April 29, 2014
Transcript: History Relived
Robert Kagan, Senior Fellow, Project on International Order and Strategy, Brookings
Frederick Kempe, President and CEO, Atlantic Council
Alexandr Vondra, Former Minister of Defense of the Czech Republic, Co-founder of the Civic Forum
Moderator: David Ensor, Director, Voice of America
Federal News Service
DAVID ENSOR: (In progress) – for a few minutes while furniture is moved. It’s wonderful to be here. And a reminder that the hashtag is ewf2014, and this session is on the record.
This panel will cover the enormous global shift brought about by a hot war a hundred years ago, and the long Cold War, whose impact and echoes are still felt around the globe. The American strategy of containment worked in that long Cold War but it did take quite a time to do so. Broadcasts by outfits like the one I lead, Voice of America, and Radio Free Europe and the BBC, played no small part in keeping hope alive behind the Iron Curtain and ultimately inspiring the people who brought down the Soviet bloc.
Last week I was – I was on a panel about jazz diplomacy, and that was the period in the ‘50s to the ‘80s, as you know, when a fellow named Willis Conover was broadcasting American jazz on the VOA shortwave to the world and when the great Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie were the State Department’s best cultural ambassadors. And I believe that jazz, sometimes called the music of freedom, played a significant role in reaching the hearts of Russians and others throughout the east at the same time as our news broadcasts reached their heads.
So before I turn to our panel – and perhaps, gentlemen, you might come and sit and we’ll – we’ll get settled in – I just want to make a quick pitch as they do so, and it’s this: Soft power is not really soft. And it should be part, I believe, of gearing up the West’s response to President Putin today. With the right resources there’s much more that VOA and our partners and broadcasting, for example, could do.
Now, when I look around this room, I would suggest that most of us are children of the Cold War. I made a pretty good living covering communism and its demise for NPR and then for ABC News and then for CNN. And now I’m sure some of you feel, as I have to admit I do – I don’t like President Putin’s actions but they do make me feel young again. (Laughter.)
So, you know, suddenly our experience somehow seems relevant, the experience of the East and the West and Europe, as Washington and Brussels and the West in general think about how best to react to Putin’s aggression. So the question we’re going to talk about now in a way is what are the lessons of history that are relevant today? How do we get to where we are now? And our panelists are going to offer some insights on three key periods in Europe’s history and the American involvement in it.
Dr. Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at Brookings, author of the award-winning best-sellers such as “Dangerous Nation” and “Of Paradise and Power,” serves on the secretary of state’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board. And Bob will focus on how World War I so profoundly reshaped the international system.
Next we’ll hear from Fred Kempe, president and CEO of this, the Atlantic Council. And Fred is the author of “Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth,” which he tells me is now in 13 languages including Kazakh – (laughter) – and of course preceded that with a long, distinguished career at the Wall Street Journal. He will take us through the post-World War II division of Germany and the Cold War dynamics that were in place from 1961 until the Berlin Wall came down almost three decades later.
And finally, His Excellency Alexandr Vondra, former minister of defense of the Czech Republic, co-founder of the Civic foreman – Forum, former ambassador here in Washington, former foreign minister, and perhaps most impressively, former spokesman of Charter 77, and a man who went to jail for his beliefs in that time. Saša Vondra will talk about the revolutions of 1989, the internal struggles to liberate Central and Eastern Europe from communism, and he’ll offer some thoughts, I hope, also on the transformation of the region since then.
So I will follow up from questions and we’ll get – with questions after that and we’ll get an exchange of ideas going, which I hope will be lively and interesting. So now let’s take our minds back to the Great War and Woodrow Wilson’s call to make the world safe for democracy.
Bob, over to you.
ROBERT KAGAN: Well, thank you, David. And thank you, Governor Huntsman and Fred and Damon, for putting on this conference. It’s extremely timely and also very important.
And I’m particularly grateful that you have decided to go back a little further in time than normal, I think, when people think about these kinds of conversations, because I think it’s important. We tend to be limited in our imagination about what the options are by our most recent experiences, and we tend to sort of feel like, well, maybe this will go back to pre-1989, or maybe it will go back to some other more recent and familiar situation that we can remember.
I think we have to realize that there are other possibilities, there are broader possibilities, and that in order to have a full understanding of the basic trends that underlie these things – sometimes trends that are long in developing – you really do have to go back at least to World War I. And I’m going to start my brief sort of traipse through this history – a sort of prequel, if you will in which Europe was neither whole nor free – with sort of my headline point, which I think is relevant to today. And that headline point is that Europe – by itself, Europe, as a self-contained entity, has never successfully – not in the last over hundred years successfully dealt with a predatory power in its midst, has never effectively dealt with an aspiring hegemon in its midst. It failed in dealing with the rise of Germany before World War I. It failed in dealing with the rise of Nazi Germany before World War II.
And I would say the second lesson is the only times that Europe has successfully dealt with an aspiring hegemon or predatory power in its midst has been when it has been actively engaged with the United States playing a central role, along with the Europeans, in dealing with that problem. And this has been – was particularly well illustrated in the pre-World War II period that I’m going to be talking about. And if you ask me what is the reason that Europe failed before World War I and before World War II, I have to pull you out of the sort of popular notion of World War I as an – as a war that the nation has – I think the current term is “sleepwalked” into, slid into unwittingly. This is – I don’t know why this recurring notion has such a popular feel for everyone.
The fact is that World War I came about primarily as a consequence of Germany’s desire to expand its holdings in Europe to become the dominant power in Europe; and secondly, by the failure of the rest of the European powers to respond to that effectively; and particularly I would say – and most importantly – the failure of Britain to make the kind of ironclad commitment to France’s defense that would, in my view, have deterred Kaiser Wilhelm from making the move he did. It was Kaiser Wilhelm’s suspicion and belief that Britain would not come to the defense of France which encouraged him to take the very great gamble that he took.
And this is as recurring theme, it seems to me, a theme that you can see also after World War I in the 1920s and ‘30s, the unwillingness of European powers to make sufficient commitment to other European states that may be threatened by predatory powers that are seeking regional hegemony, whether they are – whether they are ostensible allies, as was the case between France and the little entente of Czechoslovakia and Poland and others; whether it was Britain’s commitment to France, the unwillingness to make those commitments – in fact, in essence, to allow other nations in Europe to be picked off one by one while a European – while the other European powers sort of looked after their own basic interests. That has been the big problem. And that was, in fact, the problem leading up to World War I.
Now, the prospect of solving the European problem – because Europe had really fallen into a cycle of instability once Germany unified after 1871. It was impossible for Europe by itself to achieve a stable balance of power, which led effectively to three wars between Germany and France: 1870, 1940 – 1914 and 1939. Europe had become an inherently unstable place.
The resolution to this problem was the introduction of U.S. forces in 1917 and 1918 in World War I. The presence of upward toward 2 million American forces rebalanced the situation in Europe. The Versailles agreement was based on the idea that the United States would continue to play an active onshore role, not just as an offshore balancer but through Wilson’s commitment to France, his broader hope of making commitments to the security of Europe through the League of Nations. The United States, in that vision, anticipated by the Europeans and promised by Wilson, was the United States would be an active balancer on the continent of Europe, effectively making itself a European power.
We are often blaming the Versailles Treaty for all of its failures, which led to a demand for high reparations for Germany without providing security against Germany, so the worst of both worlds. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. If the Americans had remained engaged you would have had lower reparation payments demanded from Germany and greater security provided to France. So when you criticize the Versailles Treaty, you have to understand it was supposed to include the United States. When it didn’t include the United States, Europe became unbalanced again.
And so the United States – the great story of the 1920s, which I think is also untold, the 1920s and it’s more obvious in the 1930s, is the story of American irresponsibility: the Americans’ unwillingness to accept this new role that was essential to maintaining a peaceful, secure and stable Europe. The Americans, in fact, I would say did more than almost any other country, in a way, given what it was supposed to do – its failure to play that role was a key destabilizing factor in Europe in the 1920s and helped give rise to – helped the Weimar Republic collapse, give rise to Hitler and all the things that happened in the 1930s with which we’re more familiar.
So, to me, the lesson of this period is that Europe as a strategic entity does not function unless the United States, this sort of deus ex machina from across the ocean, is willing to play an on-the-scene role on a permanent basis with sufficient and reliable commitments to the defense of its allies. I don’t mean to be critical of Europe. It may be the nature of this very sort of crowded neighborhood. It’s an unusual situation in the world, if you think about it, compared to other regions. But that is the reality.
Now, I’m going to end by saying: That was the successful story of the Cold War. It was the successful story of the immediate post-Cold War period, and I think a lot of us had believed – including me, and I tend to be a sort of skeptic – that Europe had in fact then moved beyond all this, had moved into the so-called postmodern phase, as Robert Cooper put it, and that these old issues wouldn’t come up anymore. But it turns out that history has a kind of unrelenting power, and it does seem to me that we are once again facing a situation where Europe on its own is having a very hard time meeting the challenge of a rising hegemon and a predatory power, and that the uncertain response of the United States is once again contributing to the – to a potential breakdown in the peace and the security of Europe.
I’ll leave it there.
MR. ENSOR: Thank you, Bob. Let’s fast-forward now to the post-World War II division of Germany, to the Berlin airlift, to how that history shaped the Germany that is now likely to play a key role as the West figures out how to respond to Crimea and perhaps more. Fred?
FREDERICK KEMPE: Thank you, David. First of all, thank you for plugging my book. And the Kazakh ambassador was here yesterday. I sold the Kazakh edition, so I’m really happy about that. And I think the fact that this story resonates globally is the reason that it’s gone into 13 languages. Please, buy the book. If you can’t read it, still buy it.
But let me – let me just start with: I am a reporter; I spent 25 years at the Wall Street Journal. Many of you know that I covered the final years of the Cold War, the rise of Solidarity, Charter 77. Horst Teltschik, one of my great heroes, is in the audience, who was one of my great sources when I was covering Germany unification, a real hero of German unification and the end of the Cold War. So welcome here. Obviously, Sascha Vondra: It’s such a pleasure to sit next to another hero of history.
I am a reporter, so over the – over the weekend I talked to a couple of administration officials , senior administration officials, as they’re known in the parlance of the press. And I had an interesting conversation with one who’s been around for a while, who’s a student of history. And I said – I said, what’s it like? How’s it going on the Ukraine front?
And he said, and I will quote: For someone like me who loves pre-World War II European history, this is like the movie “Jurassic Park,” where the paleontologists who know dinosaurs only by studying their bones get to see the dinosaurs jumping around in real life. (Laughter.)
He went on and said, in so many ways, it’s just like the 1930s. Who thought that in 2013 we would be worrying about a European land war? But, as in “Jurassic Park,” we have to be careful in our enthusiasm not to be eaten by the dinosaur.
So that was a very interesting conversation. And we’re in a midst right now where we’re having interagency processes about this crisis and there are generational differences where people hear what some of their older compatriots are saying about Putin, their concerns, and they’re – they just – they just have different historical experiences. So that’s part of the difficulty in coming to terms with this.
And so I share this story because I think that Bob and Sascha and I are on the “Jurassic Park” panel. And as Shakespeare wrote in his play “The Tempest,” “what’s past is prologue.” More fittingly, another Brit, Winston Churchill in “Gathering Storm,” quote, “The belief that security can be obtained by throwing a small state to the wolves is a fatal delusion.” Ukraine is no small state. Thus, so much larger the delusion and so much more certain the fatality.
But I’m going to be talking about Berlin. I’m not going to focus on the anniversaries that Governor Huntsman elucidated. Instead, I’m going to talk about the 66th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift and the 53rd anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall, with an emphasis of what we should learn from that history.
In the prologue to my book, General Scowcroft, who was kind enough to write that, says, history doesn’t reveal its alternatives. So you can’t look back and say, well, what would have been if we had done something else? On the other hand, I’m going to use these two periods to talk a little bit about issues of U.S. presidential leadership and what a difference they can make.
So let’s go back, briefly, to Berlin Airlift, 1948. Had it not been for the Allied success in breaking Stalin’s blockade of Berlin, it’s fair to say there never would have been a NATO. There never might have been a European Union, certainly not including Germany, and the Cold War would have been lost at that point, before it really ever got started.
As Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov said to his U.S. counterpart at the time, Moscow wanted a united Germany that could be neutralized after Russia received industrial reparations. The strategy was a response to a 150-year history of repeated Western assaults on Russia, including World War I and Napoleon’s 1812 invasion. So we have to be careful not to dismiss Russian motivations, even at certain times when we might disagree with them, because there’s history to this.
While Stalin thought it essential to destroy Germany’s capacity for another war, the U.S. was aiming to rebuild Germany as the economic center of a stable Europe. The U.S. saw that postwar reconstruction in Western Europe depended on German economic and industrial recovery. And if the United States could not reunify Germany with Soviet cooperation, so be it. The West could develop western industrial portions of postwar Germany controlled by France, Britain, the U.S., and integrate areas into this new European sphere.
So on March 6, 1848 (sic), the three Western allies announced at the London Conference that they would fuse the three western zones of Germany into an independent federal form of government, Federal Republic of Germany, and bring those united western zones into the U.S.-led economic reconstruction efforts – Marshall Plan, et cetera.
Three months later, on June 24th 1948, the Soviet Union blocked access – it’s important to know this link of events – blocked access to the three Western-held sectors of Berlin deep inside the Soviet zone of Germany, cutting off all rail and road routes, hoping to undo what the Allies had done. The apparent goal was to force the Allies out of Berlin and reverse the creation of West Germany.
The commander of the occupation zone in Germany, General Clay, Lucius D. Clay, at first proposed sending a large armored column up the Autobahn from West Germany to West Berlin, prepared to defend itself if stopped or attacked. Truman, following the consensus in Washington – and at the time, the U.S. didn’t want another war; World War II was just over – said, it’s too risky to engage in this due to the consequence of war. He wouldn’t let Clay do it; public opinion was war-weary.
General Clay launched the airlift two days after the Berlin Blockade began. Only after he had begun the airlift did he get Truman’s final approval for it.
The massive airlift, including both civil and military aircraft, lasted 460 days. So planes – U.S., U.K., France – pilots and crew also from Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand – so there was a coalition; ultimately, 278,228 flights delivered more than 2 million tons of food. At the height of the operation, April 16th, 1949, one aircraft landed in Berlin every minute.
On April 4th, 1949, Western powers signed the North Atlantic Treaty, founding NATO. Without the Berlin Airlift, there would not have been a NATO. Declaring an attack on any one of them would be considered attack against them all.
Stalin lifted his blockade at midnight, May 11th, 1949. We continued to supply, even after the lifting of the blockade, because of an assumption that something else would happen – there would be another blockade. But this show of presidential decisiveness, Allied decisiveness, caused to – the backing down. Nothing else happened at that point.
So what are the lessons for today? Had the airlift not placed material and moral support of Western powers squarely behind West Berliners, the city would have succumbed to the Soviets. Berliners’ ability to resist communist coercion depended on Western presence, raise questions about Ukraine.
Second, the airlift was a masterpiece of improvisation, not strategy. It was not the model of rational, orderly decision-making, so don’t despair as you watch the situation today. What seems preordained and inevitable by historians, people at the time often thought was impossible. Into the autumn of the airlift, Western officials believed it would fail. This was not the product of sound interagency process. It was the product of improvisation.
Third, logistics can be as important as diplomacy in a crisis. Fourth, coalition unity is always hard.
So let me fast-forward and deal, quickly, with 1961 and my main subject of the Berlin Wall. We know now what President Kennedy could not envision at the time, which is that the Wall would fall nearly three decades later, in November 1989, and that Germany and Berlin would be unified a year later, in 1990, and that the Soviet Union itself would collapse a year after that. Given the Cold War’s happy ending, there’s been a temptation to give Kennedy more credit than is due for the outcome. By avoiding undue risk to stop Berlin Wall’s construction, by acquiescing to the Berlin Wall, some have argued Kennedy prevented war and set the stage for Germany’s eventual unification, for the liberation of the Soviet bloc’s captive nations, for the enlargement of a free and democratic Europe.
I argue in the book, and believe quite deeply from the documents, that the record – that the record demands a less generous judgment. So Truman: The buck stops here. With Kennedy, I think the presidential performance leaves more in question. His acquiescence to the construction of the Berlin Wall did not reduce tensions. Indeed, it was followed by the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later, by a Khrushchev who thought, through Kennedy’s weakness in 1961 – the Bay of Pigs debacle, the Vienna summit, then the construction of the Berlin Wall, and then a showdown of tanks at Checkpoint Charlie – first year of the youngest president in U.S. was not a particularly good one. Khrushchev reached the conclusion that he could get away with putting missiles in Cuba.
So Cuba – Berlin leads to Cuba. What does Crimea lead to? Some accounts from the period suggest Kennedy was caught entirely by surprise. But, again, if you look at the Vienna Summit, he, in many ways, wrote the script that Khrushchev followed, saying that as long as you don’t touch access to West Berlin, as long as you don’t touch West Berlin itself, you can do whatever you want to with your own territory.
As Kennedy told White House economic adviser Walter Rostow before the closure, quote: Khrushchev is losing East Germany. He cannot let that happen. If East Germany goes, so will Poland and all of Eastern Europe. He will have to do something to slow the flow of refugees – perhaps a wall – and we won’t be able to prevent it. I can hold the alliance together to defend West Berlin, but I cannot act to keep East Berlin open.
So that is the de facto deal that was struck at the Vienna summit. And then Khrushchev let it go.
One last point, and that is: Don’t lose sight of domestic politics, even in authoritarian countries. Domestic politics were crucial for Khrushchev. He had a party congress coming up in October. It was very opaque. We didn’t understand all the pressures behind him. But looking at Putin today, one has to understand better the circle around him and the domestic politics facing him.
The parallels are far from perfect between 1961, ’48 and today. Unlike East Germany, Ukraine isn’t fully occupied by Russian troops, and its people will more forcefully resist domination. Unlike West Berlin, the Baltic states, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria don’t yet have permanently stationed American troops who are hostage to our (intent ?), though recent decisions and deployments are moving us in the direction.
And I’ll close with the other crucial difference, which I hope we’ll get into in the Q&A, and that is, Germany was divided and occupied in ’48 and ’61. Germany was more a subject and a more a stage for the battle and not a protagonist and an actor. We’re now watching a fully reunified and sovereign Germany with its first historical test after the Cold War. What will it put at the forefront, its obligations to its eastern neighbors, its economic interests? It’s going to be very interesting. And some of the opinion polls at the moment in Germany show that the German populace is more comfortable with playing a mediating role between East and West than as a – as an anchor in the West. I think that’s worth discussing.
Ultimately, in ’61, the story ended well, but only because in Cuba, Kennedy would reverse the perilous course he had set in the previous year in Berlin by demonstrating more backbone. What he couldn’t undo was the wall, which rose while he passively stood by, which for three decades and perhaps all of history will remain as an iconic image of what un-free systems can impose when free leaders fail to resist. So the Berlin Wall rise in August ’61 anchored the Cold War and mutual hostility which would last for another three decades, locking us into the habits, procedures and suspicions that only fell with the same wall in 1989. We have to think about what our actions now do will influence for the next generation.
MR. ENSOR: Thank you, Fred.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you.
MR. ENSOR: Let’s move forward now through the Cold War to the happy ending, but we’re not there yet. (Laughter.) Let’s look at the wall from the other side. Sasa Vondra.
ALEXANDR VONDRA: Yes. Thank you. Thank you very much.
So first, thanks to Damon, to Fred, to the others to invite me and to include me into this panel of historians. You know, it’s great for somebody who was an operative man in the late 80’s with the – (inaudible) – with the Civic Forum; and then also who had the privilege to be part of the operations for the, you know, peace with Germany. I was negotiating the declarations, seeing – (inaudible) – here, and of course the NATO and the EU enlargements.
So this is the era of the success. (Laughs.) Now, when we are in an era of (other failures ?) – it’s better to be a historian. So thank you very much now. (Laughter.)
And in fact, you mentioned this “Jurassic Park” and dinosaurs. I remember when still I was campaigning in the politics in 2010 and in fact winning the elections, we were attacked by one Czech populist party at that time and being accused, you know, that we are the dinosaurs of the Czech politics, including Vondra.
So the history is what I’m now trying to do, teaching the students, and watching what’s happened now, of course, one could see so many analogies and parallels being made by both politicians and the historians. You know, there were those parallels comparing Ukraine 2014 with Sarajevo 1914. I am not going to emerge into the debate because Robert Kagan has said a lot on this. But there were the parallels with the Munich 1938.
And certainly it brings me back to 2009 when we have one year after the Russian invasion into Georgia, we send a letter to President Obama, and I was among one of those who undersigned it, warning basically that this is the revisionist policy and that, for example, making the concession regarding the ballistic missile defense will not bring any positive outcome in Moscow. And I think it proved to us that we were right. But of course it’s only analogy, nothing else.
Some made the analogy with 1945 Yalta Conference, you know, Crimea Yalta ’45 – Yalta 2014. It was in 1945 when Franklin Delano Roosevelt, you know, told to Averell Harriman that Stalin is acting like a man of the 19th century. That’s a quotation. And exactly the same sentences you could hear right now from either Chancellor Merkel or President Obama being surprised what President Putin is saying – is doing, quoting him that he is a man of the 19th century too.
Some could make a parallel to 1956 and the policy of liberation of John Foster Dulles, you know, basically provoking the Hungarians and others to raise up. And once the people in Budapest did it, they did not get any help at all. And talking about the dissidents, maybe you know this saying by Milan Kundera on tragedy of the Central Europe written in early 1980s and starting with a sentence quoting somebody unknown in the streets of Budapest calling that we are dying here for Europe in 1956. So exactly the same sentences you could hear in the Maidan in 2000 – into 2014.
Somebody in – (inaudible) – in my country made the analogy with 1968 Soviet invasion, so the tanks on Crimea are like the tanks in the streets of Prague in ’68. Yes, there was a Brezhnev Doctrine and in fact Vaclav Havel, when he became the president, the first thing that he was asking Gorbachev to do is specifically undersign that he’s renouncing the Brezhnev Doctrine so, you know, that every nation has the will to make a choice. That’s what the Brezhnev Doctrine was trying to prohibit.
Somebody, of course, could make analogy also with 1989. Here – and that’s the subject of my comments, in fact – I would say, yes, you can make a lot of analogies, although if I were to compare something to ’89, I would rather compare this Orange Revolution 2004 than 2014. However, the reason why we have succeeded in – why we succeeded in the – it was the revolutions – 1989 – was simply because it was a unique environment.
This – the communist system embodied into the Soviet imperial system, was under the pressure from all sides. It was the pressure – under the pressure from within, from inside, both on the economic playing ground because it was very ineffective and was lagging behind in all measurable matters. It was also under the attack ideologically because in communism, you know, in the 1980s, nobody has believed in. Even those who had the power did not – did not believe. That was the generation of the communists; the second, third generation just keeping the power, nothing else.
They were – they were – the system was under the pressure from above due to Gorbachev reformed policy and, in fact, those (are ?) the renunciation of the Brezhnev Doctrine. So this Sinatra Doctrine, do it your own way, it certainly has helped very much because the ancien regime in the satellite states has lost the support.
The system was off course, and that’s the third point, under the – under the pressure from below. So all those resistance movement, dissidents, Charter 77, Solidarity and others.
Of course it would not be enough to have just this resistance from below. Even the most spectacular anticommunist movement from below, which was the Solidarity in Poland, Solidarnosc, made by workers in fact, you know – that was, you know, the workers going against the communists – it has failed, at least temporarily, because the force has been used.
But it was very important because it has left the generation of the elite leaders to lead a country. And the history of Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic in the last 20 years is the history that, you know, the people from Walesa through Kaczynski to Tusk or Sikorski, you know; in my country from Havel to Klaus to Zeman, all of that somehow engaged; in Hungary, you know, from – (inaudible) – to Orban. So it provided the elites to lead the countries. And it provided even picture of the heroes for the West, and that’s the last, but not least – the system has gone under the pressure from outside, and that was the Western support and the leadership in the crucial moments.
And in fact – you know, let’s go deeper to the history. Jimmy Carter, you know, being considered as probably the weakest president from the World War II to – (laughter) – to – (inaudible) – question right now. I am not going to answer that, but even you know, the weak Jimmy Carter provided at least the (instrument ?) human rights. And it was very high performance.
You know, the role of Ronald Reagan actually – everybody knows that, you know. That was a strong leadership providing both in the terms of the power as well as in terms of ideology, and then, of course, we were also happy in the situation – 1989 post or aftermath, because from George Bush through Bill Clinton to George W. Bush, we had the leadership in America, which was engaged in Europe, so did not repeat its mistake, which Robert Kagan has described very accurately as the key mistake of the United States being made in the 1920s and ‘30s. So the United States did not repeat that mistake – stood engaged and helped to anchor the countries of Central and Eastern Europe into the domain or realm of the Western institutions.
And without that U.S. leadership, I would have a doubt. So yes, Germany did a lot in opening, for example, the European market. Those association agreements, which have been signed earlier in the 1990s, has helped very much to stabilize the situation economy and to find a substitution for the lost markets in the East, meaning Russia, but in the terms of security and power, the role and the leadership of the United States was the most important thing.
And remember, in the second half of the 1990s, there was a debate, you know, inside NATO how to do the NATO enlargement, whether to pursue the so-called strategic decisions – so NATO first, or whether to pursue the so-called evolutionary scenario – so EU first, and then NATO may follow, or whether to pursue the so-called reactive scenario. So wait until the Russians do something, and then we will react. So you can now see, you know, where is the reaction in the scenario – the Russians did something in 2008, did something in 2014, and we did not react at all. So there’s a road to nowhere.
Evolutionary scenario – fine, but it would take a longer time, and such is the question, but without the NATO enlargement, the EU would be ready to pursue this big bank EU enlargement at all. So fortunately enough, under the leadership of both Republicans and Democrats, the United States showed not only the responsibility but also the sense of duty, you know – responsibility’s not enough. You are all responsible, but you must have some sense of duty to do this thing. So thank you very much for that.
MR. ENSOR: Thank you, Sasha. As a TV guy, I like to stand and nervously pace around. But I also don’t want to block the cameras, so I’ll stand over here. And I have the privilege now to ask a couple of questions of each of our panelists. I’m going to start, Bob, by asking you this. After the first World War, President Wilson failed to get Congress behind continuous U.S. engagement in Europe, as you spoke about. In the current atmosphere, what do you think we should expect in terms of U.S. leadership around the world and in Europe more specifically? Has the – do you think that the Ukraine crisis has altered the appetite, perhaps, somewhat, for finishing the unfinished business of the Euro-Atlantic integration, both in the East and the Southwest? Draw between the two.
MR. KAGAN: I have to say it’s very – I think it’s – the jury is still out. We – one of the things that concerns me now – and it’s sort of been touched on in all our comments – is that there are you know, the so-called millennial generation – people who haven’t lived through the experience of the past 40 years or so. It’s not clear that they feel that there is really anything that needs to be done, that, you know, some of us see Ukraine as this great wake-up call that requires kind of – a return to a certain kind of strategy. I’m not sure that that is – setting aside the millennial generation, even, I’m not sure that’s the majority view in the United States.
I can’t help but note that while President Obama gave a pretty sort of ringing speech in Europe about the sort of historical meaning of all this, he’s given no such speech in the United States. In fact, he’s barely talked about Russia and Ukraine and the United States, whether that’s because he thinks the American people don’t want to hear it, or he doesn’t want to get into it because it’s a distraction from other concerns.
So I get the feeling, you know, the politics – there’s a certain – you know, Republicans, as always, are looking to sort of paint the Democratic president as weak, but I’m not seeing an awful lot of follow-through, even in Congress. So I think we’re at one of those hinge moments in history, and if you ask me right now, are we heading more in the sort of commitment, post-1989 or more in the 1920s, a certain distancing, I’d have to say I’m not sure yet.
MR. ENSOR: So history’s repeating itself, perhaps? World War I?
MR. KAGAN: I mean, it can’t repeat itself entirely. The circumstances – the biggest difference then was that Americans were being asked to take up defense of a world order that they had not created. I mean, this was the British world order; Britain was losing the capacity to uphold it. The United States had to step in. In this case, the Americans are – have to decide whether they want to maintain the order that they created or whether that – it doesn’t mean as much to them anymore. But again, I’m not, at this moment, confident of what their – the American public’s decision will be.
MR. ENSOR: Well, Sarajevo 1914 and Munich 1938 were two diplomatic crises that preceded the outbreaks of the two world wars and represented two very different approaches taken to international affairs and conflict resolution. What lessons do you take from those events, and do you see any of them as being applicable to the current realities?
MR. KAGAN: I must say I find 1938 and the Japanese behavior in China beginning in 1931 to be the better analogies than 1914. 1914 was really – you know, Sarajevo was a – was a spark that ignited an already existing situation. In the other cases, you really are talking about, again, sort of aspiring, dominant powers – rising powers with a certain predatory quality.
And in that respect, they have both followed a similar pattern, this sort of – in the case, obviously of, Germany, talking about, you know, German-speaking populations – and by the way, I actually felt like the Germans had a better case in 1938 than the Russians do today. After all, Russia voluntarily gave up Ukraine. I mean, it made a conscious decision, the – when the Soviet Union – they didn’t want Ukraine. That was the original decision in the case that – you know, Germany had a – you know, arguably, legitimate grievances about the way Versailles had divided up Europe.
But in any case, the claim to protect certain people speaking a certain language, and then the sort of salami tactic approach, making a certain set of demands, having those demands fulfilled to some extent, then the world hopefully believes that we’re moving into a new era of peace only to discover that the next set of demands are coming. And this is also the way Japan dealt with – beginning with the invasion of Manchuria and moving into North China, and I think that in both cases, you had a nation that was predatory, that – whose goals were beyond what the powers on the other side hoped and believed they were, and the powers on the other side were weakened by their desire to avoid a conflict and to constantly look for the compromise that would end the march forward. And in both cases, they failed.
MR. ENSOR: Yeah. Fred, the crisis – the Berlin crisis of 1961 – what has it taught us about U.S.-Russian relations? Today, do you see parallels, and if so, what are they, between Berlin then and Ukraine now in terms of the East-West balance of power, and what should – what should and can the United States do to prevent further escalation and normalize relations with Russia?
MR. KEMPE: Yeah, I think the biggest mistake one can do looking at the ’61 history – and I think a lot of historians have made this mistake – is conclude that Kennedy, by acquiescing to the construction of the Berlin Wall, made the world a safer place. That certainly was his intention, and that certainly was his calculation, and he essentially was saying, looking, this refugee situation in Berlin is not as important as getting the nuclear situation right.
In ’48, we had a total nuclear monopoly, so that really made us stronger in the blockade situation. In ’61, we didn’t have that any longer, but nuclear missiles could not reach the U.S. That’s part of the reason they wanted Cuba. They could reach London and Paris. So Kennedy said, well, you know, if I can – I if – my extraction is, Kennedy was thinking that, if I can help reduce tensions by allowing Khrushchev to solve his refugee problem, then perhaps I can make deals in other areas.
Well, the Cuban missile crisis says that’s not true. By doing this, he actually created a more dangerous situation, and then he only made it safer and more secure by the way he responded to the Cuban missile crisis, which was October 1962. August 1961 was – (inaudible) – so I think the lesson for today is that appeasement doesn’t work, and the safest times we’ve had in Europe have been when we’ve shown determination and commitment, and then things become safer and more secure and more stable. So I think that’s the most important thing we can extract from this.
I do want to come back to the German point a little bit, because in ’61, you had two German leaders. You had Konrad Adenauer of the Federal Republic of Germany, you had Walter Ulbrecht of East Germany, and they were different in every imaginable way. But where they agreed is, they didn’t trust Germany being on its own after World War II and the holocaust, et cetera. Adenauer’s solution was to embed West Germany in the West. Ulbrecht’s solution was to put a Stalinist guardrail around it and to embed it in the East, but they were both saying, you know, we’re not ready for this.
I think we’re seeing a huge drama playing out for Germany where it’s – history has given it a second historical chance. And we’re watching now how Germany will internalize and then exercise this second historic chance. And I think it’s a dramatic drama, and we have to be together with Germany tightly; that’s why Chancellor Merkel’s visit is so important this week as they work through this drama.
MR. ENSOR: I mean, you’ve leading me to my second question, which was all about Germany. Should we expect more of Germany, this now very powerful and prosperous center of Europe? Will it take a larger leadership role in advancing a Europe whole and free, or is it going to choose rapprochement with Russia and the continuation of economic strategic partnerships to the East that are so important to Germany? What do you think?
MR. KEMPE: It’s the big question of the age. I’m not sure I have a good answer, but I have an observation. Germany’s policy of – with the Soviet Union, which – and with East Germany which was “Wandel durch annaherung,” so change through growing closer, I think, is a good policy. I think, even as we look at Putin and what’s happening with Putin, we have to find ways to grow closer to Russians. And we have to find ways to extend, whether it’s Track II talks or people-to-people exchanges, everything that we can do, because the misunderstandings and miscalculations that really almost led to World War III – it’s not strategy that led to that, it was miscalculations on Khrushchev’s part and on Kennedy’s part.
So I think, if you look at Germany today, the public opinion polls are a little troubling. Forty-nine percent of people are saying they’d rather be a mediator between East and West, while 45 percent say they would rather be anchored in the West. You know, public opinion polls don’t necessarily dictate outcomes; leaders dictate outcomes. But that’s the situation with – Chancellor Merkel has to deal with, where public opinion shaped, to a certain extent by the NSA scandal and the fact that we were listening onto her mobile phone. And, you know, public opinion’s not healthy right now toward the United States in Germany, and we have to work on that. We can’t just say, well, how can they believe this and why aren’t they totally with us?
We actually have to use diplomacy and engagement with the Germans to really talk about this historic moment and how we work together on that historic moment. So I think we have to be a little nervous about some of the attitudes and opinion polls. We have to be a little bit understanding towards the – you know, when you have 30 percent of your energy coming from Russia, you’re not going to cut it off overnight. You’re going to follow a different course.
Finally, I’m really interested in watching what we’re pursuing right now, which is sanctions not as punishment but as deterrents. I’m not sure we’ve ever had economic sanctions as deterrents before. The historians in the room here can tell me differently, but that’s an interesting test. And I’m not sure they work without Germany involved in them.
MR. ENSOR: Yeah. Sasha, for you. I guess what I’d like to ask you first is what advice you would offer to the people of Ukraine based on your long and deep experience at this time?
MR. VONDRA: (Chuckles.) It’s the $100 question, of course.
MR. ENSOR: And to the leaders in Maidan.
MR. VONDRA: Yes, of course. Look, 1989, April, we had a one-party system. We had Vaclav Havel in jail and we had Russian tanks in the territory of Czechoslovakia. Ten years after, 1999, in April, Vaclav Havel is the president, was in Washington to undersign the – fully confirm the incorporation of Czech Republic into NATO, and we had a normal, standard, vibrant liberal democracy with a capitalist economy.
So there’s just a 10-year – just a decade, and we have done practically everything the same as we’re supposed – same as with Hungarians. The question is, what Ukraine has done since 2004 to 2014, which is a decade as well, and frankly – and it’s not – I’m not going to blame them, but they did not use the momentum. They did not use the window of opportunity, which was still somehow available. At least until 2008, the West was in a (frenzy ?), ready somehow to act. Since 2008 because of the crisis, because of the failure in Bucharest NATO summit, because of some other event like the Georgian War, it’s a different story. You know, the window of opportunity was shutting slowly down. That’s a reality.
So it’s not easy to make an advice. I think, look, what is – we should concentrate on achievable goals now, and that’s, for them – for the Ukrainians to keep Ukraine as an independent state, which is able to survive economically. That’s the – priority number one. So of course we must do many other things as the West. We must do – you know, to provide the visible assurance to the NATO members right now, because otherwise we are in a real danger that Putin is not going – going to stop.
It’s revisionist power politics, nothing else. It’s the politics of the 19th century, and we have to respond with, also, some – I don’t want to say 19th century instrument, but at least by some strength. Otherwise, you know, this is what those guys have understand. So to the Ukrainians, we should have help them – they should do everything to be able to survive as an independent state, and we should be able to help them somehow to achieve that goal.
MR. ENSOR: As you’ve listened to each other, I wonder if there’s any points that you want to pick up on that others have made. And Bob, you listened on Berlin to Fred, for example. What struck you as you were thinking about the points he was making, looking to the present? We’re all looking to the present now as historians, yes, but – and perhaps also what Sasha said.
MR. KAGAN: Well, you know, when I think back on the – particularly the decision in 1948 to do the Berlin Airlift – and I have to ask myself, indeed, throughout the whole Cold War, would the United States have undertaken such a policy had it not been for fear of communism? You know, if it had just been, we shouldn’t let Russia dictate to – how Germany is going to be governed, not communists – the Soviet Union, would the United States have taken the risks that Truman was ultimately willing to take?
You know, the degree to which general American willingness – you talk about duty – you know, it would be nice to think it was duty, but a lot of it was fear, and the fear that Americans had of what they considered an existential threat of Soviet communism really was a critical part of undergirding the commitments the United States was willing to make. Commitments, by the way, that were entirely abnormal not only for American history but for anybody’s history.
Now we live in an era where there is no such perceived existential threat of Soviet Communism really was a critical part of undergirding the commitments the United States was willing to make. Commitments, by the way, that were entirely abnormal not only for American history but for anybody’s history.
Now, we live in an era where there is no such perceived existential threat, not – I mean, al-Qaida is a separate question, I think. There’s no – there’s nothing – and so can you ask the American people or an American president to take the risk that I think would’ve been necessary and still are necessary if you really want to prevent Kiev from falling ultimately to Russian control. I think you would need – you would take more risks.
If this were the Soviet era, I think we might well have sent NATO forces into Kiev to make sure that it – that it didn’t fall. Today, that thought is inconceivable. Now, is it in – the risk will be the same, but I think the reason we – it’s inconceivable today is we don’t consider the threat to be the same and, therefore, it’s not worth it.
MR. KEMPE: Let me – let me respond to that quickly, because I actually agree with Bob completely. But this is really what we’ve been talking about at the Atlantic Council, which is we had a strategy which was containment, we had an enemy that was clear, and then the tactics were hard, but we had a strategy that led the tactics. And so there was improvisation, but by and large, people, certainly at the elite level – I’m not saying public opinion was behind this all the time. Very often, you had the elites way ahead of public opinion. But nevertheless, that was there.
What we lack now – and Brent Scowcroft talks about this all the time – is we are all tactics and we don’t have enough strategy, so we need that. But there is another inflection point. We’ve been a broken record at the Atlantic Council about this. And in the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends report, it says the inflection point now – it compares it to 1815, 1919, 1945, 1989. We got 1945 better than we got 1919 as you said, and one was U.S. engagement. We ended up with the United Nations, the World Bank, the – you know, the IMF, European coal and steel community, and 1919, we ended up with the Holocaust and we ended up with Nazism.
So there’s – there are two models here of U.S. engagement and U.S. disengagement. And so we’re arguing this is another inflection point, we don’t have an enemy, but we have two things that will happen if we don’t take the lead with our friends and allies. We had 50 percent of global GDP in 1945, we have 18 percent now, so we have to deal with partners.
The two options are less benevolent forces step in and fill the vacuum; witness – you know, witness Syria, witness Ukraine. And the other option is a certain chaos, a vacuum that doesn’t get filled. And so I think you can sell this to the American people because it’s both true and it’s an historic opportunity. Rare is the time that a great power has a second chance to shape the global system, but somebody has to get on the bully pulpit and say that. Somebody has to do – as you said, the president has to do what he did in Brussels, and he has to do it from the Oval Office, as John F. Kennedy did during 1961.
MR. ENSOR: Sasa, my wife is Polish, and so she takes – she tends – while life has been good for Poles in the last couple of decades, she still refers back to a kind of pessimistic world view, Slavic world view if you will. Are you a pessimist now for Europe or are you, in the larger sense, optimistic?
MR. VONDRA: I’m not a pessimist, but I’m a realist. You know, we are all – started as a Wilsonian idealist and, you know, I still believe in the right for self-determination. But I think what we need in the current world and what we need from the Western leaders now is that they would also learn a bit from Teddy Roosevelt – you know, speak maybe more softly but carry a big stick.
You know, the problem is that we are speaking loudly at the various university speeches, but carrying no stick. So we should certainly immediately react on – that’s – the situation has changed, so this is not the time for nuclear disarmament but it’s a time for extending the deterrence at least to – you know, the Article V commitment must be supported by some visible as well as an invisible deterrent, and from this position of the (reading ?) strength, we should approach Russia, of course, but as a different type of engagement than just, you know, these nice speeches kind of engagement.
So yes, we should elaborate a policy towards Russia. The reset is not a policy, reset is just an instrument. You know, it was a way to nowhere, but to engage with the Russians from the position of strength, but the question is whether the West is mighty to do that. And here, you know, I want to be an optimist, but that’s it. Yeah. (Laughs.)
MR. ENSOR: Are there microphones in the – in the room for questions from the floor? I – there are. We’ve got just a few minutes, so let’s do two or three questions from people on floor. I will ask this gentlemen first.
Q: Odeh Aburdene, the Capital Trust Group. Thank you for a very illuminating discussion. None of you talked about the Korean War. It was a proxy war, it was a major war where more Americans died than in the wars of Vietnam and Afghanistan and Iraq. What lesson or lessons we draw from U.S. reaction in the Korean conflict?
MR. KEMPE: Do you want to take a couple or do you want to –
MR. ENSOR: Well, do you want to do it that way? Should we – should we –
MR. KEMPE: Yeah
MR. ENSOR: – and then we could load them up. OK, let’s – yeah. Let’s get two more and then we’ll – let me – let me go geographically different. How about you, sir?
Q: Jan Lodal, Atlantic Council. Could you talk a little bit about the relevance of the different economic strengths of the powers today compared to what you’ve talked about historically? Russia’s weak, totally dependent upon its energy exports, not growing very much and so forth.
And the other situations – Germany in particular was the strongest power and so forth. Does this make some difference in how we think about the way we proceed?
MR. ENSOR: OK, one more. Let me go – are there any ladies who have questions? Right here. Coming to you.
Q: Thank you. (Inaudible) – from UAE. Don’t you think there is a similarity between the situation of Ukraine today and World War – the first world war in terms of that – an ethnic group calling for the guardian state, Russia, the same player in both cases? And what are the consequences will be according to that?
MR. ENSOR: OK, good. Three good questions. Why don’t we just take the last one first. Bob, why don’t you do that, and then we’ll get to Korea and the economics.
MR. KAGAN: I think that – that’s a good one for Sasha, the last one.
MR. ENSOR: OK. Sasa.
MR. VONDRA: What? Oh, go ahead. Go ahead. (Laughter.)
MR. KAGAN: OK, now I have to admit I don’t know what the analogy was, so it’s Russia today and compared to what?
MR. ENSOR: An ethnic group in World War I that called for help, and it was to Russia they appealed.
MR. KAGAN: Oh, I see what you’re saying. You mean, the sort of the –
MR. ENSOR: Just parallel that.
MR. KAGAN: – the Serbian-Slav –
MR. ENSOR: Yeah.
MR. KAGAN: Yeah. I mean, again, I feel like in the case of World War I that the sort of – the proximate cause of war, which was this sort of Slav versus Germanic – you know, between Austria on the one hand and Serbia on the other – was only a kind of sideshow to the main game. The main game was really a contest between Germany and France in a – in a fundamental way, but also a contest between Germany and Russia.
And, you know, you could say that, in a way, this was – this was the sort of the subject matter at some point, but there was a large – there were larger geopolitical forces that I think are ultimately responsible for World War I, not the least of which was sort of, again, the rise of Germany to sort of be too big for the European continent and all that follows from that. So I don’t see if that way.
Whereas I – as I said before, to me, the analogy is much more, you know, Weimar Germany and then transitioning into Nazi Germany and its desire to undo and re-draw the settlement. And in the case, you do have an analogy. Germany wanted to – was – felt, you know, mistreated by the Versailles settlement and wanted to re-draw that settlement. Russia, which is sort of Weimar Russia, has felt mistreated by the Cold War settlement and has sought to revise that.
And this then, in both cases, whether you’re talking about the Sudetenland in 1938, which was another ethnic issue, and in this case – although I must say the polls do not suggest that even sort of Russian-speaking Ukrainians really want to be part of Russia, that that’s a sort of very hazy area. And I think, again, you have to see it more in terms of Russia’s desire to re-draw the map again and undo – and undo the post-Cold War settlement.
MR. ENSOR: We’ve got just two minutes, and who would like to take Korea briefly?
MR. VONDRA: You should –
(Cross talk, laughter.)
MR. KEMPE: I’ll be – I’ll be brief on Korea and so 30 seconds on that. Nothing replaces presence. We’re still there. So I won’t go back to the Korean War, but let’s talk about today, and nothing replaces presence.
One thing on economic strength, the – don’t underestimate Russia’s capabilities. They’re actually acting with more creativity and more capability than during the Soviet period where they were ham-handed and the propaganda was bad and nobody believed it, and the economy wasn’t working well. I agree that they’re also more vulnerable, they’re open to sanctions. We could really turn this around if the sanctions were in the right way, but don’t underestimate it.
Seventy-nine percent growth in defense spending over the last decade in Russia, so we’re – and we’re seeing some of their capabilities play out right now.
MR. ENSOR: Others on the economics? Sasa? The role of economics.
MR. VONDRA: On the –
MR. ENSOR: The role of economics in the – the relative economic strengths of the players.
MR. VONDRA: Two points. First of all, on Russia, I fully agree with what Fred Kempe has said. I think we should treat Russia seriously. I – you know, what I remember those smiles, you know, which – we could hear in the last 10 years that, you know, Russia economy is the size of the Netherlands and blah, blah, blah; that it will crumble soon.
I think it’s omitting one thing: that the Russian people are able to survive a lot, and (Napoleon ?) and others would to be able to say a lot about this. So should treat Russia as a – as a power and treat it seriously. That’s my first advice.
Second, on general, there was a map at the beginning of the conference. I don’t know whether you have remembered it.
MR. ENSOR: Yeah.
MR. VONDRA: I don’t know why you used that kind of a map, but it’s a map of wider Europe from space at night. So – and it’s pretty interesting that you could see some fault line in Europe. One party’s simply light and the other party’s dark. And, you know, I – there are certain differences deeply rooted in culture. I’m not going to promote Huntington here, but in a certain sense, he was right, no doubts about this. And, you know, to move further, we need to light up. We need to light up. And that’s about the economy to have Ukraine not as a part of the dark territory because right now, it’s in the dark part.
MR. ENSOR: Yeah. Closing thought?
MR. KAGAN: I just want to say Russia is a declining power and it’s been a declining power for 300 years. (Laughter.) So I’m never sure what that gets us from a strategic point of view.
MR. ENSOR: Well, let’s thank the panel for a very, very stimulating session. Thank you.