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Albright On The U.N.: 'If It Didn't Exist, We Would Invent It'


Next year marks 70 years since the signing of the United Nations charter. Our own Rachel Martin recently talked with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who was also U.S. Ambassador to the UN, about its achievements and its shortcomings.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: There are problems within the Secretariat. I think that it's slow acting, and it's a bureaucracy. And I've always made jokes about the fact that the UN is a little bit like an organization run by a board of directors of 193 countries, or people, who want to get their son-in-law a job.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: If you had to point to one reform that could make a lot of difference, what would that be?

ALBRIGHT: I do think that one of the reforms would be not to have what I call the dictatorship of the alphabet where all of a sudden you end up with some country that should not be head of the Human Rights Council just because it's alphabetically in order.

MARTIN: As Libya was.

ALBRIGHT: Yes, exactly. The Security Council's a little bit of a Rubik's cube in terms of trying to get solutions and trying to figure out the power of the veto. I can't see the United States giving up our power of the veto. So there are some serious issues in terms of who are the legitimate members, how does the Security Council operate?

MARTIN: I would like to talk a little bit more about how you see the United Nations providing leadership in this moment, especially on security issues. You've got a whole host of them - the Civil War in Syria with a massive refugee crisis, Russia's encroachment into Ukraine and the threat from ISIS or the so-called Islamic State. Does the UN have a role in that?

ALBRIGHT: On any of the issues you've discussed, I believe they're legitimate to be taken up in the Security Council. But sometimes they're not. But you were talking about the Syrian refugees. There is now a general assembly resolution which is based on this concept of responsibility to protect. It is initially the responsibility of the leader of a country to take care of his people. That's the initial pillar. If the leader is actually killing the people in his country, then the international community does have a responsibility to protect.

MARTIN: So you're saying that under this mandate, the responsibility to protect, UN member nations have a responsibility to intervene in the Syrian Civil War?

ALBRIGHT: Because we know everything that's going on everywhere, the international community does have a responsibility. But it has to go through the Security Council.

MARTIN: Do you think the United States should bring that issue to the Security Council?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I personally do, but I don't speak for the United States anymore. I do think that what is going on is against the whole concept of responsibility to protect. And sometimes it's a good idea to raise something in the Security Council as an example. And sometimes if you know you're not going to get anywhere, it could be a waste of time. But I do think that what's going on in Syria is a perfect example of a leader killing his own people.

MARTIN: Lastly, just as we project forward, marking this 70th anniversary of the UN. But, I mean, when you talk to critics - as I'm sure you do - of this institution who point out that it's an institution that many say caters to a lowest common denominator - that it dilutes American power. How do you make the case that the United Nations is an important and necessary institution in the future of global peace and security?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I believe it is. And I think that what you have focused on, and others always do, is kind of a crisis issue. It has to evolve. It has evolved. It will need to continue to evolve. And if it didn't exist, we would invent it.

MARTIN: Madeleine Albright - she served as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and the U.S. Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton. Thank you so much for taking the time, Madame Secretary.

ALBRIGHT: Great. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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