Albright in Aspen: Consider ‘unintended consequences’ of military force
August 10, 2012
ASPEN – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright provided her take on the current tensions between the U.S.-Israel alliance and Iran on Thursday during an appearance at the Aspen Business Luncheon.
Albright, 75, was responding to an audience question regarding possible nuclear threats from Iran. Israel is worried that Iran’s nuclear progress soon will reach a stage at which the Israelis will be helpless from keeping Iran from obtaining or developing a nuclear weapon on its own.
At the same time, the Israelis don’t believe they can rely on their allies, chiefly the United States, to provide security against what it considers an existential threat.
While Albright didn’t directly answer the question seeking her opinion on whether Israel will take military action against Iran in the near future, she did speak at length about the dangers at hand and how military force could lead to unintended consequences for Israel.
“I think there is no question that an Iranian nuclear weapon would be a substantial threat to Israel,” said the former member of the Clinton administration. “I also think there’s also no question that the United States is inextricably and appropriately linked to Israel security. There is concern about what’s next, and part of the problem is you have to talk about unintended consequences.”
To prove her point, she told the story of how America essentially got the ball rolling on the nuclear-weapon age by dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945, to bring World War II to a conclusion.
Eight years later, she said, President Eisenhower gave what came to be known as the “Atoms for Peace” speech. His remarks heralded the launch of a U.S. program that supplied equipment and information to schools, hospitals and research institutions within the U.S. and throughout the world.
In fact, through the program, the first nuclear reactors in Iran and Pakistan were constructed.
“So he gave this speech about the importance of (peaceful uses for atomic energy), and as a result of it, the United States began to transfer nuclear technology to many countries,” Albright said.
A few years later, the International Atomic Energy Agency was set up to monitor countries that had nuclear capabilities to ensure that they were using them for peaceful uses. Iran became a member and signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which gave it the right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy as long as they allowed full inspections.
“They’re not allowing inspections, which creates a problem, so we don’t quite know what they are doing. We do suspect that they are moving toward a nuclear-weapons capability,” Albright said.
She said she finds it interesting that the entire international community seems to be putting pressure on Iran to abide by international rules and work toward peace.
To her class at Georgetown University – she tells students that “foreign policy is just trying to get somebody to do what you want” – she talks about the tools required for effective diplomatic relations. The “toolbox” includes communication and standard diplomacy, economic sanctions such as trade embargoes, intelligence, law enforcement and the threat or use of military force, she said.
“If you look at it, the Obama administration and the international community is using every tool at the moment, except the use of force, but they are certainly threatening force,” Albright said.
The big question – which she said she has no answer to – is whether the United States and Israel could make a difference if they did attempt to apply military force against Iran.
“We have to look at the consequences,” Albright said. “What would Iran do? … The United States is certainly getting pressure to do something about it. I think we all have our different views, but I think people are concerned about the evolution of this prospect.”
There is a general sense, she said, that the various sanctions are working, and the squeeze is on Iran’s regime.
“There is a danger, there’s no question about it,” Albright said. “The question is whether (military force) would be wise to do because Israel doesn’t know what those unintended consequences would be.”
Albright described herself as a believer in peace, though not a pacifist.
“I do think that diplomacy is a very useful thing,” she said. “There are so many different conflicts throughout the world that if you don’t at least make an initial effort to talk to the people you don’t like, your enemies, you have missed one of the major tools.
“My advice always is that it is worth engaging.”
The event was held at the Aspen District Theatre in the local schools complex off Maroon Creek Road.