Transcript: U.S. Foreign Policy Options: Security Challenges in Central and Eastern Europe

This address was delivered at The 5th Kościuszko Chair Spring Symposium of The Institute of World Politics, held on April 25, 2015 at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Pentagon City, VA.  Please click here for a video of this lecture.

I am really honored that so many of you are still here after a long day of presentations, but having witnessed all of them myself, I would just like to thank the many participants for their excellent analyses.  I also wanted to make one special expression of thanks to a good friend of the Institute, John Małek of California, who has been a very generous sponsor of this conference.  He has made this possible, and I am extremely grateful to him for having done so.

I would like to talk about U.S. policy options.  America has traditionally had several overall strategic objectives, at least at one level, and they are: to deter war, to achieve peace, to preserve some kind of a stable international order, and then, of course, and to preserve freedom and democracy and the unity of the West.  One would hope that these objectives still pertain.

But as Professor [Joseph] Wood has said, it is not quite clear that some of the philosophical and cultural foundations underlying the larger political objectives and purposes of the United States and the Western alliance are still intact.

Although we have heard a lot of analysis of Russian foreign policy it today, I would like to make a very brief review of the list of the Russians’ objectives and the actions that they have taken to challenge the international order in this part of the world.

First of all, they have developed their security doctrine, which, ever since 1992, has prescribed that they have the right to protect Russian-speaking people, wherever they may be, if they are mistreated in the sole judgment of the Russians.

One of their main objectives is to restore the former Soviet political space.  They would like to cast the shadow of their power over as large a sphere of influence as possible.  I agree very much with some of the previous analyses of how they would like this sphere of influence to prevail in East-Central Europe, and, frankly, over Europe as a whole.  The Russians have set for themselves the task of preventing and ending American primacy in the world and in Europe.  They have the objective of trying to split up NATO.  They would like to establish their own Eurasian axis, and perhaps they may have some other larger objectives than this, but at least those are the ones that are palpably evident.

What have they done?  They have been conducting massive intelligence penetrations of every country in their larger attempted sphere of influence.  They were able to do this partly because they long controlled their sister intelligence services in East Central Europe, and they had extremely deep penetrations in these lands, which extended even further into Western Europe – for example, through East Germany to West Germany.   Remember that 25 percent of the East German population were informants for the Stasi.  Given this level of secret police penetration in the region, there are hundreds of thousands of Europeans for whom the Russians have dossiers and who remain compromised in one way or another and subject to blackmail.

These intelligence penetrations have been, and can continue to be, used in numerous ways.  One example is Soviet involvement in international narcotics trafficking, about which we learned almost nothing from the U.S. government, which assiduously refrained from examining this question.  Our source of this information was a man who was arguably the highest ranking defector out of the Soviet bloc in terms of the strategic importance of his position: Gen. Jan Šejna of Czechoslovakia who was head of the Czechoslovak Defense Council.  He told us that, in the 1950s, Nikita Khrushchev was extremely impressed with the Chinese use of narcotics as a weapon during the Korean war, and he wanted to replicate the Chinese program for Moscow’s benefit.  So he set up a plan called “Druzhba Narodov,” (“friendship of the peoples”), where he got the Eastern European satellite states, North Vietnam, Cuba, and others to be involved in pushing narcotics in the West.  The project was designed for three purposes: to pickle the minds of the next generation in the West, to earn money, and to exercise political influence.

Šejna testified that the narcotics income earned by the Czechoslovak intelligence service alone was enough to pay for its entire budget.  But a large part of the narcotics trade was also involved in penetrating many narcotics markets – for example, those in Latin America – in order to get dossiers on corrupt officials who were involved in this business so that they could be manipulated for intelligence and political influence purposes.

To the extent that the Russians were directly involved in it, I assume that this is still going on, especially since we know that KGB and GRU intelligence operations were not diminished at all in the United States after the end of the Cold War.

The Russians have been buying local companies in East-Central Europe and many of them have been controlled by one or another, or some combination of, the following: the FSB, the SVR, Russian oligarchs, and mafia-run Russian corporations. The more these Russian corporations control successful East-Central European corporations, the less sovereignty these countries enjoy.

The Russians have long been engaging in energy blackmail.

They have been supporting leaders and factions covertly throughout Central and Eastern Europe.  They have been sending in their agents provocateurs.  We know about what they have been doing in Ukraine, which has proven now to be obvious.  But they have been doing it in the Baltic States, and they do it in other countries in the region.  They have been bribing various parliamentarians.  One of our professors at IWP who is one of the foremost authorities on the non-Russian nationalities of the former USSR, Paul Goble, has testified that the FSB has been bribing 25 percent of the members of the Estonian parliament.  Here you have Estonia, which is as pro American and pro-Western as any in Europe, and yet its political elites are potentially severely compromised.

Russia has a long tradition of divide and conquer tactics which were a part of Soviet nationalities policy for years: separate the Armenians from the Azeris and set them at each other’s throats.  Separate the Uzbeks from the Meshkhet Turks, the Gagauz versus the Moldovans, the Lithuanians versus the Poles, the Abkhazians and the Ossetians against the Georgians.  There are many other varieties of this inter-ethnic conflict.  Russia is stimulating it among various individual groups within Ukraine and many other places today, and it is undermining the solidarity that ought to exist in these formerly communist lands.

Let us not forget about the massive Russian propaganda.  We have already reviewed today what RT has been doing: pervasive propaganda and “active measures,” including disinformation.

Remember the nuclear threats, Russia’s nuclear buildup, its military cooperation with China, its readiness to send advance air defense systems to Iran.  Remember the Russian interceptions of military aircraft – including some very dangerous and unprofessional actions – whether targeted toward Danish or American aircraft.  This is not to speak of Russian air force approaches to our own coast.  Then there are Russia’s submarine provocations in the Baltic Sea near Sweden and elsewhere.  There is Russia’s invasion of Georgia.  There is Russia’s cyber-attack on Estonia, and of course the invasion of Ukraine.

We have witnessed Putin’s questioning of the historical validity of Kazakhstan. And then we have seen Russia’s covert support — it was mentioned briefly, I don’t know how many of you caught it — for the radical environmental movement in Western Europe, particularly in Germany, to prevent the Germans and other countries in Europe from developing an indigenous natural gas capability.

What has the U.S. response been?  It has effectively been one of no effective strategy.  The U.S. response reveals an overall crisis in U.S. national security policy.  It is hard sometimes to get people to believe this: to accept the apparently hyperbolic word, “crisis,” especially when we are seeing a policy of drift, of inertia, of actions that are just a little too late, even though some of them may be on the positive side of the ledger.  But all of this amounts to a crisis when you see what the net results are.  What we have here is a failure to deter, a failure to keep the West united, and a failure to preserve the international system.  In the end, it is a reflection of the fact that there is no serious strategy.

One of the most elementary principles of strategy is that you can’t have a strategy unless you have goals, and there are no coherent goals being articulated by the U.S. government.

Furthermore, you can’t have goals unless you have some kind of national consensus on the values and principles which underlie our civilization.  And this is why Professor Wood’s remarks are amongst the most profound insights that lie at the heart of what we are addressing in this conference.  This concerns a fundamental problem of our worldview, our purpose as a nation, and whether Western civilization is something that deserves to be defended in light of the cultural state of affairs in our country.  I may reflect on this a little bit more later.

U.S. policy in the face of most of these Russian actions has been silence and willful blindness.  It is part of a de facto retrenchment from the world, based on the assumption that American power is toxic and has produced bad results anywhere that it has been seriously exercised.

Now I happen to be one of those people who think that our intervention, occupation, and nation-building effort in Iraq was a strategic disaster for the United States.  It was a squandering of resources.  It was done on the basis of certain kinds of utopian views: namely, that you could go in with the U.S. Armed Forces and make a democracy out of another country as if culture doesn’t exist, as if the habits and the traditions and the mentality built up over decades – if not centuries – don’t exist.

The intentions behind those who recommended the intervention in Iraq were basically noble ones.  But I think they were imprudent ones, especially when you look at the full cost of the two recent combined wars.

The war in Afghanistan is attempting another utopian task: the creation of a central government in a country which has never had one.  Afghanistan is a confederation of tribes, where the attempt to transfer the loyalty from tribe to the larger central government is another quixotic and utopian enterprise.  In addition to lives lost and the casualties, the cost of these two wars will total some six to eight trillion dollars.  But the larger cost of these adventures has been the shaking of our faith in the worthiness of our country – and of our democracy and our Western civilization – and this is going to be a huge task to overcome.  It will require truly stout national leadership to do this.

What was our reaction to the Georgia invasion?  — The “reset” policy.  What was our reaction to the Smolensk airplane crash – especially given the serious evidence that there were two explosions on that plane?   Normally, when a plane like that crashes going at normal landing speed, the bodies are intact.  They may be bruised and bumped around with broken bones, but they are intact – they are not in thousands of little pieces as was the case here.  Somebody put bombs on that plane, and it is a serious question that ought to be investigated by an international panel of experts.  Of course, from the beginning, the Russians covered all of this up, lied about it, and adulterated the crash site.

Another reaction to the Georgian invasion was the “New START” agreement – a worthless arms control agreement when it comes to U.S. national security interests.  It was signed by this administration, despite its knowledge of ongoing Soviet violations of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty and the INF treaty (the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty).

Let us remember: the Chekists who are in charge of Moscow today have the same statecraft as the Soviet Union, which includes using arms control not as a means of controlling arms, but as a means of political warfare, strategic deception, and counterintelligence.

The Russians have a strategy to violate agreements.  They develop this strategy before they sign agreements, and the people in our arms control industry are willfully blind to this reality of Russian statecraft.

Another U.S. action in the wake of the Russian invasion of Georgia: we abandoned the deployment of the advanced ABM systems in Poland and the Czech Republic.  Then the Russians invaded Ukraine.  What has been our reaction there?  Some selective sanctions that are positive but not particularly painful.  There are other sanctions that we could take.  Some are as severe as preventing the Russians from participating in the SWIFT international banking transaction system.

We then decided to set up a 4,000-troop “rapid reaction” force.  I think that this is a joke, and, if I think so, then Putin thinks that it’s twice as much of a joke as I do.  All the Russians have to do is continue laying the subversive groundwork in the Baltic states, just the way they have done for years in Ukraine.  They could insert their so-called separatists into Latvia and then take all the similar necessary actions on a Friday afternoon.  Well, maybe by Sunday we might get people roused from their weekend golf games and they could decide to have an assembly of the North Atlantic Council.  The Council would meet late on Monday afternoon, have its deliberations completed by Tuesday, and by Wednesday make a decision to send the 4,000 troop rapid reaction force.  But of course it will be too late to send it, because all of Latvia will be occupied by then.  Then the New York Times will say “Why die for Danzig?”  Why die for Danzig, indeed?

Part of our reaction to the invasion of Ukraine has been the utter disregard of U.S. obligations under the Budapest 1994 Memorandum on Security Assurances. This is the thing everyone has forgotten, and the media will not remind you.  The administration didn’t just sweep it under the rug; they kept it under there for five minutes and then they took a special vacuum cleaner and sent all the memory about the Budapest Memorandum down the tubes.  Of course, this is the Memorandum that offered “security assurances” to the Ukrainians concerning their sovereignty and territorial integrity so long as they gave up their nuclear weapons.

Well, we have just sent the world a magnificent message that will do nothing but increase nuclear proliferation and dissuade anybody from ever again giving up their nuclear weapons: “This is what can happen to you when you give up your nuclear weapons.”

I was in Poland a couple of years ago, and gave a lecture suggesting that the Poles ought to develop a Japan-style capability in nuclear energy which could have a breakout capability that might rival what the Iranians are developing today.  If everybody from the North Koreans and the Israelis to the Iranians and the Pakistanis can have nuclear weapons, why can’t the Poles have them too?

The Russians see all these U.S. reactions as signs of weakness.  They make all of their strategic moves on the basis of an assessment of the “correlation of forces”:  what are the relative strengths and weaknesses of their adversaries in relation to themselves?  When they see strength, they either stay put or retreat; if they see weakness, they advance.  Then the advance all depends on relative strengths and weaknesses again: two steps forward and, if necessary, one step back.  Maybe even another step back again, but they always want to make sure that when the step back occurs, their adversaries confuse that step with a change in strategy when, in fact, it is only a temporary change in tactics.

What should we do?

First we have to recognize what has proven successful in the past. I am very happy that NSDD 75 signed by President Reagan was mentioned here by Professor [Sebastian] Gorka.  This was the strategic plan that helped bring down the Soviet empire.  It was a multi-faceted plan that used all the different arts of statecraft.  It involved the military buildup, economic measures, such as lowering oil prices, to try to deprive the Soviets of hard currency, and efforts deprive them of advanced technology.

There were parts of that plan that were not admitted until later, such as permitting the KGB to steal certain technology which we engineered to ensure that it would not work properly.  Some technologies may have had software bombs in them or bad blueprints which could get the Russians going down rabbit holes from which it would be difficult to extricate themselves.

We have experience in doing these sorts of activities — deterring and stopping imperialist aggression and expansionism.  We have to tap into that knowledge.

We also have to remind ourselves about what are our vital interests in this region and acknowledge very specifically the success of NATO expansion.  NATO expansion is one of the best investments that have been made in modern times for the security of the U.S., the security of the West, and for world order.  Here is why:

You heard Professor Chodakiewicz’s brilliant review of the history of all of the remarkable conflicts within the Intermarium region, where everyone is against everyone else.  In the past, we saw trivial conflicts like the Czechs versus the Poles in the conflict over Cieszyn, sometimes known as Tešen.  Such conflicts are foolishness and they must not continue.  We have to remember that the Russians are trying to stimulate these kinds of conflicts, and we cannot let our friends in Central and Eastern Europe be goaded into interethnic conflicts over such minor issues.

The NATO expansion gave the prospective new members an incentive to behave themselves to stop doing this kind of nonsense.  It said: if you want to be part of the Western security arrangements, stop the irredentism.  Stop the ambitions for extra territory or reclaiming the territories where you once enjoyed former glory.   And join the Western community of civilized nations, behave yourself, worry about letting your people rise to the highest level of their God-given abilities, create wealth, and enjoy peace.

It worked, despite the fact that most of these economies were not fully de-communized and there was insufficient “lustration.”  Let me take this opportunity to acknowledge the extraordinary effort of Minister Antoni Macierewicz, who is here, and who tried the most serious effort at lustration.  This is the term that refers to the exposure of the KGB connections of certain Poles.  In this particular case, they weren’t going to be jailed or hanged; they were just not going to be given the privilege of serving in high positions of public responsibility.

Unfortunately, there were too many “post-communists” in the government and in the Parliament which voted out Minister Macierewicz’s government headed by Prime Minister Olszewski.

I have a friend who says, “Let’s not lament this too much, it’s better that a former Communist Chekist should steal a hotel and start offering hotel services rather than hitting you over the head with a truncheon.”  I suppose that is a little bit better, but unfortunately many of these people are compromised.  They continue to work with the Russians to the detriment of the security of their own country and the West in general.

We have to recognize that one of our main jobs must be to pressure the Russians to channel their energies into constructive internal policies and even to try to get them to realize that it is their long term interest to work with the West on some of the genuine threats to civilization such as those coming from the radical Islamists and increasingly from the Chinese.

I am more concerned, frankly, about the Chinese than I am about any other security threat to the U.S.  The Chinese have a long-range, global strategy to supplant the U.S. as a premier power.  They and the Russians are stealing our intellectual property through cyber espionage at a rate of breathtaking proportions. It is the greatest theft of intellectual property in the history of the world.  We should be collaborating with the Russians against the growing Chinese threat.  But, ironically, someday the Chinese will have more of their nationals in Siberia than the Russians have, and I can anticipate the day when they will call for a referendum in Siberian territory.

So, what else must we do?

We need to send signals of strength to retain our credibility.  We need to have credible deterrence.  Deterrence works.  It is a lot better than war.  We need to reverse the debilitating cuts in our national defenses.  In terms of their size, our Army is going back to pre-World War II days, and our Navy is going back to pre-World War I days.  Our lack of readiness is growing every day.  Our equipment is not being replaced or sufficiently modernized.  Our armed forces are being sufficiently hollowed out that we have effectively ceased to have the capability to fight one and a half wars simultaneously.

We need to shore up our allies in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly the Baltic States and the other frontline states: Poland, Romania, and Hungary.  We need to provide all of these nations with more advanced weapons, especially missile defenses.  I am glad to see that we will be giving some Patriot missiles to the Poles.  But we need to restore the deployment of that most advanced ABM system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

We need to deploy permanent bases in these countries with meaningful numbers of American troops that are similar to the troop presence that we have in South Korea.  This will not match exactly man-for-man what the Russians have, but it will be a serious trip wire.  It won’t be the ridiculous scenario of the 4,000 troops who won’t be sent to try to eject the Russians from Latvia.

We need to arrange for Ukraine to receive adequate defensive arms so that the Russians cannot persist in their aggression without paying a high price.  We need to keep sending food to the Ukrainian military, and other non-lethal aid.

I am not an expert on sanctions, but we need to pay some very serious attention to the sanctions that are in place.  We also have to do what we can to mitigate the pain being felt by those members of the NATO alliance who are being hurt by the sanctions.  If the French have built some ships for the Russian navy, let’s buy those ships for our navy and then the French won’t be in pain.  Or let some other NATO country buy them.  Why should they have to go to the Russians?

Of course, we need to trump Russian energy blackmail.  A lot has been already said today about this – the development of energy independence in this country, exporting LNG [liquid natural gas], exporting oil, and all of the other things.

Let me add one other important option: we should utilize the remarkable new nuclear reactor that’s been developed by General Atomics.  This is a small portable reactor that can be put on the back of a flatbed truck.  It will not melt down.  It is less vulnerable than any other kind of nuclear reactor to abuse for weapons proliferation purposes.  It is not water cooled; it is helium cooled.  It converts nuclear waste into energy.  This little thing on the back of a truck will supply electricity to a town of 333,000 people.

But General Atomics is not completing the development of this reactor because, right now, the price of kilowatt hour for nuclear power is prohibitively high.  But this is a national defense expenditure.  The development of this reactor should not be governed solely by the marketplace.

We could send these reactors to Ukraine, we can send them to Poland, we can send them all over the place.  They are much safer than some of the older generation of nuclear plants that are all over Europe, Japan, and even in this country.

Very serious attention must be devoted to countering Russian propaganda and “active measures” [now called “supportive measures”].  The Russians have been conducting a massive disinformation campaign, and have been brainwashing people on both sides of the border in Ukraine.  There are few effective contrary voices.  We shut down Russian short wave broadcasts of the Voice of America.  We shut down Ukrainian short wave broadcasts.  And no broadcasts from Radio Liberty’s Ukrainian service reach these areas.  Our last VOA Russian language broadcasts were coming out of a Moscow-based local AM station, which Putin shut down.

When it comes to reaching foreign audiences, you can jam just about everything, but you can’t jam all short wave transmissions.  But today, the U.S. government is trying to shut down all shortwave broadcasts.   For the last three years, the government has tried to shut down all short wave broadcasts to China, when short wave radio is Beijing’s number one method of communication with its own people.  Our Voice of America and Radio Free Asia broadcasts are the only unfiltered information that gets to one billion Chinese people.  The justification for shutting down these VOA broadcasts was to save eight million dollars (that’s with an M, ladies and gentlemen) and transfer this money to internet operations.  As some of you have heard me say, eight million dollars is the money that fell out of the hole in a pocket of a sergeant in the Anbar province in 2007.

We have no serious strategic communications capability in our government.  We shut down the United States Information Agency in 1999.  Something like USIA has to be revived.  We must have the capacity to communicate the truth to the world.  The world needs alternative ideas.

Right now, we broadcast over the Voice of America to Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world.  We get most of those broadcasts in there through 400 affiliated local radio stations.  The administration is about to shut down that service, which broadcasts the only alternative messaging that we’re getting into Indonesia to try to counter the messages of jihadist radicalization.  It is hard to believe the level of the unilateral disarmament of our capacity to communicate with the world.  As one of our professors has said, the United States foreign policy community would sooner kill somebody than persuade him – i.e., to take the time, spend the resources, and devote the necessary high-level attention to strategic influence.

As a key part of a serious strategic communications effort, we need to expose international Russian mafia operations.  We need to be expose Russian aggression.  We need to expose human rights violations such as the assassination of internal political enemies.  We need to expose their violations of their international obligations.

The founding fathers of this country warned that the republican form of government is uniquely vulnerable to what George Washington called the “insidious wiles of foreign influence.”  The KGB, the Chinese, the Muslim Brotherhood – are all actively undertaking influence operations.  Tracking these operations and neutralizing them is fundamentally a counterintelligence function.   But we devote virtually no national strategic attention to this problem, and neither do most of our allies in NATO.

The best defense against these influence, disinformation, and deception operations is to collect intelligence on them, analyze them, declassify some of this analysis, and expose these activities to the world.  Then they lose their sting.

We could also go on a counteroffensive if we had a serious covert political action capability.  But we don’t have anything in this department that rivals the capabilities we had during the Cold War.  If Russia persists in its destabilization of its neighbors, we could mobilize dissent within the Russian empire.  We could begin to mobilize various different national groups that are sick and tired of living under Russian rule. We could delegitimize the Russian control over Kaliningrad.  Why on earth are we even calling it Kaliningrad – a territory named after a Bolshevik that was never part of Russia?  Why don’t we call it Królewiec?  Or Königsberg?  The Russians have absolutely no basis upon which to possess this land, and yet they have it and it’s bristling with their weapons.

We need to be combating Moscow’s divide and conquer tactics by exposing them and encouraging more solidarity among the different nations and individual ethnic groups within the East-Central European region.  We need to be encouraging cultural nationalism rather than ethnic nationalism.  And that cultural nationalism is something that ultimately has to be based on the common values and principles of Western civilization.

One thing that I should also mention is that there are some parts of the NATO alliance that don’t particularly care about the Russian problem today because they are suffering from another security threat.  Look, for example, at the strain that the Italians are enduring with these mass migrations and with the attendant potential threat of a terrorist attack on St. Peter’s.  I think we should be helping the Italians, letting them know that Europe is a whole.  And once we do so, it would be easier to get their cooperation in helping with the Russian problem.

Altogether, we need to restore coherent foreign policy goals and a national security strategy to achieve them.  But as I said earlier, we cannot have either of these without clarity about our nation’s values and purposes.  So we need to have national leadership that restores the West’s faith in those ideas that produce representative government, respect for the dignity of the human person and the human rights that derive from that dignity – everything that the West is all about.

Our intelligentsia have proven to have broken faith with all of this: “Le trahison des clercs,” the treason of the intellectuals.  Our intelligentsia would not sign the Declaration of Independence: they don’t believe in its first paragraph; they don’t believe that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.  What do they believe is that our rights are endowed by the state. They believe that our rights come from men and not from some higher authority – a transcendent source, be it God or nature.

When you reject the existence of the transcendent objective moral order, where do moral standards come from?  Where do rights come from?  They come from personal preferences, and personal preferences writ large on the social plane means power struggle: might makes right.

Those states that run according to the doctrine of might makes right are fascist, Nazi, communist, and radical jihadist dictatorships.  That is where, by the way, I take exception with one thing that was said earlier.  There is something that links the fascists, the communists, the Nazis, and the radical jihadists – the radical jihadists have taken the place of God themselves.  They don’t believe in God, they are God.  They establish their own standards of what is right and wrong, the way God, one assumes, does.  Then they can say that the ends justify the means, and that killing innocents on a large scale is morally justified.  These are totalitarians, and the question is: Are our elites going to continue to sit in the same “might makes right” sandbox with the totalitarians, or will they go back to the principles of the founding fathers which have produced the liberty and the prosperity that we enjoy in Western civilization?

Dr. John Lenczowski is Founder, President, and Professor at The Institute of World Politics, an independent graduate school of national security and international affairs in Washington, D.C.  He formerly served as principal White House advisor in Soviet affairs to President Ronald Reagan.

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