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Remarks and Introduction of Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, William S. Cohen Lecture
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen , University of Maine, Orono, Maine , Wednesday, October 13, 1999

Thank you very much. Thank you [University of Maine at Orono] President [Peter] Hoff. You can tell, just by virtue of that glowing introduction that I have been elevated at least four or five inches up here on the podium. [Laughter.] Thank you for your very generous and kind words and also for the outstanding job you’re doing here at the university.

[University of Maine System] Chancellor [Terrence] MacTaggart; Dean [of the College of Business, Public Policy and Health, Eric] Brucker; Former [University] President Fred Hutchinson; as indicated, my sister Marlene and her son, my nephew Mark. And one little person whose been left out of the introductions, my grandson Jacob. We have a bet going in terms of how long he’ll be able to tolerate my infliction of a speech before he is carried out of the auditorium here today. [Laughter.]

So many of my friends who are in the front row. I could take the rest of the morning just to acknowledge all of you who have been not only friends but supporters, political activists, sometimes even critics in the audience on the other side of the aisle, but always in the spirit of great generosity. And so I am delighted to be here. I am particularly happy that I could be here accompanied by the person I will introduce in just a few moments.

I must say that I was a bit surprised when President Hoff told me that students have been looking forward to this week with great anticipation. Because, you may recall, last year when I spoke at the forum I noted that foreign policy often fails to stir the heartbeat of most college students. Then I was told, of course, the reason is that it's the opening of hockey season [laughter] that really has captivated your attention. And I am usually very cautious in making predictions, but there’s one prediction I feel safe in making today, a repeat championship for the Black Bears. [Applause.]

John Kennedy once remarked that "history is the past rushing into the future. To try to hold fast is to be swept aside." In just the last year since I spoke here of the new dangers that lay ahead, we have indeed been swept up by a rushing tide of world events. Our armed forces have damaged Iraq’s ability to build chemical and biological weapons in Operation Desert Fox. We also helped to raise up the lives that were shattered during Hurricane Mitch in Central America.

We struck back at those terrorists who slaughtered hundreds at our embassies in Africa and who were planning even more deadly attacks. And we continued to stand with our friends in Asia as North Korea lobbed missiles over Japan. We saw dueling nuclear tests on the Indian subcontinent. And, of course, last evening we saw the Pakistani military take over the reigns of government.

In Kosovo, NATO turned back a brutality that frankly had not been seen in Europe since the end of World War Two. In Washington, we gathered with our allies to celebrate a half century of progress and to chart the future of history’s most successful alliance; an alliance that embraced three former foes as new members.

As we gather here today, American men and women, many of them not much older than the students who are here today, they are serving the world over to preserve the peace and freedom we all cherish. They are ringing security and stability to East Timor. They are keeping the peace in Bosnia and now in Kosovo. They are interdicting drugs in South America. They are clearing deadly landmines across Africa. They are training side by side with friends and allies on every continent. Indeed, this has been a time of profound engagement for our country, and for the dedicated young men and women who are serving in our armed forces.

I know that there are a number who will raise the question about this leadership, and say, "Should we really be doing so much?" And indeed, I think that’s the right question, because we can't either afford to be the world's police force, but we can't afford to be a prisoner of world events. As a nation, we have to make choices. As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said, "Behind every scheme to make the world over, lies the question, 'What kind of a world do we want?'" Indeed, every action, and I would suggest, every instance of inaction, has consequences for this country and around the world.

The United States has chosen to act when our national interests and values compel action, and when American leadership, and only American leadership, is necessary to achieve a worthy goal. Indeed, we have to resist the temptation to use our forces in every dispute that catches our eye or our emotions. But we must also recognize the truth that there are times not only when we can act, but when we absolutely must act.

The United States is actively engaged in the world because it’s profoundly in our interest to be engaged. There is no country, no country, that enjoys more rewards from the stability provided by global institutions. There is no country that sees greater returns from the prosperity generated by a free and open world economy. There is no country that reaps more security from our strategic alliances. Indeed, if we value the benefits of this global system, if we appreciate all that American leadership brings, then we have to embrace the duties of that leadership. As Churchill said, "Responsibility is the price of greatness."

Just last month I was in Russia and I witnessed, in some stark relief, the benefits of our engagement, and also the dangers that remain for us to be concerned about. I went to a once-secret shipyard up in northern Russia. There I saw, with great satisfaction, that the Russians were actually cutting apart some of those submarines that posed one of the greatest threats to our security. Typhoon submarines, as large as two football fields, were being cut down and dismantled. That was one of the benefits of the Nunn-Lugar program whereby we’re seeking to send to the scrap heap those instruments of war-making that threatened our security. So helping Russia reduce its deadly arsenal is part of our mutual determination to move away from the Cold War’s threat of mutual destruction.

But also while I was in Moscow I saw a darker glimpse of events. I saw, as I traveled the streets of downtown Moscow, I some buildings that had been bombed and burned out. They had been the victim of terrorist activities. In fact, while I was in Moscow a bomb went off killing some ninety people. And so I saw a city and a people in the grip of terror. It was a random act of terror perhaps, but it may have been more premeditated than that. And we’ve seen the reaction on the part of the Russian government and the military to try to cut down the ability of those groups who are seeking to instill terror in the hearts and minds of the Russian people.

 

It may be tempting to view these trials as the problems of a distant nation, far away from our daily concerns. Just like the poison gas attack that took place in the subway of Tokyo a few years ago. Just like the bombing of our embassies in Africa. Just like the ongoing challenge of containing Saddam Hussein and his program to produce chemical or biological weapons.

But those dangers are inching closer to our shores every day. Indeed, from Oklahoma City to New York City, the specter of terror has already touched us. And, in truth, these horrors could have been much worse than they were. The Japanese cult had planned to use anthrax against American troops. And the criminals who bombed the World Trade Center were gathering the ingredients for a chemical weapons attack, hoping to kill not hundreds, but to kill thousands.

Indeed, we exist today in what I would call a Superpower Paradox. We are the strongest nation on earth. We have a matchless military force that few would dare to challenge in battle on the field. But every power that we possess invites our enemies to look for our Achilles Heel. Not with troops coming across our borders, but with a vial of anthrax slipped through customs. And not with bombers sent over our cities, but with chemicals released beneath them.

The United States is actively preparing to meet these threats. But we can, and must, do more than simply respond. We have to continue to engage in the world, shaping it to serve our interests.

Now, last year I noted that we are approaching the end of what Henry Luce called the American Century. And in that same essay, Luce wrote that, "Other nations can survive simply because they have endured so long, sometimes with more significance, and sometimes with less. But this nation, conceived in adventure and dedicated to the progress of man, this nation cannot truly endure unless there courses strongly through its veins from Maine to California the blood of purpose and enterprise of high resolve."

Now these large challenges must be met by strong and wise leaders. And I believe few individuals in the 20th Century better illustrate the vital imperative for America engagement, or the capricious world in which we live, than the distinguished public servant that I have the pleasure to introduce to you today. A friend, a colleague, an American whose life has been defined by action and activism, Madeleine Albright’s life story in so many ways is the very story of freedom in our time.

A child of Czechoslovakia. The daughter of a diplomat. Her family fled the horrors of the Third Reich, returning when the guns fell silent, only to flee once again when the heavy sheet of Stalinism descended on her homeland. By the time she was 11, she had lived in five countries and spoke four languages.

But the trials of her youth, and the great sacrifice of her principled parents, have, it would turn out, to be a great gift to America. Because this young woman grew to be a diplomat and a leader whose skills and strategic empathy serve this nation every single day. Indeed, Madeleine Albright’s deep understanding of the world from which she came, a world of strife and struggle, guides American foreign policy today. It's her ability to speak, I would say literally and figuratively, the language of those across the table, that makes her so remarkably effective.

I’m hesitant to say this, but I first knew Secretary Albright twenty-five years ago when she was serving as a staff member and advisor to Senator Muskie. We climbed aboard a P-3 out of Brunswick and flew to observe the Two Hundred Mile Limit. And we rode on that plane for a long time looking for the Two Hundred Mile Limit. And finally the pilot said "we’ve just crossed it" and we turned around and came back. [Laughter.] And we’re told the Two Hundred Mile Limit is still there. [Laughter.] And she and I are going to be stopping later today at a college in Lewiston, whose name shall remain undisclosed [laughter], to tour the Muskie Archives.

But I must say, I have stood with Secretary Albright in times of both great celebration and also great sorrow. In Madrid, we joined hands and we welcomed three new nations, including that of her birth, into the NATO Alliance, and then at Andrews Air Force Base we mournfully welcomed home, for the final time, those struck down at our embassies in Africa. But to stand with this leader is to bear witness to her common decency and her uncommon determination.

George Marshall, who was a predecessor to us both, he spoke of the deciding factor in decisive moments. He said, "It is the spirit that we bring to the fight." Madeleine Albright has, at every turn on the world stage, brought a strength and a spirit to the fight for America’s interests and values, from enlarging NATO to the ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the great struggle for peace, from the Middle East to the Balkans.

But even more than those diplomatic accomplishments, Madeleine Albright has brought forth hope to millions of people, because she really embodies the true promise of America. She understands what this country represents to the people of the world. And, for so many around the globe, she carries with her the promise and the dream of a better world.

Ladies and gentlemen, it has been my great privilege and pleasure to serve with her in helping to lead this nation. It is now my honor to introduce my great and good friend, Secretary of State, Madeleine K. Albright. [Applause.]