Ambassador Kurt Volker on Foreign Affairs

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Kurt Volker, former NATO Ambassador and director of Arizona State University’s McCain Institute, will give his insight into the latest foreign affairs news.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," former NATO ambassador Kurt Volker discussing the latest news out of North Korea. Plus, the weekly update from the Arizona State Legislature. And Ruth Pointer of "The Pointer Sisters" talks about her new book. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon."

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. America's National Intelligence Director said this week that North Korea is now the top nuclear threat to the U.S. Here to talk about that and other foreign affairs issues is former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, Kurt Volker, now the head of ASU's McCain Institute. Good to have you here.

Kurt Volker: Good to be here.

Ted Simons: He says he can't recall a more diverse array of challenges and crises. Interesting way to put it?

Kurt Volker: Interesting choice of words. There I would have to agree. We have indeed a diverse array of threats. North Korea just mentioned, crazy guy with nukes, failing states like in Libya, failing states like Afghanistan where we're engaged in military operation. We have big authoritarian states like Russia with lots of nuclear weapons. Big powers like China expanding their zones of influence, all happening at the same time.

Ted Simons: And kind of like, I refer to these as low-grade fevers. Any conflicts, seems like something's rumbling.

Kurt Volker: This is where I think even low-grade fevers don't do it justice. Some of these do erupt pretty severely. That's what I think Clapper is talking about when he's talking about North Korea. They only has a handful of nuclear weapons but the prospect of using one is much higher than you would place it for others.

Ted Simons: Do you think they are more of a threat than Iran right now?

Kurt Volker: Iran, yes. I don't think Iran has a nuclear weapon it can use right now. It'll get there but it's not going to do it right now. However, Iran is engaged in other conflicts in the Middle East right now, sometimes in ways we're supportive of, like working with the Iraqi government against ISIS, but in other ways like supporting Hezbollah or Hamas in Israel. We have challenges in Iran but they are not nuclear challenges yet.

Ted Simons: As far as North Korea is concerned they have expanded their weapons grade fuel according to their report. Satellite launched suddenly, to show everyone they can launch?

Kurt Volker: It's a test to show, the world will see it, we're developing our ICBM capability and to test, they can monitor and this one went off relatively well. You have the effort to test the hydrogen bomb a few weeks ago, disputes over whether they succeeded or not. They are claiming an interest in doing it, that's worrying. They developed missiles they can deliver these things with. They are storing materials so it is very troubling what they are doing.

Ted Simons: How about the idea that we were kind of in cahoots there with South Korea, maybe Japan as well, to help build some kind of missile defense system aimed only at North Korea. That is feasible, viable?

Kurt Volker: Again, it's back to the idea that if there's a small number, very small number of warheads, not like Russia or China, but a handful, five, six that might be able to be launched, there might be a bullet that could take it out. There are both near-term potential missile defense capabilities that exist and longer range ones being developed. We have some deployed in the western part of the United States, Alaska and California. There's an effort to defend ourselves against a rogue missile launch. And also helping to defend allies from rogue missile launch.

Ted Simons: China not amused by this idea.

Kurt Volker: No, they are not.

Ted Simons: China seems to be North Korea's only friend out there, only big-time friend. What is China getting out of this relationship?

Kurt Volker: First off, it is an economic relationship between China and North Korea. North Korea is almost wholly dependent upon China. They do see North Korea as a wedge that can divide the Korean Peninsula, otherwise Korea would unite under a democratic government. It can be a thorn for Japan which they like. They have a longstanding history and animosity toward Japan. China would like to manage the problem with North Korea rather than just remove it. And China is also very sensitive about any kind of regime change. There are a lot of people who would like to change the Chinese regime, as well.

Ted Simons: I see. Let's move over to what looks to be a meeting in Brussels tomorrow regarding ISIS. The U.S. is trying to get lots of people in the Middle East to do something, to get a coalition together and do something. Again, how viable is that?

Kurt Volker: Well, it needs more U.S. leadership if it's going to work. I don't believe the U.S. wants to play more of a leadership role than it already is. We are bombing ISIS in Syria and Iraq, got a few other allies with us doing that. Bombing alone is not going to do it without ground forces. Ground forces could be available from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, maybe the U.E., maybe others in the region. The Kurds have really fought hard in this, but no one is pulling it together into a coherent single operation that's going take and hold territory and provide a safe space for Syrian people, and only the U.S. leadership could do that. I don't think we're willing to put our feet on the ground to do that, and I don't think we're willing to put or feet on the ground to make that happen.

Ted Simons: Is it each possible? You read that the Turks care most about the Kurds. The Sunnis care most about Iran and Assad. Most of the Sunni governments, ISIS -- is that the number one enemy for anyone over there?

Kurt Volker: It is one for everybody. Whether it is number one really depends on who you're talking about. But I think the way I would rather think about this if I were in the U.S. administration right now, I'd say everybody has some interest. Can we find overlapping interests that we can at least agree on a few things. And one of those few things should be we all have an interest in getting rid of ISIS. May want be top priority for some. And I think part of deal on that is that we've got work with our actual longstanding allies in the region, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, U.A., the Kurds, all of whom are deeply concerned about Iran and deeply concerned about Assad staying in power. We've got to be able to work with them on what a solution to Syria would look like in order to gain their support and their trust. That would involve some kind of division of Syria at this time. I don't see the country coming back. There would be divisions of Syria supported by Iran and the Shia, and I think everyone's going to have to live with that, but they couldn't live with it if that was claiming to dominate all the Sunni areas that it has until now.

Ted Simons: So the bottom line is that military coalition is not as strong as it could be.

Kurt Volker: Yeah. If no one's willing to lead including the United States, then it's a lot of talk and finger pointing.

Ted Simons: Okay. All right, good to see you again, thanks for joining us.

Kurt Volker: Thank you.

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Kurt Volker:Former NATO Ambassador and director of Arizona State University's McCain Institute

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