Archive for the ‘Europe and Eurasia’ Category

News from Norway: Russia and the Floating Nuclear Power Plant

March 2, 2018

Thomas A. Loftus (Norway, 1993-1998)

Cross posted from


When they learned of the Russian plan, 5 million Norwegians fell off their skis.

This June, two nuclear reactors on a barge — a floating nuclear power plant christened the “Akademik Lomonosov” — will be towed from the naval shipyard in St. Petersburg through the Baltic Sea and then north along the 1,600-mile coast of Norway. The barge will stop just over the Norwegian border with Russia in Murmansk, where its nuclear fuel will be loaded.

The original plan had the reactors being loaded with fuel in St. Petersburg. This was the shocker that had the descendants of the Vikings sputtering “Uff da” (untranslatable).

Norwegians translated “Lomonosov” as Russian for “a radioactive accident waiting to happen sailing through the offshore oil rigs and the cod fishery, not to mention the armada of cruise ships plying the same course.”

After strong protests from the Norwegian government, the Russians said they would wait to make the reactors hot until they reach Murmansk.

From Murmansk, the now-armed nuclear power plant is to be towed 6,500 miles east on the Northern Sea Route, a new ocean route connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific that has opened up because of global warming.

The destination of the Lomonosov is Pevek, the northernmost town in Russia, quite close to the Bering Strait and Alaska, where the reactor will power a large copper-mining project.

Murmansk, a port city of 300,000, is the largest city north of the Arctic Circle. It is at the terminus of the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, giving it the strategic status of being Russia’s only ice-free port with direct access to the Atlantic Ocean. It is home to the Russian Navy’s nuclear submarines — the ones tipped with atomic bombs meant for targets in the United States — and the home of the Russian nuclear icebreaker fleet. The reactors on the Lomonosov will be the same type as those powering the icebreakers.

My first trip to Murmansk was in 1995. My trip was part of a successful diplomatic effort to negotiate an agreement where Russia would no longer dump submarine reactor coolant in the Arctic Ocean.

My hotel was a nuclear icebreaker. The captain of the ship, my host for the night, had a red hammer and sickle tattoo on the webbing of skin between this thumb and forefinger on his right hand.

I boarded just after touring the facility that stored low-level liquid nuclear waste, the spent cooling fluid for the reactors on Russian submarines. Hearing this, the captain handed me a glass of vodka and said, “Nostrovia.” Translation: “To your health.” More toasts followed and we got healthier.

The end of the Cold War had not been good for the captain. The icebreaker was taking tourists to the North Pole at $25 grand a pop. There was not much else for the ship to do because when the Soviet Union broke up, the economy collapsed and the usual task of icebreakers, to keep Arctic rivers open so coal, iron and timber could reach Murmansk for export, was no more.

No longer. In the eye blink of time between my visit to Murmansk to today, 23 years, global warming has created the first new sea route in recorded history. The rapid warming of the Arctic means the Northern Sea Route will see more commercial shipping, almost all needing icebreaker escort. The route, northern Europe to Shanghai, beats the Suez Canal route by 18 days.

The Murmansk-Norwegian border region has more nuclear weapons, nuclear reactors and nuclear waste sitting around than any other place on earth. And, no military secret: This is where the U.S. Navy’s nuclear subs also hang out.

Some accident is bound to happen. The Russian submarines have had several over the years, mostly fires onboard.

Northern Norway is where the radioactive cloud from Chernobyl drifted in 1986. There was no alert and no information from the Soviet Union. The Norwegians did not know what was happening.

They expect another incident of release of radioactivity from the uptick in nuclear activity. The government is planning to distribute 3 million iodine pills to areas of high risk. Iodine pills, when taken within hours of exposure, offer some protection against cancer for children.

The Lomonosov will be tested in the summer of 2018 in Murmansk. A transport ship hauling spent nuclear fuel will also be in and out of the harbor. The docks for the icebreakers and their maintenance yard, unique in all the world, are beyond capacity already.

If the Northern Sea Route is to be commercially viable and Murmansk is to be the center of Arctic shipping, the Russians have to guarantee safety.

The Norwegians will be demanding it. The United States has to play a constructive role. No bellicose threats. No provocative maneuvers by our submarines. Offers of help even though they will be turned down. And, an acknowledgement that the Northern Sea Route is very important to Russia.

If the U.S. is smart we will let the diplomats lead. This should be the place a new constructive relationship with Russia begins. Call it the Nostrovia Initiative.


An FBI Contribution in Eastern Europe

February 21, 2018

Donald M. Blinken (Hungary, 1994-1998)

Cross posted from the New York Times


To the Editor:

On the wall in my office is a 1996 photograph taken in Budapest. Among the 10 portrayed facing the camera are a former president of Hungary, Arpad Goncz; Louis Freeh, then the F.B.I. director; Janet Reno, then the attorney general; and me. We were celebrating the first anniversary of the 1995 founding of the International Law Enforcement Academy.

The brainchild of Mr. Freeh, the Budapest-based academy supports training for law enforcement personnel from 26 countries in Central and Eastern Europe and in Central Asia. In 2005, Robert S. Mueller III, then the F.B.I. director, attended the academy’s 10th anniversary celebrations.

Mr. Freeh, the Hungarian government and I had two goals in mind: training law enforcement personnel in the former Soviet bloc in appropriate policing and investigative methods, as enjoyed by the United States and Western Europe, and encouraging these disparate police officials to begin to talk to one another, a practice unknown in the Communist days.

The results in uprooting crime and heading off terrorism have been outstanding. I am persuaded that neither President Trump nor Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who released the memo critical of the F.B.I., has ever heard of the academy, but the American public deserves to know how its interests are being effectively served by the F.B.I. throughout Central and Eastern Europe.

Gauging the Impact of Economic Sanctions

December 8, 2017

J. William Middendorf II (Netherlands, 1969-1973; Organization of American States, 1981-1985; European Union, 1985-1987)


Dan Negrea

Cross posted from The Washington Times


Carl von Clausewitz thought of military war as a continuation of diplomacy through other means. Economic sanctions are economic war and should be similarly regarded as tactics subordinated to a diplomatic strategy.

Economic sanctions take many forms. The 1961 quarantine of Cuba targeted the whole country, but the 2014 Russia sanctions singled out a few economic sectors, enterprises and individuals. The Iran sanctions of a decade ago used asset freezes, an oil embargo and financial isolation, while the current sanctions against North Korea emphasize trade restrictions. And they can be imposed by single countries or multilaterally.

Sanctions can be designed to discourage behavior, punish actions, cause regime change or weaken a country’s economy. Or simply to advertise displeasure with certain behavior.

In 2014 the United States, Europe and their allies imposed economic sanctions on Russia in response to its occupation of Crimea and aggression against Eastern Ukraine. There was grave concern at the time that Russia planned to occupy even more Ukrainian territory and attack Baltic NATO members Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The sanctions included travel restrictions against Russian officials, transaction bans affecting certain energy firms and banks, and export controls on energy equipment. Russia was also denied access to Western capital markets. The sanctions weakened the Russian economy and depressed the ruble.

Simultaneously, NATO increased its military presence in member countries bordering Russia to discourage Russian military adventurism.

The West was signaling that changing borders by force is unacceptable. Russia was going to pay an economic price for its aggression against non-NATO member Ukraine and a military price if it attacked a NATO member. Russia did not withdraw from Crimea or stop interfering in Eastern Ukraine because of the sanctions. But the combination of sanctions and a firm NATO stance discouraged Russia from further aggression in Ukraine and a move against the Baltics.

Starting in 2006, the U.N. Security Council imposed several rounds of sanctions on Iran for violating nuclear non-proliferation agreements. Iran’s military was enriching uranium for nuclear weapons and building missiles to deliver them, while Iranian officials were making hostile statements against America and its allies. The almost-universal economic sanctions against Iran were the toughest any country had ever faced and virtually every segment of its economy was affected. The energy sector was particularly hard hit by an embargo on oil exports and restrictions on insurance for oil tankers serving the Iran trade. Iran was even cut off from SWIFT, the world’s bank transaction network, and forced to use gold as currency. The Iranian economy was on its knees: Between 2011 and 2014, Iran’s oil exports fell by half and the rial plummeted.

But the Obama administration gave it all away in exchange for the very bad Iran nuclear deal. The agreement limited Iran’s uranium enrichment only until 2025 and it did not restrict research on nuclear weapons or on testing missiles to deliver them. The Iranians were able to push President Obama into this pact because they figured out that he was desperate for a deal, any deal, to avoid military conflict. They even forced him to ignore the Syria genocide and his famous red line to get this deal. One of the authors of this article served in the Reagan administration and saw a different kind of president. Ronald Reagan walked away from the 1986 Reykjavik negotiations when he could not cut a good deal with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The economic sanctions against Iran worked, but their effect was squandered by a flawed strategy.

President Trump’s North Korea goal is crystal-clear: Rogue North Korea will not be allowed to have nuclear weapons with which to blackmail the United States and its allies. The U.S. has enlisted almost the entire world community to impose the harshest economic sanctions on North Korea. But this will not be enough. “The North Koreans will eat grass before giving up their nukes,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin. And he is right.

But America is going beyond sanctions. Through skilled diplomacy it is further isolating North Korea from the world, even from China, its vital ally. And, critically important, the U.S. has left the military option on the table. No one can predict the outcome of this conflict, but the U.S. is getting the odds in its favor.

Reluctantly, America and its allies must sometimes use coercion to safeguard world peace. Sanctions can crush an economy, but by themselves they will not force a dictator to change course — dictators don’t care if their people become grass eaters. To be effective, sanctions must be melded with the threat of hard power and skilled diplomacy into a comprehensive strategy.

One more thing: In their opposition to dictators, America and its allies must remain confident in the superiority of our Western democratic principles. The West and the dictators are separated by a line of principle, to borrow a recently coined term, and we are on the right side of the line.

America Needs More Ambassadors and We Need Them Now

September 29, 2017

Nancy Brinker (Ambassador to Hungary, 2001-2003; Chief of Protocol, 2007-2009)

Cross posted from


America stands in the midst of great challenges at home and threats from abroad. If we fail in our duty to sustain and foster stronger ties between nations, then we run the risk of fracturing centuries-old alliances that have served to keep our people safe and prosperous.

The president of the United States – in addition to his duties as commander-in-chief, healer-in-chief and chief executive – is also our chief diplomat. In this capacity, he is granted the constitutional responsibility of appointing ambassadors to serve as our top representatives on the ground in nearly 200 nations across the globe.

Our ambassadors represent our eyes and ears inside each of these nations, overseeing a team of career diplomats and representatives of vital U.S. organizations. The diplomatic corps represents the best exchange program America has to offer, and it is up to our ambassadors to lobby for our interests with presidents, chancellors, kings and prime ministers in each of these countries.

Yet, according to the American Foreign Service Association, only 47 ambassadors out of 188 positions we should have filled have been nominated. On average, it has taken three months for Trump administration ambassador nominees to be confirmed from the time they are nominated.

With aggression from North Korea and Russia on the rise, and stability in the Middle East in short supply, our current lack of ambassadors hinders friendships, imperils economic development and undermines our national security.

It is in America’s best interest that the Trump administration move swiftly to name ambassadors to these vacant posts. It is also incumbent upon Republicans and Democrats in the Senate to heed the president’s calls for bipartisanship and come together and swiftly confirm them.

Ambassadors come from all walks of life and diverse backgrounds. They are strong leaders, pragmatic negotiators and skilled managers with tremendous experience. They are recruited from both the public and private sectors and carry with them a vast portfolio of knowledge and important relationships that have been accumulated over decades.

From governors, to real estate magnates, to professional football team owners and educators, every ambassador is different from the next, and each brings his or her own personal touch to the countries they are stationed in. Foreign service officers are conducting yeoman’s work, and they rightly deserve to be praised for it. However, it is our ambassadors who bear the blessing of the president.

To his credit, President Trump has already nominated some exemplary statesmen to serve on behalf of our nation’s interests abroad. Jon Huntsman, Terry Branstad and Richard Grenell are highly capable and more than prepared to serve with distinction in Russia, China and Germany.

Taken together, their experience in government and business will help grow and maintain goodwill for America, foster relationships with international corporations, and illustrate to friend and foe alike that the United States is prepared to bring the full force of our diplomacy efforts to international crises.

Having served as ambassador to the Republic of Hungary from 2001-2003, I know that ambassadors are the best conduit to serve on the front lines of protecting and promoting American interests in an increasingly interconnected world.

I began my work in Budapest 15 days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. With a staff of over 400 people, we helped further economic and security interests, and even developed stronger cultural ties between our nations through art and humanitarian causes, including a march over the Chain Bridge in Budapest to raise awareness for breast cancer.

If America wants to have more friends, then we must be a friend first. With aggression from North Korea and Russia on the rise, and stability in the Middle East in short supply, our current lack of ambassadors hinders friendships, imperils economic development and undermines our national security.

President Trump offered a forceful speech and candid assessment of world affairs at the U.N. General Assembly. Congress must work with him to nominate and confirm more ambassadors as quickly as possible.

Nancy Brinker is founder of Susan G. Komen and Race for the Cure.

Save the INF Treaty–but not by repeating history

September 14, 2017

Thomas Graham, Jr. (Special Representative of the President for Arms Control, Nonproliferation and Disarmament, 1994-1997)

Bernadette Stadler (Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation)

Cross posted from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists


In 1983, the United States began deploying ground-based intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe. The deployment caused the Soviets to walk out of ongoing arms control negotiations. But it also led to the negotiation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and the elimination of an entire class of missiles from the arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union.

Thirty-odd years later, as the United States contends with a Russian violation of the INF treaty, some experts and policy makers have urged Washington to develop its own treaty-violating missile and to help allies—who are not bound by the treaty—acquire the new missile. Indeed, Congress is currently considering legislation calling for the United States to develop a program of record for a missile that, if tested, would violate the treaty. But even if the United States retraced all the steps it took during the initial INF Treaty negotiations—including the deployment of intermediate-range missiles in Europe—it could not recreate the underlying conditions that allowed the negotiations to succeed in the first place. Only a clear understanding of today’s underlying conditions can shape an effective response to Moscow’s treaty violation.

How it happened. In the late 1970s, the Soviet Union deployed in Europe an accurate, road-mobile, intermediate-range ballistic missile equipped with multiple independently targetable warheads. The missile, known as the SS-20, sparked concern within NATO. The SS-20 system appeared to be a nuclear war–fighting weapon, as opposed to a weapon of deterrence, and was regarded as a huge threat to the alliance.

In 1979, NATO responded with a “double-track” strategy, which entailed engaging the Soviet Union in negotiations on theater nuclear forces while simultaneously preparing to deploy US intermediate-range missiles in Europe if negotiations failed. Though the US missiles that were eventually deployed are often perceived solely as a response to the deployment of the SS-20, they were also intended to reassure NATO allies concerned that arms control treaties, including a new Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II), would weaken US extended deterrence.

The US-Soviet negotiations that ultimately resulted in the INF Treaty began in 1980, but neither side seemed to take the talks particularly seriously. Rather, NATO’s European members were the driving force behind the negotiations. Though they never had a seat at the bargaining table, European NATO members knew they faced an uphill battle in persuading their citizens to accept US missiles if diplomacy failed—and therefore they wished to see it succeed. The United States had less skin in the game and might have let the negotiations languish without NATO pressure. On the Soviet side, General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev was not willing to accept limitations on his nation’s very large force of intermediate-range missiles. And the Soviets were optimistic that public opposition to US missiles in Europe might prevent their deployment.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan inherited the INF negotiations and announced an ambitious new vision for the talks: the “zero option,” under which the United States would deploy no intermediate-range missiles in Europe if the Soviet Union eliminated its own intermediate-range missiles. Brezhnev rejected this proposal as one-sided because it would require the Soviet Union to dismantle existing weapons while the United States would only have to forgo deploying new ones. In 1983, with no progress achieved on the diplomatic track, the United States began deploying Tomahawk cruise missiles and Pershing II ballistic missiles in Europe. In response, the Soviets walked out of the negotiations—which only resumed in early 1985.

Shortly after the negotiations restarted, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power. In contrast to his predecessors, who attempted to achieve foreign policy objectives by increasing Soviet military might, Gorbachev believed that security could be based on political measures, including arms control. Under Gorbachev, the Soviet military’s influence over foreign policy weakened, and the Politburo even re-evaluated the SS-20 and concluded that it was militarily irrelevant. Under Gorbachev, the INF negotiations gained pace.

In 1986, Reagan and Gorbachev met in Reykjavik to discuss arms control. The leaders made remarkable progress—almost finalizing an agreement that would have, in principle, eliminated all nuclear weapons. Though they were unable to achieve this lofty goal, they built momentum for the INF talks, which concluded with the signing of the treaty in December 1987.

What’s different now. The INF Treaty was the product of a specific moment in history, and its successful negotiation depended on a number of conditions that do not pertain today. First, NATO countries played an important role in influencing US actions during the negotiations. Members of the alliance, West Germany in particular, pushed the United States to deploy missiles in Europe to solidify US extended deterrence and counter the Soviet threat. European leaders pushed for deployment even though they faced enormous pressure from politicians at home who opposed the introduction of missiles into Europe, as well as from the public, which was deeply antinuclear.

Today, NATO countries seem ambivalent about Russia’s INF violation. The United States, in order to protect sources and methods, has thus far been unable to share with its NATO allies in-depth information about the violation. Some allies have been reluctant to confront Russia until they see more evidence.

Even if they possessed all the information, members of the alliance would be reluctant to accept new nuclear weapons systems on their territory. Five NATO states—Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Norway, and Luxembourg—have previously called for the United States to remove from Europe its approximately 150 to 200 tactical nuclear weapons. Some observers have speculated that NATO’s newest members might accept US missiles on their territory, but since NATO decisions are made by consensus, the whole alliance would have to support the decision to deploy missiles.

Furthermore, negotiations toward the INF Treaty succeeded in part because of the personal characteristics of Soviet and US leaders at the time. Unlike his predecessors, Gorbachev favored an improved relationship with the West and believed that arms control negotiations could contribute to Soviet security. Gorbachev and Reagan also seemed to hold nuclear weapons in a different regard than did other Cold Warriors. Reagan famously pronounced that “[A] nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” Gorbachev called for the “complete elimination of nuclear weapons.” Although some dismiss these stances as political posturing, the attempts by Reagan and Gorbachev to rid the world of nuclear weapons at Reykjavik demonstrated their commitment to disarmament.

US and Russian leaders today are substantially different from Reagan and Gorbachev. President Donald Trump has professed to want better relations with Russia, but he has also been the subject of intensive investigation into potential collusion with Russia during his presidential campaign. His independence in dealing with Russia has been further stymied by anti-Russia sentiment in Congress, which recently passed sanctions against Moscow. While President Vladimir Putin appears to have a positive personal relationship with Trump, he thrives on competition with the United States and may count on it for political survival. Furthermore, neither Trump nor Putin has expressed any particular affinity for arms control.

What to do. Conditions have changed since the INF Treaty was negotiated, but saving the treaty and preventing a new SS-20–like threat to Europe are not impossible. The United States, in order to bring Russia back into compliance, will have to adopt strategies that are specifically tailored to the conditions that exist today—conditions that include possible NATO reluctance to host new nuclear-capable weapons systems and Putin’s aggressive approach to foreign affairs.

One possible approach involves capitalizing on Russia’s refusal to admit that it is in violation of the treaty, despite its having been presented with evidence of the infraction—and Moscow’s preference, if the treaty is indeed to fail, that blame land on the United States. Unfortunately, that is precisely where blame would land if Washington were to develop an intermediate-range missile system that, if tested and deployed, would violate the treaty. If, on the other hand, the United States shared with its allies indisputable evidence of Russia’s violation, pressure on Moscow to come back into compliance would mount. In addition to publicizing Russia’s violation, the United States should also offer Russia a way to save face and return to compliance without having to admit a violation.

If the time ever comes for the United States to remind Russia just how much it hated the deployment of US missiles in Europe, it could do so without violating the INF Treaty. Steven Pifer, a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, has suggested that the United States could deploy additional conventional air- and sea-launched cruise missiles to Europe. These systems exhibit several advantages: They would not violate the INF Treaty, which only covers ground-based systems; they are already in the US arsenal; and they would be easy to remove if Russia returned to compliance.

The original negotiations toward the INF Treaty offer valuable lessons about handling Russia’s violation of the agreement—but simply matching Russia’s violation with a new violation is not a viable solution. Negotiations succeed and fail for a number of complex reasons, including who is in power, who is at the table, and how the international community views (and whether it supports) the negotiations. To save the INF Treaty, the United States must develop strategies that both acknowledge—and take advantage of—circumstances that exist today.

The U.S. Should Take a Lesson from Hungary

September 7, 2017

April H. Foley (U.S. Ambassador to Hungary, 2006-2009)

This Letter to the Editor originally appeared in

The Wall Street Journal


The US should take a lesson from Hungary when it comes to unwanted statues. After the fall of communism, Hungarians were angrily destroying Soviet statues. The government wisely decided to move them all to a museum/park called Memento Park. Students of history can now visit these haunting symbols of fallen communism and a most despised era and value system.

U.S./Mexico: Improving Tone, But Nothing’s Final

April 20, 2017

Antonio O. Garza (U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, 2002-2009)

Cross posted from Ambassador Garza’s website

These past few weeks have presented the Trump administration with its first real foreign policy tests. Syria’s use of chemical weapons, the United States’ retaliatory airstrikes, the nuclear standoff with North Korea, and China and Russia’s constant maneuvering in this ever-moving foreign policy chess board. Yet in these globally-focused days and weeks, Mexico—once seemingly the administration’s top focus—has skirted below the radar.

Today’s U.S.-Mexico relationship is marked by a relatively thoughtful tone, which I for one interpret as good news. As the economic tensions have eased slightly, the continental conversation has begun to center more on fair trade, each countries’ interests, and job creation, a healthier tone for beginning NAFTA negotiations than the protectionist talk that dominated economic discussions just a few months ago.

On bilateral security cooperation, the discussion has also become more focused. Throughout the change in U.S. administrations, law enforcement on both sides of the border have continued to work together with little interruption. And at the highest level, DHS Secretary John Kelly has continuously heralded the United States’ cooperation with Mexico as both positive and critically important.

Yet while bilateral relations may be on more stable ground, Mexico continues to face its own range of domestic drama. In the ongoing saga of fugitive governors, there has been some recent success. Interpol and Guatemalan officials captured Veracruz Governor Javier Duarte in Guatemala and Italian officials nabbed former Governor of Tamaulipas Tomas Yarrington, with both now facing charges of corruption and collusion with organized crime. Yet, there are still governors on the run, with former Chihuahua Governor Cesar Duarte missing and possibly hiding out in El Paso.

The stories of corruption and ongoing violence will continue to play out as we move ever closer to Mexico’s presidential elections in July 2018. To get a sense of what Mexico’s population is feeling in the election’s lead-up, be sure to watch the State of Mexico’s election this coming June. President Peña Nieto’s PRI party has governed the state for almost a century, but the three opposition candidates are making it a close run. Also tellingly, insecurity has been a big theme of the campaigns with both the PRI and the PAN releasing TV spots that focus on the state’s security conditions.

However, one cautionary note before we fall back into a more predictable and comfortable bilateral relationship or get swept away in Mexico’s electoral intrigue. While the U.S.-Mexico bilateral relationship is on better footing, now is not the time for complacency. Ensuring cooperative economic and security relations requires consistent and tireless effort to protect what works and continually improve those areas where things could be better. This may always be true, but amid shifting policies, it’s critical.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong When Dealing with the Russians?

February 22, 2017

Thomas A. Loftus (Norway, 1993-1998)

Cross-posted from The Cap Times of Madison, Wisconsin


A look at history should give President Donald Trump pause if he and his administration think they understand the workings of Russian minds. The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan provides a lesson in how the Soviet Union and the U.S. miscommunicated and misunderstood each other — with long-lasting, dire results.

On Sept. 21, 1995, as Norwegian ambassador I hosted a private lunch for Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin and Admiral Stansfield Turner. Vodka was served.

Dobrynin had been the Soviet Union’s ambassador to the United States from 1962 to 1986, from JFK through Ronald Reagan. His book “In Confidence: Moscow’s Ambassador to Six Cold War Presidents” is a must-read. Stansfield Turner was the head of the CIA for Jimmy Carter.

It was a sunny day in Oslo and the three of us chatted like old friends, as we had come to know each other over three days at a closed-door conference hosted by the Nobel Prize Institute recounting the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

The conference can best be described as “What didn’t we know, and when didn’t we know it?”

All of the actors making decisions during the 1979 invasion were at the conference, including the head of the KGB and the head of the White House National Security Council. It was to be an oral history of those in the Soviet Union involved in the fateful decision to invade Afghanistan and those in the Carter administration who decided how to respond.

The 1979 invasion was the end of “detente” — the thaw in the Cold War that began in 1969 as the new policy of President Nixon and that produced the SALT 1 treaty reducing nuclear weapons.

A direct telephone link between Washington and Moscow — “the red telephone” — was installed at that time so the leaders of the two world powers could talk and avoid a crisis that could escalate into war.

That phone must have been off the hook in December 1979 because it became clear from the conference — my memory helped by reading the now-available transcript — that neither side knew what the other was doing or thinking despite being sure they did.

The Soviets thought that the U.S. would understand that this action was directed at keeping a Muslim country on their southern border from falling apart. The inept government the Soviets had been propping up was about to be overthrown.

The Carter White House thought the invasion was part of a grand plan to expand the Soviet Empire and that the Soviets were creating an “Arc of Crisis.”

The Soviets’ reading of Washington was that this local matter in their “near abroad” would be criticized but would not harm the U.S. relationship under detente.

Dobrynin: “I am trying to tell you how we really thought. There was no discussion in the Kremlin of any Grand Design. There was no discussion in the press — well, the press did not matter — nor in the Politburo, or the Foreign Ministry. I spoke privately with Brezhnev at the time and there was never a single word about it. … In one of the meetings Brezhnev even asked me, “Anatoly, where is the ‘Arc of Crisis?'”

As a result of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, there was a Western embargo and sanctions on the Soviet Union, and President Carter pulled the United States out of the Moscow summer Olympics in 1980.

The war lasted nine years, over a million civilians were killed and millions more fled as refugees to Pakistan and Iran. The CIA started a not-so-covert action to harass the Soviets: “Charlie Wilson’s War.” The fighters against the Soviets became radicalized and when President Mikhail Gorbachev ordered the Soviet 40th Army to return home, what was left in Afghanistan was a mess that turned eventually into the Taliban and al-Qaida.

If President Trump deals with the Russians thinking he knows how they think, there will be disappointment — not deals. And, if President Putin, a man too clever by half, thinks the new administration gives him license in his “near abroad,” tragedy will result.

‘Mr. Apprentice’ Can Look To Switzerland For A Model To Help Close U.S. Youth Skills Gap

January 27, 2017

Faith Whittlesey (Switzerland, 1981-1983 and 1985-1988)

Patrick Gleason (Director of State Affairs at Americans for Tax Reform)

Cross-posted from the January 26, 2017 issue of Forbes

Chief among the problems facing Donald Trump as he takes presidential office is the youth skills gap between what the U.S. education system currently produces and what employers actually need to compete nationally and globally in the 21st century.

Around 2008, German carmaker Porsche invested about $2.12 million in its Leipzig apprenticeship training center.

It’s no secret it has become all too easy to get a college degree today without having learned much of marketable value, which helps explain unacceptably high levels of both youth unemployment (above 10%) and youth underemployment (estimated at 40% for recent college graduates).

The President might look to Switzerland, with youth unemployment at 3% and its global gold standard apprentice system, as a possible model for the U.S. in closing the skills gap. The good news is that Trump already has. As we recently learned, Switzerland’s apprentice system was very much a subject of discussion of a Dec. 21 phone call between Trump, who praised the Swiss education system, and Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann, who called to offer congratulations to the President-elect.

Nancy Hoffman—who co-leads the Pathways to Prosperity Network program involving Harvard Graduate School of Education and a number of states working to ensure more young people complete high school and attain a postsecondary credential—explains how the Swiss apprentice program works:

“Seventy percent of teenagers [16 and older] in Switzerland spend their week moving between a workplace, a sector organization [such as the machine tools industry], and school. … They do everything an entry-level employee would do, albeit under the wings of credentialed teachers within the company. They are paid a monthly starting wage of around $800, rising to around $1,000 by the time they are in their third year.”


Appropriate U.S. Response to Russia

November 1, 2016

Thomas F. Stephenson (Ambassador to Portugal, 2007-2009)


Post World War II history suggests convincingly that the best way to deal with Russian aggression is by demonstrating the strength and will to respond in a forceful fashion. Obvious examples are the strong manner in which President Kennedy dealt with Premier Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the way President Reagan interacted with Mr. Gorbachev at Reykjavik and in its aftermath as he laid the groundwork for the end of the Cold War and critical arms reduction agreements. Interacting with Mr. Putin, however, may well be even more challenging than dealing with either Khrushchev or Gorbachev as Putin gives all the indications of being the consummate bully. The only thing he understands or respects is strength and force, and little so far in the conduct of this Administration demonstrates the will power to take strong action. In fact time and again, the approach of “leading from behind” and “too little too late” has undermined whatever credibility we had with Mr. Putin at the beginning of 2009. Let’s review how we got to where we are currently in Ukraine and Syria.

To be fair to the current Administration, the preceding Administration had not provided a strong precedent, as it did little to prevent Russia under Medvedev from carving out South Ossetia and Abkhazia from the sovereign country of Georgia. But as Mr. Putin reclaimed the presidency of Russia in 2012, he had already observed 1) the absence of any supportive response from the Obama Administration to the Green Revolution in Iran in 2009, 2) the cancellation, under pressure from Russia, of a promised missile defense system in Poland, 3) very modest support for the French led actions surrounding the overthrow of Gadhafi in Libya in 2011, and 4) the total failure to enforce the red line drawn in Syria regarding the use by Assad of chemical weapons in 2012. Why wouldn’t Mr. Putin doubt our resolve and have no compunction or concern about taking the actions that he has in Ukraine and Syria?

Clear commitment to and demonstration of strength with only very judicious actual use of force are critical to convince the bullies of this world like Mr. Putin that the United States has the resolve and the ability to turn back inappropriate and irresponsible acts of aggression. I’ve had the privilege of listening many times to former Secretary of State George Shultz talk about how he and President Reagan chose to deal with such acts of unwanted aggression during the Reagan Administration. They, of course, took steps to restore our military strength, but they used very limited force only three times following the tragic bombing of our marine barracks in Beirut in 1983. We used a very modest amount of military force in Grenada very shortly after the Beirut bombing to rescue 300 Americans being held hostage there, we executed a surgical strike against Gadhafi in retaliation for an attack on our forces in Berlin in 1986, and in a very crisp response to mining activities by Iran in the Persian Gulf in 1987 we sank an Iranian ship that was deploying illegal mines after removing and immediately freeing all Iranian sailors on board. In all three instances a clear message was delivered. An attack on the United States and its allies will receive a proportionate response quickly and decisively.

Unfortunately, little that we have done so far with regard to Russian aggression in Ukraine or Syria has been either timely or appropriately proportionate. In Syria there was a point in time when one could discern the good guys from the bad guys and provide equipment, training, and support sufficient perhaps to enable the opposition to overthrow Assad. Creation of a “no fly zone” was an option recommended by a number of foreign policy experts, including former Secretary Clinton, but was never acted upon by the Administration. By the time we’d fiddled around for months and allowed the Russians to play the key role in negotiating the removal, supposedly, of all chemical weapons from Syria, we’d lost most of the leverage we might have had or been able to obtain, and Russia was in the driver’s seat in terms of protecting their friend Assad. ISIL/Islamic State has obviously complicated enormously the situation in Syria and clearly in Aleppo, but Russia has a very strong presence in Syria today and will be very hard to dislodge, largely because of “too little, too late” on our part. There is still some possibility, however, that it’s not too late to change the current course of events in Syria. A ‘no fly zone” and some sort of “safe-haven” enforcement could still improve the situation in Syria, but it will take resolve on our part and create risk of escalation that we have been unwilling to assume to date.

The situation in Ukraine is clearly very different. Putin’s aggressive actions to carve up and usurp as much of Ukraine as he can is all part of his longer range aspiration to recreate substantial parts of the Soviet Union or at least reestablish Russian influence, if not total dominance, in these neighboring countries. Our pathetically weak response to these actions in Ukraine have or will only encourage this type of aggression in the Baltic States initially and prospectively in other parts of Eastern Europe. Once again the impact of “too little, too late” is clearly being demonstrated. While our diplomats continue to participate in agonizingly unproductive discussions, Mr. Putin is shoring up his military positions in this greater theatre and will no doubt continue to use the excuse of protecting native Russians as he pursues his goals of territorial reclamation. As the remaining areas of Ukraine not yet under Russian control observe the lack of serious U.S. assistance in their plight, it must appear as though it is only a matter of time before they too are annexed by Russia.

Diplomacy and negotiation have been only very modestly successful at best to date with Russia relating to the terribly troubling developments in both Syria and the Ukraine. What incentive does Mr. Putin have to negotiate with us and our allies, when we demonstrate little evidence that we will back up our periodic threats with force. Recent shoring up and redeployment of NATO forces in the Baltics and Poland is a positive step, but we need to return to the Reagan-Shultz approach of saying what we mean in our interactions with Mr. Putin and being prepared to show that we mean what we say with decisive use of measured and proportionate force.