NATO Engages 2019

“Closing: Looking Ahead: The Alliance at 80”



Madeleine K. Albright,


Albright Stonebridge Group



Frederick Kempe,

President and CEO,

Atlantic Council


Location:  Washington, D.C.


Time:  5:25 p.m. EDT

Date:  Wednesday, April 3, 2019


FREDERICK KEMPE:  So it’s a cliché that some people just don’t need an introduction.  And I once heard Henry Kissinger introduced that way.  And he responded:  It is true that no man needs an introduction less than I do, but no man appreciates one more.  So I am not going to give a long introduction to Secretary Albright in respect to the time that she has, and you have, but this is one of the people who has inspired me most, and I know inspired many of you most, in this audience with her thinking, her consistent principled approach to foreign policy.  She is the indispensable Atlanticist, Secretary Madeleine Albright.  (Applause.)

MADELEINE K. ALBRIGHT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Delighted to be here.  My task today is to bring this conference to a close by looking ahead 10 years at 80 for NATO.  I did wonder why I was chosen for this particular assignment, but I now realize that I’m the only person here today who actually knows what it’s like to be 80.  (Laughter.) 

So – but I have to say, even though I know what the future looks like – I have to say I can identify with NATO, because it’s interesting to be older when people think they’re paying you a compliment and it actually turns out to be something else.  So I was giving a speech and all of a sudden this woman came up to me afterwards.  And she said, you’re so clear for somebody your age.  (Laughter.)  And the only thing that was better than that was somebody who came up to me and said:  I’m so glad you haven’t had a facelift.  To which there is no answer.  (Laughter.)

But in all seriousness, I’m honored to join so many other distinguished speakers in sharing my perspective on NATO’s past, present, and future.  I have to say, though, that it’s clear to me that this is a family gathering.  And we’ve heard stirring calls for unity and pointed messages aimed at certain family members.  I too want our allies to do more, but I find it more effective with my own family to persuade, rather than insult.  I speak today not only as a former secretary of state, but as a child of Czechoslovakia born before World War II. 

In the early years of my life, there was no Atlantic alliance to step in when the Munich Agreement sacrificed my country’s sovereignty in the name of appeasement.  There was no NATO to prevent a war in Europe from breaking out and forcing my family to flee to England.  And I can still remember sitting in the bomb shelter, singing away the fear, but worrying that we might be left to fight the war alone.  But then one day wonderful news came from across the sea.  A brave military had answered the call and was on its way to rescue freedom.  And soon enough, America and its allies engineered D-Day an VE-Day.

After the devastation of World War II, my family returned to Czechoslovakia, where my father worked for the democratic government as a diplomat.  But within a few years, the Communists took over in Prague.  And the allies had not paid sufficient attention to the Soviet Union’s salami tactics, which undermined and eventually extinguished democracy in many countries in Central Europe.  The coup drove my parents and me from communist Czechoslovakia.  But it also sparked my lifelong identification with this alliance, because more than any other single event the Prague coup in February 1948 awakened America and Western Europe to the need for a North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

It also informed that generation’s belief that what they needed was not just a military alliance, but a political alliance of democracies.  Consider these words from the preamble to the North Atlantic Treaty signed in Washington 70 years ago tomorrow.  And I quote – and others have said it but it is worth repeating – “the parties to this treaty reaffirm their faith in the purposes and principles of the charter of the United Nations, and their desire to live in peace with all people and all governments.  They are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage, and the civilization of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law.”

From its founding until the fall of the Berlin Wall, NATO had the dual role of shielding freedom in the West while preserving hope in Europe’s East.  And as a daughter of Prague living in America, I had one foot in each – in each part of the divide.

Two decades ago I had the privilege of welcoming the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland into our alliance, and of working with allied leaders to end the terror and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.  We – and General Clark is here – really did take NATO to war and stopped the people of Kosovo from being ethnically cleansed, and they are about to celebrate their 20th anniversary.

As these events reflect, NATO has been the most successful alliance in history.  And as current events dictate, it remains a preeminent actor on the world stage.

Yet today, almost 30 years after the breakup of the Soviet Union, our alliance is still in the process of adjusting.  The Cold War was bitter, but also fairly stable, with relations kept in place by an Iron Curtain.  I definitely don’t have Cold War nostalgia, but it was in many ways simpler.  Today, political dynamics are more fluid and so are the dangers.

Ten years ago I was actually asked with some people here to look at a new strategic concept for NATO on its 60th anniversary and we dealt with very different issues.  The threats were cyber threats.  There were – there was no action in area; it was all out of area.  We saw that NATO had more partners than members.  And we looked at the world in a very different way.

Now we are back at looking at some of the more traditional ways that NATO has to operate because serious threats emanate from viral ideologies, failed states, irresponsible leaders, dangerous technologies, and the prospect of an environmental catastrophe.  There are challenges, as well, within our alliance, including attempts by foreign adversaries to interfere in our democracies.

This toxic blend demands a multifaceted response, meaning that the NATO of the next 10 years must combine political wisdom with military clout and diplomatic skills.  It must be versatile and adept at preventive action.  And it must be counted on to deliver whenever Euro-Atlantic security is on the line.

Looking ahead to the next decade, we cannot be sure what new threats might emerge or how the current landscape might shift.  We need a strategy to deal with uncertainty.  And as the secretary-general told Congress today, that strategy is NATO.

But even as NATO evolves, we need to remind ourselves that the alliance has never defined its purpose in terms of what we are against.  From the very beginning we have described our common agenda in positive terms:  to safeguard freedom, promote stability, uphold principles of democracy, and extend the rule of law.  In recent years we talk more and more about needing to spend 2 percent for defense, but we have always been and have to remain a hundred percent for democracy.

With that in mind, earlier this year I was proud to travel to the Munich Security Conference to launch a new initiative aimed at rallying the democratic world on behalf of our common values.  Spearheaded by the Atlantic Council, the centerpiece of this effort is a new declaration of principles for freedom, security, and prosperity, which was cosigned by leaders from every region of the world and across the political spectrum.

NATO turns 70 tomorrow, and institutions like people do need a little refurbishing, and I can testify to that.  But it is clear that we started taking some of our principles for granted.  So the time is right now to renew our vows and to engage a new generation in freedom’s cause.

And with that in mind, I want to conclude with a challenge to the younger leaders in this audience.  Whether you are planning together or actually flying together, as Major Matt Wilson described, you depend on your partners.  Ten years from now you could be known as the generation that allowed democratic momentum to shift into reverse or as the leaders whose efforts helped revive democracy within the transatlantic community and beyond.  You could be known as the generation that allowed technology to drive a deeper wedge within and between nations or as the visionaries who harnessed technology to unite people and expand freedom.  You could be known as the generation that allowed NATO to become paralyzed in the face of freedom’s foes or the doers who forged a renewed alliance which became a bulwark of support for liberty around the equator and from pole to pole.

You can, in fact, wonder whether the Russians are again trying to use salami tactics to separate us from our friends and allies.  And so I’m so glad that the alliance has been expanded and that we are full of energy.

And as I look around this hall, and as I reflect on my own journey from Prague to Washington and the journey this alliance has made, I urge you to make the right choices.  And I call on everyone here to begin the task of charting NATO’s future with confident hearts, bearing in mind our responsibility to those who preceded us, and to all who are among us, and to the future generations.

Thank you so very much.  (Applause.)