By Bryan Thomson
On April 8th, 2014, Secretary of State for the Clinton administration Madeleine Albright met Director of the Dickey Center Ambassador Daniel Benjamin to discuss her experiences in Spaulding Auditorium. After giving a glowing introduction for Secretary of State Albright, the first woman to ever hold the office, Ambassador Benjamin jumped into perhaps the most pressing issue in current global affairs – Crimea.
Secretary Albright described the situation in the Crimean peninsula as a “game changer.” Despite efforts to cooperate with Putin and Russia after the collapse of the USSR, Russia has become consistently more hostile to America and Europe since the turn of the century. Hostilities recently culminated in the well-publicized seizure of Crimea from Ukraine. Secretary Albright, speaking as a Soviet expert, asserted that post-superpower Russia has “psychologically lost its identity” and now disappointingly sees a free Europe as inherently anti-Russian. Accordingly, Secretary Albright contends that the West must be prepared to develop multilateral sanctions to show Putin that use of force over diplomacy isn’t tolerated in the present international system.
When asked about her own involvement in the region, Secretary Albright defended the Clinton administration’s NATO expansion, which many are now calling into question. She cited Article 5 of the NATO treaty – an attack on one member is an attack on all – as a critical deterrent to Russian aggression. Dismissing claims that NATO acted like a charitable organization, Secretary Albright claimed the organization’s strategic mission has changed since the end of the Cold War. Now, NATO has found allies in many nations previously swallowed unwillingly into the Warsaw pact. Poland, Latvia and others, who have chosen to join NATO have not seen similar violations of their borders as has Ukraine (whose request to join was denied in 2008).
Secretary Albright also made some very straightforward comments regarding Syria. Drawing a parallel to Bosnia, Secretary Albright reminded the audience of the responsibility to protect Syrians. When asked by an audience member about concrete actions she wished to see the US currently taking, Secretary Albright stated that the US should increase humanitarian and medical assistance to Syrian civilians, especially given the horrific reemerging cases of polio in the region. She warned that “We are going to be asked why we didn’t do something about Syria. Not 20 years from now, but one year from now.” Unlike the confusing reports and breakneck speed of atrocities in Rwanda, Syria presents an ongoing rights violation that Secretary Albright believes the US should act on immediately.
Secretary Albright, who escaped both fascism and communism in her home country of Czechoslovakia to become one of the most influential and groundbreaking stateswomen in America, elicited a laugh from the audience when she claimed she is “an optimist who worries a lot.” True to her statement, the 90-minute conversation between Secretary Albright and Ambassador Benjamin ultimately proved the former Secretary of State to be cautiously optimistic about America’s future. Drawing on her own work across the aisle with Senator Helms (R-NC), she hopes that current Republicans and Democrats in the center will come together and make progress (or, in her own assured quip, “regain some civility and get some things done!”). Despite recent inauspicious news, she maintains that a brokered two-state solution is possible in Israel, and that progress with Russia as a partner is still obtainable. Though Madeleine Albright warned that the challenges of today make those in the ‘90s pale in comparison, her cautious endorsement of both America’s and the world’s capability to progress invites confidence and hope in the future.