Madeleine Albright was the first woman to serve as US Secretary of State from 1997 to 2001. As one of the most influential women in international affairs and foreign policy, Albright paved the way for women to hold high ranking jobs at the State Department and beyond. To close out this year’s Women’s History Month, this article will highlight a few of Albright’s contributions to US Foreign Policy during her tenure as Secretary of State as well as her successes in other roles.
Madeleine Albright fled Czechoslovakia in 1939 when Nazi-controlled Germany invaded the country. She moved to England during this time and returned after World War II, eventually immigrating to the US after the Soviet Union seized power just a few years later. As someone who witnessed and had to flee atrocities committed by non-democratic regimes, she was a staunch advocate for the spread of democracy and the value of human rights. To this end, she made women’s rights around the world a key aspect of her foreign policy and instructed all embassies abroad to regard the advancement of women’s rights as an integral policy issue for US interests. For example, in Pakistan the State Department gave funding to a volunteer group running schools for Afghan refugee girls. In addition to women’s rights, Albright changed the view of US Foreign Policy to support religious liberties more openly. Her stance on human rights was of the utmost importance as her time in office fell shortly after the break-up of the Soviet Union while nations were forging new paths towards sovereignty outside of the communist/authoritarian domain.
The fall of the Soviet Union, as well as her childhood in Europe, made policy in Europe one of the foremost concerns of her time in office. She supported US military intervention in the Kosovo War citing the US responsibility to adhere to NATO’s purpose of defending democracy, particularly in Europe. Her overarching goal was to see a lasting peace in the Balkan’s and rid the area of human rights infringements such as ethnic cleansing. Albanians in Kosovo expressed deep gratitude for the Clinton Administration’s involvement in the conflict led by Albright. She also played a role in the establishment of the Atlantic Partnership Council, now the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council that was aimed at reconciling the differences between NATO and non-NATO countries with the aim of integrating east and west Europe and creating peace in the post-Cold War era. While in office, she was known as an effective spokeswoman for US interests abroad while also influencing the foreign policy agenda of the Clinton Administration. Outside of her role as Secretary of State, she was a professor at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, served on the board of the Council on Foreign Relations, and has written many articles and books.
Madeleine Albright is an inspiration to women in international affairs throughout the United States. As the first woman to hold the office of Secretary of State, she has changed how women are viewed in the field of foreign service. Before taking office in the 1990s, 22% of ambassadorships were held by women and by 2016 the number had jumped to 31.6%.6 While there is still obvious room for improvement and the majority of high level positions in the foreign service are still held by men, it is evident that her time as Secretary of State opened doors for women who may not have otherwise been considered for these positions. Personally, I find Albright inspiring because it is evident that she fervently advocated for her beliefs and the betterment of US interests even when others questioned her intentions or expertise. That is something that all women can learn from: to push forward unapologetically in what we are passionate about.
Madeleine Albright passed away on March 23rd, 2022 at the age of 84. She will be remembered for her service to the US, her intellect, and paving the way for women everywhere.
Cover image retrieved from npr.org