Concluding remarks

by the Hon. Madeleine Albright, Chair of the Group of Experts

  • 16 Oct. 2009
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  • Last updated: 19 Oct. 2009 14:39

Just, really, I appreciate it very much. I know the other experts do too, and we have learned a lot. I really want to thank Karl-Heinz. That was brilliant, and a wonderful way to summarize what were a lot of very difficult issues. We're very grateful to you for doing that and we'll be calling on you a lot more. (Laughter in the audience)

I have to say no good deed goes unpunished, you know. But I think that the whole issue, really, was why a new strategic concept? And I think you've answered that very, very well. Because what we've seen more is how entirely different the world is. Now I am always introduced as the first female secretary of state of the United States, but what I also say is I was the last secretary of state of the 20th century and the first of the 21st. The only problem was I started saying that a few month after President Clinton appointed me, which was a little presumptuous that it indicated I'd stay the whole four years. Well I did and so I am. The bottom line is that what we were trying to do was to develop a lot of structures, organizations for the 21st century.

I think if you remember, President Clinton was constantly building a bridge to the 21st century and what we were doing was really looking at a lot of organizational structures. So I think that in many ways, I have to say, having been very much a part of the '99 concept, in many ways, we were much more optimistic. We thought that we had understood a little bit more about what had happened at the end of the Cold War, we were looking at the new members, trying to sort out of we were going to do things. What we really wanted to do was to lock in the values, democratic concept into a Europe that was old and free and operated together. And the truth is that we weren't able to quite finish that job. So as you look at what still has to be done, that is certainly a part of it. I think the part that is the hardest is we've always known how unpredictable everything is. I think it is more unpredictable than ever before, so as we look at a new strategic concept, thinking about it for ten years out is really quite mind-boggling, since we sometimes can't predict what is going to happen next month or next year. But we have to keep that in mind.

I think we have to understand that the 21st century began quite differently than we thought it would, and I would ask all of you to think about what would have happened if the United States had actually accepted the activation of Article 5 on Afghanistan at the time it was offered. Was there any there, there? I think that is something—there was a lot of saying why didn't the U.S. do it, but I think we need to ask ourselves that. We clearly saw, when Clinton was still in office, the problems of terrorism, but not as (inaudible) the form that it has come about, nor that devil's marriage between the worst people getting the worst weapons. That’s what we talked about a little bit today in terms of the gangs of terrorists that then have capability of getting weapons of aspects of nuclear technology by various transfer.

I do think we need to do a lot more on the intelligence aspect of this, intelligence and just sharing news. What is so peculiar about our time is that there's more information out there than ever before, but we don’t know how much of it is accurate, and the strangest part is we are called on to react to things very quickly. I think all of us that have been in any position of government know that the first information that comes in is always wrong. So the bottom line is how do you really deal with a surfeit of information without having real intelligence.

I do think the issue of Russia—I thought it was very interesting the way it came up, and the combination of reset and reassurance, I think, is a good way to think about it. For me, I think it's one of the big issues that we do have to deal with, and everybody's mentioned it, but I think the process and dealing with our publics is absolutely essential. We are an alliance of democracies, which means that our people need to know what's going on. So really working on it, our great credit, is in fact one of the issues that we do have to deal with, which is the fact that we are democracies. I also do think that the extent to which we are all part of the global international community, for me, always, the question is, what happens if you see something terrible happening in some part of the world? I can define national interest in any number of ways, but one of them also is humanitarian, what you do, how do we operate in that, and I think that has come up.

I think, to end on a positive note here, I would like to quote myself – and some other people – because one of the really great moments for me, especially, given my own background, was in Independence, Missouri in March, 1999... I think the brilliance of the NATO concept and the Washington Treaty, how they ever wrote it, frankly, I find fascinating and it is worth... I've been re-reading Dean Atchinson, present at the creation. You might find your own literature interesting in it. But it really does show a remarkable way that the people at that time went about it. So in my speech, I said, "Let us never forget that freedom has its price and let us never fail to remember how our alliance came together, what it stands for and why it has prevailed."

Upon the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty, President Harry Truman referred to the creation of NATO as a neighbourly act. "We're like a group of householders, he said, who expressed their community of interests by entering into an association for their mutual protection." Canadian Secretary of State Lester Pearson said, "The North Atlantic community is part of the world community and as we grow stronger to preserve the peace, all free men and women grow stronger with us." Prime Minister Spaak, of Belgium, added, "The new NATO pact is purely defensive. It threatens no one. It should therefore disturb no one, except those who might foster the criminal idea of having recourse to war."

So though all the world has changed since these statements were made, the verities they express have not. Our alliance is still bound together by a community of interest; our strength still is a source of strength to those everywhere who labour for freedom and peace. Our power still shields those who love the law and it still threatens none, except those who would threaten others with aggression and harm. And our alliance endures because the principles it defends are timeless and because they reflect the deepest aspirations of the human spirit. So I think the value community is something that we all cherish and I am so grateful to all of you that have put in so much work – I'm going to keep asking you to work more – because the bottom line is we have a long process, and the process, as we've all talked about, is very, very important.

Mister Minister, thank you so much for hosting us and also being here now.