U.S. Senator Ed Markey discusses the Russian war in Ukraine, U.S. competition with China, the existential threats of nuclear proliferation and climate change, and the need for transformational investments by the United States in a clean energy future.
DREZNER: Thank you very much. Welcome to today’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting with Senator Ed Markey. I am Daniel Drezner. I’m a professor of international politics at the Fletcher’s School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. And I will be presiding over today’s discussion.
And I’m delighted to chat with Senator Markey, who is a graduate of both Boston College and the BC Law School. He served for thirty-seven years in the U.S. House of Representatives, eventually becoming the dean of the Massachusetts delegation. Senator Markey was elected to the Senate in a special election in June 2013 and was comfortably reelected since then. Senator Markey chairs the Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate, and Nuclear Safety for the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, as well as the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator Markey, thank you very much for agreeing to this conversation. I’m going to start off with a couple of questions, and then at the bottom half of the hour we’ll open it up to CFR members. Let’s start with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And you can make the case that there are actually two wars going on at the same time. The first war is, obviously, on the ground in Ukraine, and we’re a hundred days into that war. And Ukraine has resisted far more capably than most pre-war observers would have expected, thanks in no small part to U.S. assistance both in terms of economic sanctions, in terms of intelligence sharing, and in terms of arms shipments.
The other war, though, is over the narrative, over the interpretation of what Russia’s invasion of Ukraine means. And the collateral economic damage to global food and fuel prices is considerable. And Russia is out there vigorously arguing that NATO is responsible for those problems. How well do you think the United States is doing not just in terms of assisting Ukraine on the ground, but in fighting this overall narrative where the U.S. and NATO are accused of being responsible?
MARKEY: Well, obviously there are real consequences to initiating a war. And the Russians are trying to shift blame wherever they can. On the price of energy, on the price and availability of food. And there is a massive disinformation campaign which they are waging in order to minimize the blame which is correctly assessed on the Russians for their incursion into Ukraine. So the job that we have is threefold. One, it is to make sure that we fight, using every media tool available, the disinformation which is emanating from Russia.
It’s, two, to ensure that we are making it very clear that this has triggered a response from the West in terms of energy independence from Russia, and that that’s going to be put together in a coordinated way. And thirdly, that there is going to be a global response to the food issue. That we all have to come together to put a plan in place in order to minimize the very real impacts that it is having on countries all around the world. So we have to fight the disinformation, but we also then have to deal with the actual policy implications of this—of this incursion. And I think on all three fronts, that the Biden administration is doing a very good job.
DREZNER: I guess, related to that, there’s no denying that the Biden administration has ably sort of, you know, built a coalition, particularly through NATO, to both resist Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and also to impose, you know, punishing sanctions on Russia as well. As the war has gone on, however, you’re periodically seeing stories about, you know, dissention within Europe. I think the most obvious recent example of this is French President Emmanuel Macron saying that, you know, he doesn’t want Putin to be embarrassed or humiliated because of the conflict.
I guess my question to you is: How much of this do you think is—how much of the division within the West is real? How much of it is just sort of slight disagreements over tactics? And also, what do you think—how do you think this war ends, if it does?
MARKEY: Well, first of all, President Biden has done a great job in organizing the West. This wasn’t on the scoreboard three months ago. No one saw such a vigorous response from the West. No one saw Germany changing its historic posture. No one saw Sweden and Finland requesting admission to NATO. All of this has happened under the leadership of Joe Biden. So I would like to make that very clear right from the get-go. And ultimately, there may be some semantical differences of opinion, but at the same time I think directionally the West is firm and united.
I went to the Polish-Ukraine border about six weeks ago, to the location where the U.S. and all of our allies are harnessing the supplies—humanitarian and military—to be sent into Ukraine. And I was very impressed with the unity of our allies on this mission. And when I was there it was the 82nd Airborne from the United States doing all the coordination, but it was bringing in all of these countries who are part of the alliance. So I think there might be some terminological differences, shading of views that are reflected in President Macron’s views. But at the same time, I don’t see any dramatic difference.
On the issue of how does it end? It ends when the Ukrainian people have decided they are ready to negotiate an end to the war. And I think we have to give them the resources which they need in order to have that settlement be reached on the most favorable of terms. But I think it’s a lot different today than it was a hundred days ago in terms of how the West views what the Ukrainians would have to concede, and what Russia would have viewed what the Ukrainians would have to concede. So this is all new information being factored in that none of the, quote/unquote, “experts” saw a hundred days ago. Everyone was wrong, OK? Everyone underestimated the Ukrainian people. Everyone—
DREZNER: Including the U.S. intelligence community, I would add.
MARKEY: I’m saying everyone was wrong. So now experts want to start predicting how does it all end, you know? And that Ukraine might have to make big concessions in order to get to an end of it. And of course, that’s all within the power of the Ukrainians to make those decisions. And I think that our assistance to them, technical and otherwise, has already dramatically shaped the outcome of this conflict. And I think ultimately, we just might have not understood the full resolve of the Ukrainian people to fight longer, to fight with greater resolve, with incredible spirit, to a point where the terms are most favorable to the Ukrainian people. How it’s ultimately resolved, impossible to know. But they just have to know they’re not alone, that there is a transatlantic relationship rooted in shared values of democratic governance that we share with them, a respect for human rights, and that we will be by their side until that negotiated settlement is reached.
DREZNER: Thank you, Senator. Obviously, one of the key elements of the U.S. response to Russia’s invasion was the use of economic sanctions, most prominently the freezing of the Russian central bank’s reserves that were held in the West. We’re seeing sanctions increasingly used as a policy of first resort. And indeed, those are the words the Biden administration, in their review that they conducted last year against a variety of other countries—whether we’re talking about Iran, or North Korea, or Belarus, and now Russia. Indeed, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai recently argued against lifting tariffs on China, claiming that those sanctions, as it were, gave her significant bargaining leverage.
What do you think the proper role of sanctions is in U.S. foreign policy? And is it possible for Congress to play a constructive role? Because one of the issues here is, to put it gently, Congress loves to impose sanctions. They don’t necessarily like lifting them. And that’s a problem in terms of actually using them appropriately.
MARKEY: Well, I agree that we have to be thoughtful about sanctions. But at the same time, much of the theory internationally over the last generation has been: The more economic engagement there, is the more it will moderate policies within countries around the world. And in China, in Russia, in other countries, it turns out that while they want to reap the benefits of some quasi-capitalism that they embrace, they also want to retain their authoritarian political system simultaneously. So I think that sanctions are important. We have to send that message. We don’t want them to hurt ordinary people in these countries. And we have to be very careful that we’re not inflicting pain on those who are most vulnerable.
But at the same time, it is critical that a message is sent, especially to the oligarchs, that they’re going to pay a price. That they’re not going to be able to thrive in an economic environment where they’re also supporting authoritarian regimes. And just by singling out that part of their economies, I think we’re sending a very strong message to those countries that there will be consequences. And so from my perspective, I think that sanctions absolutely have a role, and they have to be narrow, they have to be focused. But at the same time, they have to—they have to work, OK?
So when we say we’re cutting off all oil from Russia, yeah, there are consequences for that in our own economy, but I don’t think we have a choice. And we also know that that money flows directly into the hands of the oligarchs and right into Putin’s hands. The same thing, by the way, would be true in Myanmar, you know, where the military derives the bulk of their revenues from their oil and gas interests. And so targeting those oil and gas interests directly hits on the military in Myanmar. So I think as long as we’re mart, as long as we’re trying our best to make sure it’s not the poorest and most vulnerable who are hurt, that it can make a difference in terms of the final negotiated resolution of any conflict.
DREZNER: OK. Let’s shift from the urgent to the important. One of the classes I’ve developed at Fletcher over the last two years is called, optimistically enough, The End of the World. And it’s about all the ways in which we could have systemic collapses. And one of the things I learned from developing the syllabus for that is that the top two causes of that are nuclear war and climate change. And let’s start with nuclear proliferation. Currently negotiation with Iran seem to have stalled. It does seem like it’s obvious what Iran wants, and it’s not clear that the Biden administration is willing to give it to them in terms of delisting the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist actor.
I have two simple questions for you. Is a deal even possible at this point with Iran, do you think? But second, and more importantly, even if a deal is possible how would any agreement be sustained from presidential administration to presidential administration? We’ve already gone through the Obama administration negotiating the JCPOA, and then the Trump administration withdrawing from it. If the Biden administration were to reenter, at some point a Republican is going to get elected president again. And how—you know, from the Iranian perspective, why should they engage in good faith negotiations, knowing that a future administration is going to reverse course?
MARKEY: OK, so those are two good questions. The first question is, yes, we could reach an agreement. We could have a regime of full-scope safeguards that are put in place. We could push back the time in which it takes for the Iranians to develop the fissile material they need from days or weeks to months, you know, giving us more notice if there’s a breakout. We can do that. And that’s definitely an achievable goal, which the Biden administration is pursuing. I think, though, you put your finger on the problem. It’s the sustainability of that agreement politically. And I’m sure that’s causing a lot of hesitancy in the minds of the Iranian government politically.
And so it will definitely, you know, take some, you know, convincing to persuade the Iranians that the Republican Party is willing to engage in diplomacy. And that if, as a party, they want, they will own the nuclear program in Iran, the Republican Party in our country. When the breakout occurs, it will have been pursuant to the Trump disconnect from those negotiations, from the agreement. But they will own that bomb. And so that, to me, is something that we can actually say to the Iranians is going to be a very dangerous terrain for the Republicans to be on, because they have now demonstrated how close they can get. And the only option would then be a military strike on Iran, you know, to destroy the program. And I don’t think that there’s going to be a big appetite for that to occur, in the United States politically.
DREZNER: OK. Let’s move onto climate change. I think it would be safe to say that the spike in oil prices has driven some policy schizophrenia in the United States. Because on the one hand, the Biden administration definitely seems committed to accelerating investments in clean energy, most recently in terms of the use of the DPA on solar cell technology. On the other hand, I’ve also seen stories about them trying to open up idled oil refineries in order to get more oil on the market.
So I guess my question is, you know, how does the United States balance short-term and long-term stresses on energy and the environment? I mean, there’s an argument to be made that as energy prices spike that should accelerate investments in clean energy, which I know you’re super enthusiastic about. But at the same time, you know, I’m driving around this state and, as I’m sure you know, you know, the price of gas now is about $5 a gallon. That’s pretty high, particularly during the summer. And so it is very easy to respond immediately to that. How do you balance this sort of short-term/long-term trade off?
MARKEY: Well, in the short term, obviously, we need a policy response. So to the extent to which—I’ll just give you the numbers. If the United States deploys 16 million all-electric vehicles and five hundred thousand heat pumps, we back out all the oil that we were importing from Russia. If we deploy another 16 million and five hundred thousand heat pumps, we back out all the oil that we import from Saudi Arabia. So the challenge to us now is—
DREZNER: Senator, can I push you back on—push back on that a little bit?
DREZNER: Because that—in some ways, one of the problems here, I think, is this notion that if the U.S. is somehow energy independent, we don’t have to worry about the price. But oil is a global market. And so without denying that it would be good if we could have these sort of alternative energies, just because we’re not buying oil from Russia or Saudi Arabia doesn’t mean they don’t affect the price.
MARKEY: Right. But it’s the price of what, OK? Since we put 70 percent of the oil we consume into gasoline tanks, then what’s our plan to not put oil into gasoline tanks any longer so that we’re not as tied into Saudi or Russian or other politics, right? So to the extent to which Great Britain now has a goal of 100 percent of all new vehicles by the year 2030 will be electric. In Germany, it’s 65 percent of all new vehicles are electric by 2030. And that was before, by the way, the Ukrainian incursion. That’s likely to be altered upward. What’s the plan for the United States?
So I guess what I would say is that we can destroy the business model of Russia and of Saudi Arabia if the West goes to all-electric vehicles. And the sooner we state that plan, the sooner that we put the tax policies in place for electric vehicles, for wind, for solar, for battery storage technologies, for transmission systems that allow us to execute that plan, is the sure and certain guarantee that there is just a dramatic reduction—
OPERATOR: We seem to be having technical difficulties. We’ll work to have the senator rejoin us.
MARKEY: I’m afraid—yeah, I got disconnected here for some reason.
DREZNER: Yeah. Yeah. Sorry, you cut out about thirty seconds ago. I apologize.
MARKEY: OK, yeah. So I’ll just—I’ll rewind a little bit. I met with Chancellor Scholtz in Berlin last November before he was sworn in. And he told me that his goal was going to be to destroy the Russian business model by 2025. And I think that’s only going to be accelerated because of the invasion several months ago. So I think as long as we have a resolve in the West that we’re going to take this approach, they can try all they want to impact the global price of oil. But increasingly, the West is going to be insulated from it because of the technological revolution that we have the capacity to unleash if we put the policies in place. And simultaneously, by the way, a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gases. And simultaneously the construction of millions of union jobs, you know, to make all these technologies.
So we have a choice to make. We’re at that turning point. To a certain extent I think there was a delusion that, for example, the Germans were engaging in with regard to Nord Stream 2 and their ability to still stay politically independent while increasing their dependence upon Russian fossil fuels. But I think all of that has how been clarified. And I think now there’s going to be a unified response. We have to be flexible, you know, with the Hungarians or with others in terms of the pace at which we move off of a fossil fuel agenda. But there’s going to be a lot of stranded fossil fuel assets in Russia, but in the Middle East as a result of this invasion. It’s going to telescope the timeframe that it takes us to get to that all-electric future.
DREZNER: Senator, I have one last question before we open it up to the CFR members. I think it’s safe to say that the country is in something of a sour mood right now. I mean, if you look at polling from Gallup, from NBC, CBS, the Wall Street Journal, you name it, they all show that basically a supermajority of the country is extremely pessimistic about the future, and the present for that matter.
Now, I want to be very clear that some of the—some of the survey responses are, to put it gently, uniformed. So there was a poll that came out earlier this week by the Economist/YouGov that showed that 55 percent of Americans believe the U.S. economy is currently in a recession. Which is just not true. But nonetheless, it does sort of speak to the mood, which is even if Americans might be misguided about this, the fact is pessimism can have extremely corrosive effects on both a country’s foreign policy and their domestic politics.
And I guess my question is, how do leaders like yourself both simultaneously acknowledge the difficulties that your constituents, that Americans are facing in terms of things like trying to find baby formula, or inflation, or what have you, while avoiding being so pessimistic that essentially it causes the country to turn into an even darker place?
MARKEY: Well, that’s our challenge. It’s the challenge that President Lincoln had to deal with in the Civil War. There were pessimists who said we couldn’t even put the dome on the Capitol because we were fighting the Civil War. And Lincoln said: No. We are not only going to continue to build the dome, we’re also going to have a program for public universities across our country. We’re going to continue the business of our country even as we fight this existential threat to our country’s very future. So that’s how I view it. If you compare it to preceding generations, as they responded, that’s going to be the challenge of this generation. Clearly the Depression was a challenge. You know, World War II was a challenge. And that generation rose up and they responded.
Here this is my forty-sixth year in Congress. You outlined that for our listeners early on. So I’ve seen a lot. I’ve seen what happened after the Iran hostage crisis and the spike in the price of oil, stagflation. You know, I obviously saw the dramatic spike in oil prices after the first Persian Gulf War, in the protection of Kuwait. But it led to a doubling of the price of oil then as well. So Mark Twain used to say that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does tend to rhyme. So when it comes to these largely oil-related spikes in inflation, and therefore a transference over to every product in our society, and then some impact in terms of the mood of the public, yes. It's not something that politically is anything other than challenging for the party in power.
But at the same time, I look back when I was one of the small number of members that voted to protect the LGBTQ community’s right to be married in 1996. There were only sixty-seven of us out of 435. That just seems like ancient history now, even though a huge political storm rose up over that. And I said—I guess I would say the same thing was true for slavery, for the women’s suffrage movement, all throughout history. The Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, could they have ever have predicted there would be a date—a moment like this, where we’ve already had an African American president for eight years, and we have an African American woman president right now? No, you know?
So I view it optimistically, that the better angels of our nature are going to ultimately assert themselves. You know, President Roosevelt’s second inaugural address. And he did that at the depths of the Civil War. And so I think that’s ultimately who we are as a nation. And I absolutely believe that we will respond. So just going back to, you know, this early discussion which we just had, you know, the oil industry right now is saying: Well, we got to drill, baby, drill. But an alternative message is: No. Plug in, baby, plug in. We’re moving to all electric. We’re using our technological superiority. We’re going to respond to this challenge. You know, oil is our weakness; technology is our strength. That’s where we’re going. And we’ll lead the world. So you have to have a strong message. You can’t flinch in the fight, because ultimately that is what people will respond to—the better angels of our nature.
DREZNER: Thank you very much, Senator.
So at this time I would like to invite members to join our conversation with their questions. A reminder to everyone, particularly Senator Markey, that this meeting is on the record. The operator will remind you now of how to join the question queue.
Operator, go ahead.
OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)
We will take our first question from Ambassador James Gilmore.
Q: Senator Markey, this is Jim Gilmore. I’m the immediate past ambassador to the OSCE in Vienna.
MARKEY: Beautiful. Thank you for your service.
Q: Yeah, nice to—and thank you for yours. And thank you for this meeting today, and you too Dr. Drezner.
I’m going to ask you to comment on the big implications, strategic implications, of a potential negotiated settlement in Ukraine. When I was in Vienna, we never recognized the conquest of Crimea. And during that time, eastern Donbas was controlled, but not really by the Russians completely. But we didn’t recognize that either. Now, my fear has always been that two things would happen. That, one, Americans would become bored with this and that, number two, we would force a negotiation. If we—if a—look, we understand this is up to Ukrainians completely. But if they enter into a negotiation that grants a success, a conquest, a gain by Russia because of aggression and war crimes, what is the implication of that nationwide, worldwide? Aren’t the gloves off at that point, and everybody sees a gain in aggression?
MARKEY: Well, ultimately, I do believe that the settlement is for the Ukrainians to decide, and for us to support. So I just start there. And it’ll be, obviously, a very difficult decision for Zelensky and, you know, the leaders of Ukraine to make. But ultimately, I think we have to deal with that issue in the context from which it has arisen, and the response from the West to it. There could be precedents set, I suppose, if there is a settlement that is reached that does grant some land concessions to the Russians. But I think any other country that’s looking at this will see that there was a huge price that Russia paid in order to accomplish that goal. And I think it is going to leave in the minds of any other country, any other set of leaders thinking about doing the same thing which Russia did, to have second thoughts because they can see what the world response was.
So I appreciate what you’re saying. But at the same time, there is a long-term price which Russia is going to pay. And I think the Chinese and I think others are taking note of that and factoring it into their own calculations about the future. And if they don’t, then they’re fools. And so from my perspective, I appreciate that there might be some precedent which is set, but all—as I said earlier on—all of the assumptions that were made, that this was just going to be, you know, a march to Kyiv, and it was all going to be finished in—you know, within a week, has now, I think, dispelled any mistaken notion about the world’s response. And I think that now is going to be the big additional factor in the calculation of any other country in the world if they’re thinking about taken civil actions. That would be my assessment.
And I’d love to hear your view. You asked a question, Ambassador. Do you think that that does in fact play a role going forward in terms of how other countries are going to view their expansionist ambitions?
Q: Senator, first of all, that’s a very useful answer and a thought that I hadn’t had before, so I appreciate that. But my worry is that we’re seeing a rise of the authoritarians worldwide because they’re unhappy people. They don’t like the postwar settlement—the post-Cold War settlement and want to revise it. And if they think they can do it by force, then I think that’s a consideration the West has to take into consideration. So we don’t know. But I like your answer that says that if you increase the cost through economics and military response and unification of the allies, that it may deter future aggression. I think that’s a very useful answer, which I hadn’t thought about.
MARKEY: Yeah, and it is. This is—the Russians have invoked the law of unintended consequences to the perfect form. They didn’t see any of this coming. And I think other countries now get the chance to look at what did occur, and now add that to their equation. Because the Russians did not have it in theirs. So thank you, Ambassador.
DREZNER: Operator, you can take the next question.
OPERATOR: We will take our next question from Anne Romatowski.
Q: Hi. Anne Romatowski with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But I’m here today on my own time, not on behalf of the Bureau.
Senator Markey, thank you for being here. I want to thank you for your leadership and your research on finding a treatment and cause of myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as ME/CFS, and long COVID, and other related diseases, as we’re currently experiencing a mass disabling event with long COVID. And the GAO estimated about a million people have dropped out of the labor force due to long COVID. I’m wondering if you see any strategic implications on a global scale if this mass disabling event continues to go unchecked without any sort of known treatments. And is there a strategic advantage to the U.S. investing in research and treatment of these conditions?
MARKEY: Yeah, well, that’s a great question. Thank you. Yeah, Senator Kaine and I have introduced legislation for research at the NIH on long COVID. I think it’s absolutely essential that we fully understand, one, the extent which it’s now a part of our health care system, and that we need a response. And it’s also going to be critical that we deal with this on an international basis as well. Which is why it’s critical for us to fund vaccines that we can deploy around the world.
You know, the World Health Organization goal is 70 percent of the world is vaccinated by October of this year. It’s clear we’re not going to meet that goal. But the United States has the responsibility to fund vaccines here. And we’re having a hard time with the Republican Party in getting them to come to the table to respond to that crisis. In Taiwan, in Guatemala, in other countries where vaccines have been sent it’s been a—it’s been a huge diplomatic statement of reassurance from the United States to these countries.
And long COVID is obviously something that many countries are going to suffer from. It’s going to have real economic impacts in those countries. And to the extent to which the United States has to be the leader, Senator Kaine and I have introduced legislation to make sure the funding is there so that we can make the breakthroughs on long COVID, and then ensure that we’re developing treatments for it, but also public education in other countries about the extent to which it’s real, and that people aren’t faking it, people aren’t using it as an excuse to stay home and out of the workplace. That it is real. And so, from my perspective, yeah, there’s going to be real consequences in our country. But it’s our job, as a result, to then find the cures and to, similarly, as we should do with vaccines, to spread those cures around the rest of the world as well.
DREZNER: Operator, you can take the next question.
OPERATOR: We will take our next question from William Courtney.
Q: William Courtney, RAND. Thank you for these thoughtful remarks.
You’ve played an active role in cybersecurity. At the beginning of the war in Ukraine, there were expectations that Russia might launch a large-scale cybersecurity attack. That seems not to have happened. Do you have any perspectives on why not? Thanks.
MARKEY: Well, thank you, Ambassador. Thank you, my old friend. Bill Courtney is—my mother is Christine Courtney. So I know the Courtneys are very intelligent people. (Laughter.)
Yeah, there’s a lot of theories around that, but I think that there’s two—there’s two things that I’ve been told by my cyber community up in Boston, which has one of the largest concentrations of cyber companies in the world. One, if Russia attacks, so much of the infrastructure is in fact tied into the infrastructure of adjoining countries, most of whom are NATO allies. So there is an open question here as to whether or not a cyberattack on one country that then spills into adjoining countries turns out to be an attack on NATO. And as a result, elicits a response from NATO against the country that initiated the cyberattack. And I think that’s something that has to give them some doubts about engaging in massive attacks because it, without question, would spill into Poland and other countries.
And secondly, there is also a theory—and I think it could be right—that Russia is concerned that if they engage in an all-out cyberattack, thinking that they might only suffer minimal compared to that which they’re inflicting—that it could unleash a global hacker attack upon them, with hackers all over the world trying to figure out how they can insinuate themselves into some part of the Russian economy infrastructure. And they would be doing it from every part of the globe to ensure that Russia was treated to a real lesson as to how cyber actually operates on the planet.
So I think those are two good theories. You know, getting inside the internal workings of the cerebral mechanism of Vladimir Putin is not an easy thing to do. But I don’t—I think that they have to understand that they are vulnerable, and to the extent to which, you know, we have been working with Ukraine to defend and to disrupt cyberattacks, the attacks have been mostly on denial-of-service attacks in Ukrainian government ministries. And so we thus far has seen, you know, it in more limited form. And even when they have, it hasn’t been as destructive as any—again, any of the experts had predicted, back more than 100 days ago. And I think the initial reasons that I laid out might be, you know, why they are a little bit hesitant to invoke, again, the law of unintended consequences in terms of what the retaliatory capacity would be from other countries, but also individuals across the planet, in terms of the Russian infrastructure.
DREZNER: At the risk of some, I guess, school self-promotion, my Fletcher colleagues Susan Landau and Josephine Wolff, who run the cybersecurity master’s program at Fletcher, I think suggested to me a third hypothesis. Which is simply that because Putin kept his decision to invade Ukraine so close hold, that so few of even his own national security team were aware of what was happening up until a week before the actual invasion, then literally there was no prep time to do this sort of cyber warfare. And so, as a result, if that’s the case, we might see an escalation beginning this summer as they finally start to ramp up. But we’ll see.
MARKEY: But again, not unlike a lot of the technological response, their tanks and other military vehicles have now suffered—
DREZNER: Have been underwhelming, yeah.
MARKEY: They’ve had time now to factor in what the West might be able to do technologically that they had not anticipated back before the war started. So—
DREZNER: No, that’s a fair point, yeah.
MARKEY: Yeah, so I think that it could be pretty overwhelming in Russia if hackers all across the world decided to teach them a lesson.
DREZNER: OK. Operator, we can take the next question.
OPERATOR: We will take our next question from Jessica Carroll.
Q: Good morning, or good afternoon. I can’t keep my own days straight here. Senator, thank you so much for today’s wonderfully diverse discussion. I appreciate the range of conversation topics we’ve had. So I represent a company called Shift5. And we do cybersecurity for the underlying operational technology of air and rail across the defense and commercial sectors.
And my question for you today regards the perspectives you’ve provided us and the rest of the Council on efficient energy practices and where you are in your role on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Do you believe the committee today has the right operational insights required to make informed decisions, policies, plans regarding the health and resiliency of public air and rail fleets? And if not, what level of data collection should the transportation industry have from their platforms in order to provide Congress, right, a degree of fleet use and efficiency insights? Thank you so much.
MARKEY: That’s a good question. So what is the vulnerability that you’re talking about specifically?
Q: Particularly the vulnerability of the underlying operational technology. So the serial bus connections that can be affected by cyber intrusion.
MARKEY: Ah, you’re talking about cyberattacks.
Q: Absolutely, sir. Thank you.
MARKEY: Ah, OK. Yeah, there’s still a lot of work to do. I’ll tell you a little story back—I was the chairman of energy in the House of Representatives back in 2009 and 2010. And all of our security agencies came to me, as the chairman, and wanted to give me a briefing on the vulnerability of our utility sector, and ongoing attacks on our utility sector. And the need to pass legislation in order to mandate that there be a dramatic upgrade in the security of our electricity grid, because obviously pretty much everything depends upon that. I was able to get it through the House on a bipartisan basis, but then the utility industry went to a couple of conservative senators, I’ll leave their names out, and got them to put a hold on the bill so that it did not pass. A lot of this is chronicled in a book which Ted Koppel wrote about this subject.
And so we went too many years without actually doing the preparatory work. Now, there’s been some improved work on the grid, but there’s a lot more work to be done. And the problem is it requires ongoing financing in order to meet with the increase in the offensive cyber capacity. So it’s a cost of doing business which too many industries in our country are reluctant to do. And I always believe that to be the case because the executives might be in their early sixties and looking at retirement, and they don’t want to impose this extra financial burden on the corporation on their watch, and hope that they can just make it through the final couple years or three years.
We just need a policy in our country where we’re requiring all essential infrastructure to make this investment on an ongoing basis. And that if we don’t, we can and we should expect there to be attacks upon it. So I think there’s progress that’s been made, and I’ll just stipulate that, but I still think we’re far from where we have to be as a nation in order to protect ourselves from cyberattacks. And I thank you for the question. And I hope that this discussion about Russia’s cyber that began, you know, three or four months ago is helping to inform our public policymakers on a bipartisan basis in terms of the need for us to insist on the private sector that they make this investment as a cost of doing business in the United States for the 21st century.
DREZNER: Thank you. Operator, we can take the next question.
OPERATOR: We will take our next question from Neil Vora.
Q: Senator Markey, thank you so much for your many years of service. I’m a physician with Conservation International, previously served with the CDC for almost a decade.
And Dr. Drezner brought up the class that he has been teaching about the end of the world. One of the biggest existential threats we face comes from the destruction of nature. And right now we are seeing the convergence of multiple catastrophic threats from climate change, pandemics, and loss of biodiversity that, at their core, have some common drivers and therefore also common solutions. And I’m specifically referring to the destruction of tropical forests, which we know that rates of deforestation are on the rise, even despite the events of the past two years with somewhat of an economic downturn.
So my question for you is: What type of work are you doing to protect nature? What type of work is ongoing on the horizon, particularly given the critical moment we are in? And that this is no longer a fringe issue. Many Americans see the value of protecting nature. Thank you.
MARKEY: Well, thank you. And thanks for that very important question, because we can see from Brazil to Indonesia, we can see the erosion of protections around nature, around the forests which are the lungs of the planet. Back in 2009, with Congressman Henry Waxman, I was able to pass a piece of legislation, it was called the Waxman-Markey bill, which was an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases for the United States by the year 2050. Well, in that legislation, we added about $5 billion which would be used to give incentives—economic incentives to those who lived in the Amazon, who lived in the forest of Indonesia, to take those payments in substitution for cutting down of those forests.
We need some kind of a regime globally that we put together because of our interconnectivity, that the wealthier nations are subsidizing those that are not as wealthy, in order to protect nature, and that we don’t see its unnecessary sacrifice. And that’s going to require vision. That’s going to require the United States to be a leader because, ultimately, whether it be nuclear weapons, or it be climate change, or the pandemic, we’re either going to live together or we’re going to die together. We’re either going to know each other or we’re going to exterminate each other. We have a choice. Humanity has to decide.
And from my perspective, that’s how I define what I try to do every single day, just to be advancing an agenda which tries to deal with these huge issues which pose threats, especially to those who are most vulnerable on our planet. Thank you for that question.
DREZNER: Thank you, Senator. Operator, you can take the next question.
OPERATOR: We will take our next question from Ben Naimark-Rowse.
Q: Thank you. And I’m a native Bostonian. I currently serve, actually, as a social movements advisor to USAID.
And so, Senator, you’re familiar with the power of social movements. Sunrise Movement influences climate policy debate domestically and mobilizes Americans and elections quite effectively. Social movements have also been powerful actors in international relations, from the Arab Spring, to Hong Kong, and the colored revolutions, and even in Ukraine. And so—but often the U.S. government posture feels reactive when it comes to social movements. So I’m curious, in what ways should the U.S. government be better about preparing to leverage and engage the political power of social movements in our defense, diplomacy, and development policies?
MARKEY: Well, I think the reason there are social movements is that the existing political establishment is not dealing with the issues that are being raised. The Arab Spring was the lack of economic opportunity. The Sunrise Movement was the lack of governmental response in the United States to the climate crisis. And so every issue goes through three phases—political education, political activation, political implementation. The movement that is created on any issue is the political education phase. It’s the attempt by those who can see the problem and also see that there is no effective response, to rise up, to have their voices be heard, to inject themselves into the political process, domestically or internationally.
And then to keep organizing so that all of that activation ultimately leads to an implementation of changes. We’ve come a long way, by the way, on all-electric vehicles, on wind and solar in the United States. No one had this on the scoreboard ten years ago. We only had two thousand megawatts total of solar in the United States ten years ago. Now we have twenty-four thousand megawatts of solar that was deployed last year. It didn’t get sunnier in the last ten years, but the politics of this changed. And the same thing is true with civil rights. The same thing is true with health care, equity. But again, we’re a country with a constitution that calls for a more perfect union, the contradiction that we know we’re good but we also know we’re not perfect and we have a lot of work to do. But it’s the outsiders who lead the effort to make us more perfect.
So I just think it’s part of the way in which any establishment is structured. You’re in, you’re content, and then the outsiders arrive. And their job is to electorally punish people if they don’t change. So this gun safety issue that we’re debating right now, there’s an uprising our country that could have real political consequences for those that stand in opposition. The same thing is true with the Supreme Court repealing Roe versus Wade. It’s going to unleash a movement out there in the suburbs of our country that could play out very powerfully in the elections of 2022. So from my perspective in forty-six years, I know that the change did not occur internally. It occurred because of outsiders, because of movements.
And that’s something that is hard for governments to hear, but ultimately when their own existence is threatened it’s not the fear of God that frightens them. It’s the fear of voters. And that’s true not just in the United States, but around the world. And ultimately that’s what happened in Ukraine, let’s be honest. It’s what happened in Ukraine and it’s where Russia then absolutely, you know, responded from an authoritarian perspective back a decade and a half ago when they saw what the Ukrainian people actually wanted in terms of a real democracy. And we’re still in the midst of that struggle. But we can’t retreat. We have to make sure that those voices for democracy, for inclusion, are, in fact, honored.
DREZNER: Thank you. CFR’s reputation for ending meetings on time is legendary, and I am not going to sully that brand. So thank you very much for joining today’s virtual meeting. Thank you very much to Senator Markey for an enlightening conversation about a wide range of topics. Please note that the video and transcript of today’s meeting will be posted on CFR’s website. Thank you all for coming.
MARKEY: And, yeah, thank you all. Thanks for having me.
This is an uncorrected transcript.