A Conversation With the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe

Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Ints Kalnins/Reuters
Adrian Bradshaw

Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

Robert E. Hunter

Senior Fellow, Center for Transatlantic Relations, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies; Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO

General Sir Adrian Bradshaw discusses his tenure as deputy supreme allied commander Europe and provides his perspective on the strategic threats facing NATO.

HUNTER: Good morning. I’m Robert Hunter. I’ve been asked to read the pro forma to start off here.

Welcome to the meeting with Sir Adrian Bradshaw, who is the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, which is a long title, which means, except for SACEUR himself, he runs the show and has an extraordinarily broad perspective, as you will hear as we go along.

Please completely turn off, not just put on vibrate, your cell phones, BlackBerrys, and all wireless devices to avoid interference with the sound system. If you would like to use an electronic instrument, please step out of the meeting room. This meeting is on the record. It’s going to be webcast on CFR.org. In fact, if you want to visit past CFR events and receive information on forthcoming CFR livestreams, please visit the new CFR Live on CFR.org.

We’re pleased to announce an upcoming meeting, What to Worry About in 2017. That’s a meeting that’ll go on for about three weeks. (Laughter.) More information can be found in the back of your program.

The gentleman sitting to my right is one of the more extraordinary people who’s come up through the ranks in the British military, a genuine soldier-diplomat, a term which is much overused, but in his case I think truly applies. You’ll see his bio in your packet, so I don’t need to go into that in any great depth. But let’s say he has commanded at every level and just about in every dimension that matter, not just to his country but to ours and to the alliance as a whole.

I thought, rather than going through the full thing, I will read one commentary upon him. I do my research as well, Sir Adrian. It says the following: “Comfortable at all levels of command, from a challenging and successful tour as a young SAS”—that’s Special Air Services; it’s kind of—the seal’s heavy rather than seal’s light—“troop commander through to high command and operations, Adrian is the consummate professional soldier and soldier-diplomat.”

This person went on to say: “Adrian was one of my Armored Battle Group commanders when I commanded an armored brigade. He made me look so good that that’s the reason in due course I became chief of defense staff.” (Laughter.) That’s David Richards. And let me tell you, you can’t get a higher accolade for people who know David Richards than when he’s saying that about you.

Well, here we go. Let me start off, General, by asking what do you think NATO is all about? What keeps you awake at night? What do you think it really needs to be doing at this moment? What are the great challenges?

BRADSHAW: Well, Rob, firstly, thank you very much for having me here. It’s a great honor. And it’s an opportunity for me to reinforce the need for commitment and support to NATO at this time.

And the primary security challenges that are the walls closest to the sledge, if you like, are, firstly, a nuclear-armed state, Russia, which has shown a proclivity to disobey the rules of international relations that have been in place and governed our actions within Europe since the end of the Second World War through their actions in Crimea and in eastern Ukraine. And that’s a very worrying thing for all of NATO.

And the second big issue is the raft of instabilities that surround the NATO area, from tribal disputes, competition for resources, arms smuggling, narco-criminality, Islamism, and forms of religious extremism, which combine to create the conditions in which, in particular, now Daesh, ISIL, as the latest manifestation of this Islamist scourge exists.

And for Russia, we need to put in place thoroughly effective and convincing deterrence so that everybody knows where the red lines are. And we are effectively building and sustaining military capability so that we never have to use it.

When we look at the instabilities and the phenomenon of religious extremism, we’re building and sustaining military capability precisely because we are already in the military phase of the conflict in places, not formally and institutionally as NATO, but our nations certainly are. And that is going to be a generational challenge for us which we need to continue to address. So two broad categories of challenge.

But in the margins of the Islamist challenge and the instabilities, of course, we have the challenge posed to Europe in particular of vast numbers of refugees trying to flee strife and economic hardship. And I think by addressing the instabilities, we start to look towards addressing that problem.

HUNTER: Thank you. Let’s stick with the continental European and Russian problem right now. There are a number of commitments that were made at Wales and followed through on Warsaw. There’s going to be a meeting in Brussels this year, assuming that it goes forward under our new president. And I fully expect that to happen; that’s my own personal judgment. What do you think more needs to be done at the Brussels summit to enable you and SACEUR and the members of Allied Command Operations to do your job?

BRADSHAW: Well, I think, firstly, we need to reflect on what’s been achieved so far. And in the aftermath of the Crimea crisis and the start of what’s now going on in eastern Ukraine, the nations within NATO had, let’s say, differing views on how significant a problem this was and how much of a threat Russia posed to us. But we managed to agree a substantive raft of measures within the Readiness Action Plan at the Wales summit, which I think was a significant achievement of NATO to bring 28 nations together to cohere around what was effectively the start of a military strategy to deal with this threat.

So what we have to do now is follow up on that. And as I say, the requirement is to refresh a continuum of deterrence so that we have credible deterrence in place which is convincing to Russia and other potential state adversaries and which underpins the absolutely rock-solid commitment that we all have to Article V of the Washington treaty, that of collective defense.

HUNTER: How important do you think the American commitment and direct engagement in this time is going to be to that?

BRADSHAW: It’s absolutely fundamental. The United States of America is the largest contributor to NATO. It’s the most powerful nation in NATO. It has the bulk of the strategic deterrent that underpins, ultimately, deterrence. And the United States’ contribution is absolutely fundamental, and I don’t think anybody within NATO really doubts that it will continue to be so.

HUNTER: Do you think as we move forward with this deterrent posture that you’re talking about, that that means isolating Russia, or do you think there’s some incentive or some possibility of trying to engage Russia, as George H.W. Bush tried to do, or do we—or is it a lost cause, in your view?

BRADSHAW: It’s not a lost cause, and of course we need to continue dialogue alongside deterrence. Our approach to Russia, I think, should be—should continue to be, as it has been from within NATO since before the trouble, to have an open door to dialogue on issues of common concern. For goodness sake, Russia faces the threat from religious extremism just as we do. There’s a lot of common ground. But also, we need to be absolutely firm about adherence to international law and good behavior, and when we feel that they are contravening the rules, either formal or informal, we should say so.

HUNTER: Do you see any role for the NATO-Russia Council, or should that be kept in mothballs for the time being?

BRADSHAW: No, I think it’s important that the NATO-Russia Council continues to do business and we continue to attempt to find common ground. I think it’s also very important in these times of tension to attempt to deescalate the tension by putting safeguards in place. I think it’s worth bearing in mind that in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when we so nearly came to a strategic conflict through not just the fundamental issue there, but a series of awful potential accidents, in the aftermath of that safeguards were put in place, which remained in place until the end of the Cold War, and then were largely deconstructed. We need to rebuild our reassurance measures, we need to have transparency in what we’re doing, and there needs to be a clear understanding that from the NATO point of view, we are a purely defensive organization, that everything we do is open, and we would like to move towards a situation where Russia had the same approach.

HUNTER: Do you foresee any military-to-military interaction with the Russians at the NATO level? (Inaudible.)

BRADSHAW: Well, right now—right now the military-to-military interaction is off the menu in the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis. I think it is desirable. Of course, it’s a political issue. It’s not for me to say. But I think it’s desirable as soon as we possibly can to return to a situation where people in my position and in command positions are talking to our opposite numbers and developing understanding of our opposite numbers within Russia, because if we come to a position of a crisis, it may be just that understanding that gets us out of the crisis. I think it’s very, very important that we’re talking together.

HUNTER: Any possibility of confidence-building measures, or is that also premature?

BRADSHAW: I think the possibility of course is there. We must continue to look for avenues and explore those.

HUNTER: Let me shift slightly. Do you think the allies, as a whole, are stepping up to the mark, particularly in terms of defense spending, on security spending? Does more have to be done, and do you think people are going to make it? And if they don’t make it—I know there’s the 10-year goal—is that going to send a bad signal and have an impact on coherence in the alliance?

BRADSHAW: Well, this is a tough issue. Governments are going through austerity programs. Populations look at defense spending and see it against other priorities like health and education, and questions are asked. But the fact is, if you want a cast-iron security guarantee the likes of which NATO gives you, you have to pay the premium for that sort of insurance policy. And the nations have signed up too at the World Summit to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense within 10 years. Five nations are already doing it. A group of nations have come forward to say they’ll achieve that goal ahead of the timeline, and we need to continue to watch that carefully. But I think if we fail to do it within 10 years, that wouldn’t be a good sign of commitment. But, of course, we need to recognize that nations have to deal with their domestic politics on this.

HUNTER: Let the record show the United Kingdom is one of the five countries.


HUNTER: And continues to be—I suspect I’ll get in trouble with 26 other countries, 27—our closest ally. And whatever happens, we’re going to look to Britain—I know this is not the uniform you’re representing today—for a strong right arm as we act in Europe.

BRADSHAW: Well, as you indicate, I’m here as a NATO officer, and I can say that the 28 nations around the table in the North Atlantic Council are all firm allies together.

HUNTER: Yeah, let me shift ground a little bit. You’ve already mentioned the problems of Daesh, problems external to Europe. I don’t think you mentioned Libya, which still is a serious problem. The flow of refugees, which has been occasion to a great extent because of turmoil in the Middle East. Terrorism, which is visited more in Europe than it is here, for a variety of reasons. What’s NATO doing about it? I see some countries—yours is involved somewhat at some level, but I don’t see the alliance involved in the Middle East. What—in your judgment, recognizing that you don’t speak for the political side of the alliance, but you do have to figure out how to meet the security challenges to the member states, what do you think NATO ought to be doing?

BRADSHAW: Well, Robert, this is a hugely important question. I’m glad you asked it. And as you say, I’m a military man. I’m not—I’m not at the political level. It’s for our political leaders to make these decisions. All I can do is point at the potential for NATO as an institution, as an alliance to do a great deal more than we are doing. The fact is that we have the planning capability, we have the intellectual horsepower, we have the strategic level headquarters to formulate military strategy to look at the entirety of this problem, which is right now missing at the international level. We need to look at the problem of religious extremism from Afghanistan, Pakistan, where NATO has been involved in a major way to stabilize that region. We need to look at the Syria/Iraq region. We need to look at the Horn of Africa. We need to look at Libya, which you mention. We need to look at the Sahel and more widely. And we need to look at all of these regions in the context of the wider problem of Islamist extremism, and we need to formulate a military strategy which addresses in a global sense this problem and breaks it down into regional strategies with coherence between them. We can’t afford to stovepipe our approaches to each of these problems. And there is a role for NATO in formulating, in articulating a wider strategy, which doesn’t imply that NATO has to be the executor of the strategy. For example, we could continue with what we have at the moment, a U.S.-led coalition executing operations in the Syria-Iraq region, but NATO would have an overview of the strategic objectives and relate them to the strategic objectives of groupings working in other areas, and look at the terrain in between and see what we can do to stabilize to help the situation in countries in between these hot areas of conflict, in order to give the chances of success in those hot areas of conflict a greater chance.

HUNTER: Well, let me pin you down a bit. Do you think NATO as NATO should be in both Allied Command Operations, where you’re number two, should be involved in the Levant and in the fight against Daesh, or doing it bits and pieces with individual countries—you say the U.S. leading the coalition—would you like to see ACO in there with a big—a big role?

BRADSHAW: Well, as I say, I think that at the alliance level there is potential for us to be articulating the broader military strategy and to be the executors of parts of it according to political appetite. And clearly there is—in the aftermath of Iraq and Afghanistan, there is hesitation from many nations in seeing their troops committed to combat operations on the ground, but there’s a great deal more that needs to be done in terms of military activity—capacity-building and training, support of the security sectors—which needs to be coordinated in a holistic manner.

But also, I think it’s very important to say that the military strategy that we have the ability to pull together as NATO needs to be coordinated with all the other arms of state and collective power into a grand strategy. We need the mechanisms to combine effective military strategy with developmental, political, economic, educational strategies to have a thoroughly holistic approach. And I think in the Western world, this is something that has been missing from our approach to the big security challenges for a couple of decades now. It’s actually one of the biggest challenges we face, the ability to formulate and execute grand strategy.

HUNTER: Who should do that?

BRADSHAW: Well, I think that the nations that belong to NATO should recognize that NATO has a role in providing the military input to this. I think there is a need for much greater cooperation, formal cooperation between NATO as an institution and the EU to bring together strategies. And of course, the national strategies of the non-EU nations need to be integrated as well. This is a considerable task, but it’s something that we must be moving towards if we’re really going to be successful in approaching the big strategic challenges that we face, particularly that from Daesh/ISIL.

HUNTER: Now, down at your headquarters, do you have the latitude from the North Atlantic Council to do crisis management? I ask that because in the past, very often people who have been SACEUR, deputy SACEUR wanted to do planning and have been forbidden to do it but the council for fear of getting to areas that might commit nations. Do you feel you now have the latitude to do the crisis planning that looks over the horizon, not just to meeting yesterday’s problems?

BRADSHAW: Well, in terms of horizon scanning, of course we’re doing it. And within SHAPE we have a part of the operations center that is continually horizon-scanning and looking at the possibilities for future crises, future conflict. And we have the freedom to carry out prudent military thinking—in other words, to develop our ideas as to how we might approach a particular problem in advance of formal planning authority. That gives us quite a bit of scope to think ahead.

HUNTER: I like that. You mean ask forgiveness rather than permission.

BRADSHAW: No. I think there’s a difference between thinking your way into a problem and embarking on formal planning.

HUNTER: Oh. That’s always been one of the handicaps of NATO is the civilian people turn around and say, what can you do for me right now? And they say, but you didn’t let me do the planning, but I just happened to something on the shelf.

OK, you talked about relation with the European Union. I used to argue that here were two institutions living in the same town on different planets. Do you think that’s improved so that if it gets to a question, as you say, we have to have grand strategy, people pulling together, you are at your level and with your people able to deal with people in the European Union to get them to do their bit and your bit so they somehow—(inaudible)? Or do you think we have a long way to go on that?

BRADSHAW: Well, I work in Brussels quite a bit. I see the strong institutional relationship between the EU and NATO, and I would not remotely describe them as being on different planets.

HUNTER: That’s the way it was before we got things done. But at the—there has been a time with no communication. Speak on that.

BRADSHAW: Right. Well, let me develop that further. I think that communication has improved, driven by a clear political direction to do so. But there’s a lot further we need to go. And the—and the difficult area is getting us at the planner level in the same room to develop combined strategy between our two institutions. That is still a sticking point which needs to be overcome. There are political reasons for that. Not all the nations that belong to NATO belong to the EU and vice versa. And we need to somehow get over the difficulties that certain individual nations have with formal planning and get to the stage where the greater good is served. But without doubt, we need to combine the strategies on politics, economics, the list of areas that I—that I developed before with the military strategy directed and run by NATO.

HUNTER: Final question before we turn it to our guests. Ten days and three hours from now, we’re going to have a new commander in chief here. We do have as nominees a couple of—or three serious military people. I think in particular of General Mattis, who among other things was supreme allied commander transformation at one point, (just was ?) American commands. You have the new head of Department of—whatever it’s called now—Homeland Security—with a lot of experience.

Within what you believe your latitude would be, what advice would you give to the incoming administration in regard to the mandate that you have? What would you tell them, let’s say if you had I want to say 142 characters to deal with our—with our new president? But if you had some substantive time with our folks, what would you tell them that you’d most like to see happen?

BRADSHAW: Well, I’m not here to give advice to the new administration, but I know—

HUNTER: I understand. I just—I just—you give it me, and I’ll pass it on. (Laughter.)

BRADSHAW: Well, I mean, I know General Mattis very well. I have enormous respect—

HUNTER: So do I.

BRADSHAW: —for his professional ability and for him as a person. And I know that an incoming administration could do a lot worse than listen very carefully to his advice.

And let me say something to those who have slight misgivings about military gentlemen of senior standing moving straight into politics. Sure, I think it would be a problem if things moved too far that way. But generals who’ve done stuff, like General Mattis, know what a desperate business warfare is and will do their damnedest to avoid it. And it’s worth listening to their advice.

HUNTER: Well, you were telling me beforehand about your experience in Basra when you went in in 2003 and finding that the biggest problem was not so much your military piece but the civilian piece that had to go along with it, the integrated piece. Is this something you see as a significant challenge for us overall and not just within NATO but in terms of dealing with these complexities that are coming down the pipe?

BRADSHAW: It is. It’s a fundamental challenge. I mean, the sort of grand strategic challenges we face cannot be subcontracted out to defense. It needs a whole-of-government approach. And I commanded the brigade that was the first one into Basra. Our military task was stabilization and security, and we had a great deal to get on with. But I find a huge amount of my time directed towards rebuilding a political construct to run the whole province of Basra, forming a political committee that brought in the interests of all parts of society, including those newly released in the aftermath of Saddam’s regime being kicked out and allowing them to elect their own governor. We had to pay 180,000 civil sector workers their salary every month, which put money into the hands of half a million people. We had to do a whole raft of things which should properly have been done by other departments and by nonmilitary partners, obviously in close conjunction with what we were doing.

HUNTER: I should ask you at this point whether you’d be prepared to take a job in the new administration. (Laughter.) I think we—I think we could use this viewpoint.

BRADSHAW: Well, I’m due to retire sometime in the—in the near future. But right now I’m fully committed to what I’m doing. (Laughter.)

HUNTER: And you don’t have an American birth certificate, so that rules you out for certain things.

I’d now like to ask the members to join the conversation. Please remember this is on the record. You’ll be held accountable for what questions you ask. Wait for the microphone. Speak directly into it. Please stand, state your name and affiliation, and then Sir Adrian will answer your questions. Please.

Q: Hi. I’m Jeff Pryce from Johns Hopkins SAIS.

Russian military intelligence follows different boundaries than their counterparts.

HUNTER: Could you speak up, please?

Q: Russian military intelligence has been active in Ukraine. They’ve been active in cyber. I wonder which, if you could give us your assessment, one, of what the GRU has been up to in areas of concern; and, second, what NATO role there is in countering these activities.

BRADSHAW: Well, thank you. I’m not going to comment in detail upon the activities of GRU, but just to say that what we face from Russia is a hybrid threat. It’s not just the threat of overt military attack, but, of course, it’s a raft of other measures, including covert, paramilitary, and nonmilitary activities, some of which will be, no doubt, coordinated by the intelligence arms of Russia.

And we as NATO need to have our antenna tuned to the signs that this sort of hostile activity is going on. And we need to read those signs to see if they are an indication of something bigger developing. And that’s part of the process that we’re going through right at the moment.

HUNTER: Please.

Q: Hi. Sydney Freedberg, Breaking Defense, so one of those pesky journalist types.

And I’m going to ask a pesky question, which is the Trump question. Not asking to provide advice for the new administration, but, you know, with your ear to the ground, as you work with your colleagues in the 28 nations and, you know, and your home government, what is the level of concern, anticipation, about the new administration, given there’s been a lot of back and forth on Article V, for example, in the campaign, and on the role of GRU, among other things?

And, you know, is whatever discussion and foreboding that’s happening affecting the day-to-day work of the alliance at all, or is that treading along steadily, despite whatever people may be crossing their fingers for on the 20th of January?

BRADSHAW: Well, thanks for that question. And it was inevitable that we would address the issue of the new administration. You know, Mr. Trump is going to be the president of the United States. He’s going to be the commander in chief of U.S. forces, and he’s going to be a hugely important figure in NATO.

And what I detect from my colleagues within NATO is a readiness to wait and see how the administration executes policy. We’ve heard quite a lot of rhetoric, which is election rhetoric. But we’ve also heard Mr. Trump say I’m for NATO. I think that addressing the issue of the degree to which people are paying for defense and for collective defense is a perfectly legitimate issue to look at.

But I think we are looking forward to Mr. Trump playing a very significant role in an alliance which is hugely important to all of us, not least the United States. And the day-to-day work is proceeding. Clearly, we’re looking forward to seeing how the new relationship develops.

HUNTER: Please.

Q: David Slade, Allen & Overy.

General, do you think that the I guess it’s a single new brigade being contemplated by NATO in Europe is a sufficient deterrent to Russia in the Baltics?

BRADSHAW: Well, thanks for that question. I think it’s hugely important that everything we do conveys very clearly the notion that we are a defensive organization. Things need to be in proportion. They need to be enough. They need to be sufficient. And we will have a battalion group in each of four countries in the Eastern area, in Poland and in each of the Baltic states, which sends a very, very clear signal to a potential aggressor, to Russia, that any incursion onto NATO territory brings them into conflict, not just with the national forces of the state but with NATO itself collectively. That’s a hugely important statement to make.

These are also capable military organizations that have the capability to resist a limited incursion. And they are part of a continuum of deterrence which is in place, which includes also a very high-readiness joint task force of brigade-group size with air and maritime assets, and, of course, the rest of the NATO reaction force at various readiness stages behind that.

So as part of a continuum of deterrence, it’s a very, very important part. And I think it would be impossible, really, for anybody credibly to argue that it represented any sort of a threat. But it certainly is an important element of defense.

HUNTER: Yes, in the back here; gentleman right in front of you. Did you have a question? OK. Yes, please.

Q: Thank you. Ted Voorhees, Covington & Burling.

Turkey has not yet been mentioned; certainly a very, very important NATO state. And my question is, how concerned are you about what appears to be some signals of a growing alliance between Turkey and Russia, or at least shared interests? I would imagine that NATO has got a very good relationship with the military in Turkey, but the military in Turkey has come under great pressure from the Erdogan regime.

So my question is, how worried are you about Turkey, and what do you expect five years from now in terms of the solidity of Turkey’s alliance in NATO? Thank you.

BRADSHAW: Well, thank you.

Turkey clearly has been through a major upheaval. They have been through an attempted coup, which is something that is almost unimaginable in most of our nations. And one has to recognize that that’s a very considerable political shock. And one expects some political upheavals after such an event. And Turkey is now settling down after that event and finding its equilibrium again. And we need to be talking to them as they go through that process as allies, partners, and friends.

As for their relationship with Russia, we’ve already said that dialogue with Russia over areas of common interest is a desirable thing. Turkey is right next to the conflict area in Syria, where Russia is engaged. It’s rather an encouraging thing that they’re talking. We just need to make sure that in talking and developing that relationship, we also maintain our lines regarding NATO policy in the area. And, of course, the political level will be having that engagement with Turkey.

But can I say, at the military level, as you’ve indicated, Turkey has made it very clear, in the aftermath of the coup, that they are absolutely committed to NATO. And the undertakings they’ve made, which are very considerable undertakings if you think of what they’re doing in Afghanistan and elsewhere, they have assured us they will fulfill. And the relationship at the military level is as strong as ever.

HUNTER: Good to know.

Professor Mattox.

Q: Thank you. Gail Mattox, Naval Academy, but this year at the Wilson Center.

My question has to do with cyber. I mean, of course, there’s so much discussion right now in Washington about cyber, and you really haven’t mentioned it in your discussion. Where does that fit in the continuum as you look at what NATO needs to do, is doing? Thank you.

BRADSHAW: Well, NATO has declared cyber as a domain in warfare, alongside air, maritime, special forces, and land. So that’s a very considerable recognition of what is a major facet of modern warfare. And as you know, we have a Cyber Center of Excellence. We—the nations within NATO dedicate considerable resources to cyber defense and cyberwarfare in general.

It’s a growing area. It is hard to imagine any future conflict that doesn’t include a substantial cyber element. It’s certainly a big part of our potential threat from both Russia and from Islamist extremists. You could argue that the Islamic State, the so-called Islamic State, exists to as great a degree in the virtual domain as it does in the physical domain. So NATO is fully committed to developing, and individual nations likewise.

HUNTER: The gentleman in the back here.

Q: Hi, sir. Scott Buchanan from the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

My question is related to political pressures in your role as the force generator for NATO. Specifically, projecting out into the future for Afghanistan, what do you see as potential positive and negative influences on political will to stay the course for allies?

BRADSHAW: Thank you. I think Afghanistan is sometimes pushed aside in people’s consciousness with the emergence of new threats—the focus on Russia, the focus on Daesh/ISIL in Syria or Iraq—and we need to remember what has been achieved by NATO are very substantive and demanding activities.

If you look back to the days of the Taliban regime and then compare Afghanistan today, it is absolutely transformed. You know, in those days a million children in school, they were all boys. Now there are 8 million; 40 percent of those are girls. The life expectancy has increased by 15 to 20 years. The access to healthcare has vastly increased. There’s new roads, new infrastructure. There are 70-plus independent TV channels. I mean, I could go on. The nation is transformed. And, by the way, it’s gone through the first peaceful democratic change of government in its history. So I think that the world and NATO and NATO members tend to forget that, and our populations are not reminded of quite what an incredible change has been wrought in Afghanistan and how important it’s been for the Afghan nation and for our own security in preventing Afghanistan being a haven for terrorists who would act against us in our homeland, remembering where it all started.

So I think that the biggest challenge, in answer to your question, is just reminding people how important it was, how important it continues to be, how successful we’ve been, notwithstanding the very considerable challenges that Afghanistan faces. You know, we all—we all knew that in pulling out rather rapidly as we did, having built new security forces for that nation of a third of a million strong—in pulling out so quickly we were adding to the risks that they already faced. Of course, there were good political reasons for that. And we all knew that the insurgency would continue in being and that Afghanistan would have the task of managing that equilibrium at a level that they continue to survive and do business and run the country in an effective way. And they still have the very real opportunity to do that, but we need to continue to support them. So I think the biggest challenge for us is to keep it in the public consciousness and to keep people aware of how important Afghanistan is to us, how successful we’ve been and how much better their chances of success in the future will be if we continue to support them.

HUNTER: Robert.

Q: Robert Murray, Georgetown.

The Baltic states seem to be—excuse me—the Baltic states seem to be the—among the leaders who are worrying about the Russians and what they might be up to. And some of the Baltic states are in NATO and some are not, and I wondered if we had military-to-military kind of relationships with those who aren’t—Sweden, Finland—in a way that would be useful if problems arose there.

BRADSHAW: Yeah, well, the answer to that is yes, we do have a very strong relationship with Finland and Sweden. I’ve visited both those nations. They’re regularly visited by NATO commanders. We cooperate very strongly. We have exercise activities together. We operate our aircraft together. We exchange information together. And I think it’s quite helpful, in a way, that the precise nature of the relationship and the precise nature of our potential actions in the event of aggression against Sweden or Finland or NATO nations in that area is a little bit unclear to a potential adversary. The fact is that we will cooperate, we do cooperate, and the military relationship is very, very strong.

HUNTER: Yes, in the back.

Q: Patricia Wu, C&M International.

Earlier this morning, when you were speaking about Russia, you talked about the importance of understanding, and I was curious if you could share a little bit more about that. What are, in your view, the objectives of your counterparts in Russia? If you were to put yourself in their shoes, what are they thinking? What does success look like to them? What does the world look like to them?

BRADSHAW: Yeah, very important question. I mean, as a military person, one always looks at the motivation of a potential adversary, and it’s important to recognize how the Russians might feel about the situation that they face from their side. They’ve gone through the humiliation of the end of the Soviet era, a considerable reduction in apparent power and status. They’ve seen NATO encroach upon territory which they’ve considered as their near abroad—a concept that we don’t really hold within the West. And there’s this sort of traditional Russian concern that predates communism even of being surrounded by potentially hostile elements.

Now, as much as we reassure Russia that NATO is a purely defensive organization and that we have absolutely no aggressive intent, either in a military or an economic sense, that our desire is for cooperation, the fact is that those very real feelings of regret, frustration, fear of Russians are being leveraged right now by Mr. Putin to create what I would describe as an artificial construct of competition between Russia and the West, between Russia and the EU and NATO. And I think Mr. Putin does this for his own political reasons. It enables him to project himself as the protector of Mother Russia, and that seems to work very well. He’s hugely popular. But there’s a real danger in this. You know, if his popularity is principally built on being the strongman who can defend Russia against what is presented in Russian propaganda as NATO aggression, NATO acquisitiveness, a NATO threat—which of course really doesn’t exist, and we all know it doesn’t exist—but if his power is built on that and we start to see his popularity go down within Russia, well, then we need to look out, because he becomes potentially quite dangerous, because that’s the time when he’ll have to stoke it up if he continues to rely on these means to deliver political popularity in Russia. And that’s why there is a danger there.

I don’t believe for a moment that Mr. Putin really wants Russia ever to get involved in a strategic conflict with NATO. He knows, everybody knows that would be completely disastrous for us all. But the thought that he might push a bit at the margins to achieve results to give him popularity at home and miscalculate and precipitate a conflict unnecessarily, that’s a notion we need to look at very, very carefully, which is why our redlines need to be very clear and why our deterrence needs to be a continuum into which the Russians can’t project, and then perceive that they might gain an advantage and freeze us out of a conflict through that classic old Soviet technique of escalation dominance. That’s what we need to watch for.

HUNTER: Yes, here.

Q: Jeff Smith at the Center for Public Integrity, here in Washington.

With two weeks to go till the inauguration, if I was a finance minister in one of the NATO countries, I think I’d be looking around for a little extra cash in the box beneath my desk. I’m wondering if anybody’s doing that. What are the real prospects for increasing defense spending in any of the countries? Is anyone taking that seriously, the need to do that seriously? And what do you think—looking five, four—three or four years down the road, what would you—what would you project the countries—what kind of actions would you project they’d be taking?

BRADSHAW: Well, I think we’ve had indications that Mr. Trump would look very carefully at the degree to which NATO nations are paying their way. And the reality is that in 2016, collectively NATO increased its defense spending for the first time since 2010. But the fastest-growing area of increased defense spending is in the area of the Baltic states, that the Baltic states are starting to move towards that 2 percent target, one of them already achieving it, but the others starting to move towards that 2 percent target in a very convincing manner, that there is an undertaking, as we know, from the remainder of NATO to move in the right direction. So my prediction would be that we will see increased spending, notwithstanding the very considerable challenge that that poses to nations who are undergoing their own austerity programs.

HUNTER: Can I jump in there and ask: We talk a lot about the 2 percent goal. What at SHAPE do you do in working with individual countries so that is translatable into stuff that is useful to you and useful to NATO as opposed to just an item on a treasury bill?

BRADSHAW: Well, allied command transition has a major role in looking at the capabilities of all NATO nations and advising them on where new capabilities might be developed. We also talk about these things within SHAPE. And recently I visited one of the smaller NATO nations and was involved in advising them on how they might develop their capabilities better to serve my requirements as the NATO force generator, which was what was pointed out by a previous question. Clearly, I’m always looking for certain niche capabilities which are in short supply. And so when nations are looking to increase their spending and develop new capabilities, one would like them to be developing capabilities that we really need in force generation terms.

HUNTER: Yes, please.

Q: General, Carl Cook (sp), Northrop Grumman Corporation.

You talked a little bit about informal planning in looking at preparing for unforeseen events. How do you—how do you prepare NATO for potential worldwide operations in response for an Article 5—for example, should a member nation be attacked by North Korea or some other nations in the Pacific area outside of NATO’s regional area?

BRADSHAW: Yeah, thanks for that question. Well, as you’re aware, we’re very focused at the moment on the threat from Russia. We’ve been developing graduated response plans. And as I indicated, the military strategy is growing and developing stage by stage towards the full potential alliance response to a challenge from Russia. But at the same time we need to be mindful of other potential threats to other NATO members, and the United States is a member nation of NATO. A threat to the United States is a threat to NATO. And we need to have our minds open to all potential threats. And of course we look elsewhere. Of course we look at the threat from North Korea. Of course we look at the behavior of China and the potential threat to access to the global commons, particularly maritime routes. And we look at those, and we have to be ready for potential commitments in regions other than the eastern border of the European NATO area.

But I think it’s very clear that the Readiness Action Plan that was agreed at the Wales Summit is in response to threats wider than just that from Russia. It’s designed to respond to contingencies worldwide. A very high readiness joint task force is not just a force for the eastern border of NATO. It’s a force potentially to employ it anywhere, whether it’s a contingency requirement.

HUNTER: Yes, Michael?

Q: Michael Mosettig, PBS Online NewsHour.

Can Britain, which has always been a key member of NATO, even though its military is smaller than it was a few years ago, convince other Europeans that it is still committed to its defense at the same time it’s potentially going through a messy political and economic divorce from Europe?

BRADSHAW: Well, I live and work in Europe.

HUNTER: Told you that was going to coming up.

BRADSHAW: Yeah. Yeah. No. Quite right, too. I mean, I live and work in Europe. I’ve got many friends in Belgium and more widely in Europe who are very, very disappointed in the Brexit vote, understandably, and who are concerned about Britain’s commitment to Europe. And what I say to them is, you know, we are still wholly and absolutely committed to Europe in many ways, but in one fundamental way in that as a member of NATO, you know, we have signed up to Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, and we are absolutely committed to collective defense. And the fact is that our sons and daughters would be committed to the defense of a European NATO nation if it came under threat and if we faced a situation of war. I can’t think of a more fundamental commitment that. And we’ve proven that commitment a couple of times in the last century. We certainly don’t want to have to do it again. But I think that’s as clear an indication that we remain committed to Europe. And of course, in a political sense in terms of trade, in terms of our relationship in so many areas, we will still be very, very closely aligned to Europe.

HUNTER: Please, in the back.

Q: Thank you. Guillermo Christensen with Baker Botts.

If I could go a little further on that question about the U.K.’s role within the alliance: EU dynamics have always played a role. The EU bloc has had decision-making supremacy in some areas sometimes, at least to those working in the alliance. How will the U.K.’s distancing from the EU play out in that context? Are you seeing any evidence that people are expecting that to happen?

BRADSHAW: Well, clearly, the reality is that as we move towards Brexit, our influence in—within the EU in all sorts of ways is somewhat diminished. And as a member of the EU, one always saw the United Kingdom as an important influence on the way that the EU developed, on the way that the EU engaged with NATO, for example. Our leverage is somewhat diminished in that respect. And I think we need to find other mechanisms, other political and diplomatic mechanisms to ensure that our influence is felt.

But I think it’s very, very important to continue to reassure Europeans in general that we remain very, very committed to the defense and security of Europe and, clearly, that we will continue to have a very, very close relationship in all other areas.

HUNTER: I may ask one broader question. We’re running out of time, are we? You talked about grad strategy, integration of instruments of power and influence. If you were able to wave the magic wand, set up an organization, do whatever is required, how would you actually go about that so we would have a relationship across the Atlantic in which people in this country, people in other countries, military, civilian were actually working together and driving towards some capacity to be effective as we need to be in this amazingly complicated security environment for the future?

BRADSHAW: Well, this is a major challenge. It’s one of the major challenges that we face today, I believe, is developing the means to formulate and execute grand strategy, to bring together the various facets of national and collective power to deliver strategic results. We’ve got to be able to do that.

The first fundamental is to educate our people better. And we need to educate soldiers, civil servants of how a—in how a strategy works, in how a strategy is developed. And we need to develop national mechanisms to bring together the arms of national power and then to explore how we do that collectively. NATO is an organization. It’s a—it’s a military alliance. It’s good at formulating military strategy. But as an institution itself, it needs to look more broadly to integrate political, economic, diplomatic, developmental, educational strategies, and to integrate them with military strategy. And we need to develop the mechanisms to do that.

Clearly, one of the most important centers for doing that from the point of view of Europe would potentially be in Brussels. And I think we need to look towards developing a forum where in particular NATO and the EU can get themselves together and formulate strategy together, and we need to look at how non-EU nations within NATO are integrated into that process. I think there’s quite a lot of work to be done.

HUNTER: Well, thank you. I think we’ve seen here that the comments I read out from David Richards, who is one of the great chiefs of defense staff, are fully validated in what you said. I just had one complaint about the militaries of the Western alliance. It is just when we get to the point where somebody’s doing as extraordinarily well as this man does, they make him retire. (Laughter.) I think I would do what they do—most Americans don’t know this, but when we had five-star generals and admirals—who were created because of what Churchill did with Montgomery so we had to compete—five-star generals and admirals were never allowed to retire. They remained on active duty. So, if I had my druthers, I’d keep you on active duty. I’d keep you right where you were, and do even more because I think one can safely say that, to the extent that you have any influence and authority, the Western alliance is in extraordinarily safe hands.

And I want to thank you very much for sharing your perspective with us. And Godspeed. And, as they say in the Navy—Bob Murray from CNA would say this—Bravo Zulu, well done. Thank you very much.

BRADSHAW: Well, Robert, thank you so much.

HUNTER: Appreciate it. Thank you very much. (Applause.)


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