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Albright on Syncopation & the diplomatic toolbox

How the tools in the diplomatic toolbox need to be syncopated: the Balkans, War Powers Act, public diplomacy v. propaganda. Fmr. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in conversation with Walter Isaacson of the Aspen Institute.

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Video transcript

hello I'm Walter Isaacson with the Aspen Institute here with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright we're talking about American diplomacy and the tools used in American diplomacy secretary Albright calls that our diplomatic tool box what do you mean when you say the tools need to be syncopated well I think there is a tendency to think that if you choose one tool you won't choose the others and as I said they're not a lot of tools and therefore you have to figure out how they fit with each other and what often happens is when you think about force and diplomacy going together you don't decide that you will never use the threat of force if you're using diplomacy or we had multilateral and bilateral diplomatic discussions and at the same time we began to do go to NATO and begin to talk about having warnings and a variety of things that NATO was doing but then you'd go back to diplomacy and you would do them at the same time in syncopation or for instance if you want to think about using economic tools what is going on now back to Ukraine our discussions that go on in a variety of arenas the diplomatic arena the economic arena and the threat of the use of force tell me how that worked in the Balkans he started with diplomacy and then how did you escalate or syncopate well what we did we kept having a variety of discussions some as I said bilateral and then some multilateral and what was called a contact group a few countries that had a real purpose to talk about this the British the French the Germans Italians the Russians and us and there would be talks in those circles and at the same time we began to think about whether there was a way to get the Serbs to stop doing what they were doing and we began to talk to the supreme Allied commander of NATO and also our representative of NATO would begin to look at whether there was a way to call an act or it is to really get them going in terms of making plans if in fact we were going to use force and that was evident I mean you can make it you don't do that kind of in silence you and the purpose in to talk about what your possibilities are or you began to do exercises somewhere sanctions were a pressure point and so there was the syncopation of diplomacy of Dayton the knowledge that we ultimately were prepared to use force and having the sanctions and it's that syncopation and you eventually did use their power right and how did you make that decision well that decision and it's kind of a two-way decision because you first have to decide within your own government whether this is something that you want to do which is done and within the National Security Council by a group that's called the principles group that has its run by the National Security Advisor and it has the Secretary of State the Secretary of Defense and then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the head of the CIA or kind of advisers to it and then you sit there and you literally talk about the pros and cons of using force what kind of force and but it's ultimately the president who has to make a decision what role does Congress play well what happens here is Congress has to well we have the War Powers Act and if you use and by the way that came out of the fact that Lyndon Johnson kind of went about Vietnam without Congress really so in theory the War Powers Act says that Congress has to authorize any use of military force well first of all people need to know the American Constitution it is set up in a way where it's an invitation to struggle on national security issues and it is the Congress that declares war and the president is the commander-in-chief but it is it says in article 1 of the Constitution that it's up to Congress to declare war what was happening in Vietnam there was not the appropriate information given and Congress then decided that it had to be clear about what the president could do and it says that if American forces are going to be included somewhere within 60 days you have to notify now the executive branch has never agreed that it's constitutionally that its constitutional the way it's written and so what would happen when i went up to testify we would in fact notify yes but we would never say it's in fulfillment of the War Powers Act what about public diplomacy well I think that and it's a very important part and it goes through all this which is that you do know in this day and age that the government of X country is that they have developed their own set of facts which they put on their airwaves in some form or another we have a variety of ways of letting people know that that may not be true now it's much more sophisticated in terms of social media and the way that it's used but one of the issues just to go back on Ukraine and Russia the Russians are now using just pure propaganda with Russia today in a variety of programs that they not only are broadcasting in Russia but also through Central and Eastern Europe and so public diplomacy which is a subset of diplomacy I think is absolutely essential in terms of letting people know what the truth really is and with social media both being used positively and negatively I mean I think there's a lot to talk about in this but public diplomacy is a way to have a dialogue with the people in a country whose behavior you have to go back on something Walter which is this is all about changing the behavior of another country and somehow or another you would think we would be the best at social media since we injected things like Twitter and Facebook and yet our adversaries seem to be better at it why is that well I think because we actually are democratic about it and we don't don't control social media I mean it really is everybody on their own whereas I think that ISIL for instance now is very sophisticated about using social media but it's controlled social media is like having many more antennas out there to disperse what is a propaganda message well when you were a secretary of state you had to wrestle with the us information agency reconfiguring that voice of America and all those tools in the toolbox without making you go back over all those decisions how would you reconfigure it now to make it if you could start a fresh well I do think that this is the question what is the difference between public diplomacy and propaganda propaganda is just one way transmittal of some message that X country wants public diplomacy is a dialogue you want to be able to have literally conversations with the people in whatever country you're in and listen to what they have to say I do think that there is value in having some coordination between what is the overall policy of our country and the use of social media without in fact directing it specifically that dialogue has to go on and you have to be prepared for the incoming I do think that it makes sense to have public diplomacy within the State Department but I'd also think and I'm not sure we have worked this out properly yet is what is the role of the private sector in this because our social media is obviously coming out of private sector and I'm not sure that it is fully integrated into the sis you think it's possible that just having an absolutely free media which were kind of saddled with but that might be our strength instead of our weakness I think to the extent that it is really free then I think it is great the problem that's going on now I think and I've spent a lot of time about thinking how technology and democracy go together is that people are privy to their own sense of what the information is so you don't ever have kind of common information and that's the problem at the moment all voices are really disaggregated and I have said you can't tweet your way to democracy there needs to be some kind of a way that you get from terry r squared and governance and how political parties work and what are the channels so I would prefer a free press any day to a controlled press but the bottom line is to what extent the free press at the moment really has accurate information in it and if you are the ordinary consumer of it how do you know what really is fact and what is made up by some group in terms of their own political interests I'm Walter Isaacson and we're here with Madeleine Albright and our next lesson will drill down on the Balkans and know exactly how you did it