Madeleine Korbel Albright, sworn in as the 64th United States Secretary of State in 1997, after unanimous confirmation by the U.S. Senate, became the first female Secretary of State and the highest ranking woman in the United States government. As Secretary of State and as U.S. representative to the United Nations before that, she created policies and institutions to help guide the world into a new century of peace and prosperity.
Concentrating on a bipartisan approach to U.S. foreign policy, she attempted to create a consensus on the need for U.S. leadership and engagement in the world. Among her achievements were ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention and progress toward stability in Eastern and Central Europe.
Albright dedicated her life to international study. After receiving her B.A. at Wellesley College, she studied international relations at Johns Hopkins University before earning her M.A. and Ph.D. at Columbia University. Before her appointment as Secretary of State, she had a diverse career.
A Diverse Career
Albright was Sen. Edward Muskie’s Chief Legislative Assistant; a Woodrow Wilson fellow; president of the Center for National Policy, a nonprofit research organization; and Research Professor of International Affairs and Director of the Women in Foreign Service Program at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. During President Clinton’s first term, Albright served as the United States’ Permanent Representative to the United Nations and a member of Clinton’s National Security Council.
As a refugee whose family fled Czechoslovakia, first from the Nazis and later from the Communists, Albright represents the highest ideals and aspirations of immigrants who come to America seeking to make major contributions to our society. As a leader in international relations, she has helped change the course of history and, in so doing, has also set a new standard for American women and for women around the world.
After the election of U.S. Pres. Bill Clinton, a Democrat, in 1992, Albright’s political star began to rise, and Clinton named her ambassador to the United Nations in 1993. At the UN she gained a reputation for tough-mindedness as a fierce advocate for American interests, and she promoted an increased role for the United States in UN operations, particularly those with a military component. Her nomination to the position of secretary of state was unanimously confirmed by the Senate in 1997.
Champion of Democracy and Human Rights
During her tenure in office, Albright remained a proponent of military intervention and a forceful champion of both democracy and human rights. Notably, in 1999 she pushed for North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) bombings in Yugoslavia to halt the ethnic cleansing of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo by Yugoslav and Serbian forces. The Kosovo conflict, which some came to call Madeleine’s War, ended after 11 weeks of air strikes, when Yugoslavia agreed to NATO’s terms. Albright was also involved in efforts to end North Korea’s nuclear program, and in 2000 she became the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the country. However, her talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il failed to produce a deal.
The Albright Group
At the end of Bill Clinton’s second term in 2001, Albright left government service and founded the Albright Group, a consulting firm based in Washington, D.C. She later supported Hillary Clinton’s presidential bids in 2008 and 2016. In the latter campaign, Albright drew criticism when she said that “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other,” a sentiment she had often expressed over several decades. However, some believed she was implying that gender was the only consideration when choosing a candidate, and she later clarified her comments.
After leaving the Secretary of State post in 2001, she authored several bestsellers, launched a private investment fund, and provided global strategy consulting. In 2012, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Drawn To Public Service
Before Dr. Albright, the inner sanctum of U.S. foreign policymaking had been an almost exclusively male domain. In many ways, her politically fraught early life — enduring Nazi and communist repression — impelled her rise to the highest levels of international politics.
Her family, which was Jewish, narrowly avoided extermination at the hands of the Nazis. They fled to England shortly after Hitler’s tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia in 1938.
“I had this feeling that there but for the grace of God, we might have been dead,” Dr. Albright said much later. She said that she was drawn to public service to “repay the fact that I was a free person.”
Her ascent in the foreign policy establishment reflected the traditional roles of women in the 1950s and 1960s and her ambition, which was influenced by the nascent feminist movement that encouraged women to pursue professional careers.
Madeleine K. Albright, who came to the United States as an 11-year-old political refugee from Czechoslovakia and decades later was an ardent and effective advocate against mass atrocities in Eastern Europe while serving as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and the first female secretary of state, died March 23 in Washington. She was 84.
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