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Madeleine Albright on the diplomatic toolbox and foreign policy

The tools used in foreign policy: diplomacy, economics, threat of force.  Fmr. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in conversation with Walter Isaacson of the Aspen Institute. 

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  • hopper cool style avatar for user Madeliv
    "I've always argued that if the chief dissident thinks [the sanctions] are a good idea, then they are a good idea" (). Isn't this problematic? If the USA government has conversations with a dissident leader (usually there are many dissidents and at least several dissident leaders), isn't that person most likely to become the chief dissident because of this connection to the USA? (It would be difficult to become the chief dissident if the US supports another dissident with resources, and the US will most likely support only dissidents that have the same ideas...) Doesn't this create a situation where the chief dissident will always agree?
    (5 votes)
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Video transcript

I'm Walter Isaacson with the Aspen Institute and I'm here with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and we're talking about American diplomacy and the tools used in it what is that diplomatic tool box which is a phrase that you've helped to coin you know foreign policy is trying to affect the behavior of another country so you have to know what tools you have and they're not a lot of tools in the toolbox there is diplomacy the kind of bread and butter of bilateral and multilateral diplomacy there the economic tools which are sometimes divided into carrots and sticks and the carrots would be trade and aid and the sticks are when you take them away sanctions and embargoes then there is the threat of the use of force there is the use of force and law enforcement and intelligence that's it and so those are the tools and as you can see they're not a lot of them what are the strengths and weaknesses of some of them well I think partially it is the effect that they have and the speed with which they can be deployed and the in our country in a democracy to what extent they are affect the population of your own country and so trade for instance is probably the one that affects more people in your own country than even the use of force in other words if you pull out of a arrow out of the quiver or tool out of the toolbox such as sanctions you might get in trouble with a domestic group how would that absolutely I think the part that's interesting about sanctions you always think about it in terms of the targeted country and the targeting country and the targeted country is obviously the one whose behavior you're trying to change but if you decide that you are not going to allow any food to go from one country to another then the farmers in your own country are affected or if you decide that you're not going to sell cars to a particular country then obviously the car manufacturers are affected and one of the things as sanctions are being deployed now because it's a favorite tool frankly what happens is I've given you my list economic tools are in the middle and so people think diplomacy is too slow and force is too strong so then you kind of often pick the economic to the let's drill down on a specific example sanctions on Iran how well if they worked and what have they been well I think that Iran sanctions it's there it's a very interesting set of sanctions first of all Iran is being affected I believe by the fact that they're being isolated by our sanctions bilateral sanctions and multilateral sanctions and by the way when you can get the international community into it they're much more effective than if you're just doing it by yourself although getting multilateral sanctions is often harder than just having your own country decide that you will not trade with Iran so what we have seen is that Iran's economy is being hurt by the fact that they are limited in terms of their financial possibilities and their export of fuel and a variety of parts of their sanctions but the bottom line is that there are people now who are very eager to begin to trade with Iran they're fascinating opportunities there and so there are those who are saying if the multilateral sanctions go because there are countries that don't all feel the same way about it then the United States would be at a disadvantage in those countries are like China and Russia might open up more trade and take advantage of the fact that we have sanctions they would and the Chinese in many ways want to deal with Iran because they need energy from them so countries have different motivations for what they do but we do know when you have strong multilateral sanctions those are really effective when was the time in history where they work the best was that South Africa well south it was very interesting because and there's some disputes on that the question was how to deal with apartheid and one of the other parts about sanctions that one has to take into consideration they do hurt the country that is being sanctioned there's no question about it and often people will say you're hurting ordinary people with your sanctions when where you're trying to do is change the behavior of the leadership but the South African sanctions were multilateral sanctions very very effective in the end even though there were countries United States among them that thought this wasn't going to be useful but the other part about it that I thought was interesting Nelson Mandela the chief dissident what thought that it that the sanctions were a good idea even if they did in fact hurt the people just the way for instance song sung suchi thought that our sanctions on Burma even though they were quite restrictive were worth it and i have i've always argued that if the chief dissident thinks they're good idea then they are a good idea well let's take the toughest example which is russia today after ukraine we tried to do sanctions how has that worked well i think that first of all the Russians did something completely illegal which is to go into a country and sees a piece of its territory in the 21st century something that hasn't been done since the end of World War two in Europe and so the international community and the United States is the leader tries to figure out what can be done in order to make it clear that this is a very bad idea and we've gotten smarter on sanctions frankly which is not to make them total sanctions but to target what we call smart sanctions or targeted sanctions where they really affect the leadership and the cronies and so what I think has happened in Russia is that the sum of the oligarchs and various people have been hurt some of their financial institutions have been hurt their currency has been hurt and so there really is a sense that the sanctions have been working some of them also have to do with products and the difficulty with them and it goes back to the original question which is it does the targeting country some of the countries in Europe are sticking with the multilateral sanctions but they do hurt them too because they are hurting some of their products so what other tools do we have in the toolbox deal with Russia and Ukraine well that's the problem there are and we are dealing we are diplomacy is that's being used then for instance it's now known as the Minsk Accord which were several countries sitting down Ukraine among them the Russians European countries to try to work out a a ceasefire and some kind of rules of the road so diplomacy is being used there is also probably the thought that diplomacy is also going on between us and russia in some way to say we have other issues that we need to deal with so there in any number of ways that diplomacy is being used the economic tools are being used and we also there is that's why i always subdivide force there's the threat of the use of force and so when there is a meeting of nato in wales and they talk about what are the various things that one could do if the Russians move further then that is the threat of the use of force now can the use of force be split by direct force or aiding proxies that might do our bidding is that a way to have as two separate tools and well I think of force I divide really subdivide in many different categories it isn't just boots on the ground and it isn't just a lot of weapons or face to face war or even the threat of that there is where you put your bases I think kind of force projection that you have or where you do develop a coalition where other countries you might provide arms to them or put your forces at their disposal and there any number of ways of subdividing it and also the gradations you know is it a police action I kind of subdivide the use of force into a lot of aspects what is the size of one of it is just even the threat what is the size of your military if the United States is has the potential for the greatest projection of force of any country and when we move an aircraft carrier into the Black Sea that is showing well it's Teddy Roosevelt in many ways you know getting our aircraft carriers out there but it also shows what we can project and then also also as you point out proxies if we provide arms to x-country then it does improve or really expand the use of force will be back with Madeleine Albright talking about the toolbox of American diplomacy and our next lesson