War in the Digital Age, With Audrey Kurth Cronin

Audrey Kurth Cronin, distinguished professor at American University’s School of International Service and founding director of the Center for Security, Innovation and New Technology, sits down with James M. Lindsay to discuss how technology, innovation, and social media are shaping Russia’s war in Ukraine and what it might mean for the future.

April 5, 2022 — 30:49 min
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James M. Lindsay

Senior Vice President, Director of Studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair Full Bio

Episode Guests

Audrey Kurth Cronin

Show Notes

Audrey Kurth Cronin, distinguished professor at American University’s School of International Service and founding director of the Center for Security, Innovation and New Technology, sits down with James M. Lindsay to discuss how technology, innovation, and social media are shaping Russia’s war in Ukraine and what it might mean for the future.

 

Books Mentioned on the Podcast

 

Audrey Kurth Cronin, Great Power Politics and the Struggle over Austria, 1945-1955 (1986)

 

Audrey Kurth Cronin, Power to the People: How Open Technological Innovation is Arming Tomorrow’s Terrorists (2020)

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Transcript

Jim Lindsay:

Welcome to The President's Inbox, a CFR Podcast about the foreign policy challenges facing the United States. I'm Jim Lindsay, Director of Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This week's topic is, war in a digital age.

Jim Lindsay:

With me to discuss how technology, innovation and social media are shaping Russia's war in Ukraine and what it might mean for the future, is Audrey Kurth Cronin. Audrey is a distinguished professor in the School of International Service at American University, where she is the Founding Director of the Center for Security, Innovation and New Technology. She was previously a specialist in terrorism, at the Congressional Research Service. And she has held a number of positions in the executive branch, including in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy. Audrey's most recent book is "Power to the People: How Open Technological Innovation is Arming Tomorrow's Terrorists", which was shortlisted for the Lionel Gilbert Prize and won the 2020 Airey Neave Prize. Audrey, thanks for joining me.

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

It's a pleasure, Jim. Thanks for having me.

Jim Lindsay:

Audrey, I want to begin with a technology piece of all of this and get your assessment of how technology, whether high technology, or low technology, has shaped the battlefield in Ukraine.

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

Well, I think technology has been important, both in communications and also, in how some of the operations have unfolded. I think, we do have to be careful to not get too breathless about the role of technology, particularly since a lot of what is happening is old fashioned artillery and old fashioned tanks, and a lot of very well-established technologies. But, in shaping the origins of the war and also in how it's unfolded, I think there are a lot of lessons for us, about what types of technologies are going to be important moving forward. And I think, we have to pay a lot of attention to those. For one thing, decentralized technologies have been very prominent, when it comes to operations on the battlefield.

Jim Lindsay:

Well, let me stop you right there Audrey, when you say decentralized technologies, what do you mean by that? What comes to mind for you?

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

I mean, technologies that are easily accessible to individuals, that are easy to use, that are human-carried, that are sometimes driven by autonomous capabilities. Drones are the obvious example, but not just large drones, like the TB2, the Turkish TB2, but also Polish-produced Warmate drone, Kamikaze drones that have been used. The Switchblade capabilities that we have given from our special operation-

Jim Lindsay:

That's the US drone, the Switchblade?

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

It's the small...the very small... They're actually two sizes, but both of them are extremely small and one of the two can loiter, so that it can actually target individuals on the ground. This has been very important in killing Russians, frankly.

Jim Lindsay:

So, what are those drones used to attack? Do they attack individuals? Do they attack artillery? Do they attack tanks?

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

The Switchblade attacks individuals. So, it doesn't have you know huge explosive capability, but it's an extraordinarily important weapon from the point of view of morale. So, we've heard a lot about how the Russians are not very high in their morale. For one thing, I think they were ill-prepared. And one of the things that has had an impact on that morale, has been these very small weapons that the Ukrainians have been using. And that we've been...the West has been supplying them.

Jim Lindsay:

Have we seen the Russians using their own drones?

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

Yes, yes. The Russians use Kamikaze drones too. And that's also a factor. So, I think overall, in terms of how war is evolving, I think that drones are very important, both a large, and then the very small, individual-sized drones. Open-source intelligence has been important for drone targeting, that's another major element.

Jim Lindsay:

Can you explain for me what open-source intelligence is?

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

Sure. By that, I mean the ability of individuals, often times they're volunteers, who can just access broad technical capabilities, things like Google Maps and you know other similar satellite-connected technologies and see what's happening on the ground, and then share information about potential targeting. So, open-source intelligence, has played a bigger role in this war, than in past wars. Now, I don't want it to be overstated though, because open-source intelligence was very important in the months before the war began. There were a lot of people who were pointing to what the Russians were doing, as they had their long line of you know 40 miles of tanks and various capabilities. You,know open-source intelligence identified the fact that they were collecting blood, that they were building field hospitals. It was kind of a way to make sure that everybody was aware of what the Russians were doing. And I think, open-source intelligence is going to be extremely important afterwards.

Jim Lindsay:

Now, I have read that the Ukrainian government, Audrey, gave citizens an app, that allowed them to provide the government with information about Russian troop movements. How important has that been?

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

I think, it's been extremely important, for two reasons. It has helped to give the Ukrainian government information, but it's also been a major factor in civilian mobilization, because people are involved in this war. But, the other thing about open source intelligence, unfortunately, I think, is that it's going to be far more important after the conflict, or at least once it becomes frozen, because it's going to document the atrocities that are happening.

Jim Lindsay:

On that score, are we seeing any documentation taking place so far?

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

Oh definitely, yes. It's a little bit difficult to tell sometimes, because both sides are engaging in disinformation as well, but I don't think we're going to get a clear picture of everything that has happened, until after the war has at least frozen, if not ended.

Jim Lindsay:

Okay. So, one of the consequences of the technology, is that governance can have real-time situational awareness, but also a capacity to document what has actually happened?

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

Yes. And not just governments, because of course, governments have always had classified access to intelligence. It's, also, it's a key factor in the mobilization of widespread support outside Ukraine and also widespread mobilization within Ukraine. So, I think that's a matter of scale and scope and speed, more than a change in the actual existence of the thing. But, the fact that we've got so many people in the West, especially in Europe and in the United States, who are watching what is happening in Ukraine, has been very important to the willingness to provide support for Ukraine.

Jim Lindsay:

Okay. I want to pull on that thread, because I've been talking about government action, but obviously other actors are influencing and shaping what is transpiring? So, let's talk about the big technology media companies and their involvement and how that's played out Audrey.

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

Yes. This is an extremely big story, because the tech companies have been struggling for years with disinformation, misinformation, malformation. It's not like calls for violence are new. It's not like their involvement in things like the genocide in Myanmar, the live streaming of the attacks in Christchurch, these things have existed. It's not like the tech companies didn't realize that they were playing a role in violence. However, what is new, is that this is the first truly interstate war, in which technology companies are playing a key role as geopolitical actors. Their role is bigger and more important, than it has been in the past. And what's really interesting, is to see how ill-prepared they are.

Jim Lindsay:

Well, my sense is many technology companies wish to be neutral, they want to do business, they're in the business of making money. And the more markets you can be in, the better off you are. But, that impulse is crashed against reality. I know a number of companies, I think Meta which has Facebook and Instagram is finding itself shut out of the Russian market. How is that playing out?

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

Yes. Well, so if they had their way, the tech companies would be like the Red Cross. They want to be just as neutral and be able to reach out to both sides and support their users on both sides, not to engage in politics. But, unfortunately when you're in a major war, you don't have that kind of choice. If you have power, like companies like Google and Meta, Apple have, that power is going to be controlled, or influenced by the states and the actors who are involved in the war. So, the tech companies have both, blocked access to RT and Sputnik say, on Google and on YouTube, particularly in Europe. Meta blocked RT and Sputnik on Facebook and Instagram. Meta and Microsoft and Google don't carry any Russian ads anymore. They've had to make a stand against Russian disinformation that way. But, at the same time, the Russians have shown a tremendous amount of ability to engage in coercion against the tech companies.

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

This is long standing, because the Google and Apple employees were harassed within Russia, long before this war started, but it's really ramped up. So, Russia has blocked access to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and they've criminalized the spreading of information about the war. They're using AI as well, to try to search for terms like Voina, war and invasion. And they're using the ability to search, to prosecute their own people. And they've also opened a criminal case against Meta, because they're claiming that Meta is an extremist organization. So, it's a pretty serious wake up call, I think, for the tech companies. And I see them as being trapped, with very few potential options for how to handle this. And they're really struggling.

Jim Lindsay:

I think, the flip side of it is that, if Facebook, Instagram and other things are not allowed in Russia, that the Russian people have fewer sources of information and you essentially create an information desert, or maybe you create an information echo chamber that Putin can dominate.

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

That is exactly what is happening. But, you know it's not just companies like Meta and Google and Facebook. It's also, there's been an unprecedented clampdown on traditional types of media outlets in Russia, even I would say even worse than during the Cold War. The Russians are very well-experienced in controlling the message in their own country and this new law that it effectively you know criminalizes journalism, is a huge coercive measure. But, in terms of American and Western outlets, the New York Times and Bloomberg have pulled their staffs from Moscow. Washington Post is removing bylines and locations. The BBC has moved toward shortwave broadcasting again. I'm a kid who grew up in the American Embassy in Moscow, back during the Cold War days. I remember all of this and we used to have the journalists over to our house to watch films and sort of to help take care of them, because we had more resources with access to the diplomatic pouch and movies and things. So, it shocks me that the New York Times has pulled their people from Moscow. That shocks me, because even in the worst days of the Cold War, that didn't happen.

Jim Lindsay:

Yeah. And certainly, is a departure for the New York Times, which historically has kept its reporters in conflict zones throughout conflicts. There's another side Audrey, of the tech issue. And that is the affirmative support that tech companies, or tech impresarios have provided. And I'm thinking here, of Elon Musk and his Starlink system of providing internet, satellite access to the Ukrainians. How has that played out?

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

That is one of the most interesting examples of the decentralization that I was talking about before. So, you have Starlink, which is 2000 different satellites that are circulating around and are providing access to the internet to people in Ukraine. In March of 2022, the Starlink app was the most downloaded ever and mainly in Ukraine. And so, Elon Musk is providing that kind of decentralized support, even as the Russians would love to cut off the internet for Ukraine. So, that's a huge example of large numbers of small things that would be very difficult for the Russians to take out all 2000 Starlink satellites.

Jim Lindsay:

Now, my sense is most people listening to this, cheer on Elon Musk in doing this, he's doing a good service, but are there geopolitical consequences of having individuals, or companies being able to insert themselves in the dynamics of a war situation?

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

Definitely, because you may be supportive of what Elon Musk has decided to do in this situation. But, you know he's just also bought a very large share in Twitter and he believes very strongly in unfettered free speech. He owns a much larger share now than Jack Dorsey. So, the question is will Elon Musk engage in a open, free speech, unlimited free speech approach and pressure Twitter to change any kind of moderation that it has had on the platform? And it's yet to be seen.

Jim Lindsay:

And I should not... We're not trying to single out Elon Musk here. I would imagine any big tech company, because of the impact tech has in our lives, the choices it makes, have consequences, and we may cheer them in some situations and disapprove of them in other situations.

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

Exactly.

Jim Lindsay:

Audrey, I want to talk a bit more about this broader issue of the information space and information warfare, because there have been a lot of cheers for the Biden administration for its joint use of information, releasing previously classified information. Can you sort of walk us through how those efforts are shaping the evolution of the conflict?

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

Well, I think the Biden administration was very smart and took a considerable risk in declassifying information about what the Russians were doing. And the Russians, particularly Vladimir Putin, have a habit of accusing other actors of doing what they intend to do. And so, I think it was quite effective on the part of the Biden administration to point out the fact that the Russians were talking about chemical weapons, for example, as a way to try to diffuse the argument that they were going to try to make, that the Ukrainians were getting ready to use chemical weapons against them. They were a number of different specific examples where they diffused the ability to use traditional media, as well as new media, by declassifying traditional classified information. And I think, that was something that the Biden administration should be commended for.

Jim Lindsay:

I will note that, one of the reasons it has proved so effective for the Biden administration, is that their predictions proved to be true. We go back only a couple of months and when this information was first being put out in the US government, joined by the British government as well, signaling that invasion appeared to be imminent. Most of those predictions were dismissed, certainly in Europe, including by the leaders of the intelligence services in countries like France and Germany.

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

Yes, and also in Ukraine. What we're finding is that President Zelensky, who has become a superstar and has handled the invasion as a very courageous leader, he was actually resisting the intelligence that was brought to him. That was actually correct, that the invasion was about to happen. So, you had President Zelensky not doing things like, testing the air raid sirens and preparing his population for mass evacuation, if necessary. You know some of those preparations that might have been made, had he believed the intelligence much more earnestly, than apparently he did.

Jim Lindsay:

How important has President Zelensky's use of social media been in the evolution of the conflict? I mean, he has addressed seemingly every national legislature that will give him a platform. He has released videos in a variety of languages, targeting a wide range of different groups. How has he, as an embodiment of Ukrainian resistance, shaped this?

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

I think, he's been utterly brilliant. He has been addressing countries in the languages that those individual countries understand. He presented a Churchillian-style speech to the Brits. He has presented an FDR-style speech to the United States. He does his homework. I've been very impressed. He seems to really have the ability to focus his mind, or perhaps his staff does, on exactly what will resonate in different audiences. And it really helps that he's an actor. He reminds me in some ways, there are some parallels I think, with Ronald Reagan. You know maybe, there are some advantages to having people with very deep acting experiences, leading countries.

Jim Lindsay:

Now, of course, I'm focusing on, Zelensky talking to countries in populations that are sympathetic, or supportive of Ukraine. But, the information narrative is not just dominated by the Ukrainians. Obviously, in countries like China, getting a very sort of different information flow. How do you see that shaping the nature of the conflict?

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

Well, I see the internet as being further fractionated by this conflict. So, I think it's a driving force that is increasing a tendency that we've seen for a while, which is for China to control its own domestic information zone. And for Russia increasingly, to clamp down on its own domestic information. And we're seeing a further splitting of the internet. So yes, China is not presenting Zelensky as a hero. It's certainly not the way it's being presented in Russia. In fact, that brings up one other new thing, which has been the use of deep fakes that the Russians have engaged in. They had a very sophisticated, deep, fake that made it look as if Zelensky was calling for surrender of his people.

Jim Lindsay:

Okay. I have to stop you right there, because I'm a luddite when it comes to technology. So, what is a deep fake?

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

Well, a deep fake is an artificial created, usually it's a small video, that presents someone as doing something that they never did. So, it takes a lot of frames and pictures of individuals, and then it pieces them together. And you can often tell a deep fake, because it'll be a little bit choppy, but it'll use little bits of language and bits of recordings that are accessible all over the internet, especially for high profile people and build something that is completely inaccurate that the person never said. And Zelensky, the fact that he was all over the internet and was so high profile, that made it very easy for the Russians to create a deep fake of him. And it fortunately, I think people are becoming a little more sophisticated in recognizing them. But, there was a lot of risk involved in that kind of a operation and the Russians were very clever to do it.

Jim Lindsay:

Are we moving Audrey, to a point where deep fakes will be so good, that you won't be able to tell them from the real thing?

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

I think, that's already happened. Especially, for people that aren't familiar with them. You know the other thing that often happens, is that people will have artificial photographs of humans that don't exist, with profiles on LinkedIn, or on social media platforms. And they're piecing together different pieces of other humans. And you have to study them very closely, in order to be able to tell a real photograph from a phony photograph. You have to look at things like, is there a discontinuation in that little piece of hair? Or, you know does the color of the outfit seem to change? You have to really pay attention, and most people just don't have time for that. So, they're drawn in.

Jim Lindsay:

Yeah, I would say, people seem to be inclined to jump to a conclusion. They see a video and move on from that, or they don't even necessarily see the video. They rely on other people telling them what the video says, and they draw inferences on that basis. So, what you're suggesting is people are going to have to learn to invest more time in trying to distinguish between, what's real and what's fake?

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

Yes. And isn't it infuriating? Because, none of us have time. But, I also think that we're going to begin to use AI-driven means to try to separate real from fake. That already is a tool that people are testing and it'll be the longer term solution, I think, for most platforms.

Jim Lindsay:

Now, one of the things I found surprising about the evolution of the war in Ukraine, Audrey, has been the dog that didn't bark, or hasn't appeared to have barked. Before the invasion, we heard a lot of speculation that the Russian movement would be coupled with significant cyber attacks, either against Ukraine, or against the West, more broadly. We haven't however, to the best of my knowledge, seen a large-scale cyber attack. Why is that?

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

Well, there have been small-scale cyber attacks, but also I think, your question is a really good question, that nobody has a great answer to. I think, the Russians can do much more than they've done. It could be that they're very worried about blow back, because anytime you engage in a cyber operation, you can take down your own... parts of your own systems as well. But, I think they may also be saving up for something in the future. And in particular, it's really time to back up all your systems, in the United States and in Europe, because I think, Russian cyber attacks are likely in our future.

Jim Lindsay:

What about the flip side of it? One of the concerns I've heard over the years, is the fear that if a war broke out, that partisans on both sides would use cyber. So, it's not just the Russians going after US systems, or Ukrainian systems, but that you would have so-called patriotic hackers, maybe Ukrainians, maybe Americans, Germans, Brits going after the Russian internet, Russian cyber.

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

Yeah. Well, some of that has happened. Anonymous has been involved in attacks on Russia. Some of that has already happened. I think, the bigger story here is that, I've always felt that cyber received a little more hype than it should when it came to its role within old-fashioned shooting wars. It is important, in terms of maintaining connection on each side. But, I think it can be easily overstated, because we still have old-fashioned bombs and artillery that are making the big difference on the battlefield. And although, I still believe that we have cyber attacks in our future, the influence on how the war unfolds, is probably going to be less than we've always predicted.

Jim Lindsay:

So, as you look at all of these developments, Audrey, and try to tease together broader lessons, where do you come out? And I will admit again, we're at the beginning, I think not the end of this conflict, that there's still a lot more to be learned, but what are some of your preliminary lessons learned from this? And I will ask it particularly, in the light of a lot of speculation you've already heard, about what this means for Taiwan and potential Chinese interest. And forcibly, reunifying Taiwan with China.

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

I understand why the Taiwanese are worried about that. But, I actually think that a lot of what's coming out of this war, should give Taiwan considerable reason for hope, because the Ukrainians having been a pretty sophisticated economy when it comes to technology, aerospace, cyber, they've been quite effective at mobilizing their population and resisting the Russian invasion. And it's taken a high cost from the Russians. That's not to say that I'm being a panglossian person here, because I think that bombing and artillery, if the Russians are simply going to shift over, which I really fear is what's happening now, from the kinds of operations that they've engaged in the last month and a half. And what they're more traditionally inclined to do, which is to simply bomb indiscriminately and take over through overall brute force. I think, that is perhaps in the future for Ukraine, but nonetheless we've seen remarkable resistance of this invasion.

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

And the Chinese have got to be paying attention to that too. They would pay a very high price, if they were to try to invade Taiwan and the Taiwanese can learn a lot from what the Ukrainians can do. I do think that one of the key things that I would draw from this conflict relates to the tech companies and the fact that they really are very bad at dealing with wars. And I see them as having four major options and they've kind of tried all of them and I'm not really sure how it's going to come out after the war in Ukraine. I mean, they started up by being completely dedicated to unrestrained free speech and that made them complicit in violence. So, you know there were some moderation, using contractors to moderate material on their platform and labels and so on, but that was really around the edges.

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

So, the second thing is to act in the interest of their users. That's one of the arguments that people make about how the tech companies can navigate war time. But, the problem is that there are users on both sides. And so, if you're falling on the side of one side, you're, as we've discussed before, neglecting Russian needs for information. So, the third thing is to adapt to local, national laws and they've certainly been doing that, but that leads to unsavory compromises and makes them look very hypocritical. I mean, it leads to what happened with Google and Facebook and Twitter being blocked in China. It leads to the kind of struggle that's going on right now in India, with the government and the tech companies fighting over exactly you know what the moderation should look like.

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

And then, the last one is to choose sides according to your principles. And so, you've seen some of that with Meta. Censoring some speech, that has its downsides too, because it's contributing to this very fractionation of the internet that was already underway. And it leads to increased competitors within those countries. You know things like WeChat in China and Koo in India and in Russia, it's VKontakte.

Jim Lindsay:

So, it sounds like the utopian promise of the tech companies that we embraced and enjoyed in the '90s, has taken a dystopian turn.

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

Yes. And I think that the tech companies are a long way to figuring out how exactly to behave. I do think that they are important geopolitical actors. I think, that their role is under-appreciated, when it comes to looking at traditional power politics. But, that's not to say that they're like major nation states, that have any kind of understanding of what to do, in terms of diplomacy and defense policy and all that bureaucracy involved. They're geopolitical actors, but they're extremely inexperienced. And to some degrees, I think that many of them are naive.

Jim Lindsay:

Well, and I would imagine that existing governments are now trying to figure out how to work with, or use tech companies to accomplish their goals and objectives?

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

Yes. So, the amount of coercion that's going on, with respect to tech companies, is growing sharply. And this only increases the pincer movement against them.

Jim Lindsay:

Audrey, I actually want to shift gears, as we come to the close of our conversation and take advantage of the fact that you once wrote a book called "Great Power Politics and the Struggle over Austria, 1945-1955." And the reason I point to this, is because there's been a lot of talk in the last couple of days, few weeks, about the possibility of Ukraine becoming neutral. And obviously, that was an issue that was significant with Austria at the Dawn of the Cold War. Can you just help us think about neutrality, as a concept and whether it applies at all, to the Ukraine situation? Or, perhaps there were lessons from what you saw in Austria, that would warn you, or warn us going forward?

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

Well, the most important lesson, is that neutrality only works if the country involved, is actively seeking it. So, there is no way that any kind of neutrality could work, if it were imposed by Russia, or by any of the European powers. Imposed neutrality goes back to the 19th century and earlier, we're over that. So, it's never been successful in the 20th century, if it is imposed without the willingness of the country itself.

Jim Lindsay:

So, Ukraine has to number one, embrace the idea?

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

Yes. And that has the potential for serious costs for them. It could mean giving up territory, particularly in the Donbas. I think, they're already somewhat resigned with respect to Crimea. The question of what territory exactly would be neutral, that's crucial.

Jim Lindsay:

You need borders.

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

You need borders. And that's one of the ways that Ukraine is very different from a country like Austria. The borders of Austria, that there was some fighting over the Southern border and that had to be resolved, or at least settled before Austria could become neutral. But, Austria's neutrality was sought by the Austrians. They flew to Moscow and presented a proposal. This was in the aftermath of Stalin's death. It was because Stalin, I think, had passed that Khrushchev decided that it was in his interest to have a neutral country. He was trying to provide an opportunity, or a kind of parallel for Germany. He didn't want Germany to re-arm. And so, Austria was supposed to be the implicit example of what the Germans should do. It didn't work out that way, but the Austrians were militarized. They were allowed to maintain defensive military capabilities. I think, that's an element that's very important for Ukraine. I actually think Ukraine would have to be armed to the teeth, in order to be successful as a neutral country.

Jim Lindsay:

But, I can't imagine Russia wants Ukraine to be armed to the teeth. One of the justifications for the invasion in the first place, was the need to de-militarize Ukraine.

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

That's right. So, that's one of the key reasons why I think that it's going to be very difficult to achieve a neutrality agreement. I think, it would be a good solution for Ukraine, assuming that this talk of de-Nazification, which basically means regime change and de-militarization that Putin loves to harp on. If, both of those things continue to be in place. I think, it's very unlikely that neutrality is going to be a successful solution for Ukraine. And in fact, I think the Russians may be using it strictly as a diversion of our attention. That doesn't mean that I believe that neutrality would be a bad outcome, but it would have to be neutrality that allowed robust defenses on the part of the Ukrainians. The other piece of neutrality that's very risky from the point of view of the West, I would say, is that as these negotiations have been haltingly, going on, there's been talk of a Western guarantee-

Jim Lindsay:

Security guarantee.

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

Exactly. That would be quite potentially, dangerous. Because, the Ukrainians, Zelensky is discussing the possibility of a guarantee by France, Britain and the United States, the three Western, nuclear powers. If that were to be put in place, somehow, that would be equivalent to an article five agreement. That would be, you know obviously, the Ukrainians couldn't join NATO, that would have to be a part of their neutrality agreement, because it's fundamental that a neutral country not join a military alliance, but it would be a back door to achieving an article five guarantee.

Jim Lindsay:

Sort of joining NATO, without actually formerly joining NATO.

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

Yes, exactly. And I think that the people on both ends of the spectrum, talking about the great potential for neutrality and talking about neutrality as appeasement, they're both wrong. We have to get to the middle here. The devil is truly in the details. So, if it's security guarantees by the Western powers, that could be very potentially destabilizing, but the other possibility of course, would be that if there were security guarantees that include, say the P5, if you had China as one of the guarantors, they would be aligned with Russia. And how exactly would they define the terms? What would be described as a violation of neutrality? That would all have to be discussed and laid out. And this is a long term process. Neutrality is a complicated thing. So, I think it is a potential way out, but it has a lot of potential pitfalls and both, you know sort of over zealous enthusiasm and you know criticism of the option, is they're both wrong.

Jim Lindsay:

So, what I'm hearing you say, Audrey, is the devil is in the details when it comes neutrality, there are an awful lot of details.

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

Yes. And there are bits and pieces of other, historical examples that might apply to Ukraine. And certainly, the neutralization of Switzerland has been very successful. The behavior on the part of the Fins, adhering to a political neutrality, the Swedes. All of these countries can teach the Ukrainians a lot, but Ukraine is probably going to be building a brand new model, if it's going to be a neutral country.

Jim Lindsay:

On that note, I'll close up the President's Inbox for this week. My guest has been Audrey Kurth Cronin, Distinguished Professor in the School of International Service and Founding Director of the Center for Security, Innovation, and New Technology at American University. Audrey, thank you for joining me.

Audrey Kurth Cronin:

It's been a pleasure, Jim. Thank you for having me.

Jim Lindsay:

Please subscribe to the President's Inbox on Apple Podcast, Spotify, wherever you listen and leave us a review, they help us get noticed and improve the show. You can find the books and articles mentioned in this episode, as well as a transcript of our conversation, on the podcast page for the President's Inbox on cfr.org. As always, opinions expressed in the President's Inbox, are solely those of the host, or our guests, not of CFR, which takes no institutional positions on matters of policy. Today's episode was produced by Zoe Collis, with senior producer, Jeremy Sherlick. Zoe also did double duty, as our recording engineer. Thank you, Zoe. Special thanks go out to Margaret Gach for her assistance. This is Jim Lindsay. Thanks for listening.

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Sheila A. Smith, CFR’s John E. Merow senior fellow for Asia-Pacific studies, and Scott A. Snyder, senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on U.S....

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Steven A. Cook, CFR’s Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies and director of the International Affairs Fellowship for Tenured Internation...

Steven A. Cook, CFR’s Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies and director of the International Affairs Fellowship for Tenured Internation...

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Derek H. Chollet, Counselor of the U.S. Department of State, sits down with James M. Lindsay to discuss the Biden administration’s response to Russia’s invasion of U...

Derek H. Chollet, Counselor of the U.S. Department of State, sits down with James M. Lindsay to discuss the Biden administration’s response to Russia’s invasion of U...

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Ebenezer Obadare, Douglas Dillon senior fellow for Africa studies at CFR, sits down with James M. Lindsay to discuss how African countries are responding to the Russ...

Ebenezer Obadare, Douglas Dillon senior fellow for Africa studies at CFR, sits down with James M. Lindsay to discuss how African countries are responding to the Russ...

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Yascha Mounk, senior fellow at CFR and professor of the practice of international affairs at Johns Hopkins University, sits down with James M. Lindsay to discuss the...

Yascha Mounk, senior fellow at CFR and professor of the practice of international affairs at Johns Hopkins University, sits down with James M. Lindsay to discuss the...

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Ivo H. Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, sits down with James M. Lindsay to discuss what the Russian invasion of Ukraine means for the Nor...

Ivo H. Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, sits down with James M. Lindsay to discuss what the Russian invasion of Ukraine means for the Nor...

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Michael Kimmage, professor of history at the Catholic University of America and visiting fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, sits down with Jame...

Michael Kimmage, professor of history at the Catholic University of America and visiting fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, sits down with Jame...

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Scott A. Snyder, senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on U.S.-Korea policy at CFR, sits down with James M. Lindsay to discuss the global impli...

Scott A. Snyder, senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on U.S.-Korea policy at CFR, sits down with James M. Lindsay to discuss the global impli...

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Patricia M. Kim, David M. Rubenstein fellow at the John L. Thornton China Center and the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution, sits down ...

Patricia M. Kim, David M. Rubenstein fellow at the John L. Thornton China Center and the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution, sits down ...

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Thomas Graham, distinguished fellow at CFR, sits down with James M. Lindsay to discuss why Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine and wheth...

Thomas Graham, distinguished fellow at CFR, sits down with James M. Lindsay to discuss why Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine and wheth...

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Religion

For the past two thousand years, the pope has been a major player in global affairs. He is frequently called upon to act as a peace broker, a mediator, an advocate, and an influencer; and with over 1.3 billion followers around the world, the pope and his governmental arm, the Holy See, have the power to shape the future. How has the pope's power changed over time, and what is his role today?  

Public Health Threats and Pandemics

Opioid addiction in the United States has become a prolonged epidemic, endangering not only public health but also economic output and national security.

NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)

The alliance is bolstering its military deterrent in Europe amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and could be poised for another major expansion.