Rose Gottemoeller, the Steven C. Házy lecturer at the Center for International Security and Cooperation in Stanford University's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and research fellow at the Hoover Institution, leads a conversation on international security and cooperation.
FASKIANOS: Welcome to today’s session of the Winter/Spring 2022 CFR Academic Webinar Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach at CFR.
Today’s discussion is on the record, and the video and transcript will be available on our website at CFR.org/academic. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.
We are delighted and honored to have Rose Gottemoeller with us today to talk about international security and cooperation. Rose Gottemoeller is the Steve C. Házy lecturer at Stanford University's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and its Center for International Security and Cooperation. She is also a fellow at the Hoover Institution. From 2016 to 2019, she served as the deputy secretary-general (DSG) of NATO, where she advanced NATO’s adaptation to the new security challenges in Europe and the fight against terrorism. And before that, she served as the undersecretary for arms control and international security at the State Department. In 2009 and 2010, she was the assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, during which time she served as chief U.S. negotiator of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the Russian Federation.
So, Rose Gottemoeller, thank you very much for being with us. I can’t think of anybody better to have this conversation with us than you. When we planned this webinar, we knew it was the sixtieth anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, but what we did not know was Russia would invade Ukraine and that there would be a war going on. So perhaps you can put this in context, talk about the lessons learned from the Cuban Missile Crisis, and where we are now, given what’s going on in Ukraine.
GOTTEMOELLER: Thank you so much, Irina. And it’s wonderful to be with you, and with everyone who was able to join us today from across the country. I know there are many impressive institutions who are dialing in, and I really appreciate the chance to have a conversation with you and look forward to talking with the students and hearing what your questions are as well.
Let me indeed begin talking today about the Cuban Missile Crisis, which happened sixty years ago this coming October. It was a time—I was a fourth grader at the time. And I remember, I was going to a Catholic school in Dearborn, Michigan. And the nuns said to us: You really must get home quickly tonight, children, there might be a nuclear war. You need to be with your parents. None of us knew exactly what was going on, but we knew that nuclear war was a really bad thing. We’d been through many drills, hiding under our desks or out in the hallway with our head between our knees. I have to tell you, even as a third grader, during one of those drills I thought to myself: If we get hit by a nuclear weapon, putting my head between my knees is not going to help one bit. So even as a third grader, I knew that nuclear weapons were weapons of mass destruction.
So, we did manage to solve that crisis, with a secret deal, as it turned out. President Kennedy agreed quietly to withdraw intermediate-range nuclear missiles from Turkey. Never made public, until much later. And Khrushchev agreed to withdraw what were equivalent missiles from Cuba. And we got back to the negotiating table. In fact, the Cuban Missile Crisis dealt not only the United States and the Soviet Union, but other countries around the world, what I call a short, sharp shock. We recognized how devastating would be the effect of nuclear war, and we decided we really did need to talk together about how we were going to control and limit those risks.
So, it led to a blossoming of negotiations on all kinds of limitations and controls. First, the Limited Test Ban Treaty. It was a test ban on nuclear testing in the atmosphere that was very quickly agreed after the Cuban Missile Crisis. President Kennedy gave an important speech at American University in June of 1963, when he said we really must control this most dangerous of weapons. And he proposed at that time a test ban treaty limiting testing in the atmosphere. And that was agreed rather quickly. It’s amazing to me, as an arms control negotiator, that that treaty was then agreed by August of that very year. So record time. The U.K. also joined in those negotiations.
But one thing that’s very interesting, the Limited Test Ban was the first, I would say also, environmental arms control treaty. It was inspired by the fact that countries around the world and publics around the world were recognizing that testing in the atmosphere was producing a lot of strontium-90 and other radioactive pollutants that were getting into the food supply. Again, I remember from that period my own mother saying, “We’ve got to be worried about the milk we’re drinking because it’s got strontium-90 in it from testing in the atmosphere.” So even then, there were some environmental pushes that led to, I think, in part the quick negotiation of the Limited Test Ban Treaty.
After that, we went to the step of controlling tests also under the sea and underground, starting with the Threshold Test Ban Treaty, that did not enter into force until the early 1990s. It was a long negotiation, but it was negotiated through that period of the 1960s into the 1970s. We also negotiated what has been the foundational document of the nonproliferation regime: the [Nuclear] Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). That was negotiated through the late 1960s and entered into force in 1972. It did basically designate five nuclear weapon states. These days they are U.S., U.K., France, China, and Russia. But at that time, those nuclear weapon states were the only states that would be permitted to possess nuclear weapons. All other states around the world would give up their right to nuclear weapons.
But there was a grand bargain there. The nuclear weapon states agreed to proceed with total nuclear disarmament, under Article 6 of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and in return for which the non-nuclear weapon states under the NPT would, again, not build their own weapons. They would prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons. And everyone would work to promote peaceful uses of the atom, whether in nuclear energy, or agriculture, manufacturing, mining industry, et cetera, promoting—or medical uses as well—promoting peaceful uses of the atom. So those are what are called the three pillars of the NPT: disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses.
So that was agreed in 1972. And working in that multilateral way was important, but there was also an impetus given in this commitment to disarmament for the United States and the Soviet Union to get together and to begin to negotiate bilaterally the two together on limiting their nuclear weapons. We built up a tremendous nuclear arsenal during the Cold War years. At the time that we were beginning to talk to the Soviets about limiting nuclear weapons and nuclear weapon delivery systems, missiles and bombers, submarines—at that time, in the late 1960s, we had about 32,000 nuclear warheads, if you can imagine that. And the Soviets built up their stockpile to be about 40,000 nuclear warheads. So there were tremendous numbers of nuclear weapons being held in storage, but there were also tremendous numbers that were deployed.
So we worked steadily from that period, the 1970s into the 1980s, to try to limit nuclear weapons. Didn’t work so well. There are various reasons why. Most specifically, I think, we were just driving harder and harder with more effective missiles to deploy more warheads on those missiles. And so, by the time we got into the 1980s, we had about 12,000 warheads deployed on missiles and deployed or designated for deployment on bombers. The Soviets the same, about 12,000. Now, remember those numbers I gave you, 32,000 total, 40,000 total in the USSR. We held a lot of weapons in storage, not on top of missiles, not on top of delivery vehicles, as we called them. They were just held in storage. But we also then had 12,000 deployed on missiles and pointed at each other in a very high-readiness state. So we had got through the 1970s and 1980s not blowing each other up, but we also didn’t have much success limiting those systems because there was this technological jump ahead, being able to put more warheads on individual missile systems. So, that’s when Reagan and Gorbachev entered the scene. In the mid-1980s they got together. Reagan had not been very easy on the USSR when he came into office. He declared the USSR the “evil empire.” And he drove hard military modernization that included some nuclear modernization as well. The sclerotic Soviet leadership at that time, they were dying off one by one. First it was Brezhnev, then it was Andropov, then there was a third fellow. They all went very, very quickly. And Gorbachev took over in the mid-1980s.
And he and Reagan actually then got together and began to talk about how they might reduce—not try to limit, because limit wasn’t good enough. The technology was always pushing ahead. But how could we actually begin to reduce nuclear weapons and their delivery systems, and the missiles we put them on? So that was the negotiations that began in the 1980s for the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and also the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which finally entered into force in 1994. And that treaty, once again, took the number of deployed warheads on both sides down from 12,000 deployed warheads on each side to 6,000 deployed warheads on each side.
If you think about one of these warheads, a single warhead is enough to destroy a city. It’s nothing like what we’re seeing in Ukraine today. Sadly, such horrible destruction and the really barbaric attacks on civilian targets like this maternity hospital yesterday. I’m just heartbroken about this, as I’m sure many of you are. But that was a big bomb that was really directed at a single facility and was very destructive. But if you can imagine a nuclear weapon, that could really pulverize—pulverize—the center of a city. And that’s what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, when the United States was the only country to use nuclear weapons in wartime. And that is what has led to this nuclear taboo that has been pretty clear, because it was recognized these are weapons of mass destruction. They completely pulverize, and many, many lives lost. And those who are left living, as it was said at the time of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, would envy the dead because of the severity of their injuries.
So, people were recognizing that we had too many deployed warheads. We had 12,000 pointed at each other on a high state of alert. So getting them down to 6,000 on each side was important. That was the goal of the START treaty. Then in the early 2000s, in 2002, President Bush and President—believe it or not—Putin at that time decided in the Moscow Treaty on a further reduction. That took us down to 2,200 deployed warheads on both sides. And then the treaty that I worked on negotiating, the New START treaty in 2009 and 2010, took us down to 1,550 deployed warheads on both the U.S. and Russian sides. So 12,000 down to 1,550. That’s a pretty good disarmament record. And it all sprang from that short, sharp shock of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Now, sixty years later, it’s a tragedy, but we seem to be facing another crisis on par with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Vladimir Putin has been rattling the nuclear saber. We are very concerned, not necessarily about a big nuclear exchange between the United States and the Russian Federation, but about some smaller strike, perhaps use of a nuclear weapon on Ukrainian territory, perhaps a so-called demonstration strike, where Russia would launch a nuclear explosion over the Black Sea, for example, just to prove that they’re willing to do it. And so, at the moment, we are facing these nuclear threats out of the Kremlin with a lot of concern, but also very serious attitude about how we sustain and maintain nuclear deterrence at this moment of supreme crisis in Ukraine, and ensure that we continue to deter Russia from taking these disastrous actions with weapons of mass destruction.
But also think about ways—how can we go forward from here to preserve what we have achieved in these sixty years since the Cuban Missile Crisis. This great foundation of big nuclear international regimes that we have been able to put in place—such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, that means the only country that has tested nuclear weapons in this century is North Korea. There is a taboo against nuclear testing that is strongly held, the taboo against nuclear use has held since Hiroshima and Nagasaki over seventy-five years ago. And now, we are looking at ensuring that we sustain and maintain the Nonproliferation Treaty regime so that we do not see a lot of new nuclear weapon states emerging across the globe.
Just one thing I forgot to mention—President Kennedy spoke quite a bit about these things. I think the Cuban Missile Crisis really for him personally was a big shock, and really provoked his thinking quite a bit—but he said, “We need this Nonproliferation Treaty because otherwise we’re going to end up with twenty, twenty-five nuclear weapon states around the world. And that will be hugely destabilizing.” So the Nonproliferation Treaty regime, although we pay attention to the rogue states, the DPRKs [Democratic People’s Republic of Koreas], the Irans, of course. It looks like we may be now returning to the Iran nuclear deal. I certainly hope so. We also need Iranian oil at this moment, which is another matter. But we have a couple of nuclear rogues out there. But, in general, we have prevented the proliferation of nuclear weapons, thanks to the Nonproliferation Treaty regime. We need to do everything we can at this moment to preserve and protect these important big regimes.
And that goes not only for nuclear, but also the so-called other weapons of mass destruction. The Chemical Weapons Convention bans the use of chemicals in wartime. Not only chemical weapons, that is chemical designed to be used as weapons, but also what we’ve been seeing in Syria, the use of chlorine gas in wartime. That is forbidden by the Chemical Weapons Convention as well. So we need these big regimes to continue—the Biological Weapons Convention, the same.
So I really wanted to stress this point as we get to our discussion period, because it’s going to take a lot of attention and effort if Russia is now turning its back on playing a responsible role in the international community. If Russia is turning into a very big pariah state, as I argued yesterday in a piece in Foreign Affairs, we need to figure out what we are going to do, losing Russia as a partner. Because Russia has actually been a great player in negotiating all these treaties and agreements. But if Russia is turning its back on a responsible role in the international community, then the United States has to look for other partners. I would argue that we should be really approaching Beijing. They are, after all, a nuclear weapon state under the Nonproliferation Treaty. And historically they have been a rather responsible nuclear weapon state under the Nonproliferation Treaty, joining in efforts to advance the goals of nuclear disarmament.
So it’s hard, because at the moment, as you know, Beijing and Washington have been at great odds over any number of issues—Taiwan, trade and investment, human rights with the Uyghurs. So many issues we’ve been at odds over. But I think the moment has come where we need to think about how we are going to preserve these weapons of mass destruction regimes, the nuclear regimes, the testing—the ban against nuclear testing. How are we going to preserve it in the face of Russia as a pariah state? And that means, I think, we must partner with China.
So those are my remarks to begin with. I see we have a few questions already. And I’m really looking forward to our discussion. Irina, back over to you.
FASKIANOS: Rose, thank you very much. So let’s start with a raised hand from Babak Salimitari. And please state your institution and unmute yourself.
Q: Good morning. My name is Babak Salimitari. I’m a third-year economics major at University of California, Irvine.
And my question really pertains with NATO as a force for international security. I was looking at the list of countries that were not paying the 2 percent of their necessary GDP for defense. And these are some rich countries, like Norway, and the Netherlands, and Germany. These aren’t poor, third-world countries. I don’t understand why they don’t pay their fair share. So when you were in NATO, what did you tell these people?
GOTTEMOELLER: That’s a very good question, Babak. And, honestly, it’s been great for me to watch now with this otherwise terrible crisis in Ukraine—it’s been great for me to watch that countries who were very resistant of paying their 2 percent of GDP are now stepping forward and saying they are ready to do so. And Germany is the prime example. President Trump was very insistent on this matter, and very much threatening dire action by the United States, including that the United States would fail to honor its so-called Article 5 commitments to NATO, which that is—under the founding document of NATO, the so-called Washington Treaty of 1949, Article 5 states that if a single country in the NATO alliance is attacked, then all countries must—and it asks for help, there’s that important point too—if it asks for help then other NATO countries are obliged to come to its assistance in defending it.
So President Trump was threatening that the United States would not fulfill its Article 5 commitments. He was very tough on this matter. I was the deputy secretary-general at NATO during the years of the Trump presidency. My boss and I, Jens Stoltenberg and I, always welcomed President Trump’s pressure on these matters, because every single U.S. president, again, since Jack Kennedy—I’ll go back to him. There’s a great—now in the public domain—a great report of a National Security Council meeting where John Kennedy says, “I am tired of these NATO European freeloaders. We spend all the money on defense; they take our defenses and don’t build up their own. And they’re freeloading, they’re freeriding on us.” So every single U.S. president has raised this issue with the allies. But it was Donald Trump who got them to really sit up and take notice in the first instance.
So President—I’m sorry—Secretary-General Stoltenberg and I always supported his efforts, although we were not supportive of his drawing any question about U.S. obligations with regard to Article 5. But we supported his efforts to push the allies on paying 2 percent of GDP. A number of them did step up during the Trump years, and so more were paying 2 percent of GDP now with this crisis. Unfortunately, again, it’s taken a dire crisis in Ukraine. But we see even Germany stepping up.
Just one final word on Germany. At the time, when I was DSG, they kept saying, well 2 percent of our GDP, we are the most enormous economy in Europe. And if we spend 2 percent of GDP, then other countries are going to start worrying about casting back to the past and remembering Nazi Germany, and thinking about the big military buildup in the 1930s. So we don’t want that to happen. So that was very deeply ingrained in the political elites in Berlin. But now, we’re seeing that 180-degree switch just in the last ten days. I think it’s remarkable. But I welcome it, for one, that they are now willing to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense.
FASKIANOS: Great. I’m going to take the next question, a written question, from Caleb Kahila, undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
One issue that I don’t hear much about is the actions of individuals involved in nuclear weapons. An example is Abdul Qadeer Khan, who leads the Pakistani nuclear program but is also believed to have given nuclear information to Iran, North Korea, among others. With examples like Khan, should the international community take the issue of individual nuclear proliferation more seriously?
GOTTEMOELLER: That is a great question. And indeed, certain individuals have had a profoundly malignant effect on nuclear nonproliferation. It is worthwhile to note that the Nonproliferation Treaty—the membership is very wide, but there are a few outliers. And India and Pakistan are both outliers. And I think for some weird reason, Khan felt justified in being an outlier to share nuclear weapons information with a number of countries, including also Libya, as I understand. So there was this notion I think that he had, almost an ideological notion—he’s dead now—but an ideological notion of producing an Islamic bomb to counter both the Indians, their mortal enemies, but also to ensure that the rest of the world did not mess with Pakistan, and also did not mess with the rest of the Muslim world, the Islamic world.
So it was, I think, very clear that this one malignant individual had an enormous deleterious effect on the nonproliferation regime. We have been able to, I think, place constraints and dial back in many ways from some of his export activities, including when the Libyans were willing to give up their weapons of mass destruction programs. But you’re absolutely right that it necessary to pay attention to individuals—powerful individuals, they have to be—who have that kind of access. And luckily, they are fairly rare. But we have to pay attention to the individuals who could make a very big problem for the nonproliferation regime. I do worry nowadays about the North Koreans, about the DPRK.
The trouble is, they are themselves bent on acquiring nuclear bombs. And if they give away their fissile material, for example. One of the big barriers to getting a bomb is you need a significant amount of either highly enriched uranium or plutonium. And it’s rather difficult to acquire. So if the DPRK were going to get into this business of giving away their expertise, the next question would be, well, how about some fissile material to back that up? And I dare say, they’d rather keep all their fissile material for themselves. But that’s a very good question, Caleb. Thank you for that.
FASKIANOS: I’m going to go next Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome at Brooklyn College.
Q: Thank you very much. Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome. And I teach political science at Brooklyn College.
And I have two issues that are kind of bothering me. One is, what are the chances that Russia will turn its back on the NPT in totality, and on other weapons regimes in this war? And then, besides an alliance with China, what are the other options for the U.S.?
The second thing is, would Russia have been so bold to invade Ukraine if Ukraine hadn’t destroyed its weapons—it’s nuclear weapons and joined the NPT? I remember a Mearsheimer article in Foreign Affairs, I think, where he was giving a very unpopular view at that time that nuclear—destroying nuclear weapons in the Ukraine was a bad idea, because there was a need to kind of have a defense against Russia’s potential invasion of the Ukraine. This was in the 1990s. And now it seems like he was right. So I’m just wondering what you think of these two issues.
GOTTEMOELLER: Very good questions, Dr. Okome. And very difficult ones. But let me start on your first question. I argued yesterday in my Foreign Affairs article that I don’t think it’s so much that Russia would actually leave the regimes. I don’t believe that they would turn their backs on the regimes by leaving them. What I believe, though, is that they will just prove to be not the good partner they have been historically. Historically they have really been, as I put it in the article, a giant of the nonproliferation regime, always looking for solutions for problems. Helping to drive forward top priorities, not only in the Nonproliferation Treaty but in what I call the wider regime, which includes these other treaties and agreements, including our bilateral treaties, the New START treaty is currently still in force, thank God.
So I do worry that now they would instead turn to a more negative role, perhaps a wrecker role, in trying to stymie decision making in the regime implementation bodies, and trying to be mischievous in the way they interact with the rest of the regime members. And for that reason, I think we will need to have strong leadership. And the United States will need allies. And so that is why I have been emphasizing looking to China as a possible ally in what will be a very difficult, very difficult time going forward. But I do feel very sure that we must have as a top objective, a top priority preserving these regimes and agreements.
Your second question, let me say a few words about the so-called Budapest Memorandum. I was involved in negotiating it. I worked for President Clinton in the 1990s. I was convinced at the time, I remain convinced, that what the Budapest Memorandum bought Ukraine was thirty years of peace and stability to build itself up as an independent and sovereign nation. We, in the Clinton administration, argued to Ukraine at the time that if they tried to hang on to the nuclear weapons that were left on their territory after the breakup of the Soviet Union, that they would end up in an immediate conflict with Russia that would be destabilizing and would not allow their fragile, young democracy to take root. And I still believe that very strongly.
For those of you who don’t remember those years, when the Soviet Union broke apart, over a thousand warheads were left on Ukrainian territory, over a thousand warheads were left on Kazakh territory, Kazakhstan, and approximately a hundred warheads were left in Belarus. So there—and there were strategic delivery vehicles. There were intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) deployed in all three countries, and there were bombers deployed in Ukraine. So there were weapon systems that needed to be destroyed and eliminated. And in this case, we got the Ukrainians to agree to join the Nonproliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear weapon state. Their warheads were returned to Russia for down-blending to low-enriched uranium, which was then used in—(laughs)—it’s ironic—but it was used for power plant fuel for the nuclear power plants in Ukraine.
I do want to stress that at that time there was a very cooperative negotiation going on. And our assumption working—it was with the Russians and the Ukrainians and the Americans together. We were all working on this problem together in good faith. And it was a very, very positive effort overall. I still believe that Ukraine would have been caught immediately in the maelstrom of conflict with Russia if they had tried somehow to hang onto those weapons. And technically, it would not have been easy, because the command and control of all those missiles was in Moscow. It was not in Ukraine. They would have had to try to guillotine themselves from the command-and-control system in Moscow and build up a command-and-control system in Ukraine for these nuclear weapon systems.
And it was our judgment, it remains my judgment, that it would have been very destructive for the young Ukrainian state, the young Ukrainian democracy to try to hang on to them. And I do think that they have taken shape as an independent power, not entirely healthy economically but, before this terrible crisis, their economy was growing. And so I do think that what we are seeing today, with the brave—very brave defense of Ukraine by the Ukrainian public, and its armed forces, and first and foremost its president—that was all born out of the thirty years that the Ukrainians got to build up their country as an independent and sovereign state. And, again, they would not have had that if they had insisted in the 1990s on holding onto nuclear weapons.
FASKIANOS: Great. I’m going to take a written question from Michael Strmiska, who is associate professor of world history at Orange County Community College in New York State.
I’m going to shorten it. In essence, the Biden administration has said they will not impose a no-fly zone, as have other nations. And then we recently saw the Polish fighter jets via the U.S. to Ukraine. They have declined on that. So at what point do you think—there’s been a lot of talk that either one of those will trigger a nuclear war. And in his question he says: Putin says “nuke” and we run and hide. If the death toll in Ukraine approaches the levels of the Holocaust, do you think the calculus will change? And do you think that this—that would trigger nuclear war?
GOTTEMOELLER: Well, it’s a complex question, Dr. Strmiska. Let me—let me try to give you my point of view on it. I’ll just say, first of all, that I don’t think we’re running and hiding at all. We have sustained—and when I say “we” I’m still talking as if I’m NATO DSG. (Laughs.) But what I mean is the United States and its NATO allies have been providing a steady stream of military assistance to Ukraine, and a steady stream of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, and also to the countries bordering Ukraine—Moldova, Hungary, Poland—that are—that are sheltering refugees from Ukraine. So we are really, I think, continuing to support them in, so far, pretty amazing ways. I have been talking to some military experts this morning, retired military officers here in the United States. And they think Putin and the Russians may be running out of ammo. We’ll see to it that the Ukrainians do not run out of ammo. And so we are doing a lot to help them.
And in terms of the deterrence messaging that’s gone on, I’ve actually been rather admiring of the way that the administration has been clear about, and firm, about the dangers of rattling the nuclear saber, but also has been very clear that we are not taking steps ourselves to up the readiness of our nuclear forces, nor will we do so. They, the White House and the Department of Defense (DOD), basically postponed an ICBM test this week to ensure that there was no hint of a message that we, ourselves, are escalating. But we’ve been very firm and clear that nuclear use of any kind would be crossing, for us, a redline that is significant.
So now let me get to your question about the no-fly zone, because I think this is—this is a complex question. It’s turned into this kind of cause célèbre in the media, the press. You’re watching the twenty-four-hour news cycle. All of us are, like, glued to our televisions right now, it’s so horrible what is unfolding before us in Ukraine. So everybody’s saying, no-fly zone, no-fly zone, no-fly zone. But when you look at it, the Russians aren’t actually flying aircraft very much in Ukraine. These missiles are being delivered from Russian territory, from Belarusian territory, from ships in the Black Sea, and some now from Ukrainian territory in Donetsk and Luhansk in the eastern part of the country. But the vast majority—yesterday, the count was over 670 missiles. The vast majority of them have come from Russia.
The Ukrainians don’t need a no-fly zone right now. They need missile defenses. And so some of the actions that have been taken, for example, by the—by the U.K. government, for example, to get into their hands some handheld capability—now, these are not going to go after those big missiles, like the terrible explosion at the maternity hospital yesterday. That was caused by a very big missile. But some—they can be useful to defend their skies against some smaller—some smaller projectiles. And I think that’s going to be important, those kinds of steps.
I wish there were a way to get the Ukrainians the Israeli Iron Dome system. That’s the best missile defense system around for short- to medium-range missiles. But I have my doubts that—(laughs)—the Israelis are going to want to get involved in this thing. But that’s the point. This is not an air superiority problem at the moment. It is a problem of missile attacks. And so we need to do, I think, what we can to, again, get some help to the—to the Ukrainians. But we’ve got to be clear in our own mind what kind of help they really need. We’ll see. This could change. And the Russians are upping their activity, so it may turn into more of an air battle than it has been up to this point. But I think it’s really good to think harder about what the actual threat to Ukraine is today, rather than just being so fixated on a no-fly zone.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. That’s an important clarification.
Let’s go now to Kazi Sazid, who has raised his hand.
Q: Hello. So I’m a political science student at CUNY Hunter College, just right next to CFR, actually.
So my question is, we’ve seen in the past in how geopolitics and geopolitical biases obscures if not manipulates the reality of certain threats to international security and cooperation. One example is Nixon destabilizing the Allende government because there’s a fear that socialism triumphed the narrative that socialism can only happen through dictatorships basically falls flat. So my question is, what avenues and mechanisms are available to ensure that security situations are not sensationalized to the point where people believe it is a bigger threat than it truly is? Sorry if that’s a loaded question.
GOTTEMOELLER: Well, it’s a good question because it points to the information/misinformation space. And I think we’ve all been thinking about that a lot right now. And the United States and its NATO allies I think in the run up to the invasion actually were doing a pretty good job controlling the information space by, for example, undoing these false-flag operations that the Russians were trying to launch in the run-up to the invasion. They were actually apparently on the cusp of trying to replace the Zelenskyy government with their own puppet government. All of this was outed by some very astute use of intelligence by, again, the U.S. and the U.K., and getting it out into the information space. So in the run-up to the invasion, we were actually winning the misinformation war.
Nowadays, I’m a little concerned about a couple of things. First, I’m concerned—well, there’s so much to talk about here, but let me—let me just give it a shot, Kazi. We have to be concerned about the fact that Vladimir Putin is closed up in his bubble with his small cohort and is not getting sources of information that may cause him to think twice about what he’s doing. And that is of concern when you’re trying to deter the man, when you’re trying to ensure that he knows that there will be a firm response. I don’t think he had any idea—and maybe even today doesn’t have any idea—at the strong pushback and the very capable pushback he’s getting from the Ukrainian armed forces. They are defending their country well. And the Ukrainian public is joining in on that effort.
Putin, in his bubble, just did not realize that. And now I’m not sure he’s getting the information that would really help him to understand the situation that his armed forces are in right now. If, as my military experts conveyed this morning, they’re beginning to run low on missiles, they’re beginning to run low on ammunition, it’s going to be a problem. They’re going to start doing worse, rather than being able to pick up the pace, as we were talking about a moment ago, and as many people expect. So that’s number one problem, is how is that deterrence messaging thing working with the Kremlin right now?
The second thing I’d point to, though, is how do we reach the Russian people? Everybody takes note of the fact that all the—the internet backbone is closing down now in Ukraine. Harder and harder for Russians who are interested to get independent news that is not the product of state TV and state radio, state propaganda outlets. So how to get that message across is one that is really, really important. But I note at the same time, there was a poll that came out yesterday that was so interesting to me. It said, 58 percent of Russians support the war. And they say, well, that’s pretty good. 58 percent of Russians support the war?
But then when you think about it, there were a lot of “I don’t knows” in that—in that poll as well. And when people don’t want to say publicly what they really think they may say “I don’t know,” or “I don’t have an opinion on this matter.” Fifty-eight percent, when you juxtapose it against the support for the invasion of Crimea in 2014, is extraordinarily low. There was over 90 percent support for the invasion of Crimea in 2014. And now we’re looking at 58 percent against the war—no, I’m sorry—it’s 58 percent support the war. Sorry about that. And then a bunch of “I don’t knows” in there, or “I don’t want to comment” in there.
So I think that there is an issue here about trying to talk directly to the Russian people. And the president has discussed that already in public. And I think we need to do better about figuring out how to reach the Russian people, especially now that social media’s being shut down, other, I would say, more open forms of internet communications are being—are being shut down. We need to figure out how to message the Russian people as well.
And finally, I’m not sure I’m actually answering your question, but I think—I think it’s time that we start pivoting. We, the United States and NATO, to a more positive overall message of global leadership. That this is about our values and this is about what we want the world to be like in the years going forward. Let’s talk about what we would need to support an independent Ukraine, no matter what. And let’s talk about how we see the necessity of democratic principles and the rule of law being reenergized, restrengthened by this terrible crisis. I think we need to get a message out there about how we have a positive agenda, and we will push to pursue it, come what may.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Our next question is from Susie Risk, a first-year economics student at West Virginia University.
Do you believe economic sanctions from the West on Russia is a viable way to slow Russia’s advance on Ukraine? From my understanding they are mostly affecting civilians in the country, not those attacking Ukraine. And what are the other ways states like the U.S. could affect Russia in a nonviolent way?
GOTTEMOELLER: I actually think the coherence of these sanctions across the board have turned them into a powerful instrument to both convey to the Kremlin, to the Russian government, and to the Russian people that they are on the wrong course. The coherence of them—there aren’t any workarounds left. And in fact, even in the case of the Europeans, for example, saying that they can only cut back partially on their purchases of Russian oil because they cannot—they can’t do without Russian oil and gas at the moment, but they say they’re going to cut by 65 percent by the end of the year. OK, that’s great, but what I’m hearing is, again, this status of the Russian Federation now as being the invader, being the country that has taken these wrong steps and is so deserving of these coherent sanctions across the board, that it is leading—like, the insurance industry—to think twice about insuring tankers that are picking up Russian oil. And so it’s leading to ports messaging that they will not offload Russian oil.
So despite the fact that they are still selling oil, the overall behavior of the Russian Federation and the way it is now wrapped in this coherent sanctions regime, is leading, I think, to a situation where, yeah, sure, they’re going to continue to put some oil through—gas and oil through the pipelines into Europe. And they, I think, may be more likely to continue pushing that, rather than trying to turn the tap on and off, as they’ve done historically to try to pressure the Europeans. I think they’ll be wanting to sell their gas and oil. But I think increasingly, on the stock market and in other settings, they are going to have a harder and harder time pushing oil sales, gas and oil sales. So you see this coherent sanctions regime as having knock-on effects that I think will have an even greater effect on the Russian economy, even on the Russian oil economy.
FASKIANOS: It’s been pretty amazing to watch the sanctions both from governments and from private—as you said—private companies and social media companies pulling out. Starbucks, Coca-Cola, and all of that, to try to—and the ruble has devalued. I think it is pretty much devalued to the very bottom.
GOTTEMOELLER: Well, that’s a great—that’s a great point too, Irina. And particularly mentioning the sanctions against the central bank have had a profound effect. Russian rating has gone to junk—it’s gone below junk bond status now, and so they’re not rated anymore by the big rating companies. So it’s had a profound effect on the Russian economy overall.
And so, I’m wondering about—they’ve got very good technocrats running their banking system. That was always, I think, one of the things Putin was very proud about in coming out of the 2014 invasion of Crimea with a lot of sanctions slapped on him. He basically turned his country inward and said we are going to be more self-sufficient now and you, the bankers, you do what you can to ensure that we have lots of reserves, a rainy-day fund, that we are protected from shocks in future. Well, what happened in sanctioning the central bank is 70 percent of that rainy-day fund is held in Western financial institutions, and those now have placed blocks on the Russians getting their hands on their—on their financial reserves. So I think those steps have been coherent and very strong and have led to this really tanking of the Russian economy.
FASKIANOS: Right. And with the sanctions now affecting the oligarchs and the well-to-do in Russia, that also could bring pressure on Putin—assuming they can get close enough to him—because, as you said, he is very much in a bubble that probably has been exacerbated by the two-year pandemic that we all have been living through.
I’m going to go next to Nancy Gallagher, with a raised hand. Nancy, over to you. There we go.
Q: I’d love to go back to the history that you started with briefly as a way of thinking about the future. And you’ve spent your entire career, basically, thinking about what mix of toughness and cooperation is appropriate for our relations with Russia or the Soviet Union at any given time. And even during the worst periods that you talked about, there was still some tacit cooperation that was going on to make sure—or to try to reduce the risks of a nuclear war that neither side really wanted. So it’s never been 100 percent confrontation. And I’m just wondering, as you think about our relationship with Russia now, whether you’ve essentially written Russia off for the indefinite future or if you think that we should be continuing to think about ways of simultaneously being as tough as we need to right now, but also not completely closing the door on cooperation either to keep the risks of escalation under control now or to improve the prospects for reengagement with Russia in the future.
GOTTEMOELLER: Thank you for that question, Nancy, and thank you so much for joining this call.
The other half of my Foreign Affairs piece yesterday talked about this and really stressed, as strongly as I could, that we need to do everything we can to keep Russia at the nuclear, both arms control and also nonproliferation regime tables, that we need to do everything—for one thing, Russia, as I mentioned, has been a giant of these regimes. They are really very good diplomats and negotiators who work these issues, and they can help to find solutions. They have helped to find solutions throughout the fifty years since we began seriously negotiating bilaterally in the Strategic Arms Limitation agreement of the 1970s, agreed in 1972. From that time forward to the present day, fifty years we’ve had this great relationship at the negotiating table. We haven’t agreed by any means at every step of the way, and sometimes we’ve been in negative territory, but we’ve always slowly and steadily driven forward on nuclear disarmament objectives.
So I think we need to do everything we can to preserve that, and I am hopeful that we can do so. Even in the depths of this horrendous crisis, the Russians have been continuing—although with some issues coming up in recent days over sanctions—but they’ve been continuing to try to resuscitate the Iran nuclear deal. And I’ve got my fingers and toes crossed that, in fact, we will resuscitate the Iran nuclear deal. Now, the Russians maybe were reluctant at the moment because I think the United States is seeing the potential for Iranian oil to start to flow again, which would help with this cutoff that we’ve embraced of our purchases of Russian oil and gas. So there’s a whole bunch of issues there.
But the point I wanted to make is, despite this severe disagreement and a really dire crisis over Ukraine, in this particular case we’ve been able to continue to work together more or less positively, and that has been the history of this. Nuclear weapons are an existential threat to our survival and to the survival of Russia, clearly, but also to humankind. If we suddenly have a massive nuclear exchange, the effect on humankind overall is going to be dire. So for that reason, that existential threat has continued to place us together at the negotiating table to try to find solutions here.
So I do hope that we can work our way through this and find ourselves back at the table with the Russians before too long to negotiate a replacement for the New START Treaty, which goes out of force in 2026, and to work on other issues, such as a replacement for the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which we withdrew from after Russian violations in 2019. But I think there are actually some good proposals on the table about how we return to constraints on intermediate-range ground-launched missiles. The Russians initiated some of those. Again, they are good diplomats and they are good policymakers in this realm, so I would hate to do without them.
But what spurred my concern in the first place and what led to the article was this message that Dmitry Medvedev put out two weeks ago when he said, well, maybe we ought to, just withdraw from the New START Treaty and maybe we ought to just kick the embassies out of Moscow and hang—kick all the diplomats out and hang big padlocks on the embassies. Maybe we don’t need the world was his message, and that’s what alarmed me, so that’s why I was talking about the worst case. But I do hope we can keep the Russians at the table.
FASKIANOS: And just to pick up, Doru Tsaganea, an associate professor at the Metropolitan College of New York, has a question about China. And there have been reports that Xi asked Putin to hold off the invasion until after the Olympics in Beijing. There seems to be alliance between China and Russia, and now some—maybe China coming back can be—I mean, the way to bring—to give Putin an off ramp is via China. You just wrote this article in Foreign Affairs about—and you’ve mentioned how we can leverage—really get China in the mix to help give Putin an off ramp. Can you talk a little bit more about that dynamic?
GOTTEMOELLER: Yes. Again, I started thinking about this—well, I was thinking about it during their appearance together at the Olympics—at the Olympics opening ceremony. Doesn’t that seem like twenty years ago now? February 4, it was.
FASKIANOS: It does. (Laughs.)
GOTTEMOELLER: But, clearly, they have a joint agenda. They’ll be working together on some things. But I was actually—at the time, I was actually quite positively impressed that what they did talk about—the one thing they talked about in the arms-control realm was beginning to put in place constraints on ground-launched intermediate-range missiles not only in Europe, but also in Asia. And I thought, wow, now that’s interesting. If there’s going to be, you know, generally Eurasian constraints on ground-launched intermediate range missiles, that’s a really interesting development. And so I came away from February 4, rather positively impressed that we might be able to do something with both Russia and China in that regard.
But fast forward to the 24 of February and the invasion of Ukraine, and here in—just a few days after that terrible day, the foreign minister of Ukraine, Mr. Kuleba, phoned his counterpart in Beijing and asked for facilitation again of diplomacy with Russia. And at least from the readouts of that meeting, slightly less forward-leaning on the Chinese side but not contradicting anything Kuleba said, the Chinese seemed to indicate a willingness to facilitate diplomacy. It does—I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. In diplomacy, it’s always better if you don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes—(laughs)—if it is quiet diplomacy, if it’s not out in public, if it’s not this—one of the reasons why I was pretty—well, we all hoped against hope regarding no invasion. But, the Russians seemed to be in bad faith from December on because they kept playing at megaphone diplomacy—putting out their proposals to the public and the press, and even leaking U.S. answers in some cases. So they were clearly not playing a proper diplomatic game, which is quiet diplomacy behind the scenes trying to make quiet progress.
So I hope that this Chinese facilitation has begun. I have no hint of it at the moment, but I certainly think that it could be—it could be a productive way to begin to develop some new off ramp. We’ve tried a lot off ramps with Putin and it hasn’t worked, but maybe the Chinese can help us develop another way of approaching this matter.
Finally, I will just take note of the fact that there are other facilitators in the game. For example, President Erdoğan of Turkey has been very active, and today there is a meeting between the foreign ministers of—again, Kuleba, foreign minister of Ukraine, and Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia in Turkey. I, for one, I haven’t seen any reports of it. You may have seen reports of the outcome, Irina, but I think that that—that kind of facilitation is important, and I hope it will continue. We all want to see diplomacy taking precedence over the bombing of innocent civilians in Ukraine.
FASKIANOS: Right. There are a lot more questions, and I—we can’t get to them. I apologize. But I don’t want to—and we are at the end of our time, but I just want to give you an opportunity and give the students to hear your thoughts on public service. You’ve devoted your—mostly your entire career to it. You’re now teaching. You have a lecturer spot at Stanford, so you’re clearly working with students. And what you would say about public service.
GOTTEMOELLER: I was so privileged to have the opportunity to serve both President Clinton and President Obama. I think if you can in your career do a stint of public service it will be absolutely a wonderful experience for you. Now, sometimes bureaucracies can be pretty frustrating, but it’s worth—it’s worth the price of admission, I would say, to begin to operate inside that system, to begin to figure out how to make progress, and it is the way you put ideas into action.
You know, from the outside I can write all the op-eds I want to, and, yeah, some of them may get picked up by somebody inside the government. But when you’re working inside the government, you can really put ideas into action from the lowest levels, even if you have a chance to be an intern at the State Department or in one of the other agencies of government, you can begin to get a flavor for this. But you might be surprised that they’re asking for your opinion because you all at the, I would say, less-old—(laughs)—end of the spectrum have a lot of good new ideas about how the world should work going forward. And particularly I think this problem I talked about, how to communicate now directly with the Russian people, for example, you’ve got the skills and savvy to help people inside government to understand how to—how to do that effectively. So you’ve got some special skills, I think, that are much needed at the present time.
So I would not shy away from some time in government. People often ask me, well, won’t I get trapped there? I think your generation will not get trapped there just because you already think about the world of work differently. You’re not going to be a lifer in any organization. You don’t want to start in the State Department and work there for forty years. You’ll be working, in—maybe in Silicon Valley; and then you go work for Capitol Hill, the Congress; then you may go into government for a little while, the executive branch; and then back to—back to the corporate world. So I know that you’ll be thinking quite differently about how to build your careers, but don’t shy away from public service. It’s a very good experience and it’s where you can make a difference.
FASKIANOS: Well, with that, Rose Gottemoeller, thank you very much for being with us today and for sharing your expertise and analysis. We really appreciate it. And giving us a historical context, which is so valuable to understanding where we are today.
You can follow Rose on Twitter at @gottemoeller.
Our next Academic Webinar will be on Wednesday, March 23, at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Jody Freeman at Harvard University will talk about global climate policy. We will send out the link to this discussion—the video, transcript—as well as the link to Rose’s Foreign Affairs article so you can read it if you didn’t have a chance. It was in yesterday’s background. And I encourage you to follow us on Twitter at @CFR_academic, and go to CFR.org, ForeignAffairs.com, and ThinkGlobalHealth.org for research and analysis on global issues.
So thank you all again and thank you, Rose.
GOTTEMOELLER: Thank you. Thanks for a great discussion.