The United States has failed to back up its strong anti-genocide rhetoric with action, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told a packed Elliott School auditorium Tuesday evening.
The discussion, which focused on how to prevent genocide, was the inaugural event of the Elliott School of International Affairs’ Banneville Forum.
Albright, who served as the first female secretary of state from 1997 until 2001, co-chaired a task force on genocide prevention with former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, and discussed their findings with Tuesday night’s audience. She emphasized that prevention needs to be a top priority and outlined a plan to prevent humanitarian crises, including strong partnerships to “accomplish more at less costs.”
“Stopping genocide is everybody’s business and we must be in that business, all of us together, and it has to really work in order for it to succeed,” Albright said.
“I think people don’t know what to do at this point,” Albright continued. “We have our forces all over the place, therefore we are over-stretched. I believe we should be doing more.”
The discussion marked Albright’s second appearance of the year at GW. She previously came to campus in September with four other former secretaries of state to discuss what the new president’s foreign policy priorities should look like.
One way to prevent genocide, Albright said, is to understand each situation and acknowledge a “kindling crisis.” Albright said that warning signs do not fit into a pattern and that conflict can arise from a number of situations, such as a lack of central government in Somalia or the presence of an oppressive government, as is the case in Burma.
“Sometimes we may see a fire starting and still have few realistic ways to douse the flames, but often we can act in time if we have the knowledge and will to do so,” she said.
Director of the Elliott School’s graduate program, Ambassador Karl Inderfurth, moderated the discussion. Inderfurth, who previously worked under Albright at the United Nations as well as the State Department, asked Albright if bipartisan cooperation can be achieved.
“I do think that of all the issues where it is possible to develop some bipartisan support, [preventing genocide] is one of them,” Albright replied.
Albright also recognized the role of American college and university students in raising awareness on genocide, but said that the interest has declined as the conditions have not improved.
“The whole ‘Save Darfur’ movement began with college students,” Albright said. “I think that, if I might say so, there was great deal more excitement about it earlier. I think that there is Darfur fatigue or something, and that there is a sense because not enough has happened, that ‘let’s turn to something else.’ “
She added, “I think that we have to stay focused on this despite that there are other terrible things going on.”
Many audience members were thrilled to join in a discussion with Albright, who comes with such unparalleled foreign policy experience.
“She’s been at the center of so many political events of the past decade, so it’s a treat and honor to hear directly from her, what’s she’s got to say about the world,” alumna Molly Bauch said.