Assessing NATO's Future

Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Ahmad Masood/Reuters
James M. Goldgeier

Dean, School of International Service, American University

Douglas Bandow

Senior Fellow, Cato Institute

Thom Shanker

Assistant Washington Editor and Weekend Editor, New York Times

Douglas Bandow, senior fellow at the Cato Institute, and American University's James M. Goldgeier join the New York Times' Thomas D. Shanker to discuss the ability of NATO to adapt given the political and economic realities of its members. The panelists consider NATO's shifting rule amid new geopolitical realities in Europe, including rising tensions between the alliance and Russia over Ukraine and other pressure points. Over the course of the conversation, the speakers consider NATO membership expansion, the fiscal health of the alliance, and the varying strategic priorities within the grouping.

SHANKER: Good evening, and welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. I’m Thom Shanker with the New York Times. It’s my great privilege, truly, to be the moderator and presider this evening to talk about NATO moving forward, with two very distinguished guests. Douglas Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and James Goldgeier is dean of the School of International Service at American University.

I know this evening’s discussion will be informative and respectful and calm, which will be perfect preparation for the debate that you’ll see on TV at 9:00—(laughter)—this evening, which I’m sure will be held at Council on Foreign Relations level of intellectual—(laughter)—pursuit and mutual respect all the way around.

Just a couple of housekeeping things. I know all of you have been here before. If you could please turn off your cellphones, not just silence them, because even the vibration will interfere. And it’s a pleasure as a newspaperman to say that this evening’s discussion is completely on the record. Everything our two distinguished panelists say can be used for your research, conversation in any way, shape, or form. So for that I thank you both very, very, much.

I am a huge believer in NATO and its relevancy, although I must say it was sorely tested for the five years that I was Moscow bureau chief because that coincided with NATO deploying Pershing IIs to Europe. And it’s quite a clarifying thing to know that your own government is pointing theater nuclear weapons at you and your family. (Laughter.) I try to deduct that amount from my tax check every April 15th—(laughter)—but the government wouldn’t let me do that.

But on that point, we are living in such a new and dynamic era with such changing threats and risks in Europe today, so I’d just like to open with sort of the question from today’s headline, gentlemen, which is what is the greater threat to the alliance? Does it come from the East with the resurgent and unpredictable Russia, or does it come from the South with this heartbreaking migrant flow that is really challenging security all across the continent? And then of course part B of that is, what is to be done?


GOLDGEIER: Well, thanks for moderating. Thanks, everybody, for being here. And I appreciate the invitation from the Council.

I mean, these are both significant threats, I would say. In terms of since you posed it as the greater threat to the alliance, I would say that the threat from Russia is the greater threat to the alliance. But in terms of the threat to Europe, I think the threat to—the real threat to Europe right now is the migrant crisis. I mean, this is on top of the other things that have been taking place within Europe in recent years and the different pressures: the Greek crisis, the potential for Britain to leave the European Union.

Europe is really at a crossroads, but the alliance, as NATO, is tested by what the Russians have done in Ukraine and the continued pressure that that puts on Eastern members like Estonia and Poland and others.

SHANKER: But is the alliance in that way separate from the continent itself? In other words, if NATO is all about guaranteeing security, and if the migrant flow—which is not a military problem—is perhaps, one can argue, the greatest security threat to the territory, does that raise the question, how relevant is NATO?

GOLDGEIER: Well, I think that is an important question with respect to the whole array of threats that the United States and Europe faces. Which of these is NATO able to deal with? Which of these are other institutions perhaps better able to deal with? What’s the role of the European Union?

But the reason why I say the threat to Russia—from Russia is so significant is that the core of NATO is Article 5, this notion that, you know, if you’re in the alliance and you’re under threat, your fellow NATO members are going to come to your defense. And I think that while the Russian actions in Ukraine were taken against a country that’s not a NATO member, they did call into question, would the alliance, as an alliance, be there if Estonia was threatened in a similar way?

And I think that that is a really significant question. And I think that there are differences across Europe as well as within North America about the extent to which the alliance would really be there for these countries. And that goes to the heart of what an alliance is.


BANDOW: I think I’d be very careful about kind of expanding the definition of “security.” I think there’s an element of human security, I suppose, and political unity within the EU that doesn’t strike me as being a NATO issue, though one shouldn’t expect too much of a military alliance. I mean, the quintessential aspect of NATO is a military alliance with Article 5.

So I think that if you’re—if you’re looking at the challenge to Europe, I think both politically and economically the migrant crisis today is an extraordinary one where Germany is closing the border with Austria, Hungary is taking—bringing out water cannons. I mean, what you’re seeing—you know, a continent that supposedly has a continent-wide policy finding itself completely, you know, kind of disintegrating that unity without knowing where to go and how to handle this, I think that’s very significant, especially in the context of the populist challenge.

I think this is going to worsen that, whether it’s Marine Le Pen or, I mean, any number of these people across Europe. There’s a lot going on. It strikes me that really is not a NATO thing. I mean, the security and the stability of the European governments matters to NATO, but I don’t see NATO as being a very good vehicle to look at trying to handle issues such as the migrants.

In terms of the alliance, I think that Russia does, to some degree, threaten alliance unity. I do think it’s a bounded threat. Putin is a nasty character, no doubt, but I don’t see much evidence he’s interested in ruling non-Russians. I mean, I don’t perceive him as trying to have a blitzkrieg. Now, this is a man, after 15 years in power, has managed to acquire, in one form or another one could argue, Crimea, part of the Donbass, and maybe Abkhazia and South Ossetia, if you want to call those Russian. This is not Adolf Hitler. This is not someone who’s had a great success.

So I think that it’s a bounded threat. It’s clearly a challenge, and especially for the Eastern, you know, countries. They are far more nervous. The reality is the Germans spend 1.2 percent of GDP on the military. They aren’t worried, and they’re not interested in putting troops in the Baltic States. You know, there’s a very different vision within NATO in terms of what the Russian threat—as it is.

SHANKER: Well, just because I think the argument can be made that the migrant crisis is greatly destabilizing to the continent, even though not a military question—I don’t want to embarrass General Ham, who’s in the audience, but having embedded so often with the military, one thing I learned is that the problem is too big. You have to divide it tactical, operational, and strategic.

And what you see on the ground is a tactical problem of hundreds of thousands of migrants who are leaving these countries. The only strategic problem is not in Hungary or in Germany. It’s reaching back to the place of origin and trying to stabilize and bring jobs and education and hope and stability. So is there any NATO role outside of area in Syria, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Libya to try to prevent the source problem of the migrant crisis?

BANDOW: Well, my reaction is that what we found is that intervention has been far more destructive than stabilizing. I mean, it’s the American intervention in Iraq that has given us everything. I mean, it wrecked that society. It gave us sectarian war. It gave us an al-Qaida that transformed into ISIS. It wrecked the Christian community. Many of those people have ended up in Syria. You know, it gave us a sectarian government under Maliki that had no interest in reconciliation; Libya much the same, another country wrecked, two governments, terrorists, weapons out—so the idea of how you fix Syria. I would love to fix Syria but I have no idea how, and I think our record is not very good for trying to go in and fix places through military intervention.

You know, the Middle East, we have tended to create more problems than not. Clearly if Syria were stabilized we wouldn’t have the migrant crisis. But this is going to be a problem—even when the fighting stops this will be a problem because that society has been utterly wrecked. When you think about the economic opportunities, social opportunities, the hatreds that will live on, there will be people who want to escape even when the fighting is over. So I think looking to NATO to solve that problem, it’s hard enough for the United States. The interest I think in Europe for, you know, military intervention in Syria is very low.

SHANKER: But you do agree that the solution to the migrant crisis is not housing and visas. It’s in the source country.

BANDOW: Yes. Yeah.


GOLDGEIER: Yeah, right, so then the question really is about, do you believe that intervention could be effective or not? I mean, NATO is only relevant if the member countries, and especially the United States, feels that a military intervention would assist with the problem. And of course we do have an intervention of sorts in Iraq. I mean, we have had a coalition engaging in airstrikes in Iraq and some activity in Syria, although very limited, but it has not been—certainly the United States has not pushed to utilize NATO in that way.

And I think the big question—you know, the first big question is do you intervene or do you not intervene? And then if you decide that you’re going to intervene, do you decide that you want to use this alliance? Or are you going to do, as we’ve been doing more recently, some kind of coalition of the willing, which provides you with some greater flexibility and may enable you to have some different partners?

It does lose what NATO does provide, which is an institution that has an infrastructure and it has, you know, the joint exercises and the planning and the North Atlantic Council political body—you know, really has an infrastructure to carry out coalition activity. And we have chosen—certainly since Libya we have chosen not to go that route.

SHANKER: Doug, you mentioned German spending on the military, which even as Europe’s most powerful economy is not even hitting the NATO target. I covered that wonderful Gates speech, his valedictory speech in June 2011. I remember hearing it and getting on the phone with the foreign desk saying: Better save me two columns on page 1. This is big.

How would you assess NATO’s response in the four years since the Gates speech to meet his challenges of having military spending fit the new reality of the day? And since they haven’t, you know, what should the alliance be doing about that?

BANDOW: Well, I think it’s a pitiful response. The projected numbers I think that NATO itself put out, I think Greece comes in at 2.4 percent, in large part because its economy has shrunk by a quarter. (Laughter.) So you can spend less money and you actually appear to be putting more military effort in. And of course much of Greece’s effort is directed at the Turks, not at, I mean, anyone outside.

I think Poland is 2.2 (percent). Britain I think hit 2 (percent). And Estonia hit 2 (percent). They’re the only ones who hit the benchmark. The French I think were 1.8 (percent), which isn’t quite so bad. I mean, the Germans are 1.2 (percent). I think Spain was .9 (percent). I mean, the Latvians and Lithuanians, who are screaming about, you know, the threat of the Russians, are at 1 (percent), 1.1 percent. I mean, overall Europe is, I think, about 1.5 percent. The U.S. is 3.6 percent.

And, you know, every year there is call for more spending. Now, the Brits and the French had planned on freezing or reducing and actually have stabilized. I think both of them felt a little embarrassed at falling below, but I don’t think this is going to change. I mean, Scott Walker gave a speech in which he said, I’m going to go over there and use my influence and get the Europeans to spend more. Well, OK, we’ve been trying that for 50 years and it doesn’t work.

And the reality is, why should the Europeans do so? I mean, most European countries other than those in the Far East look and say, we don’t face serious military threats and we have extraordinary social problems, financial crises. I don’t think the Greek crisis is resolved yet. We all have budget cuts, austerity. Now we have a migrant crisis, social welfare. We have populist parties. We have—I mean, Jeremy Corbyn in Great Britain, I assume he won’t become prime minister, but this is a man who doesn’t like NATO. He likes Hamas. I mean, you kind of go—you think, this is a man who will now be the opposition leader, you know, in, kind of, Westminster.

There’s so much going on. I don’t think this is going to change. And it doesn’t matter how much the next president complains, whines, begs, pleads. It won’t change. And this is something which one has to look at NATO and realize the incentive structure is Europeans would be foolish to spend more as long as they can rely on the United States.

And every time the president or vice president goes to Europe to reassure them, he is telling them, don’t spend more. Even if he says spend more; if he’s saying don’t worry, we will take care of everything, why should they? How do they go to their populations and say, we want to take scarce resources and spend them on the military, when they don’t see a need for it? I think that’s the challenge. What is the need for the average German or Italian or Spaniard, you know, to spend more on the military? I don’t know.

SHANKER: So it sounds like less an alliance than a dysfunctional marriage, with the U.S. as one partner and the Europeans as the other.


SHANKER: My words, not yours. (Laughter.)

GOLDGEIER: Thank you.

I mean, the spending issue is serious. It’s been serious for a long time, as you pointed out that, you know, the United States has periodically complained. And certainly Gates’ comments, you know, were very serious comments. I agree with Doug. The Europeans aren’t going to spend more on defense, and I think especially in the midst of this migrant crisis, where you’re going to see a need for even greater social spending to try to deal with the problems that societies are going to face they are not looking to increase their spending.

I would say that the real challenge from a U.S. perspective is the role that our longtime major allies, the United Kingdom and France, are willing to play as major national—countries with a real national security ambition, a national security agenda, and an ability to really go with us to other places. And the French have maintained that, and the French are—have been serious about that. The British seem to have lost interest. And I think that’s the significant blow for the—for the U.S. relationship with Europe, the larger trans-Atlantic setting, and the ability of the United States to be able to work with Europe on a broader set of issues.

I think the trajectory of the U.K. is going to be extremely important. And of course Germany is there as the major economic power on the continent. There’s been talk over the last year-and-a-half of Germany doing more in the national security sphere, but it’s not something that Germany—you know, that there’s a lot of popular support for, political support for. And I think that Chancellor Merkel gets enormous credit for the way in which she has responded over the last year-and-a-half to the crisis in Ukraine, but that doesn’t translate into more German military capacity.

SHANKER: So it sounds like you’re saying that this American argument for more defense spending is just screaming at the tornado. And while we do it, it doesn’t matter. And I guess I also want to get your sense of whether that also applies to coalition warfare with NATO.

I spent, you know, several months every year embedded in Afghanistan with ISAF forces. And the Americans used to joke that ISAF stands for “I saw America fight.” And other than the major partners that you talked about, the Five Eyes, all the other coalition partners, with all due respect, did not add all that much to the security of the mission. So just like the debate over NATO spending is the debate over coalition warfare, sort of a lot of wasted time as well.

BANDOW: Well, I think a lot of that presence is symbolic. I mean, it’s embarrassing to be part of an alliance where the U.S. has the dominant role and is defending you if you don’t help the U.S. out. And I think a lot of politicians—there’s a certain point they get embarrassed at a lot of whining out of Washington so you provide something, a few hundred soldiers. You put on caveats to make sure they can't get shot at.

I mean, the British tabloids were having fun with the Germans. The Germans were all getting fat eating sausages and drinking beer because they weren’t fighting. Now, the Germans did lose some casualties, but I remember this even within Europe. I mean, some of these are the front-page tabloid stories in Britain, the Daily Mail and whatnot. I mean, it kind of showed the tensions even there, that from the British standpoint we’re fighting—the British view is we’ve joined the Americans, and actually people are dying and the Germans are kind of sitting in fortified territory.

So I think that the challenge is most Europeans don’t have much interest in all of this. So again, how do you convince them? And I think one of the problems for NATO is when you go out of area, you’ve suddenly lost the cohesion. Everyone understands, you know if you want to defend Europe, why Europe is important to Europeans, but why is, you know, what’s going—to my mind, why 13 years of nation-building in Afghanistan makes sense. I don’t think it makes sense for America. It doesn’t make sense for Europeans. My guess is most Europeans say no. I mean, I went there twice and no Afghan had anything good to say about his or her government unless they were getting a paycheck from it. You know, I mean, can you make this place function?

The pressures I think in Europe are even greater than in the United States. That makes the coalition warfare much harder. The moment you step away from Europe, which is the core interest, and try to do other things, I think American and European perceptions differ. I think the same thing in the Middle East. How much enthusiasm is there for getting involved in Syria? My guess is you go capital by capital in Europe, you’re not going to find very much and it would be very hard to get NATO involved as an organization. There will be a lot of deep breaths being taken, a lot of caveats being applied on the line. You know, there will be two planes coming from Italy or something and—I’m skeptical, I think.

SHANKER: Even if the ISIS-inspired violence hits European capitals harder?

BANDOW: It would have to hit really hard and they’d have to believe that, in fact, going into Syria can solve that. I mean, the challenge, frankly, in Syria is there are two different things going on. It’s what you do about Assad and what do you do about ISIS? And there’s a tension there that’s very hard to work out because the strongest military at the moment fighting ISIS happens to be the Assad army. So America, I think correctly, has prioritized taking on ISIS. A lot of folks, I think for humanitarian reasons, prioritize taking on Assad. And I think in Europe there’s a bit of that as well. So that, I think, is a tension that’s very hard to work out.

GOLDGEIER: But also, you know, the investment that it takes to really have a serious capacity is a long-term phenomenon. And if you just look back over the last 25 years and think about the capacity that our leading allies can bring, you know, of course they developed capacity during the Cold War. And when we went to war in the Persian Gulf in 1991 it was not a NATO operation, but we had our leading allies there with us and they were able to do quite a significant amount. By 1999, when we did the NATO operation in Kosovo, they were able to do much less because they had invested much less in the 1990s. We saw, in 2011, the operation in Libya.

You know, this notion of the British and French in the lead—and the United States, the Obama administration worked very hard to present this notion that they were in the lead, but there were certain things they couldn’t do and that they required the United States to be there to assist them. And I don’t even think today they could do what they did in 2011.

So I think the problem is the—is the long-term investment that’s required to really engage seriously, especially alongside a country like the United States, that it does invest so much in its military and, you know, is continuing to look for ways to become more and more technologically superior to other militaries out there in the world.

SHANKER: Well, it was interesting in Libya. I mean, one of the things that really separates a super power from everybody else is aerial refueling. When you looked at the statistics on the number of air—the U.S. was doing the vast majority, and also how quickly the allies ran out of precision guided munitions that we had to then resupply them. And so what is—is it Jacks are better to open? I don’t really know, but the allies need to bring some more.

We don’t really have any audiovisual so I’m going to use your tie, which you can see has chess pieces on it. (Laughter.) And I would argue that the next sort of chess game to be played in Europe is in the Artic, and how interesting that the five countries that have Arctic claims and border the Arctic, four of them are NATO members and one is Russia. So what challenge does that pose to NATO as the Arctic becomes not just a chess game but for natural resources and security, and natural resource security as well?


GOLDGEIER: Well, clearly, I mean, you know, President Obama did his recent trip to Alaska and there was a lot of talk surrounding that trip, not just about climate change, which was the main reason for the trip and his activities there, but also this question of what the United States would do with respect to the challenges that the Artic provides. The Russians have been very aggressive in the Arctic. I mean, they are staking their claims. You know, they have a lot of issues with the oil and gas production that they currently have in Russia, and so these reserves that they see there are reserves that they want to pursue in order to try to boost their capacity.

And as you say, with the countries—the other countries in the Arctic region and the NATO membership, it is something certainly we’ve seen within the alliance, I would say Norway being the most serious about trying to push forward an Arctic agenda. I think the United States has been very slow, but I think the United States is also going to become much more serious now about this, especially as Russia’s aggression grows, and the Russian military activity more generally. We’re talking about a lot of Russian military flights in the vicinity of over NATO country airspace and concerns on the part of the United States and its allies that they need to push back.

BANDOW: Yeah, I think clearly they’re national claims, not organizational claims, and NATO backs up the countries that are making the claims. So the question then is, you know, to what extent do you get the organization involved? To what extent do you back the claims?

I mean there’s, I think, a similar challenge in the South China Sea. The U.S. has no claims. What allies have claims? You know, to what extent do you accept them? To what extent do you support them? To what extent do you say, we don’t support them but we support their administration? I think you’re running into a bit of that. But it’s going to be very important. Clearly the opening up—the potential resources there are enormous, and who can blame the Russians for making a go at it? But I think you have to make sure that the other countries get in as well.

SHANKER: Right. Most of our discussion so far as cast a critical eye at European behavior. I want to ask one thing about American national security policy making, which is troop levels in Europe. You know, the brigades were being pulled out, repositioning. There is some flowing back in but on a rotational basis. Do you think that the Pentagon’s decisions on troop numbers in European have been part of this destabilizing process, that it sends a signal to Putin that he can play a little more aggressively, or have these been wise decisions?

BANDOW: Well, in my view, I mean, American troops should be coming home more quickly. I mean, it’s long after the Cold War. I mean, the Cold War, the end of the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact—you know, the Europeans have a larger GDP and population than us, let alone to Russia, and I think our policy turns them into dependents; that in effect what we’ve done is turned them into—you know, it’s a defense dole. They can rely on us. I mean, when the issue came up in the Baltics, who wants to put troops there, and the Germans were queried, they said, no thank you, but we had troops in Germany for decades to protect them. They can’t be bothered to protect allies. They can do that if they can rely upon the United States.

I think the primary problem with Putin is simply a disparity of interests. The reality is Ukraine matters far, far more to Ukraine than it does to us and to the Germans and the Europeans. And I think he is quite willing to risk conflict and war over that and we aren’t—and, I would say, correctly so. I mean, the reality is, what are you prepared to die for? You know, the question of the Donbass? I don’t think so.

And I think that Georgia posed the same kind of problem back in 2008, that, do we want a military response? You know, I don’t like Russian behavior but I think interest determines an awful lot here, and where countries have an extraordinary amount at stake they will take extraordinary risks. And from a Russian standpoint, I think their view is they can’t allow the U.S. to push back on them.

So I think that’s the challenge, then. For the U.S., I think that’s the far more important issue than a sign of weakness. I think Putin recognizes it doesn’t matter where the troops are. The U.S. has no intention of going toe-to-toe with a nuclear-armed power over the security of the Donbass because, quite honestly, it would be insane to do so.

I mean, you know, you get through the entire Cold War without going to nuclear war; now you want to take—you know, because then the problem on that is the—a mistake, an accident, any number of things—and the Russians have far less capacity to kind of, I think, moderately increase. They don’t have the conventional capacity. They’re much more likely to move towards nuclear weapons. Do you want to get into that game?

And I think he correctly—that was the judgment he made, not so much the U.S. doesn’t have as many troops on station in the continent. It’s much more this is worth it to me; it’s not worth it to them, and especially the Europeans, as we’ve seen. I mean, the idea that the Germans or the French or the Italians want to send troops to the Ukraine, oh, my goodness, no.

SHANKER: There’s a little history there.


GOLDGEIER: So I do think Ukraine matters more to us than Doug is suggesting, but on the—on this broader point that you raised initially about American troop presence in Europe, you know, one of the big disparities, of course, between the United States and the Europeans is that the United States is a global power. The Europeans are much more regionally focused. And so the United States has a full array of interests that is has to deal with if it’s going to do things like rebalance its foreign policy, which doesn’t mean leaving Europe and the Middle East to go to Asia but just creating more of a balance in U.S. foreign policy. The United States itself has limited resources.

And I think, you know, decisions about troop levels were sensible, and I think asking the Europeans to do more is perfectly reasonable, given the wealth of those European countries. I do think that the United States and its allies can do more to station forces on the territory of our Eastern members. There’s a lot of controversy about that because of this agreement made in 1997 when NATO was trying to develop a more positive relationship with Russia. And, you know, I think the Russian actions have basically voided, you know, whatever our effort was to try to create that more positive relationship.

I do think Ukraine matters a lot to the United States and to Europe, and the reason is for sort of the broader sense, that since the Second World War the United States has attempted to build a liberal international order, an order that, you know, was in a certain part of the non-communist world during the Cold War that it sought to extend after the Cold War to try to build a world in which there was democracy, market economies, respect for human rights, respect for rule of law. And certainly in Europe, after the end of the Cold War, the goal was to promote a Europe whole, free, and at peace. I think that was a worthy goal.

I think that the effort to—successful effort to bring most of Europe into NATO and the European Union is one of the great strategic achievements of the United States and Europe of the last quarter-century. And it is an order that Putin fundamentally opposes. And to allow him to push against the order and seek to undermine that order without a serious response from the West—which we started to have after the invasion of Crimea and the annexation of Crimea, but then I think we slowed down with respect to the seriousness of our response, in part for the reasons that Doug is saying. I think that it warrants a stronger response, even though, like Doug, I don’t believe we should be going to war with Russia over Ukraine, but I think we should have a stronger response.

SHANKER: But the important point you made about expanding this liberal democracy, I mean, no conversation about NATO can move to audience questions without the moderator asking about NATO expansion. I mean, at this point, all the countries that have been mentioned, whether it’s Macedonia, Bosnia, Georgia, even Ukraine, should the alliance reach out to them further? Would they be net contributors to security or would they be a net loss to NATO security as members?

GOLDGEIER: Well, I think the most important point is that NATO should maintain its open-door policy. It’s there in the 1949 treaty that if you can meet the criteria, contribute to alliance security, and you’re a European country, you should have the opportunity to pursue NATO membership. And I think it’s important that NATO maintain that open-door policy and that countries have the ability—even if they can’t do so right away. Nobody, even the strongest proponents of NATO enlargement don’t believe that Ukraine and Georgia are going to become NATO members anytime soon, but I think shutting the door is a huge mistake.

Right now the country in queue is Montenegro. Is that going to make a huge difference for NATO capacity one way or the other? No. Is it important from the standpoint of what NATO is as a political institution to continue to have this process? I think it is. And I think one of the most interesting issues with respect to enlargement will be what Sweden and Finland decide to do with respect to their own potential pursuit.

BANDOW: I don’t think that NATO membership is a right to countries. I think the United States wants to ask if it’s in its national interest to be prepared to go to war to defend a particular country. And it strikes me what we managed to do, I think, with NATO expansion was—you know, kind of the vision was there’s no threat of war now. It became kind of a social club. Isn’t it wonderful? Let everybody in.

I mean, the notion that we gain security because we let in Montenegro—I mean, Marco Rubio, in his foreign policy speech, actually made an emphasis: We need expansion, and Montenegro. I mean, this is a presidential initiative, we must have Montenegro in NATO? I mean, for what? You know, why do we want—you know, Macedonia, or for the Greeks in the audience, FYROM or Skopje or whoever—you know, whatever name I’m supposed to use. (Laughter.)

I mean, my view is you bring in allies who actually advance your national security. I mean, it strikes me that small countries like that don’t. And they’ll waste a bit of our money because no doubt we’ll spend money trying to get their forces up to shape, and interoperability, et cetera, et cetera. It won’t be a lot of money, but we’re bankrupt. I mean, I think we should be careful about, you know, throwing more money abroad for odd purposes.

I don’t think Montenegro, you know, bringing it in, is a real problem. Clearly, though, Georgia and Ukraine would be disasters. I mean, they would—they’re a security black hole. I mean, you know, they bring conflicts in, conflicts with a nuclear-armed power. You know, so if something goes wrong—it’s not like you bomb Serbia for 78 days and eventually they give in or you blow up Iraq and the only people who suffer are the 200,000 dead Iraqis and a half-million Christians who get pushed out of the country, or something. I mean, we are at risk very much.

And I think, you know, we tend to pick allies kind of like Facebook friends. The more the merrier. I think I want allies who advance our security. (Laughter.)

SHANKER: Allies as Facebook friends.

BANDOW: So I’m not interested in looking around the world, getting allies to give away security commitments that don’t advance out interests. I want to give security commitments where it actually advances or interests, and I don’t think we’re doing that.

So I think—you know, Montenegro, it’s within the sphere where we already are. I mean, I think, again, it doesn’t matter very much, but I think we’ve looked at it wrongly in terms of—alliance expansion should be because it promotes American security. Every alliance expansion means we’re making another commitment for war for countries which really can’t do an awful lot to help us.

SHANKER: Right. I want you all to go home and either “like” or “unlike” Montenegro and then we’ll decide. (Laughter.)

Before I invite our distinguished audience to ask questions, I do have one final from the chair. And the other thing I learned from the military is the importance of contracting out your problems. (Laughter.) So yesterday I called my Fletcher classmate, a guy named Stavridis, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe, and I said, Jim, as the former NATO commander—I’m moderating a panel—what do you think is the most important question? And so I would like to read you a question from Admiral Stavridis:

“Hybrid warfare is the term given to the mix of information operations, cyberattack, insurgent techniques, unmarked soldiers across borders, and propaganda that Putin wielded in Crimea, continues to us in the rest of Ukraine, and threatens to apply in the Baltics. What does NATO need to do in order to prepare best for further hybrid warfare, which will be an attack on the alliance or its interests but not as obviously as tanks rolling across the border?”

GOLDGEIER: Good question from my fellow dean, who, by the way, has done a phenomenal job as dean at Fletcher. He’s really quite a remarkable individual.

I think this gets to the point that I was trying to make earlier, which is that I do believe that the Russian actions in Ukraine, simply by putting pressure on countries like Estonia, really put a lot of pressure on the alliance, because the question is, what are the allies willing to do to ensure the security of a country like Estonia?

You know, if you’re Estonian there’s—you are vulnerable, right? You are dependent on others for your security and you will always be dependent on others for your security. And the question is, are those others going to be there? And I think that the type of warfare that we’re talking about is something that the United States military and the militaries of the allies and NATO as an organization are going to have to address over time in terms of how do they deal with questions of cyber conflict. How do they deal with these—a type of warfare where you’re not even sure who’s participating, under whose auspices? Are they, you know, really Russian military? Are they independent actors that have ties to the Russian military?

I think that’s a less important question than are you, as a community, willing to stand together to do everything that you need to do in order to try to ensure the security of a fellow alliance member? And I think that that is more of an open question than it should be. I think if you look at the public opinion surveys in Europe it’s not clear how much across Europe countries are willing to support a country like Estonia.

And, you know, we think of Putin as a big risk-taker, but in fact he has bounded his risks because he has stuck to threatening a non-NATO member. I think if he really pushed and decided that he was going to try to see what the alliance was made of, I think that this would be a real serious challenge to the alliance.

BANDOW: Well, clearly Putin has, I think, effectively leveraged a relatively weak military, a weak position, by using these kind of unconventional tactics. And how to respond to them is very hard because, I mean, there’s a certain brilliance to the way he’s kind of working it out. And if you don’t have bright lines it’s much harder for countries to decide when to act and when not to act.

But I think Jim’s got the basic point, is, you know, what are the Europeans in particular going to defend against? A Pew poll that came out earlier this year, 60 percent of Germans said, no, thank you about defending other NATO members. I mean, even Britain, I mean, 49 said yes. In Spain it was like 48 to 47. I mean, Italy was negative. France I think was negative.

I mean, so you have the major powers in Europe you’re finding, you know, either large numbers, large minorities or pluralities saying, we’re not interested. And the question was not Ukraine, which isn’t even a member of NATO. The question was NATO members. So if you don’t have the will to back up your commitment, then you’ve got a very real problem, because then the moment you’re tested, if you don’t act on it then you’ve lost credibility. You encourage further testing.

So I think that’s the real challenge: What is Europe willing to do? Is it willing to defend the Baltics? If it is, it’s got to decide how to respond if Putin would try some of the same tactics with, you know, kind of the ethnic Russian populations there.

SHANKER: Thank you.

I now happily invite audience members to join in this discussion. Please wait for the microphone after I call on you. And state your name, your affiliation, and if you could keep your questions brief so we can get to as many people as possible. Who has a question this evening? Yes, ma’am.

Q: Hi. Hope Harrison, George Washington University. Thanks so much for this panel.

Jim, you said that you think we’re not standing up enough to Putin and you wish we had a more robust posture. What would be the elements of that, in your view? And I’d be interested in Doug’s comments as well.

GOLDGEIER: Thank you, Hope, for the question.

So first you have the response that we did employ, which was the sanctions, right? He went in. We instituted sanctions. And the policy a year ago was that as he escalated we would continue to escalate our sanctions. He did escalate. We didn’t escalate our sanctions, so we didn’t follow our own policy.

Second, and of course the big controversy, is whether or not we should be providing lethal military aid. We have provided training, and I think that’s important, but clearly he’s not facing sufficient costs to cause him to change his behavior. And the argument that President Obama has been making is that to provide that kind of assistance would lead to an escalation of the conflict. It would make everybody worse off. I think that lethal military aid could serve an important purpose in raising the costs on Putin for continuing the actions that he’s taken, and I think it’s something that the United States should be pursuing.

BANDOW: Now, I think both of those—I mean, the problem with those is we don’t know exactly how the Russians would respond, of course. I think the problems on sanctions is I don’t see much evidence that he’s willing to back down because of economic problems. So far it appears that his popularity has held. That could be fragile. Nevertheless, I think one of the problems is the more you put sanctions on, the easier it is to blame others. I think that happened in Cuba for many years.

The other question is, do you want Weimar Russia? I mean, do you want a potential implosion within Russia? It’s not at all clear to me that if Putin falls, liberal Democrats take over. I mean, there are an awful lot of much nastier folks there. Now, I’d like to see the guy gone. On the other hand, I think we’ve seen it a lot of places. You know, you see the rise of ISIS and whatever. Kind of what comes next is very important. And one wants to be very careful about trying to create potential chaos, disaster. Within a political collapse, who knows who takes over and what happens? And I think we want to be very careful about that. It’s not clear to me it would come to that, but if it came to that I’m not sure we’d be happy with the outcome.

I think the challenge on lethal military aid is, as I see it, Putin cannot afford to back down at this stage, which means—and he has an incentive, then, to trump. I mean, he has an incentive to increase and escalate. The price would be higher but, again, he can always point to that and say the Europeans, the West, the U.S. is doing this on the border, violating Soviet security—or Russian security, et cetera.

Then I think the danger is, if the conflict escalates, are we prepared to do more? I mean, if all we manage to do is encourage the Russians to put in more and use greater lethality and greater force, which the Ukrainians cannot contain, do we then say, well, sorry, that’s as far as we’re willing to go, or are we prepared to go in again? So I think we have to think of the end game and what are we prepared to do.

I mean, I think that a better outcome is trying to come up with some kind of an accommodation of a neutralized Ukraine basically, which I understand that Ukrainians want to be with the West, and I don’t blame them. The problem is they live in a bad neighborhood, you know, and the question is what do you do in that circumstance? I don’t think America should be prepared to forever back up the threat of war. If you can’t get that kind of backing, are there other alternatives? It’s an ugly situation, but I’m worried that those kind of measures are not likely to give us the outcomes that we like.

SHANKER: Thank you.

In the very back. General, do you have a question, sir?

Q: Hi, I’m Carter Ham. I’m an old soldier who spent a fair amount of time in Europe.

You’ve done a great job, I think, of laying out some of the complexities of this diverse alliance. I was a bit surprised there was no mention of Turkey, who seems to be growing in importance both in the alliance and perhaps in a bilateral—and they’re pretty much on the frontlines for several of these conflicts. So I’d welcome your comments about the role of Turkey within the alliance and perhaps bilaterally with the U.S.

BANDOW: Well, Turkey is an extraordinary challenge. I mean, so far they’ve played a fairly maligned role when it comes to ISIS. And I’ve been down on the border and, you know, there’s been a lot of traffic back and forth. Now they seem to have moved in a different direction. On the other hand, the price of that appears to be going after the Kurds, and of course the Kurds are among the most effective fighters against ISIS.

And the other challenge, of course, of the Erdogan government, is that we’ve gone from a prime minister who was kind of a liberalizer to somebody who seems to, you know, want to become the next sultan, and where they have an upcoming election, which I think is a real challenge—security issues, a crackdown on the media.

So Turkey today doesn’t fit well. They clearly always acted on their own interests. We wanted them to allow us to open up another front on Iraq and they said, no, thank you. They only recently allowed us to use Incirlik Air Base for bombing missions. So they’re going to be hard to work with.

I mean, they’re a critically important country. I mean, there are all the clichés about a bridge, you know, between continents and all sorts of other stuff. You know, you don’t want to overplay that, but there’s an element of truth to that—so far, at least, a democratic Muslim country. You know, it’s preserved liberties more or less. But within NATO I think that’s the challenge we’re facing.

Of course, separate from that is the issue of the European Union, which at one point they really wanted to get into. No surprise; many European countries weren’t very interested. So I think the interest in Turkey has waned. And then you tie that into the Cyprus issue where the Republic of Cyprus doesn’t really want them to get in unless they get unified.

And there’s so many complex issues that intersect with Turkey, but I think especially now the Middle East conflict is really rough—how you resolve Syria, their ambitions in terms of Syria, the ISIS, the Kurds. All of those potentially conflict in varying ways with American interests.

GOLDGEIER: The only thing I would just add is—just on this last point, I think that Turkey has been one of the challenges in pursuing closer NATO-European Union cooperation. And I think that we really need—given the different capacities of NATO and the European Union, and given that they’re in the same town, they should be—it should be a lot easier than it is to forge greater collaboration between these institutions and more division of labor between these institutions, and the issues that Doug has been describing have been part of the challenge with respect to the different memberships in the European Union and NATO to having closer collaboration.

SHANKER: A question here, please.

Q: Hi. Doug Ollivant with Mantid International.

One of the myriad of pithy sayings that came out of Iraq and Afghanistan is we can’t want it more than they do. And it strikes me that when you talk about Estonia we have exactly this problem. We can picture what a serious Estonia looks like. You know, they would have persistent and non-persistent ISR on their borders. They would have on-order obstacle belts on their major roads. They would have artillery positioned on those obstacles. They would have anti-tank weapons. They would have a command and control center. They’d integrate their intelligence with as much intelligence sharing as they could get from NATO and the United States. And of course, none of the above. This would cost 3 (percent) to 4 percent of their GDP.

If they’re not this concerned about a Russian invasion, why should the alliance be? And, you know, carrying on—you know, it strikes me that probably this year DOD and the various FFRDCs and think tanks may spend as much in studies on looking at the Balkans as they’re actually spending on defending themselves. (Laughter.) What does this mean for the alliance and its seriousness at looking at the defense of its borders?

BANDOW: Well, that’s the whole problem, of course, with the spending issue across the continent, which is, are the Europeans serious about having real militaries? I mean, aside from France and Britain—and even they are cutting back but they still, I think, are relatively serious, I mean, it’s increasingly hard to find serious militaries—I mean, you know, ones which can have expeditionary capacity.

And certainly I think the—you know, it’s clear that an Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, or even a Poland could not defend themselves from a full-scale Russian attack. They could certainly make it very costly. And I think that raising the potential cost is one way that you deter any sense of opportunism by Mr. Putin, which is if it’s not easy game, you have other things on your mind and other things to do. If they’re not willing to do that, I think you’re absolutely right. I look at that and say—I mean, their expectation is we can make it easy: Please give us a combat brigade. And then that way we have a tripwire and then we’re taken care of. We don’t have to spend the money.

I do think that the U.S. has to indicate that that game is over. I mean, economist Laurence Kotlikoff says we have $200 trillion in unfunded liabilities. You know, if you look at the—we have maybe up to a $17 trillion, you know, federal debt directly, plus all these promises and Social Security and Medicare and all sorts of other things, that we can’t afford everything. As Jim indicated, I mean, we have—everyone around the world expects us to take care of things, the South Koreans and the Japanese and the—well, there is a point at which we don’t have those resources.

As you find in coming years, the problem is not the deficit over the next 10 years. The Congressional Budget Office just put out its latest report. It’s the out years, because those are the years, with the aging of the baby boom generation the numbers do this. I mean, the deficits do this—does this. I mean, some of their scenarios get us up to 175 percent of GDP of debt, and that’s basically Greek levels.

You know, so we can’t afford a lot of stuff, and I think that’s the point where we have to say, you know, tough decisions have to be made. And the Europeans have to understand—I think at some point American politicians are not going to go into assisted living facilities and say, you know, we’ve got to cut Medicare because the Estonians want us to defend them. It’s not going to go over very well. You know, we’re going to have make some very tough kind of trade-offs. One of those trade-offs is going to be exactly who do we defend, how much, what’s their role?

The earlier that adult conversation starts with Europe, I think the better, because it’s easier to make changes prospectively as opposed to suddenly find 20 years from now where America says, well, that’s it, we just don’t have the cash; good luck, as opposed to, how do we phase this in, how do we work this out?

GOLDGEIER: So I think it’s important for us to step back for a minute. And we’ll disagree on this, but I just—as someone who thinks that NATO is an important institution for the United States, for Europe, globally—you know, we’ve spent a lot of time complaining tonight about NATO, about the Europeans, and it’s easy to do.

SHANKER: And fun. (Laughter.)

GOLDGEIER: And fun. But, you know, it’s important to recognize that as many problems as this institution has, there is no other institution out there in the world that can even do what NATO does. And that’s why, when there have been these crises over the last 15 to 20 years, that’s why NATO is the go-to organization. I mean, why should NATO have been asked by the international community to do Libya? Why should NATO have been asked by the international community before that to do counter-piracy off East Africa? I mean, it’s asked because there is nobody else to do it.

And I think that, you know, the challenge that Estonia poses is that it cuts to the heart of what the alliance is. And to leave a country like Estonia out there hanging to have this sense that actually the alliance wouldn’t be there if Estonia needed it to be there would be damaging to an institution that I think—I mean, I certainly would be loath to see this institution disappear, with all its faults.

And as someone who did—the Council had to ask me in 2010 to do a special report on the future of NATO, and my first sentence in the report was: If NATO didn’t exist today, the United States wouldn’t seek to create it. I mean, we would—if it didn’t—we wouldn’t go about saying, what we need is an institution with the United States, Canada, and Europe. I mean, we’d be looking—we’d be looking more globally. But it is an institution that we have. There is no other institution like it. And I think we need to—we need to be serious about it.

SHANKER: Well, I thank our two panelists for describing that conflicting or differing worldview so succinctly, because that really is the crux of the debate tonight.

Yes, ma’am, in front. Do you have a question?

Q: Gale Mattox from the U.S. Naval Academy.

As Afghanistan started to have some problems, the discussion was very much, do we need NATO? Is a failure in Afghanistan going to mean that NATO has failed and we don’t really need it as an organization? I think most of that talk has gone by the wayside but there’s still—Afghanistan is not in a good position right now. There are still questions about whether we’ll stay, whether we won’t stay. And when we leave, what exactly is going to happen?

I guess I’d like you all to sort of evaluate what you think came out of Afghanistan and what you think, sort of longer term, it’s going to have meant for NATO.

GOLDGEIER: Well, I think that, I mean, it gets to the heart of this question about when and where and why do we intervene, and what are we able to accomplish through that type of intervention? You know, we’ve seen places where we’ve intervened. As Doug pointed out, the war in Iraq proved disastrous and we’re still suffering from the consequences. We didn’t intervene in Syria and it was disastrous and we’re suffering from the consequences.

I mean, Afghanistan, you know, I think we had to go in after September 11th to deal with the threat that was emanating from Afghanistan. Did we have to stay as long as we did? What purpose was served by staying as long as we did? And of course the biggest challenge is the political challenge of working with governments, whether it’s in Afghanistan or Iraq, that we don’t control, that have a different agenda from ours.

In Afghanistan, I think one of the biggest issues of course was—you know, as it’s been in Iraq—we get used by the parties on the parties on the ground: Hey, there’s a terrorist threat. United States, you really need to go after that terrorist threat, right? Well, it has nothing to do with us. It’s about a—it’s about an issue that has to do with the parties on the ground, and we get easily used by them. And I think that we’ve seen this over and over again.

But, I mean, it really gets to the heart of—especially as we look at the last quarter-century and the different interventions that we’ve been engaged in—a really hard look at what are we able to accomplish through these types of interventions and, you know, are there other means to deal with these challenges? Are there other countries that we should be asking to assist us? And I think there are a lot of doctoral dissertations there to be written.

BANDOW: I think the problem of Afghanistan is not NATO. It’s Afghanistan. I mean, there are a lot of very good people there who want a liberal society. I mean, I’ve met them and they’re desperate. I mean, they’re scared for a very good reason. But how do you bring democracy to Central Asia? How do you bring democracy to this country given its history, given its geography, given its ideology, I mean, everything that’s there?

And I don’t think you can. I mean, I think the challenge—what we found was—and I think there were two separate missions. I think Jim was absolutely right. You know, you have to send a very clear message: You know, you can’t host training camps where people attack America. If you do that, you’re out of power. I mean, this has to be a very clear message: Don’t do that. You will not be in power again.

And I think we did that very well, and we spent 13 years trying to come up with something else. And I don’t think the—I mean, NATO, I think there were problems—caveats in how NATO—I mean, how the things worked. To me, if NATO has a mission, it’s in Europe; it’s not Afghanistan. So the judgment then is, do you need it for Europe? I mean, I’m skeptical that we need an American-dominated security organization.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a European security organization. We can talk about NATO without America as a dominant role. We could talk about something through the EU, I mean, any number of things. So I think you want an organization—I think to me the issue is, you know, 70 years—60 years—70 years after World War II, you know, do we have to be the dominant player, when, in fact, wealthy countries, populous countries have greater interests at stake?

So I wouldn’t use Afghanistan as a judgment there. It strikes me, you know, that NATO got pulled into something that was very hard to imagine how it was ever going to be solved successfully. You know, if you’re not willing to put 500,000 troops there and be there for 50 years, you know, can you bring democracy to Afghanistan? I’m skeptical. But no one would ever be willing to undergo that kind of a cost, or something approaching that. I don’t know if Afghanistan—if NATO could ever have solved that. So I wouldn’t use that as my template in terms of judging NATO.

SHANKER: A question in the back corner?

Q: Thanks, Thom. My name Jeremy and I’m a senior producer with Al-Jazeera.

And I wanted to ask a little bit about Libya because, Jim, you mentioned it. I worked in Eastern Libya in 2011 and it was very chaotic at the time, and it remains fairly chaotic now. I’m wondering if the decision for NATO to intervene there is viewed now as a success or a failure or neither. And what is the legacy of that decision to intervene in Libya moving forward for NATO?

GOLDGEIER: I mean, I think it’s very hard to make the case that this was a successful intervention given the state of Libya today. It is notable that unlike other NATO missions that go on forever—we’ll see, Gale, on the Afghanistan one, right? But, you know, you go into the Balkans, you stay there forever, right? You carry out missions in the Indian Ocean or in the Mediterranean and you do them forever. This one we were very clear. We were going to do it and then we’re done. So that was a new thing for NATO and, you know, look what we left behind.

You know, the big, I think, philosophical question is how do we think about these leaders like Muammar Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein, who basically said to the world: You know what? Without us, our countries don’t exist. They’re just going to be—they’re just going to be more failed states. We’re the strong men hold these countries together.

They were strong men who held their countries together, and in their absence these countries have been extremely unsuccessful. I think that’s a real—that’s a real challenge for us, given who we are, to think about what our policy should be toward these places, right? There’s no love lost for Muammar Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein, and yet look at what—look at what’s been wrought in these countries.

I do think the question will emerge for NATO, you know, as we keep—as we keep sort of approaching this idea that we might be—the international community might be able to forge something that would hold in Libya, would there then be a NATO role? I think that’s going to be a serious question that NATO will have to grapple with because of the threat that continues to emanate from North Africa.

BANDOW: It strikes me both Libya and Iraq suggest, you know, the value of applying the medical admonition, first do no harm. You know, wandering around world trying to do good without thinking about what the next step is and what’s likely to follow is not very helpful. And what we’ve found, clearly, is it matters what comes next.

I think one of the problems in Libya—in my view at least, the entire episode was utterly dishonest. I mean, Gaddafi, I mean, he’s a nasty guy but he had not slaughtered any civilians in any city. The famous Benghazi speech was directed at armed insurgents, not civilians. It was said to be humanitarian, but basically I think it was regime change on the cheap. Everybody thought this is a great opportunity to get rid of Gaddafi without actually having to do anything.

So, I mean, if it was humanitarian we would have gone in and ended the war. Instead, we provided weapons so it could go on for five, six months. I mean, the most costly, brutal, bloody kind of conflicts are low-grade, you know, kind of civil wars. I mean, there’s no precision munitions. I mean, you just use artillery. You blow up everything. You kill everybody.

You know, so the West kind of went in there, I think, with a dishonest, you know, kind of purpose. And then to kind of, oh, well, it should all work out, well, it was—I mean, Libya was never a real country anyway. It was kind of two different halves put together. And, I mean, you know, as many of these other societies—tribal and ethnic and religious—I mean, all these sorts of stuff swirling around without any sense of what the outcome was going to be. Again, you blow a place up and hope that the pieces fall down in a nice pattern. Well, it doesn’t seem to work that way.

So I think that—I hope these are lessons to say that before you go in—and that I think is a good reason not to have gone into Syria, which is and then what? I mean, I don’t know what—I mean, if you displace Assad, what happens? Everybody starts slaughtering Alawites and Christians and Kurds. You have to go in to defend them. I mean, in the end it’s, well, if we’d only gone in soon enough. Well, maybe. But, I mean, Marco Rubio is saying we should have gone into Libya sooner. Well, OK, would that have worked? Well, I hear on Iraq: Well, if we just had more troops. I get that all the time.

I just don’t believe it. And part of the problem, I think, is that foreign policy advocates like that come up with remedies that American people will never support. That is, we need more, right, another conflict, go in heavier, stay longer, but the reality is the American people won’t support it. You know, there’s a fairly limited timeframe they’re willing to support missions they don’t perceive as being vital national interests.

And if the problem is your solutions—even if in theory they would work—will never be supported by the American people, they aren’t solutions. You know, then you get these kind of half-assed go in a little bit, do a little bit, kind of hope it works out, and we’re seeing the cost from that.

SHANKER: We have time for one final question. Before I call on the gentleman in the corner there, I want to remind everyone that this has been on the record this evening. I want to thank each of you for coming and adding to the conversation. Our two distinguished panelists, great discussion. And most of all to the Council for allowing us to be in your house tonight for this conversation.


Q: Thank you.

SHANKER: Make it a doozy.

Q: I’m Varun Sivaram. I’m the renewable energy fellow here at the Council.

Doug, you brought up the Arctic, and you seemed kind of dismissive of NATO’s role there. But it seems to me that, for at least a couple of reasons, there’s a concerning difference from other theaters. As a capability asymmetry, Russia has more icebreaker vessels than all the member states of NATO combined. And the United States is not compensating for under-investment on the part of European allies. So as this scramble for resources happens in the Arctic, couldn’t that be a core area of focus for NATO?

BANDOW: I think NATO can certainly be involved. I mean, again, I think the challenges you’re talking about, controversies that are largely territorial claims—you know, they were claims tied to nation states. So the question then is, to what extend does the alliance back up the nation state and provide—I mean, I do think that is an area where NATO can be helpful.

But the problem is I think at the core it’s going to be a controversy over staking claims between countries. And that does get you into the challenge of at what point do you say whatever our allies say is fine over sometimes contested claims? You know, to what extent do you try to say, we’re simply backing up their right to make the claims? I mean, I think it does get you into issues that are a little more complex since it’s not NATO per se that’s staking the claim. It’s an allied nation and the question of backing up that nation.

Certainly I think you could probably put resources at the disposal of a NATO member to ensure—allow them to assert claims, but you’d have to be some careful in that. I mean, again, I point to the South China Sea. Do we believe that Japan owns the Senkakus or not? We try to say no. On the other hand, we back Japan and its administration and say that the treaty covers the administration. The Chinese understandably view that as saying we back the Japanese claim. Well, do we? I mean, it strikes me the Chinese have a claim that’s valid. It may not be the best but it’s certainly valid. We have to be careful on that. I do think you get into some—you know, some potential problems that way.

SHANKER: Thank you all. Have a nice evening. And we’ll see you next time. (Applause.)


This is an uncorrected transcript.

Top Stories on CFR


Russia’s moves to mobilize thousands more troops and to annex more of Ukraine’s territory signal a new, potentially more dangerous phase of the war.

Puerto Rico

The Caribbean island, which shares a close yet fraught relationship with the rest of the United States, faces a multilayered economic and social crisis rooted in long-standing policy and compounded by natural disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic, migration, and government mismanagement.

Censorship and Freedom of Expression

Suzanne Nossel, the Chief Executive Officer of PEN America, sits down with James M. Lindsay to discuss growing threats around the world to free expression and how the fight to protect human rights needs to adapt to succeed in a world of great power competition.