A Conversation with Rose E. Gottemoeller

Friday, May 3, 2019
Rose E. Gottemoeller

Deputy Secretary General, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization); IAF 19891990

Stephanie Ahern

Director for Strategic Planning, National Security Council; IAF 2008–2009

This is the keynote event of the 2019 International Affairs Fellowship (IAF) Conference.

LINDSAY: Hello, everyone. I want to welcome you to the Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellowship Conference. I want to thank you for joining us today. I am Jim Lindsay, director of studies here at the Council. I’m delighted to say that we’re celebrating our fifty-second year of the IAF program. It is one of the Council’s true gems. It fulfills the Council’s mission to enrich the public debate on world affairs, and also to develop human capital and talent. I think you’ll see a lot of that here today. And I will just note there are many ways to have impact on the foreign policy debate, and the IAF program is one of them.

Now, let me give you a little bit of background on the history of the IAF program for those of you who aren’t familiar with it. It was created back in 1967 with the goal of creating more scholar practitioners. The genius behind the idea of the IAF is that you could create more scholar practitioners by getting people in academia or the private sector to leave behind the ivy halls and to go into government. Conversely, to get people who had been in business under the press of day-to-day business out of government, put them in a scholarly setting, and give them time to get away from operational pressure to reflect on the world they’ve done.

And by giving smart, young, driven people a chance to work in a new environment, they would not only have a rewarding experience but would become better skilled and better rounded whether they returned back to government, the private sector, or their home university. And I think it’s safe to say that after half a century the intuition behind the IAF program has proven itself. Over the past fifty-two years, there have been 624 alums of the program, where former IAF fellows including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe Admiral James Stavridis. And I will note our guest of honor today is also an alumnus of the IAF program.

I will not that I’m an alum of the program as well, as are thirteen of the senior fellows in CFR’s studies program. Not only do we have a long history, we’ve also grown more varied over the years. In addition to the original IAF program, we now have five targeted IAF programs. The first one was created back in 1997, with the creation of the IAF in Japan program. That program was sponsored by the Hitachi Company. And I believe we now have, if I’m correct, seventy-nine alums of the IAF in Japan program. OF course, it would not have been a success without the continued support and our strong partnership with Hitachi.

In 2016, we launched three more IAF programs. One was the IAF in Canada program. It is funded by the Power Corporation of Canada. It enables up to two Americans each year to deepen their knowledge of Canada by working at a Canadian institution. The second IAF program we created in 2016 was the IAF International Economics, which is sponsored by Kimberly Querrey. It enables university-based economists to spend a year working on economic issues in the U.S. government. And in 2016, we also established the International Affairs Fellowship for tenured IR scholars. That was sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and it was designed to give tenured professors of international relations an opportunity to get out of the classroom and get some practical hands-on experience working in the U.S. government or in international governmental organizations.

I’m also proud to say that this year we added our newest IAF program, which is the IAF program in India. It is sponsored by Bharti. And it allows up to four Americans each year to conduct research into work in India. I want to say that we deeply appreciate the generosity and the vision of the funders who’ve made all of these programs possible.

Now, this year, 2018-2019, we had nineteen IAF fellows overall, including eight in the original IAF program. They have been working on a wide range of topics during their fellowship here—security dynamics in the Middle East and East Asia, deterrence and escalation management, reviewing NATO at seventy years of age, how the Treasury Department uses its tools to influence foreign policy, human rates—excuse me—human rights and U.S. sanction policy. Now, our eight fellows have been placed at the Department of Defense, the Atlantic Council, the Center for a New American Security, the Center for Strategic and International Affairs, the Human Rights Foundation, and also here at the Council on Foreign Relations. I just want to express our thanks to these organizations for hosting the fellows. Obviously the IAF program would not be possible without them. I’m also pleased to say that we have nine members that will be in this year’s—the 2019-2020—IAF class.

What I’m going to do now is I’d like everyone who is a current, future, and past IAF to stand up so the rest of us can take note of you and applaud your good works. So don’t be shy. This is the time to stand up. (Applause.) You may now sit down. Very obedient group here. I think you can get a sense of just how vigorous and vibrant the IAF program has been. But of course, putting together something like the IAF program depends upon the work of a lot of people, particularly some very dedicated people here at CFR that I want to acknowledge.

First, I want to thank Janine Hill—if you could stand up for a moment, Janine—(applause)—for her outstanding leadership she has provided to the Fellowship Affairs Program for nearly a decade. So, Janine, thank you very much. Janine has been ably assisted by Victoria Harlan. Stand up so everybody can see you. (Applause.) Now, of course, having a well-functioning event like this today, and having the plates all show up on time, depends upon some other people. And I want to thank Kayla Ermanni and Morgan Singer for their hard work in making today’s event possible, so. (Applause.)

Now, today’s keynote session is the first of several sessions and panels that are going to follow. We’re going to cover a wide range of topics. They reflect the wide-ranging interests, and expertise, and experiences of our IAFs. I think it’s going to be a great day. I believe we’re going to run through 5:00 p.m. I would really encourage those of you who can stick around for the sessions to do so. I think you’ll learn a lot and see just why the International Affairs Program is so good, because of the people it is able to attract.

I guess first up what I’m going to do now is to turn the show over to Stephanie Ahern, who I have to say also is the chair of our IAF Selection Committee. So Stephanie does a lot of work. And I want to thank Stephanie for all of her contributions in helping make this program possible. Stephanie’s going to come up, as is Rose Gottemoeller, who is NATO’s deputy secretary general. And they’re going to have a discussion. So if I could invite Stephanie and Rose to come to the podium. (Applause.)

AHERN: So welcome to today’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting with Rose Gottemoeller, the deputy secretary general of NATO. The meeting is the keynote session of a 2019 International Affairs Fellowship Conference. I am Stephanie Ahern, and I will be presiding over today’s discussion.

You have the deputy secretary general’s impressive bio, but it’s worth highlighting that she started this position after serving nearly five years as the undersecretary for arms control and international security at the Department of State, having also served as our chief negotiator of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, and held senior positions at the Department of Energy, the National Security Council, as well as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Carnegie Moscow Center, the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, and RAND. She is the first woman to hold his position at NATO. And she is, of course, a very prominent alumni of the IAF. And we’re honored to have her here today.


AHERN: Madam Deputy Secretary General, I want to start first with a very straightforward, yet critical, question: Why does NATO matter for America?

GOTTEMOELLER: I will be delighted to answer that question, Stephanie, but only if you call me Rose for the rest of this session. (Laughter.)

This is a question we’ve been asked a lot in this, our seventieth anniversary year. Some of you may have seen that we had a big birthday celebration on the 4th of April which was, for me, absolutely fantastic because it was in—we celebrated in exactly the same place, the big Mellon auditorium in Washington—again, those of you who are familiar with Washington will remember that place, with the gigantic, you know, columns, very solemn setting. But what they did, they brought from the Archives the NATO treaty. And it was wonderful, not only to see the NATO treaty, but also to see all the new members joining and going over to look not only at the NATO treaty, the Washington treaty which was signed on April 4 of 1949 but all of their accession documents were also on display. And it was a real moment of acknowledging, I think, the way that NATO has been able to stabilize and establish security in the wake of the breakup of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact.

Oftentimes we hear a critique coming at is from Moscow, that somehow NATO, you know, is this offensive force that is destabilizing. In fact, at its core, NATO is a defensive alliance. And we have provided for stability and security across Eastern and Central Europe in a way—and we will keep saying this to Moscow—in a way that is stabilizing, and in a way—we don’t like the current situation that ensured from Russia’s seizure of the Crimea—but in a way that we hope will eventually enable us to work more cooperatively with Russia. It doesn’t have to be the way it is today. That requires Russia to take some steps, obviously. So that is the start of my answer, to say that in providing for stability and security we provide basically the environment in which the United States can prosper, and all NATO members can prosper, but the United States can prosper as well.

The second half of the answer has to do with the way that the NATO alliance helps the United States to project its power much more easily than otherwise it would have the ability to do. There are twenty-eight main operating bases of the United States located in NATO countries. The AFRICOM command is not in Africa. It is in Stuttgart. So—and when our soldiers are injured in Afghanistan, they are flown to a military hospital in Germany. So NATO really helps the United States of America to fulfill its strategic goals abroad. And as the secretary general of NATO said in his speech to the Congress on the 3rd of April—which I commend to you all to read; it’s a good speech, if you haven’t had a chance to read it—but he said it is good to have friends. And the United States has more friends than anybody else, the NATO alliance among them.

AHERN: Super. Thanks. And maybe if I could pull a little bit on that. So in addition to the bases, in addition to the hospitals, could you talk a little bit more about what the European countries are doing to make NATO also a good deal for Americans, and the rest of the alliance, including with respect to sharing burdens in a fair and sustainable way?

GOTTEMOELLER: Yes. Obviously this is a big issue, and Mr. Trump has put it front and center. I have been quoting for audiences, though, remarks that were made by an American president in which he said: He’s sick to death of these free-loading allies and it’s high-time that they start paying their share of the mutual defense. And it was John F. Kennedy in 1962. So every American president, from Eisenhower on, has spoken about the necessity of greater burden sharing. I will say that Mr. Trump, with his inimitable style, has gotten everybody’s attention. And that is a good thing, because we have seen—since 2016, we have seen $41 billion additional come onto the table from among the NATO allies. And by the end of 2020, that amount will rise to $100 billion. So I think, again, the push that has come from the Trump administration on the burden-sharing issue has definitely been beneficial in getting the allies to pay attention to this issue.

And it is something we are saying to them, day in and day out, is not because Washington asked for it. It is because it is in their national security interest. Many of our allies have let their armed forces be hollowed out. Germany is a good example of that. Germany is not able to provide enough ready forces. And they admit it. You hear that in Berlin all the time, that their readiness has lagged on account of the fact that they have not been investing sufficiently in training. Many of our members—I in my opening remarks remarked how we have embraced and brought in former members of the Warsaw Pact. Many of them are still deploying Warsaw Pact-era equipment that is obsolescent. So it is time in their own security interest that they replace obsolescent equipment, make some investment in their own defense.

So once again, I want to stress this message, which we have been trying to convey, because sometimes in Europe if you listen to European politicians you get the sense that, yes, well, we don’t like this because of the kind of, you know, push we’re getting from Washington. But we have, from NATO headquarters, been stressing that it is in their interest, that they need to have ready troops, that they need to deal with obsolescence in their equipment, that they need to acquire new capability and capacity if only to ensure that their defense will be reliable going forward. But that, in itself, is, I think, the most commanding of national security requirements, that they can defend their own country.

AHERN: So there are obviously some themes that have continued. I think one of the points that you’ve been making with coming from the seventieth anniversary is that NATO does look very different today than it did in 1949. I wondered if you could talk about today though on what type of challenges is NATO currently best, and least suited to address, whether it’s vis-à-vis Russia or any other challenge?

GOTTEMOELLER: There has been a lot of analysis and commentary out there. I want to take on straightaway an analysis that has been done by the RAND Corporation, my—one of my old organizations that I worked for—about the inadequacy of the battlegroups in the Baltic states and in Poland. Four battlegroups altogether. But they were always put in place—and this was the decision that was taken first in Wales, but then cemented in Warsaw—that we would put in place a deterrence tripwire, with four battlegroups in the Baltic states and Poland. But those four battlegroups contained units from all across the alliance. So if the Russian Federation decided that they wanted to take some aggressive action, they can be in no doubt that they are engaging not only one of the Baltic states, but they are engaging the entire alliance.

But of course, a deterrence tripwire is not adequate to reliable and long-term defense. And that is why at the summer summit in—sorry—in Brussels, we emphasized the necessity of rapid reinforcement and readiness. And so those are the points that we are working on now. General Wolters just took over as SACEUR yesterday from General Scaparrotti. We will miss General Scaparrotti very, very much. He was absolutely super at driving these requirements for readiness, for reinforcement, and for rapid reinforcement as well. So we will miss him, but I did want to take note in his remarks yesterday at Stuttgart, General Wolters talked about the necessity of continuing intensively to pursue these goals, so that should we face aggression that we are able to readily backup that deterrence tripwire with reinforcements brought from across the alliance, including from across the North Atlantic.

By the way, it was interesting for us all this year to have this big—or, it was just at the end of last year, when we had our big exercise, Trident Juncture, because for the first time in many, many years we did a major reinforcement cross the North Atlantic. And frankly, from those old Reforger days, we have forgotten a lot of lessons. And lessons learned from that exercise were that we have to pay more attention to military mobility, to how we move large numbers of troops and equipment under duress. We have to pay attention to defending those forces as they are being moved across the North Atlantic. And we have to consider what new challenges are out there, such as newly quiet Russian submarines that will be on patrol in the North Atlantic. So many, many challenges are before us. But we recognize that. And we are working the problem now very hard.

AHERN: And as a far as for opportunities, NATO contributing in the future, do you see new opportunities going forward?

GOTTEMOELLER: Absolutely. And I want to turn for a moment to an area that I haven’t addressed yet, and that is the threats of terrorism and violent extremism. These threats preoccupy all NATO allies, because many of them have faced domestic terrorism in recent years. And so everyone’s alert to this set of problems. But the terrorist threat is evolving very, very quickly. I want to combine this answer with my really attention now to the burgeoning challenges emerging from new technologies. We have right now at NATO some good projects that are focusing on off-the-shelf technologies that terrorists are using, and how are we going to respond to this?

So a terrorist goes off to, well, I guess Radio Shack is out of business, but you get the idea. He goes off and he buys a drone. And he either equips it for surveillance or he actually puts ordnance on it. Off-the-shelf technology in the hands of terrorists poses right now a threat to NATO. And we’ve been paying attention to what the countermeasures have to be and how we are going to tackle this threat. But off-the-shelf technology with today’s drones is nothing compared to what we will face once next generations of drones are informed by artificial intelligence and what it can bring in terms of sophisticated autonomous operation.

So we have got to get our arms around this. And I—you know, of course we have to think about it in terms of those technologies in the hands of state actors. But I also think for NATO the challenge is going to have to focus also on nonstate actors. And that goes for each and every country, members of the alliance, including the United States of America. But for NATO itself, we have to think in a sophisticated way of how to confront these challenges of new technology.

AHERN: Super. Thanks. Maybe shift a little bit to something you’re working at NATO but have been working a really long time on arms control. So because of Russia’s violation in the INF Treaty, with no sign that they’re coming back, how should we be thinking about arms control post-INF Treaty?

GOTTEMOELLER: It’s perhaps a bit counterintuitive, but I actually believe that this moment is a catalytic moment. And it’s a catalytic moment because it allows us to break loose from the traditions of arms control as they have existed from the late ’60s and early ’70s, and to look forward to what new opportunities are—there are to constrain and control weapons, and what new players need to be brought to the table. The White House has talked about the need to bring China to the table. I think that that is correct, that it is time that we look at how to engage China on the notion of negotiated restraint with regard to weapon systems, including nuclear weapons systems.

And as far as I can tell, there’s a lot of sophistication in China. They’ve been thinking about these issues for a long time. They have very savvy people thinking about issues such as verification and inspections. So it’s time to engage. But I do see it as a long game, because the fact of the matter is that the United States and Russia still deploy the vast majority of warheads and nuclear delivery systems. The New START treaty allows the United States and Russia each to deploy 1,550 operationally deployed strategic warheads. China has fewer than three hundred. So, you know, think about it, how do you make the deal? If you China to come under constraints China’s going to say, and they do: You, Moscow, you, Washington, you get your numbers down further and then we’ll talk.

But I do think it’s time to engage them. It’s time to play a long game. It’s time to talk about the stability benefits of negotiated constraint. And we can take some time to do that, and we can take some time to talk to them about what their nuclear doctrine is and try to understand how they think about things like no first use. They claim they have a policy of no first use, but when you look at how they are developing their own triad of nuclear delivery systems you being to say, hm, that doesn’t look like it backs up a no first use strategy. So how do they think about nuclear doctrine. Let’s engage. Let’s talk. And let’s look to a future where, yes, they are engaged in restraint of nuclear systems.

AHERN: And when we’re looking at arms control of tomorrow, when it’s more than just United States and Russia, how does Russia view this issue?

GOTTEMOELLER: Well, it’s a good question. Frankly, at NATO, though, we don’t get that many chances to talk to Russia right at the moment. We do have—(laughter)—we do have a very good venue called the NATO-Russian Council. And we’ve met nine times. In the time since I’ve been at NATO we’ve met eight times, and nine times since 2015. So it’s good. It’s a regular dialogue. It’s fine. We focus on Ukraine. We focus on confidence building and risk reduction. And then we deal with other particular issues that arise. In recent times, the INF Treaty has been a topic, for example. So we have a way to talk to Russia, but it is not the kind of detailed, serious engagement that is really needed, I think, at this time to understand where Russia’s head is at at the moment.

I will take note—I just—coming over here, in the cab, that President Trump and President Putin had an hour-long conversation this morning, one of the topics of which was where do we go from here on arms control. So I don’t have anything to offer up in terms of what was in the phone call, but I do think that there is an abiding interest, and certainly there’s a huge knowledge base in Russia for continuing to work in this area. We have a lot of joint experience. When I looked, for example, at the joint experience of implementing the START—first of all INF, but then the START, and the New START treaty, we have enormous amount of experience inspecting each other’s ICBMs, SLBMs, bombers and submarines. We have spent a lot of time on each other’s nuclear bases. We know a lot about how each of us operates our nuclear forces. We can continue, I think, to build on that over time.

But we need to be a little more detailed and sophisticated as we think about the future of nuclear reductions. My own view is that the future of nuclear reductions is going to have to incorporate inspection of warhead eliminations. And people say, oh, that’s absolutely impossible. The way the INF Treaty ended up being a ban on all intermediate range nuclear missiles, and conventional missiles, was because we couldn’t discern, we could not discriminate between nuclear and conventional warheads on the front of missiles. So INF, it says Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, but it was a ban on all such intermediate range missiles.

Now, I think we are coming to a different phase because of the evolution both of our experience, but also of technology. Let me give you the example of reentry vehicle onsite inspection in the New START treaty, where for the first time in a strategic arms treaty we did put in place an inspection to positively confirm that an object on the front of a missile was a conventional object and not a nuclear object. So even in the New START treaty, which is being implemented right now, it’s already underway, we have begun some action that would allow us in future to discern between nuclear and conventional warheads. That gives us some opportunities in the intermediate range.

If we wanted to negotiate a new INF Treaty, we could actually put in place a ban on nuclear armed intermediate-range missiles. And therefore, you don’t have to get rid of—you could say to Beijing, you don’t have to get rid of all your intermediate-range systems. That’s what the big critique has been about bringing China to the table right now. You don’t have to get rid of all of them, you could ban just the nuclear ones or you could place a limit on the number of nuclear ones you are allowed, as long as you could have an inspection to discriminate between nuclear and conventional warheads on the front of missiles.

So I’m sorry. I’m wonking out on this topic. I do this all the time. (Laughter.) But I’m trying to convey that there are some opportunities in the current moment that we can take advantage of if the politics allow. And that’s always issue number one, if the politics allow.

AHERN: Absolutely.

I know that there are many people that want to ask questions, but before we go to the audience I wanted to just talk to you a little about your IAF. And obviously, the International Affairs Fellowship is designed to providing rising leaders with an experience that transforms their perspectives, their career trajectory, an ultimately their contributions to critical matters of foreign relations. And I can confidently speak for all of us in this room that we are honored and inspired by former IAFs, like yourself, and just really appreciate the example that you’re setting for all of us. Could you share some of your reflections on how your IAF experience shaped your path forward?

 GOTTEMOELLER: Absolutely. I came to my IAF in 1989—the 1989-1990 class. So, gosh, it’s been thirty years. (Laughs.) But I will say that what was really so valuable for me was coming out of RAND Corporation, where I’d spent over a decade in the think tank world, I had time off for good behavior at the International Institution for Strategic Studies in London, where I did an Adelphi paper on long-range land-attack cruise missiles. So some things never change. And I feel like in my career those long-range land-attack cruise missiles are always present somehow. But I had spent essentially a decade and a half in the think tank world. And I was very interested in sampling government experience at that—at that point in my career. And the IAF gave me a great opportunity to do so. And furthermore, the State Department and the Bush administration gave me a great opportunity to go out and work on the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. I was sent off to Geneva where under the tutelage of Richard Burt and also Linton Brooks I learned everything I needed to know about how to run a big arms control delegation. If it had not been for my IAF experience, I never would have been able to negotiate the New START treaty. I would not have known where to begin. But thanks to that experience—and I really give CFR and the IAF a huge amount of credit for it—it really was a formative experience in my career and enabled me to know what to do when I was handed that enormous task by President Obama in April of 2009.

So also I will say that one aspect of this was that in the ensuing years from 1990 to 2009, a lot of the community had dissipated. Many, many people had retired. Many, many people had gotten out of the business. They weren’t working on arms control matters anymore. So I had to reassemble a team. But the most exciting thing for me was being able to call upon those who were much younger in age, but who had worked, for example, as inspectors on the START treaty—on implementing the START treaty. And I could pull them onto my delegation. And they tuned out to be really good diplomats—natural diplomats, because they’d spent so long working with the Russians in the field, in those operating bases for the strategic forces. And they really had the technical knowledge as well for how we needed to develop new inspection techniques in New START. So it really was a great—a great experience, the IAF for me. And it was a year only in my career, but it was a year that really paid huge dividends going forward.

AHERN: And what advice would you have for those in the audience or those watching later who are considering applying for an IAF?

GOTTEMOELLER: Any risk that’s thrown at you, take judicious looks at it, but grab it and embrace it and push yourself forward. I was scared to death when I went to Geneva the first time. And I give him credit, Linton Brooks said: You’re going to have the lead on this issue at tomorrow’s session. You know, the notion that I was going to speak for the United States of America with the Soviets—I was petrified. But I had the advantage that I knew Russian, and so I was, like, always listening to what they were whispering behind the scenes. (Laughter.) And that—you know, that was also very valuable for our delegation. So I was beginning to get a reputation for somebody who could—who could help with the American delegation as well.

So I took the shot. I took the risk. And again, it paid off not only, I hope, for the START negotiations—they were long. They spread out over more than six years. I was only there for a short period of time, so I can’t take any credit—(laughs)—by any means for the success of START. But I do feel like I made my contribution there, and then, as I said, paid forward it really paid off for the New START treaty.

AHERN: Thank you.

At this time I would like to invite members to join our conversation with their questions. A reminder that this meeting is on the record. So please wait for the microphone, speak directly into it, please stand, then state your name and affiliation, and please limit yourself to one question and keep it concise to allow as many members as possible to speak.

Are there microphones? OK. I’m sorry, please. Thank you.

Q: Thank you very much, Dr. Ahern, Madam Deputy Secretary General. My name is Seth Johnston. I’m one of the current IAF fellows. And I came to the program from the NATO Resolution Support mission in Afghanistan. Thank you for your leadership of the alliance.

As an American to have served with NATO in Afghanistan, one of the most remarkable features of being there was realizing that the treaty you mentioned, signed in 1949, includes that collective defense provision in Article 5 that has been invoked only one time. And probably contrary to the expectations of those who signed it, was invoked right after 9/11 when our European allies came to the aid of the United States. And indeed, in Afghanistan since 2003 NATO has been there. But it has been a long time since 2003. And so I wanted to ask you, ma’am, what’s going on with NATO in Afghanistan today, and what do you see as the way ahead there?

GOTTEMOELLER: Thank you very much. I’m glad we are getting to address Afghanistan, because it is a very, very timely topic at the moment. Actually, NATO allies have been watching with great interest, and frankly some concern, the negotiations that are going on between the United States and the Taliban at the moment, because they were launched in a way that seemed to indicate that what was being negotiated was a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. And so for the NATO allies, this was a matter of great concern. We needed to understand whether that basic stricture that flowed from a decision that was made to invoke Article 5 after 9/11—the basic stricture was in together, serve together, out together, with regard to Afghanistan. It underpinned our ISAF mission there, which was a combat mission for a number of years, and now it underpins our train, and advise, and assist mission, the Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan.

So there was a great deal of concern among the NATO allies about exactly what was in train. We have had a great opportunity to talk repeatedly. And I will say that Washington has been very, very good about consulting with NATO on this matter once concerns were expressed. Very, very regularly they have been consulting with us now to keep us in the loop with regard to what is going on with the negotiations. And it’s become very clear that what is being negotiated is a comprehensive peace agreement, and not a withdrawal agreement. So we have been lucky to hear four times from Ambassador Khalilzad. He stays in close touch with us. We have General Miller, who is the commander of the Resolute Support mission constantly in touch also with the allies and with the headquarters of NATO.

So we are keeping up the lines of communication, but also, I want to emphasize, keeping up the level of effort. There has been absolutely no change in the Resolute Support mission, the train, advise, and assist mission, since the negotiations began. And the allies are underscoring, repeatedly, last—most recently at the foreign ministerial meeting in Washington at the beginning of April that we went in together, we will determine the future of our forces in Afghanistan together—the future force posture—and we will leave together when the time is right. So that has been, I think, a very good discussion.

The other thing I will mention, and the allies have been very articulate about this, is the necessity of ensuring the constitutional gains of the past twenty years remain, particularly with regard to the rights of women in Afghanistan, but also the rights of minority groups. So the allies have been very pointed and focused on that matter. And I think it is extraordinarily important that we keep attention focused squarely in that area. This is not easy. And it is not going to be easy. And Ambassador Khalilzad has been also very straightforward about that. But nevertheless, the focus is on negotiating a comprehensive peace, Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and that is something that at the moment is, I would say, not as strong as it should be. But looking to the future we know that that will continue to be a priority for the U.S. negotiators.

AHERN: Thanks. Right here in the front, thank you.

Q: Hi, Rose. Cynthia Roberts. I’m an international affairs for tenured international relations scholars. I think I said that right, currently at the Joint Staff and J5.

So my question is for you, NATO is a nuclear alliance. And the concerns you raised about not all allies contributing not only equally in terms of burden sharing, but more importantly in terms of their defense capabilities, also extends to questions about the nuclear component. So it would be nice for you to say something about whether you foresee NATO going forward continuing as a nuclear alliance, given different threat perceptions—particularly Germany’s a good case—given different capabilities, and at the same time in the middle of Russia modernizing its nuclear weapons to an extent that was not foreseeable perhaps when you served in the Obama administration. So that question, I think, is front and center for a lot of us. Thank you. And nice to see you.

GOTTEMOELLER: It’s great to see you, Cynthia. Cynthia and I served together at RAND in—well, the ’80s. And so it’s wonderful to see you. And I’m glad you’re with the Joint Staff again.

This is a very important question, and it has been front and center once again. I have to be honest with you that, again, this serious situation with the Russian violation of the INF Treaty has also served a catalytic purpose in focusing the allies’ attention fully again on the nuclear mission, and on the necessity of a reliable and resilient nuclear capacity and capability in the alliance. And so I—just to answer your question, I think it’s a resounding yes that the dual-capable nuclear mission remains very much a focus for the alliance. They have essentially recommitted in recent times. It’s not that they de-committed at any point but, again, it just wasn’t on the front burner. People weren’t thinking about it that much.

But the fact that there’s been this very serious difficulty over the Russian violation of the INF Treaty, which exactly engages security interests in Europe—that’s been the case from the very outset from the dual track decision back in the 1980s, and the threat that the original GLCM systems and the SS-20 posed to NATO in the 1980s and 1980s. I would say the allies’ attention is riveted again in much the same way that it was in the 1980s. But in a positive way, it’s led, I think, to enhanced recognition that it is high time now to make decisions about what kinds of aircraft will be purchased. We welcome very much the decision by Belgium to purchase the F-35. Now there have been issues, clearly, with Germany and, you know, what exactly they’re going to buy. And there’s a lot of parliamentary politics going on there. I don’t want to get into their domestic situation, but we’ll see what happens.

In any event, there is a lot of attention on the necessity of a strong dual-capable nuclear mission being available to the alliance. And it is important, not only for those countries who are deploying—where the weapons are deployed, but also it is important in the way it is drawing in other NATO allies, because other NATO allies can provide supporting missions for possible dual-capable operations—the so-called snowcap missions, for example, where allies provide for air support, for the dual-capable aircraft it, heaven forbid, they should—they should be needed. But there are other ways that allies can participate in the nuclear mission, even such straightforward things as helping to provide security at operating bases and this type of thing. So it’s drawn other allies in. And it’s been very, very interesting to participate in those kinds of discussions, because there is a wide-ranging comprehension that we need to focus now on resilience as well. And resilience is something that all allies have to participate in providing for.

So the answer to the question is yes, this is really an important and active issue at the alliance right now. And it is one that has come off the back burner in just last couple of years.

AHERN: Sir, please.

Q: Thank you. My name’s Masoud Kavoossi. I am a tenured fellow. Appreciate your comments.

Mr. Erdoğan from Turkey, he’s been a bad boy in NATO. (Laughter.) What is your assessment of the future relations with him? Are you ready to kick him out? (Laughter.)

GOTTEMOELLER: No. (Laughter.) But let me talk about this issue, because it comes up. People raise it not only with regard to Turkey, but with regard to some other NATO allies as well where elections have brought particular governments to power. And I like the way Jens Stoltenberg talks about this. You know—many of you know Jens. He’s a politician. He spent, you know, many years in the parliament in Oslo, and also as prime minister, and in other ministerial positions. And he says: Look, we are an alliance of democracies. That is not a bad thing. Twenty-nine democracies. The voters bring in a government at the right-hand of the spectrum, at the left-hand of the spectrum, in the middle of the spectrum. We got to work with them. That’s the reality of the situation. And nobody is arguing that Mr. Erdoğan’s recent election was not free and fair. He lost Istanbul. He lost Ankara. So it’s a good thing that we have elections in the alliance and that we live by those democratic principles.

But for NATO headquarters, for the leadership of the alliance, we have to work with politicians across the spectrum. That is just the reality of the situation. And that is very difficult at times, sometimes not easy. But the other thing I like to stress is that every single ally has signed up to the basic principles that are imbued in the Washington treaty—democracy, the rule of law, liberal principles. So it’s very, very important, I think, sometimes that we remind our allies of their responsibilities in that regard. But also one really important way we work this challenge and this problem, as I like to call it, from the inside out. In other words, every day in the way we train military forces in the alliance, in the way we make decisions of headquarters, in the way we develop policies, we are focused on these basic democratic values and principles.

I think a great example of this is our attitude and policies on targeting, that, yes, from time to time civilians—and nobody—(laughs)—nobody likes it when civilians takes casualties or, heaven forbid, are killed. But the way we teach targeting strategy and targeting policy is to avoid in every way we can civilian casualties. Can’t always prevent it, but that is the way we talk about it and train in NATO. So that’s an example from the kind of—the nitty-gritty military perspective where we are trying to imbue these values from the inside out. And we will continue to work that way just—it’s the way the alliance does business.

But at the—at the—(laughs)—at the end of the day, we are an alliance of twenty-nine democracies. And I think we need to embrace that, and realize that it brings difficulties but, nevertheless, it’s what we have to—what we have to work with.

AHERN: Wonderful. Can we get—in the back? Yeah.

Q: Hi. Young Hymisha-kim (ph).

I have a question regarding China. When you mentioned the engaging China, does that mean that NATO is looking to accept China as a member nation? And if so, how the democratic values that the alliance has work with China, with acknowledging the fact that now that they can be accepted as a democracy? First of all, how to deal with the China-Taiwan relationship. Love to hear your comment. Thank you.

GOTTEMOELLER: Thank you very much. I do want to emphasize, because there has been a lot of questions now about who can and cannot become a member of the alliance—Brazil’s come up recently, for example—look at the name of this alliance. It is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. And that defines in some ways our geographic scope. You look at Article 10 of the Washington treaty, those who can become members of the NATO alliance are European countries who, again, are willing to contribute to the defense of Europe and the transatlantic space, North Atlantic space. So from that perspective, no, China and other countries in different hemispheres are not eligible to become members of the alliances.

But the other thing I want to stress here, and, again, sometimes when you hear critiques—particularly, I will say, critiques emanating from Moscow—it’s that somehow, you know, NATO headquarters dictates to new, you know, aspirants, you will become a member of NATO. No, it really is the choice of the country involved. It’s they have to be ready for NATO membership, but then they also have to say that they want to be NATO members. If you look at the western Balkans today, our newest member is Montenegro. We hope within the next year that the thirtieth member will complete the processes around all the parliaments in NATO of ratifying the accession protocol. We hope that the Republic of North Macedonia will become the thirtieth member of NATO. That’s pending now. But we hope to complete all those processes by the end of this year. So we have a summit meeting coming up in London in December. We’d like to welcome North Macedonia at that summit meeting to the alliance.

But when you look at Serbia, for example, Serbia has no desire to join NATO. And they state their neutrality. They state that they would like to join the EU, but they don’t want to join NATO. That’s absolutely fine, from our perspective. That’s the way it should be. It has to be up to the country involved that they want to join the alliance. And then they have to fulfill the basic requirements for joining the alliance, meaning they have to have certain reforms completed and they have to, you know, be ready for all of those democratic principles that I was talking about.

AHERN: OK, ma’am.

Q: Maryum Saifee, State Department Foreign Service officer, but currently doing this year’s IAF, and I’m based out of New York.

My question is, you talked about sort of emerging technologies. And at the State Department, there’s—or, just generally—there’s a disconnect between Silicon Valley and technology and the department. And the need for more tech literacy I think in the department—as a Foreign Service officer, I’m realizing this gap now, that I’ve had this year—sort of this time away. What strategies would you have to sort of upgrade? You know, Ambassador Burns wrote a book—or, Deputy Secretary Burns wrote a book called The Back Channel that kind of talks about this need. What are your thoughts on this topic?

GOTTEMOELLER: Uh-huh. It’s a very good question. And it is one, as I mentioned in my remarks, where, frankly, NATO needs to do more work as well. We do have a new attention to innovation and new technology. And frankly, the U.K. has been driving establishing an urgent and intense work strand to look at how we wrestle with issues like AI, artificial intelligence, and the use of big data, et cetera, et cetera, autonomy, and weapons systems, and so forth. Some areas I would say NATO has been doing rather well on. And I would say in the area of how do we confront cyber threats? And we’re on top of that because it affects our day-in, day-out operations. And a few years ago at the Warsaw Summit NATO declared cyber a domain of operations, just in the way air, sea, and land are domains of operation. And that has set our military callings on the track of looking at exactly what do we need to do to ensure that if we are attacked in cyberspace that we can deal with it.

We’ve had a lot of attention from the allies on this question as well. So I would say it differs a bit. You know, some areas we’re—I think we’re doing OK, not as well as we should perhaps given the fast-moving nature of this. But I feel fairly comfortable in the cyber realm that we are—we are working the issue hard and kind of moving things in the right direction. In other areas, frankly, we’re lagging a bit. That is why I’m welcoming the fact that the allies have been—have been pushing the need for intense and further work. And, furthermore, in a recent period we are establishing new in-house capabilities for working the problem—new entities in house. In fact, one of the things I have to do—which is a pleasure, actually. But when I get back we’re establishing a new innovation board that brings together all of the parts of and pieces of NATO that have to wrestle with these new technologies to really try to get a flow of information. Many of you having served in any international institution or government, you know how things can get stove-piped. So we are resolved to break down those stove-pipes, particularly where innovation is concerned. And so the innovation board is a step in that direction.


Q: Hi. I’m Eric Hyer. I’m also a current IAF fellow working at the State Department.

I’d like to follow up with a very specific technical question. The U.S. government has taken a very strong position on 5G technology, and has warned all of our allies, as well as like-minded countries, not to embrace Chinese technologies, specifically Huawei and ZTE. And if they do, it will have implications for our cooperation in security issues and intelligence sharing. Could you comment on how this might impact NATO and NATO relationships?

GOTTEMOELLER: Yes. As you can imagine, this is a very hot topic at NATO as well. But I will say that obviously when—and one point I haven’t made yet this afternoon is that NATO operates by consensus. Consensus decision-making is at the heart of how we maintain our strength and coherence, about how we maintain our ability to ensure mutual defense when the time comes. And so when issues come up where allies differ, we just have to state quite clearly that allies differ on this point. And so that is what I can say to you this afternoon with regard—from a NATO institutional perspective—with regard to Huawei, allies differ on this issue. And so we will and see how those debates ensue.

I will say that from a NATO infrastructure prospect, we do not have Huawei equipment in our—in our systems now because, again, it’s not been place on an approved list of corporations with which the alliance can work. The approved list, of course, by consensus. So there is an area where NATO institutionally, basically, has a policy. But it’s very much, again, flowing from the consensus rule.

AHERN: Please.

Q: I’m Todd Eisenstadt. I’m also one of the IAF fellows this year.

I want to thank the Council very much for what has been a marvelous experience. And I also would like to ask a question based in part on a discussion we’ve been having at a table here, especially with some of the graduate students present, about what it might take for climate change to be considered a security issue. Certain NATO is—(applause)—primarily and entirely a security arrangement. I have spoken with European colleagues who really make the compelling argument that is time to really heighten consideration of climate change to that sphere in a sort of formal way. It is in many areas informally. The U.S. military has done so, as you know, for a decade in many of its reviews that are, in fact, public. And the U.N. Security Council has started to mention climate change in passing in some of its resolutions. Has NATO sort of behind the scenes discussed this issue? If NATO is not an appropriate venue for consideration of this at the level of strategic partners of the United States, perhaps you might be able to tell us where you think this would be properly addressed as a security concern. Thank you.

GOTTEMOELLER: Could I ask you another question, though, before I let you sit down? And that is, how do you—how do you in your mind parse the different threats that are emerging from climate change? Clearly there are a lot of threats stemming from violent weather events, for example. There are a lot of threats emanating from lack of water resources, desertification, et cetera. How do you think about this range of threats? And do you try to place any priority on them?

Q: That’s a great question, because I’m one of the scholar IAFs, and we don’t typically have to consider these issues. And in part—(laughter)—I’m happy to be at the World Bank this year and to here, where we do have to think about this. So thank you.

The way I think traditional security sort of realism would think about this as perhaps some of the migration that results as urgent refugees in Europe across the Mediterranean perhaps, as the conflict cause—background causes of conflicts are seen in drought and food security issues in places like Syria. I think I would add, if we think forward fifteen years, we will consider that mitigating emissions to the level that the U.N. requires them as part of the Paris agreement—you know, the one-point-five degree sea limit on emissions and climate change by 2050 or more specifically, by the end of this century, there are questions about who’s going to have to reduce emissions more. And it becomes a zero-sum game among countries. I think that is where it may become a sort of typical realist consideration, as opposed to kind of a feel-good, international institution, liberal issue, which is where it kind of is today.

Where the Paris agreement, to my view—I mean, I know this is on the record but maybe not to other’s people’s views—but it’s not quite adequate to what we really need. And I think young people are really getting frustrated. So I think that’s part of what could happen, is that beyond just sort of the background factors leading to sort of security problems, we might consider in and of itself how much mitigation has to happen, and whether it is or not at the level of a security concern. I think the consensus is there in the science. It isn’t there among the political side of the consideration of the issue. And I guess that’s where I would ask whether you think it’s realistic that that will ever become a primary security concern. In other words, if we’re not reducing emissions enough and it’s 2049 and we’ve pledged by 2050 X reductions, it’s time for drastic measures and sort of fewer carrots and more sticks at the international system level. Can we do that? And how might we?

GOTTEMOELLER: Thank you. That’s an enormous question, and one I have to say not completely for NATO. But I’m not going to duck the question, because as you were answering that was very helpful for me to think about how we are working these issues.

Migration is an absolutely great example, and some of our allies have been very, very concerned about migration—super concerned to the degree that they have really rubbed the wrong way some of their colleagues in the European Union, for example. It’s been a tough debate in Europe overall. But what NATO has been doing is working together with the European Union to try to help regulate migration. We’ve had our Operation Sea Guardian working together with the EU Operation Sophia to help and assist the Coast Guards, for example, of Libya to ensure that human traffickers are not—are not getting away with their heinous practices. So we have been helping to supply information, helping to do situational awareness. It’s not—it’s not enough, honestly, but in that way we’ve been trying to contribute to controlling the flow of migration.

So it’s like we recognize the effect of climate change without—and you pointed to, you know, it is things like desertification, lack of jobs, lack of economic opportunity, that drives people to migrate. So we are doing our best in a certain way, but there is a lot of debate about this. One thing I do want to say, and we have been really, really firm on this within NATO, and that is not to confuse migration with violent extremism and terrorism. Sometimes people say, you know, the migration means more terrorism in Europe. And NATO has been very firm in saying: These are people who are suffering. Let us see what we can do, you know, to steal their migration, their migratory efforts in a way that does not, again, reward the human traffickers, does not result in loss of life and limb.

So that’s one area where we have been trying to do some work. Another area, I’ll just offer an example, is recognizing that NATO cannot forever be hauling around enormous amounts of petrochemicals. That’s, of course, who we’ve fueled armies traditionally. And NATO—you probably don’t know this—but NATO has—NATO owns more miles of pipeline in Europe than you would expect, because over the—over the decades, seven decades, we have built up this infrastructure to deliver fuel to troops wherever they may be. So one of the important areas of work, which I have really liked a lot, is to look at dispersed energy sources. The Pentagon does a lot of this work too, to develop ways to bring solar to the field, for example, and therefore enable operations without having to haul diesel fuel out into the desert.

So we are trying to do work of that kind as well, but in answer to your question it’s not this, like, strategic overview policy. It’s, like, bubbling up from below because of the missions that are being thrown our way, or because of the requirements that are emerging. So it’s a partial answer, but it’s a very good question.


Q: Stephen Blank.

Beneath the discussions in the hallowed halls of NATO, and even the grudging increase of defense spending—NATO allies—there have been tremendous changes in recent years in public opinion. The rise of the populist right, the fragmentation of governments, growing distrust of elites everywhere. How do you think this is effecting in a broad sense Europe and even the American willingness to put boots on the ground, for example, in case of a Russian incursion in one of the Baltic states, to engage actually in physical violence at that moment? Do you think things have changed at all beneath the policy areas you’ve been discussing?

GOTTEMOELLER: It’s a good question, Steve. I watch the NATO numbers very, very carefully. This question has arisen a lot lately because people have remarked about fatigue, for example, after many, many years of conflict in Afghanistan. But I watched the NATO numbers. At the time of our anniversary a month ago there was a Pew poll that came out that said 77 percent of Americans support NATO. Now, always with polls, it depends on how the question is asked, right? And so I—but I nevertheless took that as a good sign that NATO was getting its story out to the American populace. It was—it was being portrayed in way that Americans are able to say that this is valuable for our security. So if push came to shove and Article 5 was invoked, I must say that I believe that each NATO ally would respond as they must do under the Washington treaty. But I also want to say in, again, a very practical way, I keep my eye on the numbers. And when 77 percent of Americans say they support NATO, that gives me some comfort.

Q: By the way I was IAF 1968, graduated in ’74.

GOTTEMOELLER: Wow. Where did you do your IAF?

Q: I was in Oxford and London.

GOTTEMOELLER: Oh, that’s pretty good. Excellent. Excellent.

AHERN: Thank you. Ma’am.

Q: Joan Spero. I’m a form IAF, a little bit after Stephen. (Laughter.) But you can look it up in the book. (Laughter.)

I kind of feel that Crimea is the elephant in the room. And I wonder if I could ask you to comment on the state of NATO policies, NATO relations, where you see all of this going.

GOTTEMOELLER: Thank you, Joan. We haven’t talked about Crimea or Ukraine very much today, so I welcome the question. And it’s good to see you as well.

You know, 2014 we always say was a wake-up call for NATO members in many ways—actually, in two ways. Not only did Russia seize Crimea and destabilize the Western Donbas, but also we saw the rise of Mosul—I’m sorry—the rise of the ISIS caliphate and their seizure of Mosul that year. So it was kind of a double—(laughs)—a double message to NATO that NATO really needed to turn its attention both to our traditional deterrence and defense missions but also to the fight against terrorism. And NATO has been a member of the global coalition to fight ISIS. And now we have a new operation begun in Iraq to do train, advise, and assist, and help the Iraqis reestablish their military educational establishment. So a lot of work going on still in that realm.

But to focus on Ukraine, Ukraine and what went on with the seizure of Crimea led NATO to pull the plug on all of the work that we had been undertaking under the aegis of the NATO-Russia Council. Working groups that we had going on we decreed no business as usual with Russia until they withdraw from Crimea, until they withdraw from the Donbas. And so that remains our policy. That is our policy. Now, it has nevertheless been seen—and this is very traditional in the NATO—in the NATO world, starting with the Harmel Report in the 1960s, that we keep strong deterrence and defense against possible aggression, but we also engage in dialogue, the famous dual track approach. And in this regard, also in the Warsaw summit in 2016 it was reiterated and reemphasized that with regard to Russia we would pursue a dual track approach—strong deterrence and defense, and also dialogue.

We expressed that through meetings of the NATO-Russia Council. As I mentioned, nine meetings over the last two and a half years—three years, sorry. But we also express that through having good military-to-military communications at a high level. General Scaparrotti just spoke to General Gerasimov a week less—not this immediate last weekend, but the weekend before, to bid him farewell and to say that General Wolters would want to pick up the communications line with General Gerasimov. So those kinds of high-level military communications are important. And we really focus on risk reduction and incident avoidance. We want to make sure that if we should be rubbing up against each other in some way that could result in crisis or, heaven forbid, conflict, that we know who to pick up the phone and talk to and have those lines of communication open.

So we do that, and we do it every day. But we are continually—we are continually conveying the message to Russia that it doesn’t have to be this way. We would like to have a fuller relationship with Russia, as we did prior to Ukraine. But they are going to have to take some steps to implement the Minsk Accords, and to move forward to address this situation in Crimea and in the Donbas. We have had, I would say, an acceleration, nevertheless, of Russian aggressive behavior in this regard, with the Kerch incident at the end of November. For the first time, uniformed Russian military fired on uniformed Ukrainian military. It’s always been these little green men, and they’ve maintained the—I would say not-so-plausible—deniability. But anyway, they continue to deny their presence in the—in the Donbas. And as a result, it was, in my view, a kind of escalation of the situation. That’s to see uniformed military firing on uniformed military. And we greatly regret twenty-four sailors being taken off to Moscow, being put on Lefortovo prison, and two ships seized as well.

So we continue a strong message at every chance we get, secretary general when he talks to Minister Lavrov, that those sailors must be released and must be returned to Ukraine. But, yes, this issue is very, very much front and center. In the foreign ministerial on April 4th, we agreed a package of measures for the Black Sea, where we’re working both with Ukraine and Georgia to train their Coast Guards and naval forces to work to bring further port visits, further exercises to the Black Sea region, and to work very much on information exchange, situational awareness. So we’re trying to pay practical, pragmatic attention to what we can do with these partners too.

AHERN: So I fear that we have actually run out of time. I think we could probably keep you for another seventy years asking you questions on this. I think it’s so clear why we are proud of having such an IAF alumnus as you are. And just really, if we could give her a huge round of applause for her insights. (Applause.)

GOTTEMOELLER: Thank you very much.



Top Stories on CFR


The mass protests that have rocked Peru since December threaten to upend regional supply chains, intensify migration flows, and strain Lima’s bilateral relations.  


On the two-decade anniversary of the U.S. invasion, Iraq is weakly governed, leaving it prone to instability and meddling by neighbors—especially Iran.


Xi Jinping used the annual legislative session to lock in his tenure as president and reinforce China’s assertive foreign policy and the reemergence of its economy.