Washington – Madeleine Albright, the first female United States secretary of state, who helped steer Western foreign policy in the aftermath of the Cold War, has died. She was 84 years old.
Her death was confirmed in an email to staff of the Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy firm founded by Albright.
Albright, who was a Czech immigrant, was a central figure in President Bill Clinton’s administration, first serving as US ambassador to the United Nations before becoming the nation’s top diplomat in his second term.
She championed the expansion of NATO, pushed for the alliance to intervene in the Balkans to stop genocide and ethnic cleansing, sought to reduce the spread of nuclear weapons, and championed human rights and democracy across the globe.
In a New York Times op-ed written last month just before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Albright argued that Russian leader Vladimir Putin would be making “a historic error” in invading Ukraine and warned of devastating costs to his country.
“Instead of paving Russia’s path to greatness, invading Ukraine would ensure Mr Putin’s infamy by leaving his country diplomatically isolated, economically crippled and strategically vulnerable in the face of a stronger, more united Western alliance,” Albright wrote.
She was a face of US foreign policy in the decade between the end of the Cold War and the war on terror triggered by the September 11, 2001, attacks, an era heralded by President George H.W. Bush as a “new world order.”
The US, particularly in Iraq and the Balkans, built international coalitions and occasionally intervened militarily to roll back autocratic regimes, and Albright — a self-identified “pragmatic idealist” who coined the term “assertive multilateralism” to describe the Clinton administration’s foreign policy – drew from her experience growing up in a family that fled the Nazis and communists in mid-20th century Europe to shape her worldview.
She saw the US as the “indispensable nation” when it came to using diplomacy backed by the use of force to defend democratic values around the world.
“We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us,” she told NBC in 1998.
“I know that the American men and women in uniform are always prepared to sacrifice for freedom, democracy and the American way of life.”
Perhaps most notable were her efforts to bring about an end to violence in the Balkans, and she was crucial in pushing Clinton to intervene in Kosovo in 1999 to prevent a genocide against ethnic Muslims by former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.
She was haunted by the earlier failure of the Clinton administration to end the genocide in Bosnia.
Late in Clinton’s second term, Albright also participated in unsuccessful talks to foster peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, which were followed by a second explosion of violence in the region. She was also part of the effort to coax North Korea to abandon its nuclear programme by engaging with Kim Jong Il, an effort that was abandoned by George W. Bush.
Albright’s tenure as secretary of state also saw the al-Qaeda bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 224 people. She called the attack the “toughest day” of her tenure but would reject criticism that it should have prompted tougher US action against the terror group that would later carry out the 9/11 terror attacks.
“It would have been very hard, pre-9/11, to have persuaded anybody that an invasion of Afghanistan was appropriate,” Albright told the 9/11 Commission in 2004. “I think it did take the megashock, unfortunately, of 9/11, to make people understand the considerable threat.”
When pressed by the commission about the argument that the Clinton administration lacked actionable intelligence, Albright said “we used every single tool we had in terms of trying to figure out what the right targets would be and how to go about dealing with what we knew”.
But she also expressed frustration about the reluctance to push ahead with military force against al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.