terrorism without creating more terrorists. She noted that the death of Osama bin Laden was important, but we have to address the root causes of terrorism, including poverty, alienation and the remnants of colonialism.
  2. the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.
  3. addressing the growing gap between the rich and poor
  4. energy, environment and climate change, and
  5. restoring the good name of democracy.

Today, she would add a sixth issue to that list – the global financial crisis.

The use of drones presents a tough challenge. Albright posited that they are are effective, but the decision making around their use is cloudy and this presents problems. Another significant challenge the United States and world faces is cyber war. For example, can a cyber attack trigger NATO’s Article V protection of collective defense? How do we retaliate in case of an attack? Should cyber attacks be included as a tool of statecraft?

When asked her thoughts on the relationship between the United States and Pakistan, Albright responded that is a crucial relationship, even if it is a country that has everything that gives you an international migraine – nuclear weapons, poverty, terrorism, in a bad location. Albright has spent some time educating Members of Congress on why would should continue to give aid to the country when the people actively dislike us. She noted that people in the country don’t see the U.S. as a true friend and a variety of past policies, like automatic sanctions, have hurt the relationship. However, she advised that we need to give a certain amount of assistance and more attention will need to be paid to the country. Development and democracy go together, she argued, but this can be difficult to sell on the Hill where there are many questions about whether aid should be used as a tool.

Albright also addressed a question on how Congress and the President will battle with the use of force. She noted that the Constitution is written as an invitation to struggle. Congress will need to get organized if it is to reclaim some of its war-making powers. The question is whether there will be debates about substantive issues or procedural issues. The public mood is also an important factor and the public is very tired of war after Iraq and Afghanistan. She noted there was very little in President Obama’s Inaugural Address about foreign policy and it will be interesting to see what he has to say in the State of the Union. Albright also noted that Obama is looking for a different paradigm for American foreign policy and the nation’s role in the world.

In response to a question regarding the future of women as leaders, Albright said the last election demonstrated a good trend towards the inclusion of women. The strategy has been to get women in the system and move them up the political ladder from local and state work. She cautioned that not all women think alike and we shouldn’t expect to see a women’s group that always votes the same way. We also need to see how many women will be named to Obama’s cabinet and how many will be appointed to the deputy and under-secretary levels. Other countries already have women presidents, we are not ahead on promoting women as leaders.  

In a related question on women’s empowerment globally, Albright argued that societies are more stable when women are economically and politically empowered. Secretary of State Clinton has made this issue a priority and has moved it exponentially. More women need to get elected and we need to persuade those in power now to ensure job security for women. At the same time, Albright noted that we should be careful about mirror imaging what women everywhere want. We need to get women politically and economically empowered in the way that they want to be.

Another challenge that Albright addressed was the growing lack of faith in institutions, including Congress, some state governments, regional governments and the United Nations. It’s a an issue because some problems need institutions. One of the greatest challenges the UN faces is that it isn’t completely representative in the way it should be. When she was Ambassador to the UN, she spent a lot of time attempting to expand the Security Council, but there was always opposition to efforts. Another issue at the UN is what she termed the “dictatorship of the alphabet,” that is the situation in which countries like Libya under Qhadafi heading the human right council. And finally, there must be a way to increase the participation of important non-state actors, such as multinational corporations and non-governmental organizations.

In a closing question, Albright was asked what she wished she would have known. She said everyone needs to understand politics because it helps illuminate how the system functions. But, studying politics academically is not enough. In practice, she has come to understand much better the continuum from domestic to foreign policy, which is often overlooked. Albright also advised gaining better understanding of the role of various groups in society, which she said have to be taken into consideration because of our democratic system. Politics are also dynamic and things change. We need to respect other people’s views and listen more. Albright concluded, “Humility is important.”

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