Albright Address to the World Economic Forum Davos
Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright Address to the World Economic Forum Davos, Switzerland, January 30, 2000 As released by the Office of the Spokesman U.S. Department of State
Thank you, John, for that introduction and your kindness over the years. And all the good things that we have done together and will continue to do. And really for your support of American foreign policy, you've been remarkable and we are very grateful. President Klaus Schwab, Managing Director Smadja. And Secretary Summers, it is indeed a pleasure to share this platform with you. We talk to each other practically every day but we don't often give speeches together. I would love to acknowledge every prominent person here today. But that would become tiresome -- at least by the second hour.
So let me just say that I have long wanted to come to Davos, for this is where trends are identified, ideas tested, and hard problems thrashed out. Here the seeds of the Uruguay Round were sown; and the goals of German reunification, South African reconciliation and Middle East peace were advanced.
In short, this is where people of good will and creative minds -- that's you -- gather to make a difference.
Yesterday, President Clinton discussed the need for nations to come together, in partnership with business, labor and NGOs, to build a world economic system that is healthy and inclusive. Today, Secretary Summers will consider some of the challenges the United States faces in working toward that end.
I will focus on a related political goal -- sustaining and strengthening the worldwide movement toward democracy. And specifically, on what we can do together to help fledgling democracies become thriving democracies. For if we neglect democracy in striving for prosperity, we will find progress in both areas hard to sustain.
Let me begin by responding to the words in our program inquiring about America's role in the world. To me, this is not much of a mystery. The Pew Center recently asked Americans to rank the reasons for our country's success in the 20th Century. Three factors topped the list: our Constitution; free elections; and the free enterprise system.
Clearly, America's global leadership cannot be divorced from the reasons our own people give for our country's accomplishments. We are first and foremost a democracy. The fundamental message we convey to the world is that human progress depends on human liberty -- on the ability of people to choose their own leaders, express their own thoughts, be rewarded for their own efforts, and shape their own lives.
This is not a complicated message. But its power has transformed the world.
One hundred years ago, the number of countries with a government elected competitively and on the basis of universal suffrage was zero. Today it is 120. Over the past half century, we have seen nation after nation gain its freedom: in Asia and Africa, from colonialism; in Latin America from military dictators; in Central and Eastern Europe from Communism; and in South Africa from apartheid.
Yet as we enter the new millennium, we are not complacent. For we understand that true democracy is never achieved; it is always a pursuit. And we know that if we who love liberty grow weary, those who love only power will one day sweep liberty away.
Moreover, we are concerned that in many countries, the arrival of electoral democracy has been accompanied by economic expectations that are, as yet, unfulfilled. Over the past decade, for example, daily life has gotten harder, not easier, for many people in the former Soviet Union. A majority of citizens in these countries have come to equate democracy with inequality, insecurity and the unraveling of the social fabric.
Such frustrations raise the risk there and elsewhere that public confidence in elected government will erode -- and support grow for failed remedies from the past, including protectionism and authoritarianism.
We can do much to meet this challenge by helping more people in more countries become full participants in the global economy. And that is why the Clinton Administration has worked hard to expand trade and investment in Africa, the Caribbean and Southeast Europe; to lift the crushing burden of debt that hangs over many poor countries; and to bring new members into the WTO and help them acquire the expertise and technology needed to meet their commitments and take advantage of liberalized trade.
But economic anxieties are far from the only source of strain in new democracies. In Africa, the Caucasus, Southeast Asia and Southeast Europe, transitions have been retarded by ethnic strife. HIV/AIDS is a devastating threat in many countries.
And quite a number of electoral democracies have either failed or fallen because their leaders are concentrating not on self- government, but self-enrichment. As a result, corruption is viewed by some as democracy's evil twin -- a natural byproduct of greater freedom and less centralized control.
To use a diplomatic term of art, that is balderdash. With its Party-based privileges, private dachas and stores reserved for the elite, Communism became a synonym for corruption. And dictators from Marcos to Mobutu robbed their countries blind.
Democratic elections provide no guarantee for honest government. But democratic institutions provide the tools by which, over time, the habits of corruption can be curbed and its practitioners exposed.
And that's why one of the great challenges we face is to work within the democratic community to set and meet high standards. In recent years, we have made considerable progress, but we still have far to go.
For example, an OECD convention entered into force last February, committing all signatories to adopt strong anti-bribery laws. But to date, implementation by several key countries, including Japan, Britain and Italy, has been anything but strong. And in France, there are legislative proposals which would -- in isolation -- interpret the Convention as still permitting payment in the future of bribes promised in the past. It will be difficult to send a clear message against bribery if it appears that some countries take the path of principle while others simply take the contracts.
But freedom from corruption is not the only area in which the private sector's commitment to best practices can make an immense difference.
Many of the world's leading companies already recognize, as Vice President Al Gore has said, that a healthy natural environment and a healthy business environment go hand in hand.
They also treat their workers as assets to be developed, not costs to be cut. For their aim is to succeed on the basis of inspiration and perspiration, not exploitation.
Moreover, an increasing number of these companies are also recognizing that engagement on a broad range of social issues such as human rights or the role of women in the economy is not only the business of the countries where they operate, but very much their business -- and good for business.
I am pleased that the Department of State is developing partnerships with leading American companies to spur this welcome trend. In the extractive sector, for example, such firms must pay special heed to environmental issues, relations with local communities, and human rights.
And it is smart for the private sector to attend to such broader concerns. For when it comes to responsible globalism, there is no necessary conflict between profit and principle.
In these and other ways, far-sighted companies are proving that often it is not governments, but the private sector, that can best convey the standards and know-how that make the ground fertile for market democracy.
In December, I presented the first annual Department of State Awards for Corporate Excellence. One went to a Louisiana sugar company, F.C. Schaffer, which has long provided the Ethiopian government with free technical assistance on the workings of the free market.
Another winner was Xerox of Brazil, which we recognized for many reasons, one of which I want to single out here. In an era when America is accused of cultural hegemony, Xerox has established a special library to publicize and preserve the history of the Brazilian people.
And this leads me to a broader point. The United States has a strong interest in adding to the ranks of stable and prosperous democracies. We have not the slightest interest in imposing our culture on others or turning foreign nations into Xerox copies of ourselves.
To the contrary, I have directed our diplomats to work with all countries to respect and take into account their own unique and cherished cultures. There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all democracy.
At the same time, I stress that the fundamental principles of democracy are not solely American or solely Western. They are universal. And that is recognized in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and by democratic leaders from Nelson Mandela and Kim Dae Jung to Vaclav Havel and Aung San Suu Kyi.
And that is why America has so many strong partners around the world who are committed to making the new century a time of freedom and growth. In June, the Polish Government will host an unprecedented global gathering of countries whose governments have expressed their commitment to democratic principles. This Community of Democracies initiative will explore ways that we can cooperate more effectively in strengthening democratic societies and values.
And for our part, the United States in the year ahead will be focusing particular attention and resources on bolstering progress in four key democracies: Colombia, Nigeria, Indonesia and Ukraine. Now these nations are not a group. They differ markedly. But each can be a major force for stability and progress in its region. And each is at a critical point along the democratic path.
Finally, in Kosovo and beyond, we are working hard with our European partners to ensure a future defined by democratic integration rather than ethnic hatred. The Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe is a vital test of trans-Atlantic resolve. In the former Yugoslavia and throughout the region, the international community must follow through on its commitments.
All of these challenges will receive substantial attention from me this year. And all are worth the effort. For nothing would make a more lasting contribution to world peace and prosperity than extending democracy's reach across the globe.
That is why it is essential that we have the resources we need to promote democracy. Now many Americans are surprised when I tell them that the amount we allocate to the entire spectrum of U.S. foreign affairs is only about one penny of every Federal budget dollar. But that one percent makes a difference in the lives of a hundred percent of the American people -- as well as billions of others around the world. I hope that every citizen who cares about democracy will give our foreign affairs budget the support it deserves.
A century ago, the great debate in America was how to cope with technological change that was bringing our vast continent together, creating huge new corporations and concentrating large amounts of capital in a small number of hands. The turbulence created then for localities by a nationalizing economy was as deep and widespread as that experienced now by nations trying to cope with a globalizing economy.
I don't want to overstate the parallels, but they are significant. Then, as now, concerns were expressed about the exploitation of labor and harm to the environment. Disparities between rich and poor widened. And there were hard feelings among ethnic groups competing for available jobs, and between regions striving to lure factories to their soil.
As resentments among those who felt locked out grew, democracy was called into action. The Populist, Progressive, and Suffragist movements arose. The public agenda broadened. And the instruments of American government responded. The new technologies were given plenty of room to thrive -- but new mechanisms were also created to regulate trusts, improve working conditions, conserve the environment, and give women the vote.
As a result, forces that could have pulled our country apart gradually came together and it took time and there were many rough spots along the way. But in the end, the democratic process worked -- so that all the key stakeholders felt their concerns had been aired and the resulting compromises held something of value.
Now today, our challenge is similar in kind, but global in scope. Technology is creating both new opportunities and new resentments; it divides us even as it links us together.
We cannot avoid the resulting debate. No single speech or initiative can work magic overnight. But the solution, I believe, is to call upon democracy writ large, give all who deserve it a place at the table, and challenge our institutions to create new solutions based on proven principles.
By its nature, that is no hegemon's goal, but a shared undertaking the United States seeks to pursue in concert with others. It is also easier said than done. But as I look around this hall, all I see are doers, leaders, and innovators. People who know how to make a difference -- and care enough to try.
History has given us the opportunity to enable people everywhere to share in the bounty of our global economy. If we have faith in the democratic principles that were the dominant force for progress in the 20th Century -- and apply those principles by pooling our strengths today -- we can create a world of deeper prosperity, greater freedom and broader justice than humans have ever known.
Now that is a mighty tall order. But there is no better time than the start of a new century, a new millennium, to design a great mission. And no better place than Davos to launch one.
Thank you very much.
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