The World According to Madeleine Albright

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The Yugoslav election drama was unfolding as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright talked with TIME's editors. Some 200,000 supporters of opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica were in the streets of Belgrade, warning Slobodan Milosevic against stealing the election and demanding that he recognize the opposition's first-round victory.

Secretary Albright: "We've been working for a long time for Serbs to be allowed to express their true feelings. We believe Milosevic miscalculated when he changed his constitution and scheduled early elections. Now Serbs have loudly and clearly rejected Milosevic, and we hope he hears their message. We know this isn't over yet, but it's reached a critically important moment.

"The Europeans are playing the leading role in offering Western support to the opposition's demands. They're holding out the hope that Serbs will view the promise that sanctions will be lifted once Milosevic has gone as a big juicy carrot."

But if Milosevic succeeds in stealing this election, are we just going to sit back and swallow it?

"We haven't been swallowing what Milosevic does at all. Hes started wars, and we've responded. I'm proud of what's happened in the Balkans. Croatia is now a fully functioning democracy. Great progress has been made in Bosnia and Kosovo. And we've put in place programs such as Energy for Democracy that have made clear to the Serbs that a free, democratic Serbia is welcome in Europe.

"The question is not what we're going to do if Milosevic steals the election; it's what the Serbian opposition is going to do. We're only able to help in a limited way, making the opposition's case clearly on the international stage. Ultimately, it's up to the Serbian people themselves to get rid of Milosevic."

What role is Russia playing in the crisis?

"Russia has called for the will of the Serbian people to be respected. We're in constant contact with Moscow, and are hoping that they'll help pressure Milosevic into accepting the opposition's victory."

On the difficulties in communicating foreign policy issues in Congress and to the electorate:

"The euphoria that followed the Cold War has given way to a very different and far more complex era, in which a lot more of our relationships are bilateral. It's not your father's foreign policy. But sometimes there's a tendency to want to oversimplify everything, and to find enemies. Some politicians still want to view Russia as an enemy of the U.S., but that would be a huge mistake.

"Also, there are far more complex issues on our national security agenda now than during the Cold War — HIV and AIDS, for example, will become a national security priority in the coming years, because of the effect it has on economies in the developing world. If AIDS guts an economy, that exacerbates tribal and cross-border conflicts, and creates a security problem."

On the use of force in diplomacy:

"Frankly, I've never agreed with the Powell Doctrine [which holds that the U.S., when applying force, does so on a scale so overwhelming as to make victory a certainty]. We need a better understanding of how America uses force in diplomacy. You can't mount an operation on the scale of Vietnam or the Gulf War each time there's a crisis that requires a forceful response. You don't always have the luxury of six months' preparation to fight a battle on flat terrain for which somebody else is paying. You need to be able to sometimes respond quickly, and in concert with allies. I sense an attitude developing which holds that when crises erupt abroad, we either do nothing or we do it all ourselves on a massive scale. And that's not how the world works in the 21st century."

How does it feel for this administration to contemplate leaving office with Saddam Hussein still in power?

"I'm always aware that each of us in the administration occupies a position only on a very temporary basis. In foreign policy, you inherit a full plate, you eat off it, you add things to it, and then you pass it on to the next administration. We were left with Saddam, and we'll pass him on. What we have managed to do is keep him in his box, by developing a flexible sanctions policy that could both respond to the human tragedy in Iraq and keep Saddam isolated. UNSCOM did a very good job, and we've made it clear to him that if he resumes work on weapons of mass destruction, that's a red line for us. If he threatens his neighbors, that's a red line. And if he attacks his own people, like the Kurds in the north, that's a red line. If he wasn't toppled when there were 500,000 troops on his doorstep at the end of the Gulf War, it's hard to see how he could be toppled without them there."

What about the fact that the sanctions seem to be crumbling, with new flights by French, Russian and Arab planes?

"This issue is badly misunderstood in some quarters. We didn't create Saddam Hussein, and we didn't create the pain of the Iraqi people. Iraq is allowed to buy medicine, for example, under the oil-for-food program. The question is whether Saddam wants to spend the money on medicine. He manages to find the money to import 12,000 cases of whiskey a month. So the suffering of the Iraqi people is not the fault of the U.S. or the sanctions regime. All he has to do is comply with the relevant Security Council resolutions."

Do you remain convinced that sanctions are an effective tool of foreign policy? Are there instances, besides South Africa in the '80s, where these have been effective?

"Yes, they've been effective in Iraq. This guy is in a box. They may not have gotten rid of him, but they've kept him isolated. And the Yugoslavia experience has important lessons in using carefully targeted sanctions to achieve particular goals. While we need to think through how we use sanctions, it would be very bad for us to decide that they're no longer a tool of foreign policy. Because we don't have that many tools. Diplomacy and force have their own limitations, and we don't always have enough money to use aid as a lever. We don't want to give up the possibility of using sanctions where they can achieve certain goals."