Madeleine Korbel Albright

A professor and foreign policy expert, Madeleine Korbel Albright (born 1937) was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1992 to be the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations and head of the U.S. delegation to that body. President Clinton was also responsible for her appointment as the Secretary of State in 1997.

In filling the sensitive diplomatic post of ambassador to the United Nations (U.N.), President Clinton turned to a prominent Washington insider with an extensive background in academia together with strong political connections. Rewarding Madeleine Albright for her support of Democratic Party candidates and making her the second woman to serve as chief of mission at the United Nations, he also signaled the weight to be assigned to international frameworks in American foreign policy by making her a member of his cabinet.

Madeleine Korbel Albright was born on May 15, 1937, in Prague, the daughter of a Czech diplomat. At the age of 11 she came to the United States, joining her father, Josef Korbel, who was on an official assignment for his country at the U.N. but who then used the opportunity to seek political asylum in the United States for himself and his family.

Becoming a naturalized citizen, Albright pursued an academic career, starting with a B.A. from Wellesley College (1959). Pursuing graduate work at Columbia University, she received a master's degree in international affairs (1968), specializing in Soviet studies, and her Ph.D. in 1976.

Albright's subsequent career record highlights a combination of scholarly research and political activity. She was a coordinator for the unsuccessful presidential candidacy of Senator Edmund S. Muskie of Maine in 1976, later becoming his chief legislative assistant. In 1978 Albright was asked by one of her former professors at Columbia University, Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser under President Carter, to join the National Security Council staff as a legislative liaison, where she remained until 1981. The following year was spent writing a book about the role of the press in bringing about political change in Poland in the period 1980 to 1982, a project conducted under a fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars at the Smithsonian Institute.

Albright's next important career milestone came in 1982, when she joined the faculty of Georgetown University and expanded both her interests and personal contacts. As a research professor of international affairs and director of women students enrolled in the foreign service program at the university's School of Foreign Service, she taught undergraduate and graduate courses in international studies, U.S. foreign relations, Russian foreign policy, and central and eastern European politics. She was also instrumental in developing programs designed to enhance professional opportunities for women in international affairs. She also became affiliated with the Georgetown University Center for Strategic and International Studies as a senior fellow in Soviet and eastern European affairs. In October of 1989 she took over the presidency of the Center for National Policy, a Washington-based nonprofit research organization formed in 1981 as a Democratic think tank with a mandate to generate discussion and study about domestic and international issues. Having been divorced, she did all this while over the years raising three daughters by herself, and still found the time to be a board member on numerous institutes, national commissions, and civic organizations ranging from the Atlantic Institute, the Boards of Trustees of Wellesley College and of Williams College, and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs to the Black Student Fund and the Washington Urban League.

Parallel with her research and teaching, Albright deepened her involvement in Democratic Party politics. She acted as an adviser to both Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro during the 1984 presidential election year; and as an adviser to Michael S. Dukakis in 1988 when he failed in his bid to defeat Republican George Bush. She was more successful, however, in 1992, when she endorsed Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton's candidacy. During the campaign she served as his senior foreign policy adviser, and in the transition period as foreign policy liaison in the White House prior to her U.N. posting.

Based clearly on the strength of her personal views and familiarity with world politics, Ambassador Albright immediately became a presence to be reckoned with at the United Nations, especially since she also represented the world's most powerful country and largest contributor to the organization's activities and budget.

Already during the first year it became evident that she saw herself as a spokesperson to three different audiences: first, to the delegations assembled in debate at the New York headquarters, articulating the American position and preferences on global problems dominating the world organization's agenda; second, to President Clinton and his administration, formulating the stand of the U.S. government on U.N.-related topics; and third, to the American public, mobilizing support for policies pursued at, and through, the United Nations. Consequently, Madeleine Albright found herself involved simultaneously in political debate, maneuvering, and consultation in the U.N. arena over such controversial questions as peace-keeping, expanding the Security Council's membership to include possibly both Germany and Japan, and clarifying the precise authority and powers of Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali; in the U.S. policymaking process in Washington; and in the ongoing national debate over the direction of American foreign relations in the 1990s.

Madeleine Albright was nominated by President Clinton in 1996 for the position of Secretary of State. In 1997 the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed her nomination. This appointment made Albright the first female to hold the position of Secretary of State. This designation also bestows her with the title of highest-ranking female within the United States government.

Shortly after her confirmation, Albright's Czech cousin revealed to reporters at the Washington Post that Albright's family were Czech Jews and not Catholics as she believed, and that three of her grandparents had perished in concentration camps. Albright stated that she was not totally surprised by the news and was quoted in Newsweek as saying, "I have been proud of the heritage that I have known about and I will be equally proud of the heritage that I have just been given." A few months later, Albright flew to Prague, toured the Old Jewish Cemetery and the Pinkas Synagogue, and was honored by the Czech president.

Meanwhile, in her diplomatic duties, she continued to play hardball. She made efforts to charm North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She interrupted her world travels to tour his home state, speak at his alma mater, and give him a t-shirt inscribed with "Somebody at the State Department Loves Me." Her efforts paid off as Helms was persuaded to work on a measure where the U.S. would repay funds owed to the U.N.

Albright began a peace mission in the Middle East in the fall of 1997, first meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September to discuss Israeli-Palestinian relations. At a joint news conference, there appeared to be a wide gap between the goals of the Clinton administration and the Israeli government. Although Albright condemned terrorist activities, she also urged Netanyahu to make concessions. While in Jerusalem, she also visited the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Memorial.

She then conferred with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat before addressing Jewish and Arab students in Jerusalem, and met with Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, and King Hussein of Jordan. Albright vowed not to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders again until they were "ready to make the hard decisions."


Further Reading on Madeleine Korbel Albright

Madeleine Albright's views on foreign policy can be found in her writings, which include Poland, the Role of the Press in Political Change (1983); The Role of the Press in Political Change: Czechoslovakia 1968 (1976); and The Soviet Diplomatic Service: Profile of an Elite (1968). Information regarding her appointment as Secretary of State may be viewed at Also see Time, July 28, 1997; August 4, 1997; September 15, 1997; Newsweek, February 24, 1997;September 15, 1997; U.S. News & World Report, September 1, 1997; September 22, 1997.