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From the NATO summit, world leaders expressed their support for the ceasefire between Ukraine and Russian separatists. However, previous peacemaking delays and further violence have given reason for doubt. Jeffrey Brown speaks with Nicholas Burns, former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, Michael McFaul, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago.
Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to the region next week, hoping to build the coalition further.
And joining me now to help interpret these developments are former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns. He's a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. John Mearsheimer, a professor at the University of Chicago, he wrote an article for the latest issue of "Foreign Affairs" magazine titled "Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West's Fault." And Michael McFaul was U.S. ambassador to Russia until spring of this year. He now teaches at Stanford University.
And, Mike McFaul, let me start with you. What do you make first of this new cease-fire. Are there clear winners and losers?
MICHAEL MCFAUL, Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia: Well, the first thing I would say is that peace is always better than war. The fact that they're not fighting in towns like Mariupol like tonight is a good thing, and Donetsk. That is a good thing.
And I respect President Poroshenko, who understands his security demands and challenges better than I do. So, I think it's a welcome sign. It's also a cautious sign, as the president rightly said, because we have done this before.
I would just add two caveats. What it does today, by having it today instead and, say, not two weeks ago, is it freezes into place Russian gains on the ground, Russians and their allies in Eastern Europe. They have been on the offensive and they have been winning the war on the ground. This now freezes that into place.
And, secondly, the obvious point, there's no political solution in the cease-fire. That's going to take a lot of negotiating for months, if not years to come.
John Mearsheimer, where do you think things stand as of this moment, and what did you make of this announcement today from NATO about a rapid response force? Is that a useful thing or a provocative step?
JOHN MEARSHEIMER, University of Chicago: Well, I agree with the two points that Mike made as caveats. There's no question this deal solidifies Russian gains in recent weeks. And, furthermore, I think the more important point that he made is that a cease-fire by itself a meaningless. What we have to do is get some sort of meaningful peace agreement between the three sides here.
And I'm very pessimistic about that, because I think the Obama administration and the other Western countries are pursuing exactly the wrong policy with regard to Ukraine. I think getting tough with Putin, which is what we have been doing all along, and promising to get tougher in the future, is just going to make a bad situation worse.
So I'm not very optimistic about the future. With regard to the 4,000-troop reinforcement capability, I think that's fine. I think the two key things we definitely don't want to do is, number one, permanently station troops or military forces in Eastern Europe, and, number two, give military aid to the Ukrainian military.
I think that that would cause all sorts of problems with the Russians and, again, make a bad situation worse.
Well, Nicholas Burns, from your NATO experience, tell us a little bit more about how to think about this, especially about the rapid response force. What kind of message is it, how unusual is it, how forceful is it, in fact?
NICHOLAS BURNS, Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO: Well, Jeffrey, I think there were two major takeaways from the summit today.
The first is that NATO really strengthened itself. This decision on the NATO response force is consequential. It means, in essence, that the NATO alliance can now in a credible way reinforce Article 5 of the NATO treaty.
That's the article that says if one of us is attacked, all of us are attacked and we will all respond to help that country. That's a major deterrent against President Putin and the Russian government. It was very important to the Poles, to the Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, the new members of NATO, that know the Soviet reality, that lie geographically close to the Russian border, that they know that alliance will defend them.
So, I think that was a very strong achievement by President Obama and his colleagues. On the other hand, I very much agree with Mike that, unfortunately, this cease-fire, of course, is a positive event, but, unfortunately, it locks in the Russian gains.
And here, I think there was a missed opportunity at the summit by the United States and the other countries. The West didn't raise additional sanctions on Russia, and it should have, because Russia moved across the border two weeks ago with its own military forces and, of course, has largely defeated the Ukrainians on Ukrainian soil tactically.
And there was not a decision to aid Ukraine militarily, and I think there should have been, not that we want to give Ukraine lethal offensive capability, but the means to defend themselves, to enforce their own sovereignty, to patrol their own streets, that's logical that we do that to a partner, and Ukraine is a partner.
So I think there are positive developments today, but a missed opportunity.
Well, let me actually go back to John Mearsheimer then on that point about whether it would be useful to have gone further. And then we will bring Mike McFaul back in.
Well, I think that those points, that Ukraine is a partner and that we should support our partner in a war against Russia and the insurgents, is a prescription for disaster.
The Russians have made it very clear that they're not going to tolerate a situation where Ukraine forms an alliance with NATO, the principal reason that Russia is now in Ukraine and trying to wreck Ukraine.
And let's be clear here. What Russia is trying to do is wreck Ukraine, is because Russia doesn't want Ukraine to become part of the West. It doesn't want it to be integrated into NATO or the E.U. And if we follow the prescriptions that Bill and I know Mike favors as well, what we are going to end up doing is further antagonizing Putin. He is going to play more hardball. And the end result is that Ukraine is going to be wrecked as a country, and we're going to have terrible relations between Russia and the West, which is not in Russia's interest and not in our interest.
Let me bring Michael McFaul back in.
Well, first of all, the issue of Ukraine joining NATO has not been an issue for several years, literally wasn't an issue when I was in the government for five years. That wasn't what sparked this. It was what happened inside Ukraine.
Second, I agree that the summit should have announced in a more specific way assistance to the Ukrainians to defend themselves. Now, President Obama intimated that in his speech in Tallinn. It was very clear, and that was a new policy objective. What the details are have not been described.
And, second, with respect to sanctions, I agree. The administration has put in place a tit for tat. We will ratchet up if the Russians ratchet up. The Russians now have ratcheted up, and I think that demands a response in terms of sanctions. And I actually expect that that will be coming. It would have been nice to announce it at the summit. I hope we will see it next week.
Nick Burns — and first I want to apologize because I think I called you Bill earlier — so, Nick — I got it right — I want — you know, there's so much on the table right now at NATO, so I want to bring the Islamic State issue into this as well, because there was also an announcement today of a new kind of coalition to fight on that front.
Frame that for us as well. How important is that as kind of a useful message or even force going forward?
Well, this has become, as you know, the central preoccupation of the United States over the last month or so, as ISIS has made these extraordinary gains in Northern Syria and Western Iraq.
It was very positive today that President Obama was able to say that he intends to form a coalition, that he will continue the use of American airpower, in essence, to beat back the ISIS gains specifically in Northern Iraq, positive that the Europeans said they were with us.
But I think, Jeffrey, there's two things that have to happen now. Number one is, we don't just need political platitudes from the Europeans. We need concrete assistance, particularly from Britain and France, in the matter of air assets, so that the United States doesn't have to go this alone in the air.
And, secondly, this can't just be a European/North American/Canadian/U.S. coalition. We need help from the Saudis, the Emirates, the Turks, of course, from the Qataris, the Kuwaitis. There has to be buy-in from the Sunni-Arab nations, so that the Sunni populations of both Syria and Iraq will know that there's an alternative.
And, hopefully, if the government in Baghdad can strengthen itself and become much more inclusive, and if the Shia leadership in Baghdad can offer a place in government to the Sunnis, then President Obama will be able to achieve essentially what President George W. Bush did so well in 2007 and '08. And that's win back the allegiance of the Sunni fighters and the Sunni population. That's the next big step that has to take place.
John Mearsheimer, what are the chances of doing something like that? How difficult will it be for John Kerry when he next returns there?
Well, I think that the local actors, the actors in the Middle East that live near ISIS, are the ones that are going to have to beat them back in the end.
I believe that wars are won on the ground, and the United States and the Europeans are obviously not going to insert ground forces into this conflict. So it's going to be — it's going to depend heavily on what forces in the region do. And I think, as they feel increasingly threatened by ISIS, they will work hard to counter ISIS and I think, ultimately, contain it.
Whether it can be defeated over the long term remains to be seen. I actually don't think it's that big of a deal, because I think that ISIS is overrated as a threat to the United States, and I think there's not a whole heck of a lot that the United States can do to fix the problem. I think it largely depends on what the local or regional actors do.
All right, very much to be continued on all fronts.
John Mearsheimer, Nicholas Burns, Michael McFaul, thank you, all three.
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