A transcript of prepared remarks by Dr. Madeleine K. Albright, former secretary of state (1997-2001), and the subsequent Q&A session at the first annual Atlantic Council Bronislaw Geremek Lecture.
June 18, 2009
Thank you, Paula, for your very kind words and good evening to you all.
In my career, I have been invited to speak publicly on many occasions, but tonight’s event truly stands out.
I say that:
- because of the presence of so many friends, including Ambassador Kupiecki and other excellencies from the diplomatic corps –
- because Bronislaw Geremek was a hero to me –
- and because I believe deeply in the projects and purpose of the Atlantic Council.
For as long as I can remember, this Council has preached the gospel of international engagement on behalf of freedom, prosperity and law.
Council supporters understand the value of the transatlantic partnership to people everywhere.
And they know that this history-changing friendship is as vital today as it has ever been.
Tonight, we act on one of Fred Kempe’s excellent ideas, and that is to begin a lecture series in honor of a leader who strengthened our alliance in life and whose memory inspires us still.
Whenever we are lulled by complacency, we can hear a quiet voice urging us – in a cultured Polish accent – to wake up and start moving because the job of defending freedom is never done.
As Paula noted in her introduction, Bronislaw Geremek and I have a history.
We first met in 1981.
At the time, I was visiting Warsaw and Gdansk for the purpose of writing a book on the media’s role in the Solidarity movement.
Having come of age during the Cold War, I was excited to find a country struggling to free itself from the stultifying embrace of Communism.
For two weeks, I interviewed journalists, editors and other pro-democracy trouble-makers.
In the process, I became not only encouraged but envious.
My plan had been to write about Solidarity; but in my heart I wanted to join Solidarity.
Of all the dissident leaders I met during that trip, the most impressive was Bronislaw Geremek.
He was both a scholar and a man of action; a pragmatist who would not yield on basic principles; a seeker of consensus who never ducked a fight.
It was no surprise when Mr. Geremek became a leading voice in Solidarity.
But not even he could have predicted where that movement’s bravery would lead.
It took ten years of pressure and protest before freedom in Poland could triumph.
But by then the momentum had built and the forces of change could no longer be denied.
In Hungary, liberty was re-born after ten months; in East Germany, ten weeks; in Czechoslovakia, ten days; and in Romania, ten hours.
After decades of slumber, Europe was once again alive and alert.
And during my years in government, I had a chance to make the most of that opportunity.
Among those with whom I worked was Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek.
Together, we embraced the goal of a continent whole and free.
We strengthened NATO by taking on new missions and opening the door to new members.
We took a firm stand against ethnic cleansing and terror, first in Bosnia, then in Kosovo.
And in the year 2000, we convened the first community of democracies conference, thus elevating the concept of solidarity to a global level.
The idea behind that event was that free countries should help one another by sharing knowledge, providing assistance, and treating a threat to one as a danger to all.
Officials from more than one hundred countries participated; the host city was Warsaw.
In his welcoming address, Foreign Minister Geremek emphasized both the value of freedom and its fragility.
“The emergence of democracy,” he proclaimed, “was the most important development of our century.”
But he also reminded us of another twentieth century lesson, which is that the tides of freedom would always be opposed.
And tonight, it is this warning that should be on our minds.
Because democracy today is undergoing a new and rigorous round of tests.
Even some of democracy’s friends worry that the promotion of freedom has been given a bad name.
As a result, the opponents of democracy have become increasingly outspoken.
Some dictators say that their people are too poor and too uneducated to be trusted with freedom; even as they pursue policies that withhold opportunity and knowledge from their people.
Some autocrats say that democracy is not possible until a fully stable political order is established, which can only happen if critics are shut down or locked up.
Some propagandists say that democracy is a trick used by the West to impose its culture, and that the advocates of democratic reform are therefore unpatriotic, even traitors.
And some extremists say that democracy is heresy, because it asserts that power comes from the people instead of from the Almighty, and that God must therefore be appeased by the killing of democrats.
My response to each of these arguments can be summed up in a word that means the same thing in English as it does in Polish – Balderdash.
Now it’s true that freedom’s cause can sometimes be undermined by its own advocates – when we assume too much or select the wrong means or claim absolute title to the truth.
Democracy is a form of government, not a state of grace; and like all human inventions, far from perfect.
So let us acknowledge that overselling democracy can be a mistake.
But let us also insist that selling democracy short would be an unforgivable historic error.
The right of people to participate in choosing their own leaders and shaping their own laws has been and remains a powerful contributor to human progress.
Who can forget that famous poster of Solidarity, showing a gunman confronting his adversary at high noon, but with a ballot in his holster instead of a gun?
Just this past January, provincial elections in Iraq helped to bring that country closer together, creating hope that a stable and relatively peaceful society might one day emerge from the terrible chaos of recent years.
Less than two weeks ago, voters in Lebanon turned out in huge numbers to affirm their support for a unified government.
The people of that land know full well that the alternative to troubled democracy is not some tranquil replacement – but the terrifying destruction of civil war.
And last Friday, the people of Iran went to the polls.
As I speak, the outcome remains a matter of dispute.
The incumbent has claimed victory; the opposition has taken to the streets; there are calls for a new election; and the authorities will be criticized no matter what they do.
Some may conclude from this that democracy has not worked.
But I would argue that real democracy has not been tried.
The solution in Iran is not despair, but determination; not to give up on democracy but to broaden democracy – so that, in the future, those who are elected will hold real power; and those who are allowed to run for election will include the true champions of reform.
It may be that Iran will emerge from this ordeal with leadership unchanged, but Iran itself is already changing.
It may happen now, it may happen later – but the people who have been denied a voice for so long will be heard.
The lesson in all this is that, in any society, building democracy is never easy and never fully accomplished; it is something to be worked toward, step by step, country by country, day by day.
Since the time of George Washington and Kazimierz Pulaski, we have known how vital it is that we stand together to help freedom succeed.
And if Bronislaw Geremek were here this evening, I am sure he would insist that we maintain our support for democratic institutions in our own nations and across the globe.
But he would also remind us that supporting democracy is not the end of what we must do; it is only the starting point.
Because in a dangerous world, the right principles must be reinforced by the right actions.
To safeguard the future, the transatlantic community must make full use of every available diplomatic, economic, political, and security tool.
We cannot afford either division or confusion in the face of modern threats.
These perils include violent extremism, excessive nationalism, the global economic crisis, the spread of nuclear arms, the reality of climate change, and that quintessential 21st century danger: Barbary Pirates with cell phones.
In the past, the transatlantic partnership has relied on NATO as its first line of defense.
But today, almost twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, our alliance still struggles with one of the greatest threats to any organization – and that is success.
How does an alliance define its ongoing purpose once its founding purpose has been achieved?
It’s true that the enlargement of NATO has had an important stabilizing impact within Central and Eastern Europe.
Countries with a history of ethnic rivalries have been required to rise above those differences in order to secure and sustain alliance membership.
To anyone familiar with European history, that is an enormous accomplishment.
But that does not mean that NATO’s future is trouble free.
The alliance faces serious challenges, including a difficult relationship with Russia and a lack of clarity about its global role.
The most urgent test is in Afghanistan where the alliance is, for the first time, engaged on the ground in a major conflict.
NATO’s advantage is that Afghans recall their experience under the Taliban and have no desire to repeat it.
In most parts of the country, the Taliban are as popular as swine flu.
This should be decisive, but the job of providing security, opportunity and good governance remains far from complete.
President Obama has proposed a comprehensive approach, combining military pressure with active diplomacy and economic support.
Success would improve the prospects for stability not only in Afghanistan but throughout the region.
Failure, on the other hand, could heighten our risks for many years to come, possibly producing yet another generation of terrorists, and pushing Pakistan to the brink.
It is vital now that all of NATO pull together, so that Afghans have the chance they need to build a country free from intimidation and fear.
In Afghanistan and elsewhere, a world at risk must look to its strengths.
And although much has changed, I still believe that the most profound source of strength on the globe today remains the Euro-Atlantic partnership.
The new Europe stands as a rebuttal to hundreds of years of human history, in which wars were fought over the symbols of national identity; in which borders were built out of barbed wire and concrete walls; and in which old grievances forever fueled new conflicts.
Europe has much to teach the world about the benefits of democracy, the lessons of history, the value of collective action and the costs of war.
The United States, too, has much to teach the world.
Last year, it chose its president by a free and fair democratic vote – for the 56th time.
America is a country composed of people who trace their heritage to almost every other country – but who are bound together by the values of liberty and by an unyielding optimism about the future.
Europe and America are not an ordinary team.
Whether the challenge is fighting terror or guiding globalization along positive lines, there is nothing we cannot do together and very little that we can accomplish apart.
Perhaps the cliché is valid that Americans are from Mars and Europeans from Venus, but we should remember that – according to the mythology – Mars and Venus actually got along rather well.
Together they produced a number of children including Harmonia, the Goddess of Concord.
It is not a myth that binds America and Europe together, nor some piece of paper, nor decades of toasts and pretty words.
The hoops of iron that link us go deeper than that to the fundamental values we share.
A love of peace.
A commitment to the rule of law.
And support for the fundamental rights and dignity of every human being.
To these purposes, Bronislaw Geremek dedicated his life.
And for these ideals, the Atlantic Council will always stand.
Thank you very much. Now, I would be pleased to respond to any questions you might have.
MR. KEMPE: Madame Secretary, that was characteristically brilliant. It was relevant and it really reminded us what we have to do at the Atlantic Council that what we believe in pertains to everything from Iran to mythology. So thank you for that.
There were some compliments to me earlier and I want to clear up one thing about the idea of the Geremek lecture. Yes, of course, I drove it very hard. But there’s always a Pole behind all of it. And my partner in this initiative in the beginning is now the deputy director of your Community of Democracies, Michal Safianik, who’s here tonight from Warsaw, has flown in. And I also want to thank Ania Voloshin, who is his successor Pole at the Atlantic Council, who is driving this initiative forward from here.
So thank you very much to them.
I’m going to start with a couple of questions and then I’ll turn to the audience. Interestingly, you didn’t talk a lot about the reset button with Russia. And I wonder if you could talk about how that fits into your vision of democracy promotion. I think you’re absolutely right. We have to get back to the point where this is bipartisan, nonpartisan, something that America has been about for many years and I think you put all of that very well. How do we manage our relationship right now with Russia? How would you judge the reset button pushing thus far?
MS. ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, Paula introduced me as the highest ranking woman at the time. I had worked for Ed Muskie and then I went to work for Zbigniew Brzezinski. So Ed Muskie said I was the only woman in the world to have gone from Pole to Pole. (Laughter.)
It’s very interesting that you ask about the reset button because what was interesting was I actually was in Poland about a week after Vice President Biden used the term. And I think people didn’t know what it meant. In fact, in Poland, some journalists asked me whether it meant “delete.” (Laughter.) And I said, no, it doesn’t mean “delete!” And I think that what has happened is that it has become enlarged in many ways and reinterpreted.
President Obama is going to Moscow for a summit in early July. I think that the concept of what reinvigorated Russian relations should entail includes not only the subject of nuclear arms control, but also conventional force and trying to sort out what is the architecture for Europe, and still pursuing a goal-driven relationship with Russia.
But I think that it is evolving, frankly, and I think that there are many more issues on the table than I had expected.
That is my sense from today because we don’t agree on a lot of issues. And I think that we are going to have to have very detailed talks-certainly the government is going to have to do that. I think that organizations such as the Atlantic Council will have to do it, and other organizations. I have kidded a lot; people who know me know that I’m not monogamous in my organizational loyalties, so I look at Robin from the U.S. Institute of Peace and Ken Wollack from the National Democratic Institute.
And so all of us in some form or another that are involved in outside organizations have to think about how to support what might be a different relationship with Russia because there’s no point in having Russia as an adversary.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you for that. Just to set the record straight: Robin is also not monogamous. He’s also on the board of the Atlantic Council.
MS. ALBRIGHT: Okay, Robin.
MR. KEMPE: Let me follow up on that just a little bit. I was just in Brussels at SHAPE and there was an interesting discussion there of how Russia had changed its foreign policy from 2003 in a relatively dramatic way. And Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who was at the Atlantic Council a little while ago, talked about how Russia has a doctrine, for example, toward Georgia and Ukraine and that we needed “a doctrine for a doctrine.” I guess referring a little bit to the days of George Kennan: Do we need a concept? Do we need a doctrine? Do we need a doctrine for a doctrine?
MS. ALBRIGHT: It always makes me nervous when people talk about doctrines. It’s something that you can apply ex post facto, but a little hard I think at the moment. But I do think we need to think about what the appropriate relationship is.
As I look around this audience, many of us are children of the Cold War and grew up with a particular set of views. And I do think we need to have more imagination about what the relationship is. One of the things that all of us are taught to do as negotiators is to put yourself into the other side’s shoes. Not easy.
MR. KEMPE: Let’s talk briefly about Iran since it is so much in the news in a very crucial stage right now. You talked very interestingly about the U.S. having to be careful not to abandon its goal of trying to help democratic change in the world, but on the other hand, being careful about what you’re seeing on the ground and being, as I interpreted it, modest and understanding the local situation. What difference can outside players make in Iran right now and what difference should they make?
MS. ALBRIGHT: Well, I think it is one of the more delicate situations, frankly, because I can tell you from the past various things that have happened. When I was in office, it was also the time that President Khatami had been elected and we thought that it was a moment that really could find a period of contact and reform. The U.S. history with Iran is deeply complicated.
But we thought that this was a time President Khatami wanted to have a dialogue of civilizations. We were trying to figure out ways to meet. One of the things that I’ve been told happened is that his being somebody that we thought we could kind of have a good relationship with was not really helpful to him at home.
And so, I think President Obama and Secretary Clinton are walking a very delicate line in showing support for people being allowed to voice their views as President Obama said, and at the same time not have us be part of it because I think that we don’t want to get involved in a way that undermines the process that’s going forward.
I think it’s fascinating and it does show that people, if they have a will combined with desire can get something done. But I think we have to be really, really careful. I look at Robert Hunter here – we went through the hostage crisis and various things that were very difficult to try to figure out exactly what to say when. Right, Robert? So we have to be careful.
MR. KEMPE: One more question from me and then I’ll turn to the audience. NATO-European Union – during your lecture you talked about NATO being a victim of its own success. You also talked about the historic accomplishment in Europe. Again, I’ve just come back from Brussels, and one gets the feeling of a little bit of NATO malaise at a time when it’s most called upon. And I’m just wondering whether you feel that as well and if so, what’s the solution?
And then on the European Union side, all sorts of issues, you know, climate, cyber, dealing with Iran, all these things coming up. But do we have an adequate strategic dialogue with Europe, and if we don’t, what fixes that? What should we do?
MS. ALBRIGHT: Well, you know, we seem to talk to the Europeans all the time but don’t necessarily have the best kind of dialogue. I think what is interesting now — and was when I was in office — was how NATO and the EU overlay each other. One of the questions was what was the role of France? I think now that France has reintegrated itself, I think that helps.
But part of the problem, and I will say this with some trepidation, it is not easy for America to deal with the EU. It was not an easy relationship because partially, the Europeans spend so much time examining themselves.
Or when I was at the United Nations, I would go to an EU ambassador, because at any given time there were five Europeans on the Security Council, and say, I need your help on a vote. And the person would say, I’m so sorry, I can’t help you: The EU does not yet have common position. So then I would go back to the person two days later and say, can you help me now? And they’d say, so sorry, I can’t help you: The EU does have a common position. So it is not an easy kind of relationship.
On the other hand, I do think that we have more in common both with the EU and with NATO than with other parts of the world and that, again, not to advertise you, but the Atlantic Council –
MR. KEMPE: Don’t hesitate.
MS. ALBRIGHT: – I think can help because it is not an easy thing. I hope that as discussions go on with the new secretary general that there will be some look at the decision-making process.
I have to say that I was the first secretary of state that took NATO to war. We did in Bosnia and Kosovo, and it wasn’t simple in terms of how the military committee worked and all the coordination, and that was a NATO that was at 19 members. And so, with a NATO that is now nine countries more, it is a complicated process. But I do think that there has to be some architecture that allows NATO to move forward in a decision-making way.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Madame Secretary. Let me turn to questions from the audience. Please. And if you could identify yourself as well.
Q: Hello. Thank you, Madame Secretary, for an excellent lecture. My name is Mike Williams. I’m an assistant professor at the University of London. My question is this: throughout the 1990s, NATO served as a civilization structure, essentially bringing democracy and liberty across Europe. And certainly we’ve reached an impasse in the alliance in terms of the disparate views about what it should be doing, between the Northern Europeans, North Americans, the Southern Europeans, and the Central and Eastern Europeans.
Do you feel that perhaps it’s time to reconsider the idea of expansion and limit expansion, and the need to consolidate, and come around a cohesive mission whether it should be global NATO or a regional alliance?
MS. ALBRIGHT: I think that those are the issues that are on the table, frankly. I’ve been invited to go speak in Brussels in a couple of weeks as they begin to look at what are really their goals for the future and I think those are the questions.
I do think that what we thought at the time, in the ’90s, was that not only were we asking or making it possible for countries to join the most powerful military alliance in the world, but also to create that kind of political space. There was a bonding and also the accession process that in fact served as a magnet and also as an organizing principle for civilian control over the military and various aspects of it that were very, very important.
One of the areas that we talked about at the time was what was the out-of-area mission of NATO? And at that stage, the Balkans were out-of-area. I think that the question really now is, is it the global system to underline what is done in the Security Council?
And it is something that has to come from the members internally. It is not something that the U.S. can impose. I think this is part of an ongoing discussion and the reason that I talked about Afghanistan is we all know that that is the big test and not simple. For instance, I just came from Canada and they’re having a big debate as to what their role really is in terms of Afghanistan. I’m sure it happens in Great Britain.
So I do think that that is part of the organic process that is taking place. I don’t have a specific answer, but it is the thing that has to happen.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you. Angela.
Q: Angela Stent from Georgetown University. Thank you very much.
MS. ALBRIGHT: My colleague.
Q: Yes. My colleague. My students love your course. I wanted to come back to the question of Russia. I’ve just come back from discussions in Russia. And it seems to me that the Russian definition of reset whether we use perezagruzka or whatever is very different from ours. And one of the essential points of it is that reset means that we recognize Russia’s privileged interests in its neighborhood or, as Medvedev at one point said, naked national interests, and that NATO not enlarge to Russia’s neighborhood.
You obviously were a major proponent and promoter behind the original NATO enlargement. How do you think we deal with this? How do we balance these Russians concerns and the need or desire to reset with Russia against the desire of some of Russia’s neighbors to move differently?
MR. KEMPE: It must be said, if I’m not mistaken, that Professor Geremek in 2000 at Vilnius wanted to get Ukraine on the agenda even that early.
MS. ALBRIGHT: Angela, I think it is the major, very difficult problem. And I don’t know the answer. I just was at some conference where I was reading Sergey Lavrov’s comments – a blast from the past.
I worked with Sergey Lavrov. He was the perm rep at the U.N. That’s why I mentioned that the Georgia issue was the nadir of our relationship and they are extrapolating from that. I also had the rather peculiar assignment of interviewing President Medvedev when he was here for the G-20. I said, How come you made that kind of anti-American statement? I think we don’t know what the answer is here.
I happen to believe, and I’ve said this over and over again, that Russia should not feel threatened by independent countries on its border. You know, there’s a lot of mirror imaging. We are not threatened by independent countries on our border. I also believe that countries should be allowed to make choices about which security arrangement they want to belong to.
And I have the rather interesting assignment – when we were expanding NATO – of talking to President Yeltsin and saying, we are going to expand NATO and he said, you know, you don’t need to do that. There’s a new Russia. And I said, You’re right, Mr. President. There’s a new Russia but there’s also a new NATO. And I think we have to just keep talking on this. There will not be an immediate resolution.
I went around when we started the Partnership for Peace and started talking about what it would be like to be in the Partnership for Peace and then moving towards NATO. General Saakashvili and I went around and did that. And we actually started with Lech Walesa. And we had this whole kind of repartee where we said, it is an accident of history that out of the five principal decision-makers in the United States at the time, two have Slavic background. And so, we are here to talk to you about this, and being a member of NATO is a responsibility and a privilege and not something that just happens.
It is the most powerful alliance and it does require a process. And so I think this is not going to be resolved immediately. And I agree with you that they see reset differently. And I think that is going to be the major U.S.-Russian issue. And persuading them that dealing with Iran is important is not that simple.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you.
Mr. Rowny. We’re honored to have you with us, sir. Please.
Q: I’m Ed Rowny. Thank you very much for that fine tribute to Bronislaw Geremek. I met Bronislaw on August the 10th, 1979, the first day that he and I were scholars for a year at the Wilson Center. We were assigned to a little six by nine foot cubicle here with Geremek, a quiet, modest history professor on my left and a not so quiet, not so modest feminist leader, Gloria Steinem, on the my right. (Laughter.)
I asked Bronislaw what he was going to do with his year and he said, oh, I’m going to study about the migration of gypsies during the Middle Ages. And I said, God, things are breaking out all over. He said, oh, a real historian doesn’t think about anything that’s happened in the last 100 years. Well, we met and I introduced him to an old friend of mine, Lane Kirkland of AFL-CIO, who became a strong backer of the Solidarity. Also to Andy Goodpaster who later became the head of Atlantic Council and that established a great relationship.
Six years later in 1985, President Reagan sent me on the first of several trips to Warsaw and I met Bronislaw for the first time in six years. And he said, thanks to you, Ed, I spent two years in house arrest here in Poland. I just thought I’d like to mention that little anecdote about Geremek.
MS. ALBRIGHT: You know, I had a fellowship at the Wilson Center a year-and-a-half later and that is where I was working on my book on the Polish press during the Solidarity period, and how I then went to interview Professor Geremek.
MR. KEMPE: I love these stories.
Q: Michal Safianik with the newly opened permanent secretariat of the Community of Democracies in Warsaw. Thank you very much for this wonderful speech. Thank you also for coming to Warsaw in March and inaugurating the activities of the secretariat with a debate at the Warsaw University with Minister Shikorski and visiting the premises of the permanent secretariat. And thank you, Fred, for being a great friend of Poland and please know that we deeply cherish this friendship and know about it in Poland and hope that many decades will come and we’ll work on other things together.
My question is the following: what should the New Democracy agenda of the new administration be? What actions in the next months should happen to define it and what finality in four, eight years would you like to see on this front? Thank you.
MS. ALBRIGHT: Well, Ken, did you set this question up? First of all, I was very happy to see the secretariat in Warsaw. I think it’s great. And partially because one of the wonderful parts about having the first Community of Democracies meeting in Warsaw was a point that Professor Geremek made, which was to make sure that the adjective Warsaw was attached to the Community of Democracies and not the pact. And so it was a very important symbolic aspect and it’s very appropriate the secretariat is indeed in Warsaw.
I believe that we are all the same in the world and that people want to be able to make decisions about their own lives, whether it is where they go to school or live or what jobs they have and ultimately electing their local representatives and then moving up the system to be able to elect their official leaders. And so, I do believe that democracy is the best system in the world. As I said, however, it is a process and there are other democratic models than just the American model.
Those of us that have been involved in democracy work are dedicated to continuing to promote democracy which is different than imposing democracy, which is an oxymoron.
So the bottom line is that I hope that this administration will be talking about the four Ds, which would be diplomacy, development, defense and democracy – that democracy is very much a part of what this country stands for.
Of the various things I do now, I do have to say that being chairman of the board of the National Democratic Institute is something that I treasure. I am so proud of the work that we do because what we do is go out and offer the tools of democracy, the nuts and bolts of democracy, and let people understand that they can do this themselves. I believe that that should be something that the administration cherishes and feels is very much a part of what America can do the best.
Q: My name is Jeff Hoffman, the Institute of World Politics. My question actually complements the professor from London. And the question is focused on the Collective Security Treaty Organization. The Russian president has announced that rapid reaction military force is just as capable as a NATO force. And I’m curious: do you see the CSTO as a threat to NATO?
MS. ALBRIGHT: Well, it’s interesting. Again, I do not see it as a threat to NATO, but I think that what is going on is there is a proliferation of architecture or something at the moment of trying to figure out what the right organization is. The CSTO is something that is relatively new. The president of Russia also said that he wanted to see a new all-European collective security or some kind of architecture for that.
I think that there are going to be a number of discussions that are taking place in the next months, years, to try to figure out what the appropriate architecture is. I think there is going to be lots of discussion about what the appropriate 21st century architecture is.
MR. KEMPE: Rob Liberatore.
Q: Thank you, Madame Secretary, for a wonderful presentation. My name is Rob Liberatore. I’m on the board here at the Atlantic Council and I served with –
MS. ALBRIGHT: Not monogamous either.
Q: Not monogamous either. I serve with Secretary Albright on the board of NDI and I’m a fellow at the German Marshall Fund. Getting back to the Russia paranoia about NATO, at the Brussels Forum that the German Marshall Fund holds annually in Brussels in March, Lavrov was insistent and repetitively insistent that Russia was given assurances that we would not expand NATO, quote, “too close into the Russian neighborhood.” And of course, the Americans present all argued that that was never the case. Ambassador Holbrooke was there. He argued that position. But privately, very senior European diplomats, a former EU diplomat and a former German very senior diplomat both told me, oh, yes, I was part of those discussions. We did give them those assurances. So how can history be so confused on this question?
MS. ALBRIGHT: I have it on good authority that there were discussions during the time on the unification of Germany about the fact that if Germany were to be unified that there would not be forces in the Eastern part of the new Germany. That was taken off the table. So there were not those kinds of assurances.
Now– and there are many diplomats here – we all know what happens in diplomatic discussions. You have many different kinds of talks. You, in fact, put ideas on the table and both multilateral and bilateral ideas come to the surface.
And so I wasn’t there, but it is a subject that I’ve actually discussed very recently with people who were there, because I actually asked this very question. And so that was the answer that I got. So I do think that there clearly was part of some discussion during the unification talks but it was not on something that had been agreed to.
MR. KEMPE: Because this has been such a hot topic, there’s a very good piece by Mark Kramer, published in Washington Quarterly. It’s now being translated into Russian. It’s going to be in the Carnegie publication, whose name I’m forgetting in Russian. But I think we’re going to put that up on the site on our expert blog because it really is the best history of this I’ve seen.
Q: Jason Forrester with Veterans for America. Regarding Iraq and the future of Iraqi democracy, what’s your assessment of steps that we should be taking or things that we should not be doing to try to further enhance Iraqi democracy?
MS. ALBRIGHT: I have said that I was very worried about the whole Iraq adventure – a war of choice, not of necessity. And I hope very much that the time will come when Iraq is a stable, functioning, democratic country. I do think that we need to help in terms of the nuts and bolts of it. Again, NDI, we’ve been in Iraq in terms of working at the local level, training people and I think that is very appropriate.
But with teams that are actually international, not just American, because there are others. That, I think, is the strength of the National Democratic Institute because we have teams that are multinational and can provide a variety of different ideas. But ultimately, the Iraqis have to run their own country. And I would hope that we, democratic countries, would be helpful in providing them with the nuts and bolts of democracy.
MR. KEMPE: I think we’d be remiss if we don’t discuss in this round the largest non-democracy, China. And is it a non-democracy? You start seeing some interesting things happening at a local basis. You see the response to the earthquake – Hu Jintao – which is a pretty interesting response for some of that. So I guess my question is, A, what do you see there in terms of the development, and B, how do you see China and the U.S., as partners or rivals on the world stage?
MS. ALBRIGHT: Well, I do think that the crucial relationship of the 21st century is going to be the U.S. with China. I mean, every time anybody says “China,” they usually attach the word “rising” to it. They own a great portion of the United States and they need us for their export market. And so, Secretary Geithner was just there making very clear statements about the fact that we have to save and they have to spend.
And so, we have a very kind of intricate and involved relationship with each other. I do think, again, what we have said all along–people that study democracy, et cetera–is that democracy comes for a number of reasons, but one is the creation of a middle class, and that is happening to some extent in China because of the economic changes. When there are debates about whether the state is actually delivering services, then people begin to question it. So some of the issues in China at the local level are whether the water is polluted, or whether there is movement of people from the rural area to the urban area or unemployment.
So I think that there are various threads of dissent, and not necessarily to overthrow the system, but to be able to be heard. And I would not call China a democracy, but I do think that there’s more happening under the surface than meets the eye.
MR. KEMPE: Can single-party rule last?
MS. ALBRIGHT: Well, you know, I think so. Part of the issue is what is the party doing to adjust itself? And I find it interesting what they’ve done. They identified themselves more and more with Confucianism because they’re having some problem talking about Marxism through all this.
And so I think that, you know, they want to maintain control and they’re trying to figure it out, but they have some pretty serious issues there. And what is interesting is they try to limit their level of information. The thing that I used to do when I was a real academic was to look at the role of information and media in the transformation of systems, and that’s what happened in Poland. I wrote my dissertation on what happened in Czechoslovakia.
You know, China’s been blocking various things at different times whether during the Olympics or whatever. They are nervous about all the information that’s out there. And I do think we’ll see change in China.
MR. KEMPE: We really reached toward the end so I apologize for this. I’m going to ask one last question, again, historic in nature before we close. NATO enlargement: great moment of history. At the time, I was covering it. There were a lot of people who really thought it would never happen. And I must say, in the U.S., a lot of this was happening in other places. There were some interesting forces in Germany and others pushing. What do you think was the moment that really made this possible? What was it that pushed this over the edge where it went from being something that had the momentum to getting it done?
MS. ALBRIGHT: You mean the initial enlargement.
MR. KEMPE: Right. Right.
MS. ALBRIGHT: Well, it was very interesting actually because this was an idea that had begun to surface during President Clinton’s first term, really very seriously a lot of discussions about how to erase the artificial line that had been created in Europe as a result of the Cold War.
And there were attempts to try to figure out how to begin the process, which is where the Partnership for Peace issues came in, and trying to sort out really how to do this in a way that made sense of taking countries, that there really was a question what their military capability was.
I think that there were very serious efforts to quote, “educate people on the Hill” about it. I think there was a very important set of meetings and various things that happened. There were questions. I remember having very long discussions with Chairman Jesse Helms in terms of trying to sort out what happened.
I don’t know what the real moment was. I do know that President Clinton was completely dedicated to it and that it was a process whereby those three countries really did make it seem as if they were very ready to accept the responsibility. There clearly were large communities in the United States, whether they were Polish-Americans, or Czech-Americans, or Hungarian-Americans, who were ready to help in the process.
But it was a moment that really was a sign that the Cold War…I have to say, everybody knows this. For me it was a really big deal. And the thing that happened in a very personal way is I, as a child but also as a student, know that it took the United States quite a long time to figure out what the Soviets were doing in Eastern Europe. There were definitely salami tactics. And it finally took the coup in Czechoslovakia in February ’48 for Americans to understand what had happened. And then NATO was created.
So we came to the United States, and the fact that I had the opportunity to be the secretary of state that welcomed these countries into NATO was one of those wonderful circle moments of life.
And when people asked me what I’m proudest of as secretary of state, it is NATO enlargement and Kosovo. And they go together and I do think there are a lots of things we didn’t do right, but those two were really right and they came as a result of thinking, at that time, that we had to really allow countries that were ready to take up the responsibility of NATO to be a part of the world’s greatest alliance.
MR. KEMPE: I think people in this room would heartily agree with those sentiments.
Let me just close by saying, first of all, there is a reception just through these doors afterwards, across the hall afterwards. And please, everyone, join us there. Secretary Albright has to go to another appointment, so no blocking and tackling on the way out.
And let me just say in closing, we do two lectures of this nature and one of them is named for Christopher Makins, my predecessor in this job and one of the great leaders of the Atlantic Council. And that lecture series and this lecture series have the aim of trading off one year European, one year American high intellectual level, publishable talks and then an open Q&A where people in the audience really walk away and say, you know, I really learned something there.
You have over-performed everything that we’ve been trying to set up there. Bronislaw Geremek is looking down, tilting his head, smiling, chewing on his pipe and saying on behalf of all of us, thank you.
MS. ALBRIGHT: And thank you very much. And I have to say, I am somebody who likes to create groups. And I created a group of former foreign ministers. And it has an official title like the Aspen Atlantic Group but it is also known as “Madeleine and her exes.” And Bronislaw Geremek was one of our major, major members, a founder of it. And we just all met in Turkey and he is deeply missed. It was somebody that made a difference in so many of our lives. So thank you very much for asking me to initiate this.