- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

American Secretaries of State Share Insights on Diplomacy

Summer 2015

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright visited Harvard in April for an interview with Harvard’s new “American Secretaries of State Project: Diplomacy, Negotiation and Statecraft.” The project is jointly organized by the Belfer Center’s Future of Diplomacy Project and Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation.

The Secretaries of State Project is led by Harvard Kennedy School’s Nicholas Burns, Harvard Law School’s Robert Mnookin, and Harvard Business School’s James Sebenius. The professors also co-teach a new course at Harvard titled “Great Negotiators, Effective Diplomacy, and Intractable Conflicts.”

Students in the class joined other students and faculty for a three-hour interview of Secretary Albright by Professors Burns, Mnookin, and Sebenius, during which she spoke about notable moments and lessons she learned as the United States’ chief negotiator.

“We hope this ambitious project will help to illuminate for Americans the central lessons in great power diplomacy over the last forty years, from Vietnam, the opening to China, the end of the Cold War, and German Unification to the many complex challenges we confront today,” Burns said.

The project, directed by Eugene B. Kogan, a former Stanton Postdoctoral Fellow at the Belfer Center, will interview former U.S. secretaries of state about the most demanding and consequential negotiations they conducted while in the nation’s highest foreign policy office. Along with Albright, Secretaries George P. ShultzJames A. Baker III, and Henry A. Kissinger have shared their experiences. Secretaries Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, and Hillary Rodham Clinton have agreed to be part of this historic undertaking in the near future.

“This initiative offers an inter-disciplinary group of the world’s leading negotiation scholarsProfessors Burns, Mnookin and Sebeniusthe opportunity to question the master practitioners of statecraft about their most consequential negotiations,” Kogan said.

The co-organizers plan to produce a book, documentary films, and case studies based on the interviews.

For more information on the project, click here. ›


Madeleine K. Albright

Interview at Harvard, April 2, 2015

“I think that the basis of any successful negotiation is to understand what the other person needs… because not everything that the person across the table needs is something that you automatically disagree with.”
“You have to figure out how to get a win-win because if it’s zero-sum it really has every danger of falling apart, so that’s the first part. The second part is because you’re going to spend an awful lot of time with this person, you have to know an awful lot about that person.”
“If you’re going to threaten force, you have to be prepared to use it.  The worst part is if you threaten it and then nothing happens.”



Henry A. Kissinger

Interview at Harvard, November 6, 2014

“In an international negotiation, the panoply of pressures and incentives that you can marshal is crucial, but you have to be careful not to marshal it in such a way that it looks like a demand for surrender, because then you are creating an additional incentive for resistance.”
“I tried never to leave Washington for a negotiation unless I had an 80 percent assurance it would succeed … don’t undertake shuttle diplomacy except to put fine points on an agreement.”



James A. Baker III

Interview at Harvard, March 29, 2012

“The most important thing for a secretary of state, in terms of whether he or she can be effective, is the relationship with their president...nobody was going to get between me and my president.”
“One major principle of negotiation, of course, is to understand and appreciate the political constraints on the guy across the table.”
“You’re never going to be a good negotiator unless you’re willing to walk away from a negotiation when it isn’t going to succeed. ...if you’re not ready to walk, you’re not going to get anywhere.”



George P. Shultz

Interview at Stanford, March 31, 2014

“I’m a great believer that strength and diplomacy go together. You don’t bring any cards to the table, you’ve got nothing to bargain with. You’ve got to have strength, you’ve got to have cards.”
“When you have a problem somewhere, the first thing people do is say, ‘let’s withdraw our ambassador.’ That’s the dumbest thing you can do. Your station there is your listening post.”
For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: American Secretaries of State Share Insights on Diplomacy.” Belfer Center Newsletter (Summer 2015).