Foreign Affairs with Kurt Volker

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Former Ambassador Kurt Volker makes his regular appearance on Arizona Horizon to discuss world affairs.

Ted Simon: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," a discussion of foreign affairs with former ambassador to NATO, Kurt Volker. And we'll hear about why the Valley is host to so many mega-sporting events. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon."

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Ted Simon: Good evening and welcome to Arizona Horizon. I'm Ted Simons. Arizona senator John McCain lashed out at protestors at a senate hearing on global challenges today. The demonstrators disrupted the start of the hearing by calling for former secretary of state Henry Kissinger to be arrested for war crimes. McCain threatened to have the protestors arrested, then told them, quote, "get out of here you low-life scum." McCain's remark was met with a smattering of applause. New elections in Greece signal concern for the EU and pro-Russian rebels are on the attack again in Eastern Ukraine. Here to discuss these and other world events is former ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker, who also serves as director of ASU's McCain Institute. Joins us on a monthly basis which we always look forward to. Good to see you again. We've got so much to talk about. There's a mess. It kind of is. Let's start with elections in Greece. Because I find this fascinating. This sounds like austerity took a hit at the polls.

Kurt Volker: It did. It did. You had such unemployment in Greece for so long, people are so tired of it, the popular mood is that they don't even have an independent government, they've been controlled by Germany for the past few years which has dictated these economic policies in order to keep the bailouts going and the people basically got fed up, voted in a very left wing party, which has vowed to take it to the E.U. and reduce austerity and that's where they're headed now.

Ted Simon: It sounds as though this left wing party has a coalition going with the right wing group as well?

Kurt Volker: They share this antipathy towards Germany and told being told what to do in the EU Zones. They feel that typical political parties in Greece, new democracy, the conservative one or the socialist ones have let them down over the years so there's been a flight of the voters to these extreme parties and I have to say you don't see this only in Greece but in Spain, where the podemos party is there, another far left party, and in France you've got Marine le pen, the far right political party.

Ted Simon: And as far as Greece is concerned, though, I know they want to renegotiate these bailouts and this is the deal and I'm sure Spain would like to do that. How far does this go? What does this mean for the E.U., what does it mean for Germany?

Kurt Volker: The giant risk for Europe is that they can't come to terms between the rest of E.U. and Greece, because if Greece splits off from the zone, it's going to shake the confidence that the eurozone holds together with everyone us. You have the similar problems elsewhere. At the same time, the Germans don't want to set a precedent that after all this effort at austerity and controlling expenditures then you just have this multihundred billion dollar bailout, writing down all the euro debt, that's also going to be destructive and if Greece gets away with it, then the Spanish or whatever are going ‘why not me?'

Ted Simon: If Greece gets away with it, what international creditor is going to come in and say I don't like the way you do business?

Kurt Volker: If they stay in the eurozone and they get bailed out by Germany and hold the integrity of the euro, that's actually confidence for investors that okay. They're willing to do whatever it takes. On the other hand, if the Greeks break with the austerity policies, refuse to come to terms with Germany over anything that Germany can live with, busts out of the eurozone, they devalue the currency. They aren't going to be very attractive to lenders internationally. At the same time, they're going to feel that now, we have control again. Now, we can devalue our currency, now, we can set our own policies, we don't have to be driven by what's happening elsewhere. I think it's a fantasy. It's not reality. The economies are linked no matter what but that's that popular mood in Greece that has driven this.

W Ted Simon: hy hasn't austerity worked over there? It seems like it just isn't working.

Kurt Volker: It's one piece of it, that's cutting your government expenditures but you need economic restructuring at the same time. The markets in some of these countries are so rigid, so hard to hire people, the employer taxes are so high, labor mobility is so low, there's no easy way with all the regulation they've got for economies to adjust. So they haven't had the restructuring necessary to benefit from the kind of austerity that they've had.

Ted Simon: As far as the E.U. in general, you were saying that they're really watching this, they don't want this to be a precedent but just in general is the E.U. threatened? How much is the E.U. threatened?

Kurt Volker: More than we might think. Start with the eurozone. So the E.U. is more than just a euro project. It's also political and economic and the integration of Europe as a whole. But the euro has become symbolic of whether Europe is succeeding or failing and if the eurozone starts to come apart because of Greece or Spain or a combination of things, it really does shake Europe. We've already seen as we've talked about the rise of some of these more extreme parties, the U.K., alliance for Deutschland in Germany, people who really oppose the idea of further integration in the E.U. That could take a hold after breaking up the eurozone

Ted Simon: And you mentioned in France, as well, this marine le pen who seems to be the frontrunner as far as the president is concerned, talk to us about her.

Kurt Volker: Well, you have to think about France, where are they? Massive deficits, government that is widely seen as incompetent. President Hollande is the lowest popularity rating of any postwar president in France. You have immigration issues which people have been chafing at over a long time, several million Muslim immigrants from north Africa, that is seen in public eyes as connected now to these terrorist attacks, the charlie hebdo bombings which were conducted by Islamist terrorists inside Paris. The public is conflating these things, saying we need to have a much more nationalist, a much more self-protective direction for France, and that plays right into her political platform.

Ted Simon: Could she possibly be the next president?

Kurt Volker: It's possible. It's possible. What's going to happen in France now is you're going to have a runoff in the presidential elections, multiple candidates to start and you're going to be down to two. And it's a question of whichever candidate is up against her fares with the opposing political party's voters. Let's assume that it's the conservative, sarkozy up against Marine le pen. He needs socialist voters to come over to his side to defeat her.

Ted Simon: You need coalitions over there. As far as the economic situation over there and you touch on this, you look through history, you look at World War II and in between eras and bad economies, you often see national front parties and conservative, fascist parties. Are we seeing a little bit of that?

Kurt Volker: We are. We haven't seen the extremes that you would say you saw in the 1930s coming out of western Europe or central Europe but you do have political parties in many countries that are on the far right, that are larger than they have been in my lifetime. So you're talking about they used to be fringe, 5, 8%, now 25%.

Ted Simon: And as far as immigration, you mentioned immigration and Islam in France. That's something that's not going to go away any time soon, especially after these attacks.

Kurt Volker: No it's not. The pivot on this is whether the Muslim communities in these countries themselves distance from the extremists and the terrorists or whether they are seen as equally fed up with the host European society. In the case of France, what's shocking is, everyone came out with these buttons saying I am charlie. Muslim communities in France objected to this because they still didn't like those cartoon covers that came out afterwards with a picture of Muhammad on the cover.

Ted Simon: That doesn't sound like it's heading for a good ending.

Kurt Volker: I think we've got a rocky road ahead.

Ted Simon: Let's talk about Ukraine. We always talk about Ukraine and the pro-Russian rebels, that peace agreement didn't last that long.

Kurt Volker: No one expected it to. There's a Russian strategy here to take territory from Ukraine, connect that to Russia. They did that with crimea, already back a year ago. They helped cement these demonstrations that led to rebellions in eastern Ukraine and there's a swath of territory in the middle between these things that they are trying to go after, this town, mariopo, that's the key town between crimea, it's already taken by Russia and eastern Ukraine where they're fighting already. If they can connect this, it forms a land bridge all the way to crimea. Critically important for supplying the naval forces that are there and the population.

Ted Simon: And there's still no question that Russia is supplying the weapons.

Kurt Volker: Absolutely no question.

Ted Simon: Okay. There's no question regarding supplies. Is there a question of how much influence Moscow actually has on these -- are these guys renegades a little bit?

Kurt Volker: There are some crazy people that are in this and they do things that Moscow wishes they hadn't done, such as the rebel leader when they started the attacks against mariupol announcing we are starting the attack against mariupol. The Russians wanted to maintain deniability here. No, no the Ukrainians are doing this. I don't think they wanted that to happen but in every respect, the provision in troops, the provision of tanks, 500 tanks, 9,000 troops, 700 artillery pieces inside eastern Ukraine, not even counting crimea, and then on the other side of the border inside Russia you've got 50,000 Russian troops there. There's no question that this was initiated and led and supplied and trained and continues to be led by Moscow.

Ted Simon: So sanctions continue against Moscow.

Kurt Volker: Greece comes back. Because the new Greek government, the first day in office says we disagree with this policy of sanctions against Russia. So whereas some in the E.U. were softening on Russia until the events of the last week where violence picked up again and they were thinking maybe we should relive some of the sanctions, now the Greek government comes along and says we disagree with the whole thing. We don't think we should be sanctioning Russia. They softened that today. They backed off that a little bit, but you have to think also Russia has been funding some of those left wing and right wing political movements in Europe. Now, they're getting a payoff in form of disunited Europe as they continue their military efforts in Ukraine.

Ted Simon: Are the sanctions working? We're hearing the sanctions are working. Obviously, the low oil price aren't helping matters in Russia, as well. We're hearing that. Some are suggesting Putin could be in trouble. I doubt that. But are the sanctions doing anything?

Kurt Volker: They are. They are. But this is the difference between our way of thinking and Putin's way of thinking. So price of oil is way down. Sanctions have taken a bit of a toll. Russian economy has never been good to begin with and it's a lot of restructuring, it's heavily dependent on extraction industries. So they've got problems. but that don't affect Putin's decision making, because what props him up is this nationalist, imperialist narrative, I'm building a great Russia, I'm retaking territory that belongs to Russia, the Russian family is coming back together. So his popularity ratings are in the 70 to 80% range even while the economy is taking these hits.

Ted Simon: So that's fascinating. So the Russian people, this idea that there's a movement and Putin may not survive, that's hogwash.

Kurt Volker: It is. Someday down the road if the people are really suffering economically and they attach that blame to him, okay, maybe then. But that isn't the case today. Today, he's actually riding high and the blame is on the west and the positive is on building the great Russian nation again.

Ted Simon: All right. Oh, my goodness. Before we go, I want you to talk, we have a leadership change in Saudi Arabia. We've got Yemen, troubles there. We've also got Israel and Lebanon going at it for each other a little bit. How serious is that?

Kurt Volker: We saw some skirmishes this week. They did fight a war several years ago. Remember also Hezbollah is funded by Iran, supported by Iran, and it is the army that is doing the fighting for Assad in Syria. So I don't think that at the moment Hezbollah really wants to be in a war with Israel. I think they've got their hands full with isis in Syria, and I think they're also worried about sparking things with Israel because of the nuclear issue with Iran. I think it's a skirmish, a few rockets fired, the Israelis fired back. I think that will calm down for now.

Ted Simon: As far as Saudi Arabia and Yemen, though, that particular situation, is that going to calm down?

Kurt Volker: That's a really good one to watch because what you're seeing play out in Yemen is a fight between different factions, Shia supported by Iran on one side and Sunnies, struggling over control of that country on the Arabian peninsula. What we see with the Saudi transition is a new leadership in the Sunni part of the Middle East and Saudi Arabia is this spiritual center of the Sunni religion. It's also the most powerful country economically and politically, especially now that Egypt has had so much trouble. That's a repackaging on the Sunni side. During the past several years, the Shia have gotten stronger. We toppled Hussein in Iraq, there's a Shia leader there and in Syria who's still hanging on to power, Hezbollah has become part of the government in Lebanon, and now, we're seeing more in Yemen, as well. So I think you're seeing this rising conflict between Sunni and Shia across the Middle East.

Ted Simon: And again, anyone with a passing interest I think that would be the first thing you look at, which side is Shia, which side is Sunni. How rising is that tide going to get?

Kurt Volker: It is but it's not the only thing to look at. So yes, that's right and you need to understand where the extremes are and where the motivations are. But we can't be in the position of choosing sides and we want the Shia to win or the Sunnis to win. That's never going to work out because that will inflame a sectarian conflict. You have to base policies on values, the way societies are governed, respects for rights in societies, respect for citizenship, stability, economic development, rule of law. If you can have those things, it doesn't matter if it's Sunni or Shia. That's what's going to be that creates stability over time. We've lost ground. We've lost tremendous ground on this over the past few years but that is still where we need to try to push.

Ted Simon: And the idea again that it seems like a lot of the attention seems to be going against isis, Iraq, it seems like the Sunnis got our attention while the Shias, as you say, gaining power.

Kurt Volker: That's a complaint that you hear a lot from the Sunni community. Not the terrorists, not the extremists but the regimes like Saudi Arabia which are hardline, that say look, every time you go after one of those terrorist groups, whether it's al-Qaeda or whether it's isis or you talk about alnusa, or the Arabian peninsula, these are Sunni terrorists. What are you dog about the Shia ones like Hezbollah or hamas being supported by Hezbollah and Iran or the Assad regime which has killed 200,000 of its own people? What are you doing about that? And frankly we don't have a strong answer.

Ted Simon: A lot to cover there, always great to have you here.

Kurt Volker: My pleasure to be here.

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

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