Ambassador Volker on International Affairs

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Former Ambassador Kurt Volker will discuss the latest in foreign affairs.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on Arizona Horizon -- a look at international affairs with former U.S. ambassador to NATO, Kurt Volker. That's next on Arizona Horizon.

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to Arizona Horizon. I'm Ted Simons. A judge has denied a request by congressional candidate Martha McSally to block the counting of some provisional votes in McSalley's race against incumbent Ron Barber. McSalley's attorneys wanted ballots not signed by poll workers to be set aside, but the judge ruled there was no irreparable harm in continuing to count the ballots. McSalley's lead over Barber is at 341 votes, a vote differential of 200 fewer votes would trigger an automatic recount.

Ted Simons: Kurt Volker, the former U.S. ambassador to NATO joins us here on Arizona Horizon for an update on international affairs. Ambassador Volker is also now an executive director for ASU's McCain institute for international leadership. Good to have you back.

Kurt Volker: Nice to be here.

Ted Simons: Let's start with something that Mikel Gorbachev was saying the world is on the brink of a new cold war. What do you think?

Kurt Volker: I think that there is worry embedded in this. I don't think some of the reasons given, that we've been doing things to disadvantage Russia, I'm not sure that's true, that's part of the Russian initiative. You have seen the takeover of the Ukraine, they invaded Georgia six years ago and did the runs around NATO territory a week ago and, and they moved more armor into Ukraine so we see Russia behaving in ways that they are really, really positioning themselves for a conflict.

Ted Simons: So and, and again, he, basically, blamed the west as you said, for not fulfilling promises made back in 1989. What's he talking about?

Kurt Volker: I know what he's talking about, and I'll tell you, I think he's wrong here, as well, too. In 1989, 1990, when the Berlin wall came down, Germany was unified, and there were talks, two plus four talks about the unification of Germany, the U.S. and Soviet union, and then the, the, the other powers that were part of the Germany, U.K. and France and the two Germanys, and there we said we're not going to put the military infrastructure of NATO into the territory of the former east Germany. Of well, that did not mean anything other than, the territory of former east Germany, we upheld that, and all of Germany has joined NATO, but since, a lot has changed and the other members come from central and eastern Europe closer to Russia. Then we had issues where the Russians said well, you promise never to have permanent stationing in those territories and you look at that and say, what did we say? And it was permanent stationing of new combat forces, significant numbers, in those territories, and we're far below any of the levels of military equipment that we had during the cold war. And the other side of this, you have to look at the Russian side, it's one thing to blame the west but let's look inside Russia. You have seen Putin reestablish an authoritative Government and reinvested in the military, invaded neighboring countries like Ukraine and consolidated control over energy and tried to use that as a tool against his neighbors. What we are seeing is that, is that the, the west, the United States, Europe, have had what we would consider a modern view of development in Europe. People get to decide their own fate, and they get to be, to be democracy and is market economies. Russia's view is that we're a great power, and we have a severe influence, and we get to decide over our neighboring territories.

Ted Simons: So when Gorbachev says the U.S. and the west exploited Russia's weakness, after 1989, what's he getting at there?

Kurt Volker: He's saying that the Soviet union collapsed, and then we went, where there had been a Warsaw pact or where there had been a so it -- a Soviet union and welcomed those countries like the Baltic states, for example, and saying that's not really fair. We were weak and these are our territories and you encroached on us, but it was never fair from 1917. These were independent people that invaded, occupied, and brought into the Soviet Union, the moment that they had the chance to be free, they chose that freedom.

Ted Simons: So, he also mentioned the bombing runs, the former Yugoslavia, and mentions Iraq and Libya and Syria, and mentions the U.S. and the west attempting to, to dominate, a domination of the world, this sounds, as you mentioned earlier, like a Russian narrative.

Kurt Volker: It's a Russian narrative aimed at blaming the United States for the problems that we see. And what did we do in the last five years? We withdrew from Iraq, and we are withdrawing from Afghanistan, and what do we see? Chaos in Iraq and Syria right now, we're worried about what will happen in Afghanistan, most of the rest of the world, leave out Russia, is saying we don't see enough U.S. leadership.

Ted Simons: He made these statements when he was in Germany, and he may still be in Germany and anywhere he lives but he made the statements in Germany, and I am assuming that it was for a European audience? He's saying that because of this exploitation of Russian weakness, Etc., that Europe is now suffering the most, and Europe is in danger of becoming irrelevant.

Kurt Volker: Yeah, and I think that one of the things that you see here, with Gorbachev, you certainly see it with Putin, but I think that it fits the pattern now, too. When Russians go to, to Western Europe or even speak publicly from Moscow, they are not trying to tell the truth. They are trying to influence, and I think what they are trying to get at is to influence Europe it blame the United States for the problems that they see and, and not take a tough line on Russia. They are trying to get European publics to feel that, that if we don't do more to accommodate Russia, things will get worse. That, obviously, serves Russia's interests.

Ted Simons: Is that, is that -- is there some validity to those points?

Kurt Volker: I don't think that there is in the analysis, even though it may be genuinely felt. The Russians may feel aggrieved, that they were a super power, and that status went away, but that was all based on the subjugation of neighboring people that were not respectful of democracy and human rights and freedom. We're never going back to that. Those people in those countries don't want to. I think Russia would do better to worry about its own people and to join that modern developed world.

Ted Simons: Last question on this. You know, ok, maybe not really on the brink of a new cold war. But, where does Europe stand in world affairs right now? Is this an, an old, dying beast, or what's going on over there?

Kurt Volker: There is, there is things to worry about, first off is the demographics of Europe, it's going down, or stay, but not growing. So, you are going to have a fixed population, while the rest of the world is booming. Related to that, the economy is not growing great in Europe, it's kind of flat, as well. And on top of that, they leveraged their future by going into debt, and in order to pay for, for social welfare programs and pensions, so a lot of these countries are saddled with heavy burdens, finding it difficult to devote any kind of resources to, to national power. Defense budgets, Homeland Security budgets, they are trying to cover their domestic services and stay afloat.

Ted Simons: And that means the U.S. is going to have to take on that responsibility, even more so?

Kurt Volker: Well, let's put it this way, the U.S. is still the biggest economy in the world, and the biggest military power in the world, the most influential, political player, and we can be a leader and we can low ball other countries, Europe is the next biggest economy in the world, when you put it all together. And they have tremendous capacity, even though it is weaker and, and less investment than in the past. If you think about, about where are you going to do a military operation and who will come with you and who has the Texas Tech equipment and most of it is out of Europe. If we lead we can get help.

Ted Simons: So, let's get to the Ukraine now, what is the status of the conflict there? They are moving folks and tanks around.

Kurt Volker: We had there cease-fire agreement about a month ago, and that was the basis for the sides to pull back a bit, and during that time of pullback, you had continued low level fighting, and, and some Ukrainian forces were killed and some rebels were being killed, and, and then, you had an election where the rebel areas held their own election, in order to say, we're going to elect a new leadership and we're going to, to exercise rights as an independent state. That flies in the face of the agreement reached with Ukraine where they are supposed to remain part of the Ukraine, and Ukraine said all Beth -- bets are off, and that's what they were waiting to hear, they have been moving in, all the military equipment and armor getting ready for one more offensive before the winter hits.

Ted Simons: And how binding could those separatist elections be?

Kurt Volker: Well, it depends, you know, history is written by the winners so, if they managed to maintain separate territory, and have that recognized by Russia's independence or, incorporated, no one is able to change those fax on the ground. Eventually, that will be the facts.

Ted Simons: Yeah, and the exact of sanctions on Moscow. What's going on?

Kurt Volker: It's had a lot of impacts, and it is, it is -- it caused the capital flight out of Russia, and put a lot of pressure on the rebels, combined with the, the fallen energy prices, particularly of oil, and that's really hurt the Russian economy and the budget. But, hasn't changed Russian decision-making. They think that, that this is a blip, and we can ride this out. And acquiring territories permanent, the economic sanctions will come and go.

Ted Simons: I was going to ask you, how much does Russia really fear these western sanctions?

Kurt Volker: They believe that they can call our bluff, that the west will not have the stomach to continue with the sanctions. We have seen the estimates of growth in Europe revised downward because of the sanctions, that's going to put pressure on the western politicians to do something.

Ted Simons: And I have seen the reports where, where some, some observers are saying that the relations with Moscow and between Moscow and the west, lowest it has been since 1989.

Kurt Volker: Yeah, I think no, doubt, no doubt about it. But, that's largely again, because of the change in Russia that we have seen over the last 12 to 13 years under Vladimir Putin. It's become an authoritarian system, centralized control, and they have decided to take an imperialist narrative that Russia has a right to have all speakers inside Russia, and similar logic to what we heard in World War II. You have neighboring territories that were part of the former Soviet union, Russia feels it has a right of say so over those countries. And that kind of assertion of, of Russian, Russian imperial goals, frankly, against the rest of the world is what has brought us into, into, into, closer, closer to the approximation of a conflict.

Ted Simons: And with that idea being, being close to a conflict, or an approximation, where does NATO stand?

Kurt Volker: NATO is an organization that, that can only make the decisions by consensus of all of the members. You have 28 members of NATO, and everybody has to agree. We have a handful of members, including Germany and Italy and Belgium and Greece, and they want no part of, of rising to a conflict with Russia. They say what Russia is doing, and the last thing that we want to do is to respond to that by pushing back militarily in any way, and we would rather go to the E.U. and put in sanctions and see what happens, but, we're not going to challenge this. As a result, NATO has not much to say.

Ted Simons: And not much to say which cuts into their power?

Kurt Volker: Yeah, well, the NATO power gets back to investment. The U.S. now provides 75% of the money that NATO budgets are comprised of. That's a chunk that depends on the U.S. Nonetheless, if we wanted to do something, we would want others with us, and we would not want to act alone, and the Europeans have the capability.

Ted Simons: Last question, how does that play out? Will we see two countries there?

Kurt Volker: It depends really on the response. And I think that Russia's position is clear, and Russia is going to attack again, and it will try to connect with the territories in eastern Ukraine, to Crimea, and if it has a land bridge to Crimea, it will absorb that territory, and it will think about southern Ukraine, and there is a piece there that goes from Crimea west to Moldova and, and an enclave that Russia controls. If you can take the Black Sea coast of Ukraine as well as the other, you will have, have a, a Russian controlled eastern and southern Ukraine and, and a rump land locked Ukraine that looks westward, but is not the Ukraine that we know today.

Ted Simons: Wow, all right, interesting. And let's get to the Mideast now. We have got more troops heading to, to Iraq. What are your thoughts?

Kurt Volker: Well, I think that that we need to have a clear sense of how we're going to defeat Isis. I think that is necessary to put in more troops, and clearly they are continuing to gain airstrikes alone are not doing everything we had hoped. The Iraqi security forces are going to benefit from the training and the seat that go these troops will provide, but we need to go all the way to the end of the equation to start and say, what's it going to take to get rid of Isis? Overall? How do we mobilize that from our cells or an international community and work backwards? Because what I worry about is we're doing the incremental pieces, but it's not the strategic decision to eliminate Isis.

Ted Simons: What is it going to take to eliminate Isis, especially when you have got tribal folks over there that seem like they are not all that upset.

Kurt Volker: At least they are -- at least with Isis, it's the devil that they know supposed everything else, and a lot of cases in the Sunni cases in Iraq, they are thinking that, that Isis is maybe a better alternative than what they say as a Shia dominated Government, and in Syria you have Assad who killed 200,000 of his own people, and who will defend us and fight back? Well, it's the meanest, toughest fighting force is the one who is going to do it. And that's what I mean by getting a strategy around this. How do we unwind these perceptions? So that people don't look at, at increased violence, increased fighting, with the most extreme groups, as the best way to protect themselves. Can't we find other ways of regional powers and, and others joining the conflict, and a combination of airstrikes and those who can put boots on the ground, and to help, help establish control? Some order? And then, and then strip away the support of the extremist groups, in a normal situation they are, by no means the groups that people want governing them.

Ted Simons: We have seen reports that there were setbacks for Isis in Iraq and that there was a bit of a stalemate in Syria and is that accurate or are you saying not necessarily?

Kurt Volker: I don't think it's accurate because if you look at, at the flow of oil, they have been able to do this micro-refinery, and sell, sell product on the market, a million dollars a day, and they have got known coming in and arms, and they have captured arms, some of ours, and they have territory, and they have got a mystique that fighters are flowing to them because they are, they are inspired by building this. I don't think that we have broken that.

Ted Simons: Interesting, and as far as the mercenaries are concerned, I have read again, they are coming from all over.

Kurt Volker: They are. And if they are motivated by this idea of the Islamic situation governed under the laws of Islam and taking on those, those who they feel have, have, have degraded Islam over time, the west, Christians, whoever it may be, they want to join that fight.

Ted Simons: And so, I can understand conflict and everyone gets excited about that and everyone wants to be a soldier and win or do all of this, but, governing is a different ball game. Can these folks Governor?

Kurt Volker: Well, thus far, let's take a different example first. Look at Hamas in the Gaza Strip. They were well-known for organizing charities, for providing hospitals and providing education, and so, there is nothing to say that a radical group cannot also provide some means of governance. Isis hasn't demonstrated that, but, I would not bank, I would not base my policy on banking that they are going to fail.

Ted Simons: Interesting. As far as the bombing campaign, has that had much of an impact? We heard one of the leaders may have been injured or killed. The Obama campaign, are they doing thing?

Kurt Volker: The Isis fighters have been good at adapting to it, they hide in cities and populated areas and try to keep their equipment out of visibility. They cover the occasional meeting and they bring the senior leaders together, and we had some intel and we go after that. Literally, it's hit or miss. If you get them, you do, but if not, they are being very careful about how they put themselves in front of targets.

Ted Simons: Will there ever be a situation in which the U.S. finds itself increasingly siding with Assad, with the regime in Syria?

Kurt Volker: It's interesting because that's where the breakdown between the U.S. and you know it lies, is that Turkey thinks that, well, you cannot go after Isis alone. You also have to go after Assad and support a different Syria. Our position has been well, we don't want to take on the Assad regime but we'll go after Isis, and Turkey says, we're not sure that, that we want to help as much as you might like. Simply, we have a situation where, with Iran, which we may be aligning ourselves a bit with Iran and going after Isis in Iraq, and that may be a long-term problem because, because the, the people in northern Iraq, the Sunnis don't want to be dominated by the Shia Government. So this are being defined, and the U.S. is trying to, to, to weigh in here or there, I think we may lose out a bit, we have got to define a bigger vision of an inclusive Mideast, and one that's based more on institutions and principles, and very difficult to say, because of all the things that have happened recently and all the extremism that's out there. If we go, go just for defeating Isis, and ignoring the other pieces, I think that we're really not going to have a strategic effect.

Ted Simons: One of the other pieces could be the ethnic, Kurdish fighters, which are doing a good job on the ground.

Kurt Volker: Right.

Ted Simons: What are they going to expect it things turn and they wind up on what can be a winning side?

Kurt Volker: Yeah, well, the Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq, very much want to be independent. They want to have an independent state. And they have held off on this for years to be, to be part of Iraq because they don't want to be a, a thorn in the side or a, or targeted by Iran and Turkey, who don't want an independent Kurdish stand so they play this game of being independent in everything but name, and now Kurds are hit elsewhere, and I think it will raise the expectations on the Kurdish side, at the end of this, we're be the responsible players, and why should we not be a state?

Ted Simons: They would expect something, I think, out of this, especially since they are doing as well as they are against the Isis fighters.

Kurt Volker: Right.

Ted Simons: And all right, so, Iraq, Iran and, and Syria and, and will we see new borders relatively soon over there with those countries?

Kurt Volker: I think that, that -- here's the drivers for that. I think it's possible that you will. These were only drawn a hundred years ago as part of the British and French mandates and, and, in the Mideast, and they were designed to, to, to overlap peoples. They were not designed to, to create neat lines. They were designed to create a bit of weakness where one group would be smaller than a larger population but being a, in a dominant role but that's wildly unstable, so you could see that, but the drivers here are that, that a, can you put Iraq back together again? You have got the Kurdish area, the Sunni and the Shia area, and because of the inflammation of tensions and no leading security force, the Kurds want to be independent, the Sunnis don't want to be governed by the Shia, and the Shia wants to keep the group to go but no one else wants to be dominated by them. So if Iraq cannot function, that may be a de facto splitting up of Iraq. In Syria, you are going to see that people are going to say wait a second, there might be areas here happy to have Assad in control, and Shia dominated areas, and 20% of the population there. And there are others that will never be rec side to that. So either you have continuous warfare over the whole of Syria, or you see some beginning separation. We don't know the answer to either of these right now, but those are the, the drivers that put that on the table.

Ted Simons: If someone were to come out and say, listen, I have got an idea, points to a map and says, what do you think of this? Can you go that direction? It seems like a low grade fever that never ends.

Kurt Volker: You can't do it by telling people, this is the map and this is what you will agree to because everybody feels that they are losing, which can get to, to, is a sense of settlement, the sense of exhaustion that, that, that these lines start to, to become hardened in a way, and people adjust to that reality. That seems to be more like what's happening at the moment. With the caveat that we are still engaged as are others in trying to be sure that Isis doesn't dominate the area there because ice is, if it were to consolidate power, in a real territory for a period of time, would be a revisionist power in the region, going after other groups, and going after the west.

Ted Simons: Quickly before we leave this, are there Sunni regimes, Sunni countries against Isis?

Kurt Volker: Yes.

Ted Simons: Who -- Saudi Arabia?

Kurt Volker: The most important one to mention is the UAE, and they have been a vital partner of ours as we have gone after Isis, and also Saudi Arabia, you would also say Turkey, in its own way and Jordan certainly, so there are countries there that are equally concerned about, about what Isis represents. Again, it takes the U.S. to lead and pull people together.

Ted Simons: Sometimes you wonder when you see the how the folks embrace, and what they know as opposed to what they don't know. A few minutes left, mid-term elections here in the United States. What changes, as far as foreign policy and international affairs are concerned?

Kurt Volker: Yeah, I would have to say that I don't think that there is a lot that changes in terms of the policy initiatives. So, when we're talking, for example, about the strategy on, on Syria, what are we going to do? Only the White House can really set the foreign policy direction. They make the decisions. In our constitution, it's the executive branch that leads on foreign policy. The Congress does. The budget, the structures, it can authorize or de-authorize, but can't take the initiative in the same way. In that respect I don't think that there is much change. It's still in the White House's hands. On the flip side, I think you will see some issues on the budget. I think that there will be an effort in both houses of Congress now, for instance, to, to stop some of the cuts in the defense budget and try to restore some of that. I think you are going to see, however, that for Republicans, there is no mileage in sticking your fleck out on foreign policy ahead of the White House for most of them. They are going to want to be supportive of the fight in Isis but not in a position to lead unless the White House paves the way.

Ted Simons: Is there a, a -- is there just a, a sense in the country that, that Americans, I mean, I don't want to say isolation, that's going too far but have Americans -- it seems like the internet, something like the internet where you can get news as quickly as you can, folks, it seems at times folks are absolutely overwhelmed by all of this, let's let them fight it out and bring our guys home. Are you getting that sense?

Kurt Volker: Certainly. And I would argue that may be we would have new technology for discovering that, but I think that's been the sense that there is a reticence for deploying force and is fighting foreign wars. No one really loves that. But we come across in every generation, is that at some point, the things happening abroad affect us. And we get our, our, our act together, and we get our dander up and we say, no way. We're not going to face another terrorist attack here. We'll take it to the terrorists, that sort of thing. And what the American people look for is a strategy that makes sense and will be successful. Right now, I think that we're seeing the combination of reticence and a feeling that things we have done haven't been successful.

Ted Simons: Indeed, with the mid-term elections be a lot deals with the economy and a lot deals with national affairs, and when things turn around, it will turn around, they always do, economically, they go in cycles, and when the boom happens again, is that when -- do you notice people pay more attention to foreign affairs? Or is it just go, go, go, and they don't pay attention?

Kurt Volker: I think it's more the latter. They are more inclined to feel good and more inclined to, to ackest in the decisions. Actually, it is less presents on people's minds, some of this is weighing very heavily on people's minds because you started off the program. We have crisis in Syria and in Iraq and, and we have seen an aggressive China, Russia and Ukraine, and global economy, Ebola, and people are worried about this, and the gut reaction is keep it away from us.

Ted Simons: Great information and conversations. Always a pleasure to have you here. Thank you very much for joining us.

Kurt Volker: Thank you.

Kurt Volker:Former Ambassador and Executive Director, McCain Institute and United States;

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