Madeleine Albright stresses the importance of diplomacy in defending democracy

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright speaks with Ambassador Barbara Bodine, Director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy. Albright is the 2018 recipient of the J. Raymond “Jit” Trainor Award for Excellence in the Conduct of Diplomacy.

February 13, 2018
by Margaux Fontaine

Defending democracy across the globe is essential for protecting the safety and security of the American people, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in a recent speech at Georgetown.

“Our wisest leaders have always understood that American foreign policy must be shaped not solely on the basis of what we are against, but also what we are for,” Albright noted. “And our interests still dictate that we should be for a world in which democracy is defended, and universal values are upheld.”

Albright is the 2018 recipient of the J. Raymond “Jit” Trainor Award for Excellence in the Conduct of Diplomacy, presented annually by the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy (ISD) at Georgetown’s Walsh School of Foreign Service. This honor is given in the memory of Jit Trainor, the much-admired former registrar of the School of Foreign Service. Recent recipients include United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and former U.S. Secretary of Energy Dr. Ernest Moniz.

A Career of Service

Albright was chosen to receive the award based on her distinguished diplomatic accomplishments throughout her career. In 1997, she was appointed U.S. Secretary of State, becoming the highest ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government. Prior to that, she served as U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

Aiming to inspire the next generation of public servants, Albright is a Professor in the Practice of Diplomacy at the School of Foreign Service and is President of the Truman Scholarship Foundation. Among other roles, she also chairs the National Democratic Institute and is a published author.

“Secretary Albright’s career of global service, extraordinary scholarship, extraordinary teaching, preeminent diplomacy and engagement, and excellence in the conduct of diplomacy and service, exemplify the core values of ISD and the work of Jit Trainor,” said Joel Hellman, Dean of the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Defending Democracy

Albright delivered an address on “Diplomacy in Defense of Democracy.” Reflecting on the current state of American diplomacy, Albright denounced the Trump administration’s isolationist rhetoric and friendliness towards autocratic regimes. To truly protect American interests, Albright argued, outward thinking is essential.

“[Most Americans] understand that diplomacy is an indispensable foreign policy tool for one very basic reason: there is hardly a major challenge in the world today that does not require countries to work together, from fighting terrorism and nuclear proliferation, to curbing the spread of illegal narcotics and epidemic disease,” Albright said. “The role of diplomats is to foster that cooperation, and America’s responsibility is to lead.”

Bipartisan Cooperation

Noting that the U.S. government is more than just its executive, Albright praised Democratic and Republican members of Congress for joining forces in defense of democracy by providing funding for diplomatic efforts and supporting continued sanctions against Russia.

“This unity is important because the only way Putin can succeed is if democracy’s guardians are too complacent, too timid, or too divided to stop them,” Albright said. “And that means we cannot turn Russian interference into a partisan issue. It’s a threat to our institutions, to both of our political parties, and to our allies abroad.”

Strengthening democracy and keeping its opponents at bay must be at the forefront of American policy goals, according to Albright.

“We will do better and feel safer in an environment where our values are widely shared, markets are open, military clashes are constrained, and those who run roughshod over the rights of others are made to change,” she said.

Strengthening Institutions

Defense of democratic institutions not always an easy task, Albright cautioned, drawing in particular from her work at the National Democratic Institute, an organization that aims to support democracy across the globe.

“I know from my own experience that this can be exhilarating but humbling work, because in any society, building democracy is never easy and never fully accomplished,” Albright said. “It is something to be worked towards step by step, country by country, day by day.”

The United States itself has endured a tumultuous history of deep divisions and gridlock, but democracy has managed to prevail despite all these challenges.

“We have faced many, many setbacks as a country,” Albright noted. “But we’ve always found solutions—not by bowing to the false gods of nationalism, but by building better, more flexible, and responsive institutions.”

Institute for the Study of Diplomacy’s 40th Anniversary

Albright’s lecture marks the beginning of a year-long celebration of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy’s 40th anniversary. Founded in 1978, the ISD brings together diplomats, practitioners, and academics to address issues in the realm of diplomacy in a shifting global landscape.

“The Institute seeks to do nothing less than to bring together the best of academic minds and the most experienced practitioners to better understand the critical role of diplomacy,” said Ambassador Barbara Bodine, the Institute’s director.

“The work of the Institute as understood by its founders and carried out by successors, directors, staff, and fellows across the world is as relevant today and as necessary today–perhaps even more so today–as it was 40 years ago,” Hellman said.

In her lecture, Albright stressed the importance of institutes like the ISD in promoting diplomacy not only in the present day, but in the decades to follow.

“We need 21st century responses to the challenge facing democracy today,” Albright said. “And that will depend on having leaders who understand the difficulty of governing in a wired world, and on institutions such as the School of Foreign Service and the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy who are training such leaders and helping inspire them to serve.”

In looking to the future of diplomacy, Albright explained, American leadership is critical.

“America belongs at the head of the movement. For freedom is perhaps the clearest expression of national purpose and policy ever adopted, and it must be the star by which American diplomacy navigates in the years to come,” Albright said.