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Albright: Peace requires hard work, compromise

Peace is much more than an absence of conflict, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told an Indiana University audience last week. Rather it's a state that "must be nurtured by many hands over many years," requiring hard work, smart policies and a willingness to compromise.

And while everyone agrees that peace is preferable to war, she said, her background as a child of World War II convinced her that war is sometimes necessary.

"It was the West's fear of conflict that allowed Hitler to advance," said Albright, the first woman to serve as U.S. secretary of state. "And it was the West's courage in fighting back that rescued Europe and enabled democracy to survive."

Madeleine Albright

Photo by Peter Stevenson

Madeleine Albright speakers at the IU Auditorium.

Print-Quality Photo

Albright spoke Wednesday to an audience of 1,400 at the IU Auditorium as part of the College of Arts and Sciences' Themester 2011 "Making War, Making Peace" series. The lecture was sponsored by the Indiana Memorial Union Board with assistance from the College of Arts and Sciences and other IU units.

Albright was named the 64th secretary of state by President Bill Clinton and confirmed by the Senate in January 1997. She previously served as U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations.

She said her world view and interests were shaped by her early experiences. Her family fled what was then Czechoslovakia at the start of World War II and settled in London, where she endured German rocket attacks and made friends while hiding in bomb shelters. After the war, the family returned to Prague, only to flee communist rule and move to the United States.

"I developed a deep interest in world affairs and a lifelong belief in the importance of American leadership," she said. Yet she didn't imagine she would grow up to become secretary of state. "Not that I wasn't ambitious," she said. "It was just that I'd never seen a secretary of state in a skirt."

Albright said the line between war and peace has grown fuzzy in today's world, when risks to national security include terrorist attacks, cyber warfare and nuclear weapons that could be carried in a suitcase. "We live in a sort of security limbo," she said, with few declared wars but much fighting involving shadowy groups not aligned with any government.

But making peace, she said, requires the same approach as when she was in office: Engaging with allies and antagonists, supporting effective international institutions, and making an effort to understand the aspirations and world views of people who are different from us.

Albright said she is alarmed at the angry partisanship that has come to dominate Washington politics, in international affairs as well as other policy matters. And she cautioned against the idea that the U.S. can solve its budget woes by cutting back on foreign engagement.

Some surveys suggest Americans think that so-called foreign aid accounts for a quarter of the federal budget, she said. "In fact, the current figure is something like 1 percent, and the main beneficiary of that spending, is us. By cutting back, we would run the risk of hurting our own interests, weakening our ability to prevent war and preserve peace."

Albright urged students to seek out people with opinions and worldviews that challenge their own. She pointed to the example of South Africa's Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years as a political prisoner but didn't give in to bitterness and hatred. Once released, he worked with his foes to end the apartheid system and became his nation's first president chosen in a fully democratic election.

"Mandela knew the best way to defeat his enemies was not to make them do what he wanted them to do, but to make them want what he wanted," Albright said.