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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks at 75th Anniversary Dinner of the U.S. Foreign Service
May 24, 1999, Washington, D.C.
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
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As Delivered

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: It is indeed a pleasure to be able to first congratulate Nicholas (Bombay) for winning the essay contest. It's never too early in life to learn the value of strong diplomatic leadership, and although I didn't meet you until tonight, I already like the sound of the name Bombay preceded by the term "Ambassador" or "Secretary of State."

(Laughter.)

Congratulations, once again.

Thank you, Cokie, and good evening to all of you. It's a great pleasure to be able to spend the evening here with you, and I must say that a special pleasure for me to have had George Kennan on my right and Paul Sarbanes on my left -- can't ask for much more. It has been a great evening to be able to exchange views.

Members of Congress and distinguished colleagues and friends, and so many of you who have contributed to the rich legacy of the modern US Foreign Service, as we mark our 75th anniversary, I want to begin by thanking Under Secretary Pickering for his remarks. There is really no better advertisement for what can be achieved in the Foreign Service than the career of Tom Pickering. From 1959 to 1999, as Cokie explained, he has served everywhere and done everything; and he's still doing it. Tom, the Foreign Service doesn't have a Hall of Fame, but it should, and you and others here tonight belong in it.

I also want to congratulate Ambassador Brandon Grove and Dan Geisler and Louise Eaton and our Director General, Skip Gnehm, our generous sponsors and everyone who helped to organize this magnificent event. It was a big job and everybody's done it terrifically well.

I especially endorse the conception of this anniversary as a challenge to look forward. Your goal of outreach through this essay contest and other initiatives is right on target, for if we are to match or surpass the accomplishments of the past 75 years, we must have the understanding and support of the American people. This requires that we tell the story of US diplomacy clearly and well. It is to that purpose that I will attempt a modest contribution in my remarks here tonight.

Thank God I don't have to win any contests.

(Laughter.)

I start with a simple request. Let us take the old, but persistent, stereotype of the diplomat as dilettante and do to it what one Presidential candidate wanted us to do to the tax code: let us drive a stake through it, kill it, bury it and make sure that it never rises again.

The job of the Foreign Service today is done with hands on and sleeves rolled up. It is rarely glamorous, often dangerous and always vital.

In my travels, I have seen our people at work not only in conference rooms, but in visits to refugee camps, AIDS clinics and mass grave sites. I have seen them share their knowledge and enthusiasm for democracy with those striving to build a better life in larger freedom.

I have seen them and their families give freely of their energy and time to comfort the ill and aid the impoverished. I have seen them provide incredible administrative support despite antiquated equipment, crowded workspace and impossible time constraints. And I've stood with head bowed at memorial services for heroes struck down while representing America or helping others to achieve peace. In the past 35 years, the number of names listed on the AFSA plaque has grown from 77 to 186. And the memory of those most recently inscribed, as Tom Pickering's toast reflected, is fresh and painful in our hearts.

So let us not be shy about proclaiming this truth. In a turbulent and perilous world, the men and women of the Foreign Service are on the front lines every day, on every continent for us. Like the men and women of our armed forces -- no more, but no less -- they deserve, for they have earned, the gratitude and full backing of the American people.

Now, having impaled that stereotype, let's proceed to the second challenge. Let us make clear to our citizens the connection between what we do and the quality of life they enjoy; let us demonstrate that there's nothing foreign about foreign policy any more.

Consult any poll, visit any community hall, listen to any radio talk show; it's no secret what Americans care about, fear and hope for the most. Certainly, foreign policy isn't everything. We cannot tell any American that our diplomacy will guarantee safe schools, clean up the Internet or pay for long term health care.

But we can say to every American that foreign policy may well help you to land a good job; protect your environment; safeguard your neighborhood from drugs; shield your family from a terrorist attack; and spare your children the nightmare of nuclear, chemical or biological war.

Our Foreign Service, Foreign Service National and Civil Service personnel contribute every day to America through the dangers they help contain, the crimes they help prevent, the deals they help close, the rights they help ensure and the travelers they just plain help. Right, Cokie?

There is much more we could say and 100 different ways to say it, but the bottom line is clear. The success or failure of US foreign policy will be a major factor in the lives of all Americans. It will make the difference between a 21st Century characterized by peace, rising prosperity and law, and a more uncertain future in which our economy and security are always at risk; our values always under attack; and our peace of mind never assured.

To convince the public of this, we must erase another myth, which is that technology and the end of the Cold War have made diplomacy obsolete.

Some argue that Americans concluded after Vietnam that there was nothing we could do in the world; after the Berlin Wall fell, that there was nothing we could not do; and after the Gulf War, that there was nothing left to do. Others suggest that whatever we want to do, there is no need to be diplomatic about it. Our military is the best, our economy the biggest; so what's left to negotiate?

But as Walter Lippmann once wrote, "Without diplomacy to prepare the way, soften the impact, reduce the friction and allay the tension, money and military power are double-edged instruments. Used without diplomacy, they may, and usually do, augment the difficulties they are employed to overcome. Then more power and money are needed." So spake Walter Lippmann.

The United States emerged from the Cold War with unequaled might. On every continent, when problems arise, countries turn to us. Few major international initiatives can succeed without our support.

But with these truths comes a paradox: In this new global era, there are few goals vital to America that we can achieve through our actions alone. In most situations, for most purposes, we need the cooperation of others; and diplomacy is about understanding others and explaining ourselves. It is about building and nourishing partnerships for common actions toward shared goals. It's about listening and persuading, analyzing and moving in at the right time. And certainly, at this time, there is no shortage of important diplomatic work to be done.

As I speak, we are using diplomacy in support of force to bring the confrontation in Kosovo to an end on NATO's terms. We are launching a strategy for drawing the entire Balkans region into the mainstream of a democratic Europe. We are preparing for a new push on all tracks of the Middle East peace process. We have a high-level team in Pyongyang to explore options for enhancing stability on the Korean Peninsula. And we're working hard to help democracy take a firmer hold in capitals such as Jakarta and Lagos, Bogota and Phnom Penh.

Around Africa, we are supporting African efforts to end conflicts and promote new opportunities for growth. And around the world, we are striving to prevent the spread of advanced technologies, so that the new century does not end up even bloodier than the old one.

Certainly, the diplomatic pace has quickened since 1924, when the Rogers Act was signed, Calvin Coolidge was President, the State Department's entire budget was $2 million and the Secretary of State had a beard.

(Laughter.)

In that time, the door of the Foreign Service has opened further to minorities and women, although not far and fast enough. America's overseas presence has grown several fold, as has the demand for our consular services. Public diplomacy has become an integral part of our work. And we've learned that, merely to keep pace, we must constantly manage smarter, recruit better, adjust quicker and look ahead further.

That is why we are modernizing our technology, training in 21st Century skills and implementing a historic restructure of our foreign policy institutions. And it's why we know that the Foreign Service of 75 years from now -- or even ten years from now -- will look far different than the Foreign Service of today.

What has not and will not change are the fundamentals: the professionalism; the pride; the patriotism; the tradition of excellence reflected here tonight by the wondrous George Kennan and other giants of the Foreign Service. And what has not changed, as well, is the need for resources.

The problem of finding adequate resources for American foreign policy has been with us ever since the Continental Congress sent Ben Franklin to Paris. But it has reached a new stage.

Today, we allocate less than one-tenth of the portion of our wealth that we did a generation ago to support democracy and growth overseas. In this respect, we rank dead last among industrialized nations.

For years, we have been cutting positions, shutting AID missions and eliminating USIS posts. And now, under the year 2000 budget allocations that Congress is considering, we may be asked to go beyond absorbing cuts to the guillotine.

We face overall reductions of 14 percent to 29 percent from the President's foreign operations request and 20 percent for State Department operations and programs. Yes, members of Congress, this is a commercial. This will undermine our efforts to protect our borders, help Americans overseas and make urgently needed improvements in embassy security. And it could translate into cuts of 50 percent or more in key programs from fighting drugs to promoting democracy to helping UNICEF.

Now, I'm not here to assign blame. We have gotten bipartisan support from those in Congress -- including those with us tonight -- who know the most about foreign policy. And Congress did approve the President's request for supplemental funds for Central America, Jordan and the Balkans.

But this is madness. America is the world's wealthiest and most powerful country. Our economy is the envy of the globe. We have important interests, face threats to them, and nearly everywhere.

And I hope you agree. Military readiness is vital, but so is diplomatic effectiveness. When negotiations break down, we don't send our soldiers without weapons to fight. Why, then, do we so often send our diplomats to negotiate without the leverage that resources provide? The savings yielded by successful diplomacy are incalculable. So are the costs of failed diplomacy -- not only in hard cash, but in human lives.

Tonight, I say to all our friends on Capitol Hill, act in the spirit of Arthur Vandenberg and Everett Dirksen and Scoop Jackson and Ed Muskie: help us to help America. Provide us the funds we need to protect our people and to do our jobs. Let America lead!

As we look around this room, we see depictions of liberty's birth and America's transformation from wilderness to greatness.

From the adjoining balcony, we can see the memorials to Lincoln and Jefferson, the Washington Monument, the Roosevelt Bridge, the white stone markers of Arlington and the silent, etched, eloquent black wall of the Vietnam Wall.

It is said there is nothing that time does not conquer. But the principles celebrated here have neither withered nor worn. Through Depression and war, controversy and conflict, they continue to unite and inspire us and to identify America to the world.

From the Treaty of Paris to the round-the-clock deliberations of our own era, the story of US diplomacy is the story of a unique and free society emerging from isolation to cross vast oceans and to assume its rightful role on the world stage. It is the story of America first learning, then accepting and then acting on its responsibility.

Above all, it is the story of individuals, from Franklin onwards, who answered the call of their country and who have given their life and labor in service to its citizens.

As Secretary of State, the greatest privilege I have had has been to work with you, the members of the Foreign Service and others on America's team.

Together, tonight, let us vow to continue to do our jobs to the absolute best of our abilities, and to tell our stories in language and at a volume all can understand.

By so doing, we will keep faith with those who came before us, and we will preserve the legacy of liberty that was our most precious inheritance and must become our untarnished bequest.

To the men and women of the Foreign Service who are here this evening or at outposts around the world or enjoying their retirement, I wish you a happy 75th anniversary; and I pledge my best efforts for as long as I have breath, to see that you get the support and respect you deserve.

Thank you and happy birthday.

(Applause.)

[End of Document]

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