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American diplomacy throughout history

The transformation of diplomacy from 18th century diplomacy, government talking to government, to 20th century diplomacy government talking to government and the people: Technologies influence on public diplomacy, Civil War, World War I&II.   Fmr. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in conversation with Walter Isaacson of the Aspen Institute.

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Video transcript

I'm Walter Isaacson with the Aspen Institute and I'm talking to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright about the toolbox of American diplomacy this really isn't anything totally new what were the tools for the earliest of our diplomats well I think that if you take Thomas Jefferson and bent on Adams diplomacy has always been a tool out there you and diplomacy let me just say is the way governments have talked to each other and it is fairly formalized it used to be with you know a great deal of henna plea that went with it and diplomats who have their credentials and present them but they are there to represent their country and they in fact sit with their counterpart and say this is what our national interest is and this is what we'd like from you and so there were treaties that were signed one of the things that happens now is diplomats don't just get their instructions and get on a boat and disappear for two years they are constantly in contact and and I think that there are many diplomats today who wish that it were a little bit like the 18th century let's go back to the 18th century when somebody like Benjamin Franklin goes over to represent the United States or the colonies at first and then the United States as you say it's a government-to-government relationship but one tool that Ben Franklin uses is as soon as he gets there he built a printing press and such printing copies of the Declaration of Independence to give to the people so part of that toolbox early on was talking about young public diplomacy absolutely the use of information so there's that but then no I loved reading about John Adams who kind of goes to you know he's in the scan what became the Scandinavian countries a Greek gets an agreement and then finally goes home in order to present it to the set up but I think there was that aspect that you get one set of instructions and then your job was to carry them out so diplomacy has existed all along the economic tools existed all along you know during the Civil War for instance when there was the issue about really having embargoes about who was going to support the Confederacy and who is going to support the Union so that is something that it that is not new the threat of the use of force is not new and basically trade we got assistance from the French so it isn't exactly as if you know all the tools are the same I think the thing that makes it different is technology and the rapidity of what goes on and also the extent to which agreements that are made are often the negotiating plans of one country are on the table simultaneously as they're in the news so when was it in the 20th century that diplomacy became a little bit less just government talking to government and a little bit more governments trying to influence the people of other name well i think that the truth is that probably began even around world war one where there began to be some sense of trying to well but let me i think one of the things that that probably first of all war is different I always love to read to my classes war and peace where in fact there were battles between people and other people would just go sit there and watch these things go on what was different about the 20th century is total war where the it isn't just armies fighting but the populations become a part of it and therefore i think there begins to be the sense of talking to the people in whatever technology i mean there were radios and various parts of it and it wasn't completely developed but you had to talk to your own people about Woodrow Wilson had to try to explain why we were getting involved in world war one and then how we got out of it so all of a sudden especially in a democracy you have to explain to the people what's going on and when you are in whatever country I think you also need to figure out how you get people in that country to understand that you're not trying to kill them but that it's basically against their their leaders who are doing something evil to the others how was diplomacy changed at the end of World War 1 by a treaty of versailles that Wilson negotiated but can never get through the Senate that was supposed to be idealistic and have leagues of nations and that sort of thing well I think that there was the sense that I won't say as you remember because none of us do but as we've read that World War one was to the war to end all wars and there really was a sense that will Sonia nism is embodied in the fact that we are all the same and people are entitled to have self-determination and to operate in democratically form governments and that the United States was the best example of that and that there what is interesting i was born in czechoslovakia and woodrow wilson is a hero there because that country would have never started if it hadn't been for the 14 points and self-determination so people there their press began to kind of talk more about what that all meant so people were much more involved in what was going that helped make foreign policy more moralistic and humanitarian as opposed to just based on national interest when it had to appeal to people in all night I think that's the best explanation for it and if you argue that we're all the same then there is a reason why you would there's a real question always why would people from one country sacrifice to go help X country when they don't really know much about them and it can only be done on the basis of we are all the same why should those people be subjugated to some crazy person or somebody who takes away all their rights and so I do think that was the beginning of it the problem was that it was still an issue in this country in terms of when you talk about Europe they're all clumped together in one piece of land kind of divided by artificial boundaries whereas we're across the ocean and why should you get Americans to care about what's happening to people there let's leap forward one generation to 1945-46 the end of World War two suddenly there's all sorts of institutions that are created that are quite like aligned with your toolbox meaning there's a marshall plan for economic development the World Bank IMF there's NATO as a military toolbox there's Radio Free Europe and other such entities as a public diplomacy toolbox what do you think of all those institutions that got created in the nineteen forty six to nineteen forty nine period well I think they have served us very well for you know seventy years since the end of World War two because they were based on the tools that are available I think the question is how flexible they are because the tools are the same but who are the members of those various groupings and how our decisions made but they make sense in terms of their basis and their usefulness the issue is is how they interact with each other so you have in Europe for instance NATO and the European Union one which is more based on economic tools and the other more on the military tools and how they they coordinate with each other and then there is the issue of how some of those would are known as regional organization fit into the global organization but these are there is a real question among people now to what extent are they worn out are they kind of do they all need revamping and what is going on as we speak is that there are other organizations that have arisen the g20 which is an economic organization or ASEAN countries there there's a different attempt to see if there are other groupings that are more reflective of the current situation but the attempt to find other groupings has been somewhat of a stutter step approach it hasn't the g20 is not replacing and it seems that we're still using the institutions of the late 1940s NATO the United Nations the World Bank Radio Free Europe even do you think it's been a failure and creativity that we haven't created totally new institutions to fight say terrorism and we're still trying to use NATO which was designed to stop Soviet aggression in Europe to fight a different type of war instead of creating a whole new set of instances i think it is hard to create a Oh new set of institution I think that what should be done is to try to figure out a way to combine the potentials of some of the existing institutions to figure out I mean I don't know how you'd even start to create a new institution but if you think for instance one of the issues climate change which is clearly a new issue that has the possibilities of again being dealt with by laterally as the Chinese and Americans have done but within the scope of the international institution so you have the secretary-general of the UN saying there's going to be a summit where you know it takes it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that you can't do global warming bilaterally that you need to have an international institution so I think what you do is use the infrastructure that we have now to kind of as a venue for creating a different combination of countries to deal with it I'm Walter Isaacson we're talking to Madeleine Albright and we'll be back with our final lesson which is a toolbox in the 21st century