CEPA ex­pert: the first word in Baltic de­fense needs to be de­ter­rence

The Baltic Times - - FRONT PAGE - Li­nas Jegele­vi­cius

Peter B. Do­ran, the Ex­ec­u­tive Vice President and In­terim Di­rec­tor of CEPA, a non-profit pol­icy in­sti­tute ded­i­cated to the study of Cen­tral and East­ern Europe, with of­fices in Wash­ing­ton and War­saw, claims that the task for Baltic mil­i­taries amid tense geopo­lit­i­cal times is all about cre­at­ing doubt or anx­i­ety in the minds of Rus­sian mil­i­tary plan­ners. “Be­cause of their po­ten­tial com­bat power—then de­ter­rence has oc­curred,” the rec­og­nized ex­pert on Rus­sia and Ukraine, transat­lantic de­fense and en­ergy se­cu­rity, em­pha­sized in his in­ter­view with The Baltic Times.

What do you make so far of the start of Don­ald Trump’s Pres­i­dency?

Don­ald Trump was elected on a po­lit­i­cal wave that Amer­i­cans have not seen since the pres­i­dency of An­drew Jack­son in the 19th cen­tury. This time around, vot­ers said that they were deeply un­happy with the sta­tus quo. What is dif­fer­ent about our 45th president is that he is a dis­rupter. This makes his pres­i­dency much like a new dis­rup­tive tech­nol­ogy, or an idea in busi­ness. These dis­rupt the old ways of do­ing things. We wel­come dis­rup­tion in—say—the tech sec­tor. It makes for bet­ter Smart phones and apps. Vot­ers have clearly shown that they want some­thing new in the White House. Now we get to see how it plays out in pol­i­tics.

De­spite the am­biva­lent no­tions on the pres­i­dency, with Trump in the White House, the US mar­kets have been buoy­ant, the con­fi­dence of the la­bor mar­ket has surged, and even the flow of Mex­i­can im­mi­grants has de­creased to half lately. Do you be­lieve it has noth­ing to do with Trump?

We’re still in the very early days with the Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion. The president has not even fin­ished out his first 100 days—a sym­bolic and sub­stan­tive bench­mark. So, it is still far too early to as­sess his im­pact on the econ­omy, or the la­bor mar­ket, or even on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion. Don­ald Trump is in the White House be­cause mil­lions of vot­ers felt that the post-cri­sis re­cov­ery passed them by, that the la­bor mar­ket is lethar­gic, and that il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion could no longer be ig­nored. Ad­dress­ing these is­sues will take far more than 100 days to im­ple­ment—much less as­sess. So, the jury is still out.

How do you ex­plain that Trump, a bel­liger­ent figure, has so far lit­tle ad­dressed the ten­sions in the Korean Penin­sula, which are an af­ter­math of a se­ries of mis­sile tests by North Korea? What do you be­lieve will be the lit­mus paper for Trump’s for­eign poli­cies in the near fu­ture?

Ac­tions speak louder than Tweets. A pres­i­den­tial Tweet, or even a stir­ring speech, will never stop a North Korean mis­sile—but Amer­i­can mis­sile de­fense tech­nol­ogy can. This is why I’m en­cour­aged to see U.S. anti-mis­sile tech be­ing de­ployed in South Korea. I’m speak­ing specif­i­cally of the U.S. Ter­mi­nal High Al­ti­tude Area De­fense sys­tem, or the THAAD sys­tem. It’s a weird name that means one thing: South Korea is safer against the threat of North Korean mis­siles. We can also

look to Ja­pan, where long­stand­ing tech­no­log­i­cal co­op­er­a­tion with Amer­ica has fielded ad­vanced Patriot mis­siles to de­fend that coun­try from North Korean threats. Frankly, I’d like to see more ef­forts on mis­sile de­fense bear fruit in Cen­tral Europe and the Baltic States.

It is in Europe, where Vladimir Putin can threaten mil­lions of cit­i­zens with the de­ploy­ment of il­le­gal nu­clear weapons—thanks to Krem­lin vi­o­la­tions of the In­ter­me­di­ate Nu­clear Forces Treaty. Early into the Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion, Putin is still pres­sur­ing Amer­ica and its al­lies. So it is with Rus­sia, where I would like to see Trump demon­strate great strength and sol­i­dar­ity with al­lies. Rus­sia must see that Amer­i­can great­ness is tied to sol­i­dar­ity with al­lies.

Vice president Mike Pence and the Sec­re­tary of De­fense, James Mat­tis, as­sured NATO al­lies of US sup­port at the Mu­nich con­fer­ence ear­lier this year. Do you be­lieve the dam­age con­trol they did at the gath­er­ing in the wake of Trump’s anti-glob­al­iza­tion state­ments was suf­fi­cient?

This is where Trump has the great­est op­por­tu­nity! He can be the first president in re­cent his­tory to—make NATO Great Again.

The de­fense num­bers do not lie. For decades, Europe has lan­guished in a weird bub­ble of low de­fense spend­ing, at­ro­phied fight­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties and in­dif­fer­ence to grow­ing threats from neigh­bors. The president’s na­tional se­cu­rity team should be ap­plauded for as­sur­ing al­lies—but the era of Euro­pean un­der­in­vest­ment in de­fense must end. We should all be en­cour­aged to see coun­tries like Es­to­nia and Poland al­ready meet­ing NATO spend­ing tar­gets. I’m equally en­cour­aged by re­cent Baltic pledges to in­crease de­fense spend­ing. The im­por­tant task now is how to spend those new de­fense eu­ros wisely. Clearly the big­gest pri­or­ity for the Baltic States is to de­fend ter­ri­tory. The Baltic States have a lot to of­fer NATO, if they in­vest in ca­pa­bil­i­ties that will de­fend Euro­pean bor­ders.

Trump has an­nounced of a 54 bil­lion USD hike on US de­fense buildup. What do you make of it? Es­pe­cially in the light that the US wants to work out a friend­lier re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia, and that Trump has blasted China over its eco­nomic poli­cies, not over its mil­i­tary might?

Clearly, bet­ter re­la­tions with Rus­sia could have some ben­e­fits. But, the nor­mal­iza­tion of Amer­ica’s re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia should be the end re­sult of re­pair­ing the dam­age of Putin’s war against Ukraine—not the pre­req­ui­site. Euro­peans and Amer­i­cans can have no doubt: Rus­sia’s own ac­tions are the rea­son why re­la­tions

“When Rus­sian de­fense plan­ners look at the Baltic States, they need to see highly-po­tent, well-armed pro­fes­sional sol­diers and ci­ti­zen re­serves, who can pack a punch, and work seam­lessly with NATO al­lies in the event of an un­wanted con­flict. If Baltic mil­i­taries can cre­ate doubt or anx­i­ety in the minds of Rus­sian mil­i­tary plan­ners-be­cause of their po­ten­tial com­bat power—then de­ter­rence has oc­curred”

are sour. Rus­sia’s il­le­gal an­nex­a­tion of Crimea, its war against Ukraine, its mil­i­tary build-up on NATO’S bor­der, and its treaty vi­o­la­tions are the rea­son why re­la­tions are bad. Rus­sia must demon­strate that it is will­ing to play by in­ter­na­tional rules be­fore re­la­tions can get bet­ter.

As for Amer­ica’s de­fense spend­ing: it’s a good start. We will now see what Congress has to say about the president’s pro­posed bud­get. But at a min­i­mum, it is cru­cial for Congress to pri­or­i­tize our mil­i­tary readi­ness, our nu­clear de­ter­rent, and our per­sis­tent ro­ta­tions of fight­ing forces in front­line Europe.

When it comes to China, I see events in Europe as linked to de­vel­op­ments in the South China Sea—for ex­am­ple. When Moscow chal­lenges the demo­cratic West, Bei­jing is watch­ing. Chi­nese lead­ers are keen to see how we re­spond in Europe, as a barom­e­ter for what China can—and can­not—get away with in Asia. The bot­tom line here: a strong line in Europe makes Asia safer and more se­cure.

Do you be­lieve the mit­i­ga­tion of Western sanc­tions against Rus­sia is in­evitable? When will it likely hap­pen?

Sanc­tions are in place, be­cause Rus­sia in­vaded Ukraine, and took its neigh­bor’s ter­ri­tory by force. Rus­sia broke at least a half dozen in­ter­na­tional treaties and agree­ments when it in­vaded Ukraine. Rus­sia re­mains in vi­o­la­tion of those solemn prom­ises to this day. When Rus­sia starts keep­ing its prom­ises, then sanc­tions should be re­moved—quickly. But un­til then, I do not see any ra­tio­nale for re­mov­ing sanc­tions.

How do you ex­plain Trump’s fond­ness of Rus­sia, and its leader Putin?

Both Amer­i­can pres­i­dents, who pre­ceded Trump, tried to en­gage Putin in a spirit of trust. This was a mis­take. Putin used their good faith, and op­ti­mistic in­ten­tions against them. That is a les­son that I hope the president and his na­tional se­cu­rity team take to heart. Putin sees good in­ten­tions as an op­por­tu­nity to ex­ploit.

No fierce Rus­sian back­lash fol­lowed Trump’s an­nounce­ment on the mil­i­tary spend­ing hike. Why?

Why should it? Amer­i­cans of all stripes are deeply trou­bled when they dis­cover how mil­i­tary readi­ness has fallen. We will now have to see how Congress re­sponds to the president’s bud­get re­quest for in­creased de­fense spend­ing. But the bot­tom line is this: cor­ners were cut on de­fense. Amer­i­can readi­ness has fallen. That makes the world a more dan­ger­ous place. The White House is try­ing to ad­dress this fact. I am en­cour­aged by the president’s first step. I want to see how the bud­get ne­go­ti­a­tions play out in Congress.

What does a closer al­liance of the United States and Rus­sia bode to the Euro­pean Union? Ukraine? The Baltics?

There can be no mis­take here. Rus­sia is not an ally of the United States. Rus­sia is not even a trust­wor­thy in­ter­na­tional part­ner. Rus­sia’s trail of bro­ken prom­ises and treaties are tes­ta­ment to this. So, I would hold off judge­ment on what the fu­ture of U.s.-rus­sian re­la­tions might mean for Europe, Ukraine, or the Baltic States.

What do you be­lieve the Baltics have to do in prop­ping up the re­gion’s de­fense abil­i­ties be­sides meet­ing the NATO com­mit­ments?

The first word in Baltic de­fense needs to be—de­ter­rence. When Rus­sian de­fense plan­ners look at the Baltic States, they need to see highly-po­tent, well-armed pro­fes­sional sol­diers and ci­ti­zen re­serves, who can pack a punch, and work seam­lessly with NATO al­lies in the event of an un­wanted con­flict. If Baltic mil­i­taries can cre­ate doubt or anx­i­ety in the minds of Rus­sian mil­i­tary plan­ners—be­cause of their po­ten­tial com­bat power—then de­ter­rence has oc­curred. This is what we should be aim­ing for when it comes to plus-ups in Baltic de­fense. Each Baltic State can work with NATO and the United States to iden­tify how ex­ist­ing gaps can be filled, and how to make the Krem­lin think twice be­fore test­ing the Al­liance.

Europe is to hold some cru­cial votes for the EU bloc later this year. What do you ex­pect from the elec­tions in the Nether­lands, France and Ger­many? Will the pop­ulists likely win them? And then what?...

For starters, I would look closely at Rus­sia’s role in at­tempt­ing to shape the con­tests in France and Ger­many. Right now, Rus­sia’s pro­pa­ganda out­lets are ac­tive in try­ing to in­flu­ence pub­lic per­cep­tions ahead of both elec­tions. The Rus­sian gov­ern­ment has a clear stake in the out­comes. That is why the Krem­lin must stoke pub­lic dis­trust for demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions and elec­toral sys­tems. It does this by seed­ing the Western me­dia space with slick, 21st cen­tury pro­pa­ganda. If the Western pub­lic is di­vided and dis­tracted, Rus­sia can chal­lenge the ex­ist­ing se­cu­rity or­der in Europe. That is why Rus­sia is fund­ing a so­phis­ti­cated me­dia cam­paign in the West. The aim is to keep us dis­tracted, di­vided and in­ca­pable of de­fend­ing the sys­tem that has main­tained peace since the Cold War. If Rus­sia suc­ceeds, it will cre­ate great harm to Western in­ter­ests.

Do you be­lieve glob­al­iza­tion and in­te­gra­tion are sto­ries of the past? Do you see that the trend­ing na­tion­al­ist pol­i­tics can see a re­verse any time soon? What will it prompt?

Ev­ery­one’s world is global. What hap­pens in Korea to­mor­row morn­ing can flood Face­book be­fore sun­set in Ken­tucky. This will not change. How we adapt to this change will be the chal­lenge of our gen­er­a­tion. Some vot­ers are re­spond­ing to this chal­lenge by giv­ing a hear­ing to lead­ers who prom­ise a re­turn to the past. But, there are real ben­e­fits to an in­ter­con­nected world. So, it is go­ing to be a process. And that is not go­ing to be set­tled by a sin­gle event or elec­tion.

“Don­ald Trump has the great­est op­por­tu­nity to be the first president in re­cent his­tory to—make NATO Great Again. The de­fense num­bers do not lie. For decades, Europe has lan­guished in a weird bub­ble of low de­fense spend­ing, at­ro­phied fight­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties and in­dif­fer­ence to grow­ing threats from neigh­bors.”

Peter B. Do­ran is Ex­ec­u­tive Vice President and In­terim Di­rec­tor of CEPA.

Peter B. Do­ran con­trib­utes to a num­ber of in­ter­na­tional news out­lets.

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