Madeleine Albright Delivers 10th Annual Sakıp Sabancı Lecture

Photo: Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright speaks at the 10th annual Sakıp Sabancı Lecture

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright delivered the 10th annual Sakıp Sabancı lecture today at Brookings. Secretary Albright focused her remarks on the Turkey-U.S. relationship, emphasizing their shared and complex relationship. She pointed to two issues of particular strategic importance: energy security and democracy, and also spoke strongly against Russia’s recent actions against Crimea and Ukraine. Below are excerpts of her remarks. Her prepared remarks are available on the event’s web page.

On Russia, Crimea and Ukraine

Albright said that the the idea of a Europe whole, democratic and united is “under assault in Ukraine.”

During our years in government our leaders worked together to end the violence and Bosnia and Kosovo and that led to an effort to bring more countries into a Europe whole, democratic and united, from the Adriatic to the Baltic and beyond, including Turkey. Today that idea is under assault in Ukraine. Our countries again share values and strong interests in the fate of 200,000 Crimean Tatars who suddenly find themselves involuntarily in Russia.

I want to pause for a moment to address Ukraine. Vice President Biden gave an impassioned and important speech at the Atlantic Council yesterday, and he emphasized that our goal is for the people of Ukraine, as a single country, to have a real choice about how they want their country to proceed.

This will require the United States and our partners to support Ukraine and help shape the vision of how a united Ukraine can have a sustainable relationship with the west. And that vision is currently in development and it will affect not only this region, but the entire post-cold war international order.

It’s important to confront a big lie that I hear around town. Some say that Russia is acting in Ukraine because the U.S. was not accommodating enough to Russian concerns in the 1990s. That assertion wasn’t right then, and it’s certainly wrong about what is happening today. President Putin has declared that the breakup of the Soviet Union is the greatest tragedy of the 20th century. But the truth is that the Soviet system fell apart because it didn’t work and countries simply did not want to be a part of it.

Today, Putin has developed his own narrative. He envisions a Russian empire buffered by states that are either weak or subservient. The decision we now face is whether we believe that Putin’s vision is acceptable and whether we think it ends in eastern Ukraine.

On Energy Security

“Energy security is and will continue to be a vital part of Turkey’s influence and role in the region,” Albright said. Continuing:

Turkey’s geostrategic location is second to none. It’s a country situation not just at the crossroads of continents, but at the crossroads of hydrocarbons. … Turkey makes up only ½ a percent of the world’s landmass … but it is located near more than 70 percent of the world’s proven oil and gas reserves. …

And given Turkey’s prime real estate at the crossroads of east and west, it’s perfectly positioned to be the link between suppliers and customers as it has been so many times before. This promising petro-partnership could help bring Turkey closer to the EU where member countries are eager to diversify their energy sources. And it could help shore up the poor yet energy rich countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus by linking them to western markets and western models of governance. …

We should remember our shared interests. The U.S., the European Union, Turkey and others have a strong interest in seeing energy from all these sources reach Turkey, Europe and global markets. Hopefully as more and more pipelines conduct oil and gas through Turkey’s borders and beyond, we can ensure that partnership and trust flow along with them.

On Democracy in Turkey

Albright said that the “strengthening of Turkey’s democratic institutions will prove crucial in shaping how Turkey conducts itself both at home and abroad.” She reviewed recent positive progress in Turkey’s democratic institutions and civil society, including a democratization package passed by Turkey’s parliament; Turkey’s increased presence in the family of nations; its expansion of key infrastructure, including becoming more wired; and improved access to health care.

“But this is not enough,” she said. Continuing, she explained that “democracy is a journey”:

While Turkey’s citizens should feel proud of what their democracy has done so far, they also need to feel confident that the journey will continue. And this takes reassurance from those in power, especially the country’s political leaders, to staying the course.

All leaders must commit themselves to listen to the ideas of others, even those who did not vote for them. This is the essence of a democratic context. It is about more than just elections. … There’s simply no such thing as a one-party democracy. An opposition allows citizens to have real choices and only when there is a real choice can the winner truly claim a mandate.

“For citizens to make a real choice,” Albright said, “they must be fully informed by robust and public debate, and in this regard there are some troubling facts.”

According to Reporters without Borders’ annual index of press freedoms, Turkey dropped to 154th place in the world in 2013. And today, Freedom House declared Turkey unfree in its latest freedom of the press report.

Turkey’s restrictions on the media include the use taxes and imprisonment against journalists and media owners. At least some mass media outlets appear to shy from news that would upset the government. … [W]hen real news happens it must be shown to the public.

In today’s world it’s not enough for the public to receive mass media. People should also have the means to express themselves, and we see that in today’s public gatherings, but in the digital era self-expression often takes place online. I understand that governments need to provide security, but restrictions on the channels people use to speak for themselves should be imposed only when strictly necessary. They should be reviewed by an independent judiciary, and they should be narrow, temporary and rare. This vigorous virtual debate matters in Turkey today. From where I stand it’s almost impossible to verify what is said about conspiracies whether domestic or international. I’m deeply troubled by unsupported assertions accusing Americans and religious minorities of being behind plots.

For voters, informed voting is possible only when such allegations have been discussed investigated and debated publicly by people from many viewpoints with an emphasis on verifiable evidence. And ultimately again checks and balances, in this case an independent judiciary, are essential to a healthy, durable democracy.

The Sakıp Sabancı Lecture Series annually features leading international statesman and explores Turkey’s increasingly important role in the world. The series honors the memory of Sakip Sabanci, one of Turkey’s foremost business leaders, a visionary supporter of democratic and economic reforms and a leading advocate of Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union.

Secretary Albright also delivered the inaugural lecture in 2005, titled “America, Turkey and the World.” The speakers since then have been (titles are as of the time of the address):

(2006) Paul Wolfowitz, president of the World Bank
(2007) Amb. Richard C. Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations
(2008) Amb. R. Nicholas Burns, former undersecretary of state for political affairs, U.S. State Department (2008)
(2009) Lord Christopher Patten, chancellor, Oxford University; former European commissioner for external relations; former British governor of Hong Kong
(2010) Philip H. Gordon, assistant secretary of European and Eurasian affairs, U.S. State Department
(2011) Javier Solana, former secretary general of NATO, European Union high representative for common foreign and security policy and secretary-general of the Council of the European Union
(2012) Zbigniew Brzezinski, former U.S. national security advisor
(2013) Kaushik Basu, senior vice president and chief economist, The World Bank