The Briefing: Notable policy achievements of Zbigniew Brzezinski and Madeleine Albright

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By Matteo Todisco and Samuel Reynolds

WASHINGTON – On Monday Sept. 17, Madeleine Albright returns to SAIS to speak about the legacy of the late Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser for U.S. President Jimmy Carter. The event will take place in the Kenney Auditorium at 4:30 p.m. and will be moderated by Carla P. Freeman, director of the Foreign Policy Institute. Dean Vali Nasr will present welcome remarks.

Before the lecture takes place, here is a quick briefing of the notable policy achievements of Dr. Brzezinski and Secretary Albright.

Zbigniew Brzezinski or “Zbig”

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Photo credits: Johns Hopkins SAIS, Foreign Policy Institute

Zbigniew Brzezinski or “Zbig” as he was known, was one of America’s most influential scholar-strategists of the 20th century. Considered a hawkish theorist of the realist school of thought, Brzezinski served as national security adviser to the Carter Administration through the tumultuous 1970s. His tenure in office witnessed major foreign policy events that would shape the future world order. Among these were the normalization of relations with the People’s Republic of China, the signing of the second Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II), the brokering of the Camp David Accords and the transition of Iran from a strategic American partner to an anti-Western theocracy under Ayatollah Khomeini.

Known for his ardent anti-Soviet stances, Brzezinski was dedicated to opposing the USSR at every turn. He was an avid supporter of the Vietnam War effort during its time and championed the arming of Mujahideen militants against the Soviets. Later, however, he was one of the few prominent policy experts who spoke out strongly against the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

A lifelong scholar, Brzezinski served on the faculty of Harvard from 1953 to 1960 and at Columbia from 1960 to 1989.  Thereafter, Brzezinski accepted the position of Robert E. Osgood Professor of American Foreign Policy at SAIS. Ever a patriot, Brzezinski was once asked why he didn’t anglicize his name when he earned his citizenship in 1958.  His response: “America is the only country where someone called Zbigniew Brzezinski can make a name for himself without changing his name.”


Madeleine Albright

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Photo credits: Johns Hopkins SAIS, Foreign Policy Institute

Madeleine K. Albright studied Russian and international relations at SAIS in 1962 after immigrating to the United States from Czechoslovakia in 1947. She completed her master’s degree and Ph.D. at Columbia University, where she attended a graduate course taught by Brzezinski on comparative communism. She claims he was the best professor she ever had, and the two became friends. When Brzezinski was appointed national security adviser by President-elect Jimmy Carter, he hired Albright to be the National Security Council’s congressional liaison. She describes their weekly meetings as “first class seminars” on the most pressing issues in U.S. foreign policy.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Albright as ambassador to the United Nations. During her tenure, she was highly critical of UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, claiming that the failure of the international community to prevent war crimes in Rwanda was her biggest regret in her years of public service. She was instrumental in the U.S. veto of Boutros-Ghali’s second term. In 1997, Albright was appointed Secretary of State, becoming the highest-ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government. She supported an expanded role for the U.S. military in UN operations and was a powerful advocate for human rights and democracy abroad. During the Kosovo War, she backed NATO bombings in Yugoslavia to end the ethnic cleansing of Albanians. In 2000, she became the highest-ranking official to visit North Korea. Albright was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 and today serves on the Council of Foreign Relations board of directors.

When Brzezinski passed away in 2017, Albright delivered remarks at his funeral. On Monday, she is expected to speak about Brzezinski’s lifetime achievements, as well as her friendship with one of the most influential men in the history of American foreign policy.

*Editor note: Earlier versions of this article contained a misspelling of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s name, which was spelled Brezinski.*

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