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As NATO launches Trident Juncture, exercises that will demonstrate the organization's largest show of force for 20 years, allies and foes alike will monitor performance. At a time when tensions are rising due to a belligerent Russia and autocratic Turkey, NATO countries are assessing commitment levels, capability, and resolve. As America asks for financial commitments to be met, it also seeks a level of democratic commonality among member nations. Is America in a position to lead on all these critical issues when a strong organization of states joined around Western values must be cohesive and prepared?
Ambassador Kurt Volker, Executive Director, McCain Institute
Reuel Marc Gerecht, Senior Fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies
Moderator: Daniel West
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Operator: Welcome to The Federalist Society's Practice Group Podcast. The following podcast, hosted by The Federalist Society's International & National Security Law Practice Group, was recorded on Thursday, November 1, 2018, during a live teleforum conference call held exclusively for Federalist Society members.
Wesley Hodges: Welcome to The Federalist Society's teleforum conference call. This afternoon's topic is Has NATO Expanded and Evolved Beyond Its Mission? My name is Wesley Hodges, and I am the Associate Director of Practice Groups at The Federalist Society.
As always, please note that all expressions of opinion are those of the experts on today's call.
Today we are very fortunate to have moderating our discussion Mr. Daniel West, who served as a Marine Infantry Officer in Afghanistan and off the coast of Libya during NATO operations there before heading to Harvard Law and Business School, after which he clerked for Judge Silberman, and is now working in the private sector. Dan will introduce our speakers today and then carry forth with the conversation, but I do want to let everyone know that towards the end of the call, we will have time for audience Q&A, so please keep in mind what questions you have for the topic or for our speakers. Thank you very much for being here with us today. Dan, the floor is yours.
Daniel West: Hi, everybody. We are very privileged today to have with us two guests. We have Reuel Marc Gerecht and Ambassador Kurt Volker. So Ambassador Kurt Volker is a leading expert in U.S. foreign and national security policy with some 30 years of experience in a variety of government, academic, and private sector capacities, including service as Ambassador to NATO. Ambassador Volker serves as Executive Director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University based in Washington, D.C. He's also a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, a Senior Advisor at the Atlantic Council, and a Trustee of IAU College in Aix-en-Provence, France. In July 2017, Ambassador Volker was also appointed U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations.
We also have Reuel Marc Gerecht, who is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where he focuses on Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, terrorism, and intelligence. He was previously a Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the Director of the Middle East Initiative at the Project for the New American Century. Earlier, he served as a Middle Eastern Specialist at the CIA's Directorate of Operations. He's the author of numerous books and publications and is a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and other publications.
So today we're going to talk about NATO, and particularly as it launches Trident Juncture, exercises that demonstrate the organization's largest show of force for 20 years. Allies and foes alike are watching to monitor their performance. At a time when tensions are rising due to a belligerent Russian and an autocratic Turkey, NATO countries are assessing commitment levels, capability, and resolve. So as America asks for financial commitments to be met, it also seeks a higher level of democratic commonality among member nations. Is America in a position to lead on all these critical issues when a strong organization of states joined around Western values must be cohesive and prepared?
So that's the question that both of our speakers are going to talk about today, and we'll begin with you, Ambassador Volker.
Ambassador Kurt Volker: Okay, well, thank you very much, and thanks to everyone who has joined the call. Delighted to launch into a discussion about this. NATO is first and foremost defined by Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, which is the concept of collective defense. It doesn't commit allies to any particular response in the event of an attack on an ally, but it does say that there should be some response. And this gives NATO the flexibility to decide what's appropriate, but it's commonly known as the clause that says an attack on one is viewed as an attack on all. And this is fundamentally important. It gives NATO a strength in numbers, and that enables NATO to effectively deter aggression against NATO members. This was the case during the Cold War.
NATO, of course, started with only 12 countries, Western European countries, Canada, the U.S., at its outset, but enlarged over time as countries were democratic and added to the mix. That was Germany's first additional member. Turkey and Greece were added. Spain was added. And then after the end of the Cold War, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, countries that had been occupied by the Soviet Union and forced to have communist governments where the Iron Curtain had divided them from their historic role in Europe, they were free again, and those countries wanted to protect that freedom. They wanted to be part of a wider security community. They wanted to be democracies and market economies.
And after a period of years where they were seeking NATO membership, and NATO was telling them they needed to reform and build stronger societies first, they eventually -- many of them eventually were invited to join NATO. That includes Central and Eastern European countries, Baltic states, a few in the Balkans as well. NATO is now up to 29 members. All this means is that NATO's mission of collective defense, and by that commitment of collective defense to deter aggression against NATO members is the same mission, but it applies in a much wider area now, 29 members overall.
One of the things about allies that is often in the news is whether they are paying their fair share of defense expenditures. And here it's a complicated picture to explain, so let me try to walk through it. First off, there is such a thing as common NATO budget. There's a military budget, there's a civilian budget, there's an infrastructure budget. The United States' share of those budgets is just a little over 20 percent. Their allies pay almost 80 percent. We pay about 20 percent of those. Now, those are the operating expenses of the alliance as an alliance.
However, every country is responsible for its own national defense expenditures, and here is where the complaints usually come in. The United States spends a lot of money on defense. We have often been well over 2 percent of GDP. It's probably closer to four. At times, it has been as high as five or six. Many of our allies are spending far less as a percentage of GDP, including big countries like Germany, spending just over 1 percent of GDP on defense. NATO has agreed many, many, many times, going back years and years, that the target should be for every country to spend at least 2 percent of its GDP on defense. The reality, however, is very few NATO countries are currently doing that, probably -- I don't know the exact number today. It's probably in the neighborhood of six to eight are doing that. Others are close, but a significant number are still hovering just above 1 percent.
What that means is that when you look at the nominal figures of how much countries are spending on defense, and you add up national defense budgets, the U.S. is spending between 70 and 75 percent of all NATO country national defense expenditures. Of course, the U.S. has global responsibilities. A lot of that money is not focused on the European theater but is focused domestically, or on nuclear strategy, or on Asia, or on the Middle East. But nonetheless, it is a very, very significant share of national defense expenditures that the U.S. is paying. And that's why the U.S. has been pushing, under many presidents, including Donald Trump, but going well back before that, pushing allies to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense as they have committed to.
We have seen countries increase their defense expenditures in the past year or two. That is in part attributable to President Trump's big push on the issue. And he mentioned at the NATO Summit that took place earlier this year that there's probably been an increase in about $70 billion in defense spending since President Trump took office. I think that was the number that was used. So we still need the allies to do more.
Now it's also a mistake to think only in terms of money. Money is a part of it, but another part of it is geography. And when you think about United States security, a United States that would be alone in the world would be less secure than a country that has allies. And we have a number of allies. We have them all over the world. It enhances U.S. security significantly to have allies out there. That's also true within Europe. If you are defending a front line against the Soviet Union in Germany on German territory, as we were doing during the Cold War, that is a far more vulnerable position for the United States than to have significantly more strategic depth, as we now have with countries in Central and Eastern Europe, and a much stronger alliance. And that's that much more difficult for today's Russia to do anything to threaten the current allies.
So that's the deterrents, and the defense, and the defense spending aspects. Now there's one other thing that people will ask about, and that is whether there's mission creep at NATO, and whether NATO has gone beyond its mission of collective defense and gotten us into wars that we shouldn't be in. Here, this is usually talked about in terms of crisis management. And NATO first did this in the case of Bosnia. You'll remember that in the 1990s, you had a major war in the Balkans, Serbia attacking Croatia. And in Bosnia, you had hundreds of thousands of people killed, millions of displaced persons. Ethnic cleansing was what it was called as people were being targeted based on their religious identity and ethnic identity.
NATO intervened with an air campaign to stop the war, and then led a U.N. mandated peacekeeping mission to create stability were the war had been. That was a heavy lift at the beginning, and then gradually drawn down significantly. The U.S. at the outset carried about 30, 35 percent of the forces. Eventually, the U.S. share of the troop contributions came down to about 15 percent. That was then the benchmark that was used when we intervened also to stop the war in Kosovo. We did an air campaign, and then another U.N. mandated peacekeeping force. The U.S. share of that was about 15 percent.
That's the basis on which we also then became involved in Afghanistan. After the U.S. launched with a few allies, U.K., Poland, and Australia, Operation Enduring Freedom after the 9/11 attacks, NATO was called to put in place a peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan. That was the ISAF mission. U.S. has led that effort since the beginning. It made a substantial contribution. That war, as everyone knows, has now gone on, and on, and on. It's 17 years, going on 18 years of a continuous NATO mission in Afghanistan. And frankly, we don't see an end in sight. And that's an area of concern that I think people can legitimately raise. Is that something we should continue to be doing? If so, why, and how, and what's the goal? And if not, why not? But that's not a question about whether NATO is relevant, and it's not really a question about whether NATO serves U.S. interests. It clearly does. It's just that the United States needs to decide what our interests are. So we have not yet, I think, really come to grips with how to handle Afghanistan going forward.
Other areas that NATO has looked at -- I want to come back to the point about enlargement, just to close on that. The United States is best off in the world when that world is one where American values are in the ascendant; that is, democracy, free markets, rule of law, human rights, human dignity. And that has been an increasing trend over time. So when you look at the number of democracies in the world 70 years ago versus the number today, it has been an amazing secular trend forward in support of human rights and democracy. In the last few years, it has gone backwards, but the long-term trend is very positive.
When you look specifically at Europe, we now have situations, because of NATO enlargement in the 90s and 2000s, about well over 100 million people now live in free, prosperous, and secure societies as compared to before. So that is a significant step forward for a human value, a human cause of seeing people who are now in better protected societies. One, I think, could ask the question why should people in the Netherlands or in Italy, by virtue of geography and time, be more secure than people in the Czech Republic or in Estonia? And we've answered that question by enlarging NATO and creating a sense of equal security for all allies.
The question still presents itself for people of the Ukraine, for people of Georgia, for people of Moldova -- should they be in a subordinate position? Isn't their freedom, their prosperity, their security equal to that of other countries that are already members of NATO? So while we're not in a position to enlarge NATO today for a variety of reasons, it's still something that I think should be on the horizon, that we should be seeking to build a world in which everyone in the whole Euro-Atlantic area, including even Russia eventually, live in a free, democratic, prosperous, and secure society.
Daniel West: Thank you very much for those comments, Ambassador. That's fascinating. Reuel, we'd like to turn it over to you to give us your perspective.
Reuel Marc Gerecht: Thank you. I must say, when Kurt said he's been -- you said that Kurt has been doing this for 30 years. I think I'm older than Kurt. It made me feel very old. I just have to say this. I mean, I think Kurt gave an excellent tour de raison. I would just want to focus a bit on the historical features of NATO. And it's good to remember that when NATO was founded, it was done not just to keep the Soviet Union in check. It was also done to force the Americans to stay a European power, that the Americans after 1945 had finally learned their lesson that you simply can't walk away from Europe, that it is dynamic and creative, and it can be extremely violent. It is the center of Western civilization, and we have to be there. And it's not just a question of keeping the Russians out and the Germans down. It was to keep us there, to tie us intimately to the Europeans.
I think that it arguably is still true, and I would say that, historically, there was always an understanding that this wasn't going to be proportional, and it wasn't going to be fair, and that the Europeans were not going to, quote, say, "pull their weight." I think we understood that to some extent, we didn't even want the Europeans to pull their weight. We didn't want the Europeans to be a separate pole power capable of exercising considerable independent military authority because that is what got us into the trouble twice in the 20th Century and nearly wrecked Western Civilization. So I think what we first have to answer ourselves is does the United States still understand that? Do they still believe that? Do they still understand how essential it is for us to be a European power? If the answer to that is yes, then you don't establish a quid pro quo. You don't say if the Europeans don't do more, then we will do less, and we may even leave Europe because that would be highly counterproductive to the United States.
And as Kurt mentioned, having the Europeans with us, even if they're not with us in the most robust way, still gives a lot more authority to the United States. It reinforces the United States. I think it's fair to say with Americans, we always want to have some type of someone behind us. We want someone to tell us that we're going down the right path. And even though the Americans and the Europeans have had many disagreements on a whole host of issues, we have, nevertheless, I think, had a pretty tight bond.
And I must stay, in Afghanistan, where the Europeans had taken a lot of criticism that they didn't do enough, I would come back at it and look at the other way. I mean, given how welfare states have eaten most of the European military, they did remarkably well in Afghanistan. They didn't have to go out there. They didn't have to put their soldiers into harm's way. They did that because they felt like they needed to do that. And I have to say -- I'll just give a little anecdote -- I mean, my definition of a good ally is what the French commanding officer in Afghanistan used to always say to the British deputy ISAF commander and the American commander once every two weeks. And that is the French general would come to them, and he would ask them one simple question. He would say, "Whom do you want us to kill?" Now, that, by any question, is an excellent ally. And there are very few people out there, very few nations out there, that would do that.
Now, yes, you can criticize the French and say, "I wish they'd had more soldiers there. I wish they'd taken on a greater burden. I wish the Brits had been better prepared in Afghanistan and in Iraq and hadn't gone belly-up before the surge." All that is true. But I think you also have to say at the same time, given the resources that they had, they really did try.
Now, it is a difficult problem, it is certainly a conundrum, of how you get the Europeans to do more, but not do too much more. I think it is fair to say we -- I don't think we really want the Germans to spend 3 percent of their GNP on defense. I don't know where they should -- what that number should be. I think it should be more than they've got now since many of their tanks don't work and their destroyers and frigates aren't working properly, so obviously, they need to spend more money. But I don't think you really want them to spend 3 percent. I don't think you want the repercussions in Europe of the Germans seriously rearming. I certainly would be more comfortable if the French and the Brits spent more, and they could get their welfare states under control -- I mean, obviously, we're not doing a very good job of that -- and spend more on defense. But I think it's a serious mistake on our part to believe that somehow history can't repeat itself, and that the Europeans internally have been pacified.
So I think whatever we do in this problem we have of trying to figure out how the Europeans increase their burden sharing, that we realize that there are larger issues at stake here, and that NATO really is a -- it is an arsenal of democracy. It reinforces those countries in the West that feel nervous. I mean, I don't think -- I mean, Kurt goes to Eastern Europe all the time. Certainly, when I have been in Eastern Europe, I've never found anyone to disparage NATO, ever. And I think that's because they realize they are in danger. And they realize that as long as the Americans are there, that things are secure. And that's not only secure vis-à-vis the Russians; it's secure vis-à-vis each other.
And I think that we've just got to accept, to a certain extent, the disparity. Now, again, we would want them to do more. But at the same time, I think we have to realize that we need to think this though, and we need to be very, very careful about accepting rhetoric that strongly suggests that the United States is really doing the Europeans a favor and we're getting shafted in this deal because we carry so much weight.
And I would also add just one last thing. I don't think that by -- the Americans -- by the Europeans spending more that that allows the United States to spend less. And I don't think it actually allows the United States to pivot to Asia, where I think we absolutely should spend more money. I would argue that the single greatest strategic threat to the United States is the significant enhancement of Chinese military power. And the Americans need to take that seriously, and they need to spend a lot more money on our alliances, on American naval and air power, to counter the Chinese growth, which I don't see diminishing.
And again, I think the primary problem we have to deal with here is that we have to figure out how the United States gets its own fiscal house in order. But no matter how you add that up, it's not defense spending which is driving the deficit. It's not defense spending that has given us $21 trillion in debt. It's domestic spending. And I think we need to be very, very careful about equating American military expenditures as being a contributing factor to our fundamental fiscal problems. It's not true with the United States, and it's certainly not true with the Europeans. So that is, I would argue, a separate debate. It's an important debate to have, but we're not going to reduce our debt, reduce our deficit, by continuing to cut U.S. military expenditures. And on that note, I'll stop.
Daniel West: Interesting. Well, thank you very much for those comments. I'd like to -- following up on this issue you're discussing about engagement, and willingness to participate, and funding levels, which the President stressed in his campaign, Ambassador Volker mentioned that the mission has been pretty constant, though broadly defined, which is to deter aggression against NATO members. But he also said that that's been manifesting itself in different contexts, and maybe that's what some people call mission creep. Do either of you, and I'd like to hear from both of you, do you think that the missions that NATO chooses to support, or the context in which it chooses to support that single mission, do you think that has an impact on the willingness of its various members to engage, and to provide resources, and to step up or step down?
Ambassador Kurt Volker: Hi, this is Kurt. I'm happy to start on that. Yes and no. This has changed a little bit over time, and, I think, in a concerning way. NATO makes decisions by consensus. That means every country at the table has to say yes in order for NATO to do something. If it's not yes, the NATO doesn't do it. And what we had always done for 50 years of NATO was insist that allies contribute so that there shouldn't be any freeloader. So when the alliance says yes, and that means everybody says yes, everybody also contributes. And when we first were in Afghanistan, for example, when NATO took the ISAF operation, we insisted even countries like Iceland that have no real military forces do something to support the mission in Afghanistan. And Iceland provided airport services that are radar and civilian airport personnel to help the international airport in Afghanistan function. So we insisted everybody do that.
That changed during the Obama administration with the air campaign against Libya. Only about eight allies took part. There was great reluctance among a number of European allies to participate in the operation. And in my view, unfortunately, the Obama administration said, "Well, that's okay, but don't you block the mission. Just say yes, and then a smaller number of countries will actually carry out the operation." I think that's a mistake. I think it cheapens what NATO decisions actually mean. It takes allies off the hook for having to contribute when NATO finally does take a decision. It weakens the appearance of collective resolve and credibility that NATO should be bringing to anything that it does, so that is unfortunate. I hope that in any future operations that NATO undertakes, we get back to the principle of insisting that if NATO decides to do it, every ally must do something to support it.
Reuel Marc Gerecht: I might just add on that. I mean, I think it's fair to say that NATO deployments to Afghanistan, and separate European deployments, obviously not under NATO, but European deployments to Iraq -- if you're in a losing proposition, if the United States believes it is in the process or has lost a war, then obviously, our allies who are participating in those conflicts are going to come away at least as depressed as we are. Now, individually, you could have -- I mean, if you're talking polls about their military contributions in Afghanistan and Iraq, I mean, they're actually fairly -- have been fairly content with them because they actually helped professionalize their armed forces and gave them a chance for actual, real combat.
And I think it's fair to say that overall, if you're engaged in a conflict far away from home, and that conflict doesn't go well, then the repercussions are going to be bad, if not severe. And so I don't know -- I doubt if the United States got involved in another serious engagement that didn't directly threaten Europe, I don't expect the Europeans -- I don't expect them to participate. So to that extent, the troubles that occurred in Afghanistan and Iraq have diminished and reduced the extent to which NATO is going to become an overseas constabulary force. I think that is certainly -- once upon a time in NATO headquarters, people talked about that. Some of them talked about it even optimistically. I don't think that's particularly credible now. So the reality is NATO's uses as utility is really -- it's about Europe now. It's not about helping the Americans out elsewhere, at least not if the Americans are in a bloody situation.
Daniel West: Okay. Well, then, I'd like to shift gears then and talk about a mission that does seem squarely within NATO's fairway, which is operation Trident Juncture. And as many of us know, there are NATO forces, including U.S. Marines and other U.S. troops on the ground right now in Norway, hooking and jabbing in a training exercise. So I'd like if you could tell us just a bit about what's going on there, and what it means for the alliance, and whether you think it has anything to do -- or whether you think there's any importance to the recent cooperation between Russian and Chinses forces and their joint exercise, operation Vostok, which interestingly, traditionally had been an exercise in which Russia trained for war against China. So do you think there's any interplay there, and do you think there's any relevance for NATO, in addition to just giving us background on the current exercises?
Ambassador Kurt Volker: Okay. It's Kurt again, and I'm happy to kick off. So an important thing about NATO generally is that -- I was talking about defense and deterrents -- is the concept of credibility. You've got to be able to be convincing to any potential adversary that you can do what you say you can do. We are able to defend allies if needed. We hope that we never have to, but we have the capability. So having exercises is both a benefit to the forces involved -- it trains the soldiers, it tests out the equipment, it forces the logistics systems to kick into gear, it has a lot of brass tacks military benefits of exercising, but it also has a fundamentally political role, which is to demonstrate NATO's credibility.
This is especially important when Russia earlier this year carried out the largest military exercise since World War II. It was engaging well over 100,000 troops all over the Russian territory, and it was moving many of them around. Some of them stayed in place; others moved around. It was a major military exercise. And this has been a pattern with Russia over the past decade. They have been conducting more military exercises, larger military exercises, more provocative scenarios, such as amphibious landing on the Russian Baltic coast, not far from Estonia to mimic what they would do if they were to attack Estonia. So NATO needs to demonstrate that it has capability to defend allies in the face of those kinds of exercises that Russia has been carrying out.
Now, the China angle is very interesting. There are flirtations, particularly coming from the Russian side, to try to build a relationship with China that is seen as some ways a counterbalance to Russia against NATO and the West. The Chinese, I think -- and this is both a military exercise like this, but also more broadly with things such as energy policy and trade. The Chinese, however, I don't think look at it the same way. They see Russia as a smaller and weaker economy, a declining power, a corrupt and decrepit power in a way, to one that is not taking care of its people, its resources, its infrastructure, and so forth. However, they see Russia as being a vast country with vast natural resources which are of interest to China, but it doesn't really have a lot of sense of equality as a partner with the Russian government in the way that the Russia would like to see that with China.
Indeed, if you are being a realist, from the Russian perspective, your biggest threat is probably China. You have a vast and largely unpopulated territory in Siberia with incredible natural resources, including minerals, and mines, and so forth, and you have China, which has a huge population, demand for natural resources, just on the other side of the Russian border there. And you already have a situation where you've had illegal migration from China into Russia, well over 100,000 people, and many more could go, and engaging in illegal mining, and deforestation, and shipping materials back to China. That's a trend that's only going to continue, and Russia can't do much about it. So the reality is that China presents a significant actual threat to Russia in the long term. I think Russia is trying to mitigate that and build partnerships. China is perhaps a little bit bemused and is not going to be swayed by this one way or the other.
From a Western perspective, I think we need to realize that Russia presents the most important and most immediate strategic threat to the West of anyone right now because of its nuclear weapons, and that in the long run, China presents a much larger, bigger potential challenge because China's going to have growing strength, while Russia will have declining strength over time.
Daniel West: Reuel, you had said earlier you thought that China was the single greatest threat. I don't know if you could speak to that, and speak to that in the context of their participation with Russia?
Reuel Marc Gerecht: Yeah, I mean, I think if your biggest concern, which it always should be, is what power could conceivably start a real war, I mean one that produces catastrophic results, I think China is that -- it has increasingly shown itself to be a pretty robust fascist state. So it is the one that we need to watch, and it obviously has vastly greater capacity than Russia, which as Kurt well pointed out, is a declining state. It still has some obvious military capacity and a lot of nuclear capacity, and because it does, its strengths are in the military. You have to always be concerned about checking them. But that is the way that they will satisfy their national pride is actually through flexing that muscle.
But China is the real worry. I don't really worry all that much about Chinese-Russian cooperation. I think there are certain things that perhaps the Russians can do for the Chinese, but as China becomes more technologically sophisticated, then I think the value of Russian hardware will diminish. Certainly, the enormous mineral warehouse that is Russia is of great interest to the Chinese, and to the extent that Russia can weaken or check the United States, that is obviously of value to the Chinese because I think they can have the common denominator of believing that a better international system is a system where the United States is weakened.
So -- and I would just get back on there with the Scandinavians in NATO. You know, I think there is a growing realization that Putin is obviously very bad news in that they need to prepare and defend themselves. The aggressive submarine actions by the Russians in Sweden and elsewhere, I think, have spooked them a bit. Also, I have to say that Donald Trump has obviously spooked them a bit. The possibility that the Americans might not be there, I think, has actually inclined the Europeans to bind themselves even tighter to NATO. So whether that translates into X billions of more dollars in defense spending, we'll have to see because, again, that objective runs up against the demands of the welfare state and the debt ratios of all the European countries. So that is an impending counter force, but I think the good news that you can see there is the Europeans, at least, certainly in Central Europe and in Eastern Europe, realized that more needs to be done to counter Russia, and that Putin could do something stupid.
Now, I don't think, obviously, the Europeans are going to be any value when it comes to China. It could actually go the other way. We always have the problem of the Europeans selling things to the Chinese. That could turn out to be used against us. So that is a friction point, with Europeans and others, is their -- could be their inattentiveness to actually feeding the Chinese military machine because of their commercial interests.
Daniel West: Well, I'd like to ask one more follow-up on the Scandinavian issue, and then I'd like to open it to the audience for questions. But my last follow-up, and this is for either Ambassador Volker or Reuel, is that two of the most important participants in Trident Juncture are Sweden and Finland, and neither of those are actually NATO members. Support in those countries has been growing. And as you noted, I think folks are seeing what's going on in Russia, but support in those countries, interestingly, is still below 50 percent. So why aren't they members? Should they be? And do you think NATO should be engaging in such an obvious demonstration of support if they aren't making an effort to join the alliance?
Ambassador Kurt Volker: It's Kurt. I'll kick off on that. Each one has their own historical reasons for why they are not part of the alliance. In the case of Sweden, it goes back to the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Sweden, after that, in the early 1800s, decided that it was going to remain non-aligned in peace time with a view towards being neutral in war going forward. And it maintained that position, and it became something of a national ideology, particularly for the Social Democratic party, that Sweden would always be a non-alliance country.
And then during the Cold War, it took on particular ideological overtones. There was a sense of the Soviet Union and United States are gullible superpowers with nuclear weapons that are threatening global annihilation, and Sweden should stay out of that. And so while many countries, most countries in Western Europe wanted to be under the U.S. nuclear umbrella for their own safety, and they had gone through the experience of World War II, Sweden remained neutral during World War II, with the exception of letting German troops cross its territory to invade Norway. And it wanted to remain outside of that throughout the Cold War. So that's the historical ideology that Sweden has come into the modern times with.
Finland was intimidated by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. It had fought with Germany to try to recover -- it had fought on the side of Germany with an effort to try to recover territory, Karelia, that the Soviet Union had taken from Finland. The war, the Winter War, it went on a long time. At the end of World War II, obviously, the Germans were defeated. Finland was forced to sue for peace, and as part of a deal with Russia for Finland to maintain an independent government, not to just be taken over and have a communist government imposed on it, such as Russia did in Poland or elsewhere, in order to have an independent government, Finland promised to be neutral and not to join NATO. That also carried forward into the present day. And both countries became democracies, and prosperous, and very comfortable, and frankly, I would argue, became free riders on the NATO and the U.S. security guarantee for all of Europe. It had a derivative benefit to enhancing those countries' security.
Nowadays, Russia has been acting much more provocatively; lots of air space and sea incursions around Finland and Sweden. Those countries are now members of the European Union, which has a shared interest in security of all E.U. members, and so the rationale, if it ever existed for neutral Sweden and Finland, is really much less rational. Those countries do depend upon security commitments from NATO, or a security presence in NATO. They take part in NATO-lead operations in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, and so forth. The only thing that they don't have is a seat at the table.
So a lot of the establishment in Sweden, the security establishment, believes that they should be members, and they've tried to advocate for that. But you still have a hangover in the population that says, "No, we've been successful. We've had a good time as countries by being neutral. Let's just stick with that." So NATO, Sweden, and Finland are doing pretty much everything together, including a lot of planning together, yet those countries are still not quite ready to pull the trigger and say, "Okay, we will now become NATO members." If they wanted to, I'm sure that NATO would take them in in a heartbeat because they already meet all the criteria and have capable military forces that they are willing to bring to the table.
Daniel West: I'd like to open it up at this time, Wes, if we have any questions from the audience.
Wesley Hodges: We have no immediate questions, so I turn the mic back to you.
Daniel West: Okay, great. Well, I'd like to pivot, then, and shift gears a little bit away from Scandinavia toward NATO membership more broadly. As Ambassador Volker discussed earlier, Western values play a key role to NATO's mission, or at least some have argued that they do, and that the alliance exists not only to preserve a sort of realpolitik balance of power, but also to protect or advance, even, a set of norms and beliefs in human rights and democratic values. So I guess the first question for you two is whether or not you think that's true, and if so, can you characterize those values?
Reuel Marc Gerecht: Obviously, NATO has had within it, at times, a non-democratic country, so the issue is not whether NATO can survive with non-democratic members; it obviously can. I mean, I think it's fair to say that NATO, though it didn't necessarily start out that way, has become part of the democratic panoply, that it is now -- it is intimately tied to the idea of a democratic alliance.
Now we may have stray members on that, and that first and foremost, say, Turkey. And I think there, you just have to judge does Turkish membership in NATO -- does that do more for Turkish society than if -- than the harm that would be done -- that Turkey does to NATO by being a member? I am not convinced that Turkey has done really any harm to NATO, and I still think it is true that Turkish membership in NATO certainly reinforces those in the society that I think we would want to see be more preeminent. And I would also say on just a matter of fact issues, the things that Turkey does for NATO, and specifically for the United States, some of the intelligence gathering operations we have in Turkey that are aimed directly at the Russians, remain of very great value, and that those operations in and of themselves, I would argue, justify Turkey's membership in NATO.
And I would only rescind that if we caught the Turks really doing something very, very bad with allied secrets or allied hardware that would actually put our defense forces into jeopardy. I suppose where that would be most salient would be, say, the co-production of F-35s. If we discovered that the Turks were doing something there with the Russians that compromised those aircraft in fundamental ways, then obviously we should revisit, and quite seriously, whether Turkey should be a member of NATO. But otherwise, I would say no, it's in our interest to keep them in.
And elsewhere in Eastern Europe, in those countries where democracy may be a bit shaky now, I don't see the withdraw of NATO helping the democratic forces in those countries. It seems to be sort of a petty moralism on our part if we were to say, "No, you can't be a member anymore because you are drifting the wrong direction." I would say that, no, they should retain their membership unless that membership becomes corrosive of the democratic forces in those countries.
Daniel West: Interesting. Ambassador Volker, do you have any thoughts on that? What, if anything, the alliance should to do police its own?
Ambassador Kurt Volker: Just very briefly, remember, the heart of NATO is collective defense. It's about security. And Turkey brings an astonishing amount to the table in terms of geography and military forces. It wants to be part of NATO for the defense benefits that Turkey receives, and it brings a lot to the table at the same time. So that, to me, is the fundamental issue. In addition to that, of course, we can have concerns about the direction of Turkish democracy, and we can have concerns about the way Erdogan speaks and treats people. We can have differences over Syria. Those are all things we can talk about. Those are all things we can try to influence, but I don't think any of those trump the first point, that this is about our collective security.
Daniel West: Okay, great. Well, then, with our last minutes here, Ambassador Volker, I'd like to ask you about your current job, so the Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations. Could you tell us about what's going on over there? Could you tell us about how that role has been for you personally, and just shine some light on that area for us?
Ambassador Kurt Volker: Sure. Well, ever since he took power, President Putin has been lamenting the demise of the Soviet Union, and trying to rebuild Russian strength, and trying to reassert Russian influence, authoritarianism at home, domination of its neighbors, and building a greater global role such as we see, for instance, in Syria. It has had a historic civilizational tie to Ukraine, which is just a fact of how they have been close together. But Ukraine, nonetheless, is an independent civilization, independent culture, independent society, and has, since 1991, been functioning as an independent democratic country.
Russia had a lot of influence in Ukraine from 1991 forward, and especially during the years when President Yanukovych was in power, felt that they had a compliant Ukraine, a Ukraine that was willingly part of a Russian sphere of influence. When the Yanukovych government, however, formally renounced Ukraine's desire to become closer to the European Union, to have an association agreement, the public protested because the public was increasingly westernized and wanting to be part of the mainstream of Europe. That resulted in protests. Security forces shot over 100 people. Protests mushroomed after that. Yanukovych fled the country. They then had new elections, and the current government, Poroshenko, came into power.
Putin has found that he does not want a Western-oriented Ukraine. He liked having a Russia-oriented Ukraine. He also didn't want the area of Crimea, where Russia has its Black Sea fleet, to be outside of Russia's reach, so he invaded Crimea. He claims to have annexed the territory of Crimea to Russia, taking it from Ukraine. He then launched a further invasion into eastern Ukraine, is occupying that territory, and that war is continuing. It's been four years and going, and people are still killed every week. So Russia has launched this aggression against Ukraine with a view towards continuing to dominate Ukraine.
The irony is that this has completely backfired. Russia has alienated the Ukrainian people so thoroughly -- they are now more nationalist, more western-oriented, more pro-NATO, more pro-E.U., and more anti-Russian than they have ever been in history as a result of Russia's actions in the last four years, to the point that we are now seeing the Church, the Russian Orthodox Church, lose oversight over the Ukrainian Church. This had been merged together in 1620, and the Ukrainians have petitioned to have independent recognition by the ecumenical patriarch of an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church. And that is now being granted. So this is a historic shift away from Russia that has taken place in Ukraine as a result of Russia's invasions.
My role has been to try to push back on Russia's aggression, support Ukraine to help build strength and resilience in the country, and try to put forward a way of negotiating an end to the conflict and getting Russian forces out. We've tried that. We've done all three pieces like that, but Russia has, so far, not been willing to have a serious conversation about taking its forces out. They still want to try to use their presence in Ukraine as leverage. And that's where we are, and we're going to keep trying.
Daniel West: Excellent. Well, thank you for your efforts over there. And thank both you, Ambassador Volker and Reuel, for your time and your perspectives, and sharing those with us today. We are, unfortunately, out of time, so again, thank you both for being with us, and thanks to everybody in the audience who is listening.
Wesley Hodges: Thank you, everyone. On behalf of The Federalist Society, I'd like to thank our experts for the benefit of your valuable time and expertise. We welcome all listener feedback by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you all for joining. The call is now adjourned.
Operator: Thank you for listening. We hope you enjoyed this practice group podcast. For materials related to this podcast and other Federalist Society multimedia, please visit The Federalist Society's website at fedsoc.org/multimedia.