Madam Secretary

Charting mega-trends and nuclear dangers with the former Secretary of State.


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“I do believe in American leadership,” former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told us. “But there’s nothing about the word ‘indispensable’ that says ‘alone.’ It just means we need to be engaged.”

Secretary Albright sat down with Ploughshares Fund President Joe Cirincione to talk about global security and what she calls the “mega-trends.” The first is the growth of the ever-more complex web of interconnections and interdependence that we call globalization.

“The world has gotten more complicated,” she said. “Clearly globalization has been positive for an awful lot of people, but it does have a downside. It’s faceless and people want to know who they are. And I think we’re all entitled to know what our identity is — linguistic, religious, ethnic, etc.”

“But if my identity hates your identity, then it becomes nationalism. And hyper-nationalism is very dangerous.”

“The other mega-trend is technology, which has done incredible things in terms of bringing people together,” Secretary Albright continued. “I always like to talk about the Kenyan woman farmer that no longer has walk tons of miles to pay her bills. She can do it over a mobile phone. And she can have a whole new life and start a business or get a more education or spend time with her family.”

“The negative part has been is that it desegregates voices and people get their information through social media or some echo chamber,” she said. “And so then I think the largest issue is that, in many ways, the social contract has been broken.”

These downsides are being compounded by another trend: a growing sense of American withdrawal from the global stage. “There are any number of things where we have taken the lead,” Secretary Albright explained, “where all of a sudden we’re either not there or are being negative about what is going on.”

These destabilizing trends exacerbate already serious dangers from nuclear weapons and new technologies, including cyber warfare, artificial intelligence and automated weapons. Instead of leading to reduce these risks, the U.S. is withdrawing. “I think there’s more of a sense, frankly, that the U.S. should not be involved in any of this,” said Secretary Albright. “That all of a sudden the U.S. is a victim, or is paying for it, or it is not germane to our needs.”

“I find it a combination of ignorance and a lack of understanding of how we need to be leaders.”

Asked if she had any advice for the next president, the Secretary was clear. “I would hope that we would elect somebody that understood that our national security depends on what is happening in other countries, and not to build moats or walls. Instead, we should build bridges.”

“And by the way, you don't have to be a brain surgeon to understand that the kinds of things such as climate change or global poverty or arms control cannot be done by one country alone.”

Secretary Albright touches on all of these themes and more in her upcoming book, Hell and Other Destinations: A 21st Century Memoir. In it, she contrasts the confused, potentially violent disorder of today’s international society with the more defined — albeit perilous — world of the Cold War. “We recognized that we were living in a dangerous world. Many of our policies were based on that the world was divided into red and red, white, and blue.”

“It was dangerous, but there were certain ways of operating. And at the moment, we have non-state actors that are involved, countries that don’t know what direction they’re going, American leadership lacking.”

“So, I say the world’s a mess. That’s a diplomatic term of art.”

Listen to the entire interview here.

About Press the Button: In addition to "The Interview" in which Joe Cirincione sits down with prominent thinkers, legislators, activists, and grantees working on nuclear weapons issues for a short, illuminating conversation, episodes have two other segments: "Early Warning" — a round-up of the most pressing nuclear news in 7 minutes, roughly the same amount of time the US president has to authorize a nuclear weapons launch in the event of an incoming attack on the United States; and "In the Silo" — a monthly, close-up look at key nuclear issues and events around the world, utilizing field recordings, media clips, interviews, and extensive narration.



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