WASHINGTON: Madeleine Albright, who fled the Nazis as a child in her native Czechoslovakia during World War Two but rose to become the first female US secretary of state and, in her later years, a pop culture feminist icon, died on Wednesday at the age of 84, her family said.
Albright was a tough-talking diplomat in an administration that hesitated to involve itself in the two biggest foreign policy crises of the 1990s — the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
“We are heartbroken to announce that Dr Madeleine K. Albright, the 64th US Secretary of State and the first woman to hold that position, passed away earlier today. The cause was cancer,” the family said on Twitter.
Albright, who had become the US ambassador to the United Nations in 1993, had pressed for a tougher line against the Serbs in Bosnia. But during President Bill Clinton’s first term, many of the administration’s top foreign policy experts vividly remembered how the United States became bogged down in Vietnam and were determined to not repeat that error in the Balkans.
The United States responded by working with Nato on airstrikes that forced an end to the war but only after it had been going on for three years. Albright’s experience as a refugee prompted her to push for the United States to be a superpower which used that clout. She wanted a “muscular internationalism,” said James O’Brien, a senior adviser to Albright during the Bosnian war. She once upset a Pentagon chief by asking why the military maintained more than 1 million men and women under arms if they never used them.
Early in the Clinton administration, while she unsuccessfully advocated for a quicker, stronger response in Bosnia, Albright backed a United Nations war crimes tribunal that eventually put the architects of that war, including Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Bosnian Serb leaders, in jail, O’Brien said.