Madeleine Albright, first woman to become Secretary of State in the United States, is a major international figure in strategic circles and also heads the consulting firm Albright-Stonebridge that works across the globe in furthering American business and strategic interests. As Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton between 1997-2001, she had played a major role in South Asia. Currently on a whirlwind tour of India, she took time off to meet NDTV's Security & Strategic Affairs Editor Nitin Gokhale and spoke on a range of issues.
- First of all, what brings you to India?
- Well I'm very glad to be with you, thank you. I enjoy visiting India but I have come because my company, the Albright-Stonebridge Group, works here. We have excellent people working with us here. We're a global consulting firm, global strategic consulting and we try to help multi-national corporations operate in a very useful way in India. So I'm here to look at that and then talk to a few groups about elections, democracy, US-India relationship.
- So where do you think the US-India relationship is going?
- I think it's going in an excellent direction. I have been around long enough to see the evolution of the US-Indian relationship and I'm very proud to have been part of the Clinton administration, where I think we began to put the relationship on a good footing. I was here with President Clinton, which was one of the truly amazing visits, and then I was very pleased to see that the Bush administration really built on what President Clinton had started. And now President Obama with Secretary Clinton, I think, have taken it to a new level and I think it's a very important relationship for both our countries.
- But there is some kind of an apprehension that it is sort of an 'on and off' kind of a relationship. It is not going the way it should go, especially after the civil nuclear deal that President Bush had signed with India, and India has not really been on board with the US. Do you agree with that prognosis?
- Well, I understand that there are kind of bumps in the road on a number of issues but, in many ways, I've been in the diplomacy business for a long time, I think that is to be expected. We are two great democracies and our processes take a while to work. But I do think that on the whole it's a very good relationship for both countries. And that we are operating as friends, we agree on more and more things. We disagree on some, but I think that's natural for a relationship of friendship.
- Right, but you also mentioned that you advise, strategic advice you give to various companies trying to operate in India. Do you think the Indian economic story has gone bust? Is it over?
I definitely don't think that it's over. I think that, again, it is going through a period where the growth is not everything that the Indians expected; I have to say in comparison to the growth of most countries, 7% is a pretty good growth record. But I think that one of the things that happened was that the growth of India was maybe oversold to a certain point, which also happens, and then when it goes through a small period when things shift a little bit, there is undue doom and gloom. I have great confidence in the Indian economy and in the Indian people and their capability of working through what are some slowdowns in certain areas.
- Okay. You were the Secretary of State at a very crucial period in India's history, 1997-2001, when India conducted the nuclear tests; we also had the Kargil skirmish with Pakistan. How do you assess the India-Pakistan relationship, looking at it from the American eyes?
- Well, I think that we have had a lot of ups and downs with Pakistan. I think that many times America is accused of being kind of a fairweather friend to Pakistan. I think that, in looking at it from the side of both countries, that there are some very, very serious problems. And the relationship is obviously an important one to both countries.
But the United States has been very troubled by some of the ways that Pakistan has not been as helpful as it could be, on dealing with some of the terrorist issues, on providing safe havens, on the way that some of the aspects of the war with Afghanistan has gone. But it's a complicated country, I think in terms of the issues out there, they are, they have a weak government, they have issues in terms of how they are dealing with extremists, the questions of corruption and they are in a very difficult location.
I think, from the perspective of the United States, it is important for us to have a functional relationship with Pakistan. Which I'm sure that Indians would agree with, is that, I think that it is both important for India to have a working relationship with Pakistan, but certainly it's important for the United States also.
- Going forward, we know that a drawback would begin in Afghanistan 2014. NATO and ISAF will come away from Afghanistan; the US will disengage from Afghanistan. What is your assessment of the situation post 2014 in that region?
- Well, I think that what has been made clearer and clearer is that there will continue to be work after 2014. I was in Chicago for the NATO Summit, and I think, from what I can tell, the US administration feels that the NATO Summit was very important in kind of making sure that everybody would do what they're supposed to do until 2014, and then also looking at how to help in non-combat ways after that, in order to try to make sure that there is a safe and stable government in Afghanistan.
And here also, the role of India is very important in the post-military part of this, and there is going to be a series of civilian duties and a continued training of the Pakis ... of the Afghan forces. Working with Pakistan also with all of this, and then trying to figure out how to make sure that civil society infrastructure is in place, so that Afghanistan is not a threat to anybody in the region.
- Right, talking about Afghanistan again, what is your assessment on the role of the Chinese in Afghanistan? Because they are also a big player in the region and they would be interested in what's happening to Afghanistan post-2014?
- Well, I think everybody is interested in it. The Russians are, and the neighbours from the various stands are interested, because it has been an area that has been unsettled for so long, for such a very long time. I think the Chinese are interested, there is no question, in terms of some of the mineral deposits that are there, and I think it would be unexpected if they weren't interested. But, from the perspective of the United States, I have heard lots of conversations about the importance of having India play a constructive role in Afghanistan.
- And also would India play a constructive role in Iran, you think? Mediating between US and Iran?
Well I think, I'm interested and glad that you asked that question, because for the United States and for what is going on in the Middle East, and for an issue that is so important to all of us, nuclear proliferation, I think that India can play a huge role.
India has been, I think, very much a leading force in making sure that there is not a proliferation of nuclear weapons, and everybody is very concerned about what is going on in Iran. We don't know what is going on and what their motivations and capabilities are. And I do think that if India wanted to, it could play an important role in terms of trying to figure out what is going on, and diffusing the problems, and making sure that Iran is not trying to have a weapons capability.
- You said, very interestingly, that if India wanted to. You think India wants to mediate or wants to remain aloof from this problem in Iran?
- Well, I think that India has different kinds of relationships with Iran, and there are lot of Indians in the region, and I think also there have obviously been issues in terms of India needing oil from Iran. What has happened is that India now has an exclusion from the sanctions regime and is, as I read it, is buying oil from Iraq. And I really hope that India, that really has, even though not a signatory of the non-proliferation treaty, it has been very important in talking about the dangers of proliferation.
But the question is which of the various needs of India are paramount? And so I can understand why there has been a desire to have a relationship with Iran, but also that it would be important for India to be with the rest of the International community, in terms of trying to figure out what Iran is doing, and being a part of International pressure on the Iranian leadership.
- Secretary, going forward, since you have also been a long time watcher of China, what do you think is going to be the Chinese role in terms of stimulating the world economy, as well as stabilizing Asia in the next 20-25 years?
Well, what is so interesting about China is that obviously it has had a huge growth spurt and it's making more and more of an appearance on the global scene. And some people wonder what its motivations are on being part of the global scene.
Some of it has to do with the fact that they are resource hungry, they need to have energy for their growth. In many ways, in my following of China, they have been reluctant to play a global role. Very interestingly, when I was part of the UN, they didn't like to participate in any of the discussions, except for those that involved the interference of the domestic affairs of other countries. They didn't want to have anything to do with that.
So slowly they became more interested in the regional issues and now more and more globally. So, it's interesting to watch their evolution in terms of what their global role is. Also what is interesting to see, is that they are in the Fall, going to have a generation of change in their leadership, which in their case is going to be very important in terms of what that leadership sees, what its global responsibilities are.
I think that there always mixed feelings in the United States, and I know in India, in terms of how China is viewed. Is it a threat or benign? In the United States, there are discussions whether they are friends or enemies? And somebody made up a really silly word called 'frenemies', and I think that there is a little bit of both.
I think people are concerned about what it is they are doing in the South China Sea, people are concerned about their development of a blue water navy generally. On the other hand, they have been co-operative in protecting certain navel passages and dealing with piracy, which are issues that are important to India and to the United States.
I think that they clearly are a rising power that the United States has to deal with, that India has to deal with. And what is interesting is that the United States, under President Obama, has decided that it is important to sort of rebalance some of our strategies to recognise that we are a Pacific as well as an Atlantic power. And so there is going to be a lot more attention paid to the Asia Pacific.
- You interestingly used the term 'frenemies'. In India we have this term that is used increasingly with respect to China: 'Co-operation with Competition'. That is something that has been happening between these two Asian nations. Do you think going forward, that India and China can co-exist and live with each other despite the tensions that they have carried forward from the 1960s?
- I hope so. Because I think that there are an awful lot of issues that can be dealt with diplomatically. Certain issues that there is agreement on, certain disagreement, but I think that it's very important that they be worked out in a diplomatic way, because where that statement always said, "when two elephants fight, a lot of smaller animals get hurt".
So I think that it is to, if one cares about international stability, which I think most of us do, then I think that it's important for the Chinese and the Indians to sort out whatever their issues are, whether they are boundary issues or just regional hegemon issues.
- But trade has played a major part as far as India-China relations are concerned. You think the same applies to US-India relationship as well as China-US relationship?
- Well, I think trade is very important. I mean, we are living in an increasingly economically interdependent world, and from the perspective of the United States, we would like to see an increased trade with India and are looking forward to having more trade, more investments by Americans in India and Indians in America. And I also think that our trade with China is also very important.
We are all dependent on each other. And trade in many ways is one of the most people-oriented aspects of the relationships. Not only does it have to do with the goods but the people that are involved in it, and developing people to people relations. But from the perspective of the US, we would like to see more trade with India.
- Great, one last question about the Euro-zone crisis. Do you think it's solvable? Do you think there is a solution to what we are seeing right now in the economic crisis in Europe?
Well, I'm an optimist, who worries a lot. But I do think it is solvable. The European Union itself is kind of an outgrowth of trying to never have the same problems that had created World War I and World War II. When an attempt for many small nations in Europe to be able to get along, and that Nationalist feelings don't arise, and that people can cross borders freely and there can be investments back and forth, so there was a real reason for the European Union and the Euro zone.
- You think you are an optimist, so is the world safe and stable, you think? One last word from you
No, things are complicated. We are in the middle of a change in the international system. I don't think there is a, and I say this generally, you don't really feel that there is a lot of confidence in the institutions. It's true nationally, it's true in the United States, in terms of confidence in our Congress and a variety of institutions. There's not a lot of confidence in the regional institutions and the European Union is just one of them.
And there is some question about the role of international institutions, the United Nations, and so I think we are going through a major shift, where there are questions about the role of the Nations states, how we relate to each other and how inter-dependent we are, without having the institutional structure to work out problems. So, we all want stability, but I think that there are certain areas which make us all pretty nervous.