Russia – the way forward

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EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Russia – the way forward

DATE: 18:00 pm-19:00pm 3th March 2018

VENUE: Committee Room 11, House of Commons

SPEAKER: General Philip M. Breedlove

EVENT CHAIR: MP Bob Seely

 

Bob Seely: Ladies and gentlemen, good evening to you, thank you very much for all of you to be here. I hope this will be a nerve-agent free evening. My name is bob seely, I have the huge privilege to represent the Isle of Wight and also trying to finish a PhD on contemporary Russian warfare, which is a recently timely subject, certainly with …the PhD, but it’s a huge privilege to be here to listen to and present to you all our very distinguished guest this evening General Philip M. Breedlove, who has an incredibly distinguished CV from which I will pick up a few bits and pieces off. He has commanded a fighter squadron and an operations group, three fighter wings and indeed was active in the air force. He has served in many important and influential roles in the military establishment in Washington, he s been a vice-director for strategic plans, commanded the U.S. air force in Africa. However, his interest for us here is that he until recently was supreme commander for Europe, despite being rare for an air force general to fill that role but is also an important one because he did that role as the Crimean annexation and Ukrainian kicked off. And for me one of the most interesting things about NATO at the time, when we were looking at information which was coming out slowly about Russian kit going on and all the Russians denying involvement as we know. And we know that the separatists in the eastern Ukraine have more tanks than the British and French army combined, remarkable what you can buy in Russia nowadays. Some of the grainy pictures which were first coming out, came out of NATO and just talking to the general now, he was having to overrule intelligence agencies and making that information public. For me this was very interesting because at the same time NATO was trying to get pictorial evidence on Russian involvement in the eastern Ukraine and in Crimea, some of the special forces people…the Russians were intercepting telephone calls between US senior figures and the state department and the ambassadors and US state department officials in the Ukraine and were putting that information out via Russia Today and leaking it. So you have intelligence agencies, very much on the Russian side and non the NATO side all involved in getting information which maybe a generation or two before would be secret into the public domain, and I thought that was incredibly fascinating and valuable when it was done by NATO in order to provide evidence of Russian involvement in the east Ukraine war. So with no further ado, the general is going to speak for about 20 minutes and then we will have a good half hour for discussion and debate. So thank you general very much indeed and I look forward hearing you.

General Philip M. Breedlove: Well thank you, it’s pretty interesting for me. I have appeared in front of my congress maybe 30 times but I’ve never appeared in parliament so this is quite the honour for me and my wife wishes she could be here to watch this. So thank you for the introduction. I think the only thing I would add to my introduction is what I typically do in front of Europeans and that is, why an American would be standing in front of me and talk to me. I’ve spent about a third of my life in Europe, I’ve served once in Spain, once in Italy, 5 times in Germany and once in Belgium, notice I never mentioned the UK. I flew the F16 which was stationed on the continent, not on in UK so my life never intersected with this great nation but served alongside many of your officers and both of the deputy commanders of the NATO who were brits served with me so I had great interaction with my British counterparts there. So it’s good to be here again and I look forward to the questions and answers. In the parlance of the army in that I served in for a while I will roll a couple of grenades out on the table and then we’ll see what happens here in the questions and answers. So I’m going to presume, by offering you my thoughts and my thoughts alone and I will actually close with 5 recommendations which will be my recommendations, and my recommendations alone, but they will come from serving nearly 18 years in Europe and serving in NATO for most of my adult life. So we have to begin somewhere talking about Russia and where I want to begin is the falling of the wall. I was literally on the autobahn headed towards east Germany to buy my wife some crystal for our last trip before going back to America when the walls in Czechoslovakia came down and thousands of little smelly cars headed the other direction on the autobahn and I couldn’t figure out what was going on and finally found an English speaking radio station, back when you dialled radio stations in cars and we heard that the wall was down and things were changing and after all the time I had served in Europe this was a really important point. I served my first war with the US army as a tactical air control party or a FAC, forward air controller. So my first assignment on the continent was actually with the ground forces on the inner German border. So Russia at the end of that war … at the end of that cold war when the Soviet Union fell apart, were not happy with the rules that the international sort of consortium of nations developed. Of course they were not written down, but basically the way in which Europe was going to run for several decades was decided when Russia was not at the table as a great power. The Soviet Union had just collapsed and Russia was very much sort of receiving what the rest of Europe was setting up as the structure of security for the next several decades. And a lot of people like to look at me and say that since that time Russia was about breaking those rules and I disagree. I don’t think Russia is about breaking those rules, I think they are interested in re-writing those rules. They very much now see themselves as a super power, sitting at the table and having been wronged as the Soviet Union fell apart, now want to re-write the way how we run Europe. They chose adjustments in 2 paths and I simplify them grossly if you were to allow me…first, in how force is used, Russia now beginning in 2008 in Georgia and then the spring in 14 in the sacking of Crimea and then later when they went in and invaded the Donbass in the south east region of the Ukraine. Russia has once again put force, military force on the table to change internationally recognized borders. So the first re-writing of the rules is that in the European landmass, where we thought this was over, forces are once again on the table to change internationally recognized borders. Second, they introduced hybrid warfare. I don’t like the term hybrid warfare because it has this connotation of being magic and mystical and new and exciting and in my opinion, hybrid warfare is nothing more than a bunch of old things we used to do, now done in new ways. In other words there is almost nothing new in hybrid but there is everything new about how those tools are being used. I much rather like the terms Igor Asimov head of the Russian forces used. He called it indirect means or asymmetric methods. So I very much like those descriptions because that’s what I see in our countries today, and I think that’s part of what you see being reported on the BBC and in Europe news. So if you agree with the argument that the tools are not new tools, they’re old tools used in new ways. What’s new about it? What is shocking about it? I think the most shocking thing and the most new thing is how openly and how boldly now Russia acts in our nations. During the cold war some of these tools were used in a much more subtle way and harder to detect and on a much lower level. But what I see now is a Russia emboldened to take actions like assassinations, like meddling fairly openly in elections, in our countries and they expect they can get away with it. The examples are all over…elections in France, elections in the United States. Meddling in large ways in major decisions in countries. Montenegro, trying to change their vote right up to a botched assassination attempt. In Catalan, in working with the Catalonian people and their independence movement and influencing that. And so we see this open and fairly bold meddling in these very important European decisions. I like to describe this in my words as war below the line and why would I say that? If you look at Mr. Gerasimov’s model, you can google it anytime you want, you’ll see that he draws a line and across the bottom of his chart he talks about all the things that he needs to do to disrupt a nation, bring a nation to conflict at disadvantage and then win the conflict. And if you look at the things along the bottom of the chart that he intends to accomplish, we see that he basically accomplished every one of them in Crimea and then really all he need to do is flip the switch and the conflict is over. A fairly bloodless approach because he had already accomplished in below the radar level all of the steps that he intended to accomplish. And so in every country around the world he has established a line in which he thinks he can get away with all of these actions, up to the point where that nation will not respond and that line is drawn differently in every country. In my country it clearly includes meddling in elections, it clearly includes meddling in energy policy, supporting both via social media and money the energy argument about whether we should have pipelines or not pipelines in the United States, trying to drive the price of oil up in order to make Russian oil worth more and solve its economic problems. And so in my country we see the line drawn where there are things that he absolutely believes he can do in a fairly straightforward manner in our country and I would assume there is also a line here in the UK and if you believe what is being said in your press then that apparently includes assassination via nerve agent, because that’s one of the things he believe he can get away with in the country. So where is that line and how is that war conducted below that line in order to not trip more energetic and certainly not kinetic response to the actions. And I think that line moves in our countries. When an action is taken and there is no reaction by our countries the line moves up and now it’s like a child who defies the parent and if they get away with it they will defy more and further the next time. So where are we? I would assert that Russia is broadly acting across many countries. We’ve seen it from overt assassination attempts in Montenegro to very precise targeting of social media and elections in France, US and other places and the troubling part is our nations are struggling to respond. What is our response to these kind of challenges? In Russia the attack is what I call all-out government attack. I lecture to students and when I lecture to undergraduate students I talk about a nation’s power described by four letters. In our country the 10 cent piece is called a dime, D I M E. Diplomatic Informational Military Economic. So if you look at the way Russia attacked Ukraine post as the invasion of Crimea and the invasion of Donbass happened, diplomatically they worked to absolutely discredit the Poroshenko government and discredit everything that happened in the Ukraine as a western and US effort to cause a revolution. The information campaign, or as I like to call it, the disinformation campaign, was complete across all spectra in the Ukraine, social media, to radio and TV. Militarily of course they had invaded the Crimea and then later their forces were the vanguard in the invasion into Donbass. Economically against the Ukraine they brought great pressure in the energy sector, raising the prices of gas, threatening to cut off gas, all the things they did so. So what we saw from Russia was a broad all of government attack on Ukraine. How did we in the west respond? We responded in one dimension. Economically with sanctions. We weren’t really vocally at the beginning, even diplomatically, because a lot of the people that were sort of agreeing with the disinformation that the little green men weren’t Russians but somebody else. And so our response was one dimensional and not all of government. So why would we limit ourselves in this manner? This is when hard introspection starts and some of you will not be happy with me after I give you my list of why I think this is the way we respond, but you asked me here and now you have to listen. They locked the door so you can’t get out. My experiences are frankly based on being a SACEUR (Supreme allied commander Europe) and sitting in front of the NAC (NATO Atlantic Council?), then 28 nations as we debated how we are going to work and I delivered my military options to the nations of NATO, and my other experiences were in the white house as I worked through the Obama administration in all of the various ways in which our congress works and in all the various ways that our security council works. So those are the two lenses from which I will speak. Why did we limit ourselves? First and foremost on both sides of the Atlantic there is a fear of escalation, there is a fear that anything we did would escalate the problem and they said we can’t be escalatory so I said ‘what about Georgia? What about Crimea, what about Donbass?’ When are they escalatory, when are they provocative? How do we limit ourselves to such neat and tidy responses? So fear of escalation. The second one was loss of business opportunity. There was a lot of Russian money and a lot of Russian contracts moving around Europe at that time and there were a lot of people in Europe hoping that that problem in the Ukraine would go away quickly, so that we weren’t going to be disruptive to these commercial efforts. Thirdly, frankly politics and I’ll point to my own country so that we can laugh a little bit when it comes to politics in Russia. We can’t do anything in America about Russia right now because it either gets tied back to which candidate you supported and if you say anything pro-Russia you get labelled in a way that limits your ability to have a positive voice in the debate. In intelligence, in the government, etc., etc., and so politics and then finally I would say we have a lack of policy. There are lots of tools that NATO could use, or my country or in your case this country could use, but there are fewer policies that enable us to use those tools. Our nations simply don’t want to enter into an information campaign back at Russia. In western society and civilization, there is a problem with starting and entering into an information war. We are certainly on the receiving end of one but we have policy to move forward, so broadly we suffer from lack of policy within some of our areas. So once again, fear of escalation, loss of business opportunities, politics and lack of policy. So now what has happened of late, a new wrinkle has entered the conversation about Russia…I almost slipped and said the Soviet Union, that’s how old I am. The newest wrinkle of course for me is the discussion of nuclear weapons or nukes. Do you believe that? I say that to start the conversation but is the discussion of nukes even in recent history new? Is the speech that Mr. Putin gave just the other night the first time we talked about nukes in the last 2 years or 3 years? I would say the answer to that is really no. When Mr. Putin when into Crimea I think he felt very exposed and at that moment I think he was worried about the western response to their entry into Crimea. What did we hear almost immediately? We heard conversations by ministerial lower level people in the Russian government about how goods were important to their way of doing business and that nuclear weapons were a logical extension of military power and that nuclear weapons were absolutely normal to be considered in conventional conflict. Why was that? Because they knew they were a bit exposed and they wanted to make sure that the west got a warning shot across their bowel that ‘we would use nukes if we had to’. Later, as they went into Donbass, Mr. Putin himself talked about that they had considered using nukes his words were ‘We’re ready to go to full alert with our nuclear forces.’ So nukes are not really a new conversation. I believe they are the result of concerns which have out passed you now. Why would the Russian Federation and its leadership have such a stridened line about nuclear power and about nuclear capabilities and these new capabilities that they developed? I think there are three reasons. The first is that in the western response to Crimea and to Donbass I think the Russians underestimated NATO’s response and the Western Response. Now it’s not amazing, it’s not incredible, but the West has responded. The Nations of NATO have stepped up, many are increasing their investment in defence. We’ve all taken 2 almost 3 decades of pretty much procurement holiday when it comes to our nation’s military forces. And so NATO has stepped up and we are beginning to invest and more importantly forces that have become much less ready are becoming more ready as the NATO commander I asked one nation ‘you have 12 brigades, how many of those are ready?’ and the answer was ‘all 12.’ And I said ‘great, let’s move a couple to here and …’ ‘wait a minute that takes 365 days’. So their measurement was “ready” but they were graded against the 365 day response. You can see the dichotomy here of what was happening. And so NATO has now taken a hard look at the readiness and responsiveness of their forces so that they can more aptly reply to these things. And we are grading ourselves now against a higher responsiveness requirement in order to make forces available. First I think, Mr. Putin underestimated the NATO and the western response, it’s not perfect but it’s headed in the right direction. Second, in the same vein, NATO has now begun the conversations about needing to recap the fleets of tanks be fleets of heavy equipment movers, fleets of airplanes, fleets of ships, fleets of submarines, we’re beginning to look at a recapitalization campaign that had taken a back seat. And I think by observing what NATO is doing Mr. Putin saw that while they have made great improvements in their forces, that if NATO truly awakens in its recapitalization effort that he would have a hard-time dealing with it. And I expect someone to challenge me on that piece because the Russian capability now to take the 24-35 very capable battalion task groups they had and move them well along what Jomini called internal lines, it’s a great concern for us. And then the third reason I think they’re talking nukes now is because our nation, my nation and to some degree the other nuclear nations of NATO have committed to some recapitalization of their nuclear enterprise. In the United States we’re not creating new weapons, but we’re updating and modernizing old weapons like the B-61. And so Mr. Putin I think is talking about nukes for those 3 reasons. He underestimated our response, he awakened a recapitalization in the western world, and he sees the western world also updating their nuclear requirement. So I’m coming to the end. What is the way ahead? Equally as provocative and not the position of my government but the position of the former commander of NATO I will give you 5 thoughts and some of them are very critical, but right now in the Western World we are focused on individual Russian actions. Not being critical of the UK but right now they are very focused on possible agent used in a public place and harming citizens of this great country. But in the west we tend to be focused on these episodic problems, in the United states right now we are solely focused on the election and so we’ve got our eyes focused right on our feet staring at this problem and there are many more Russian actions happening in the world. So my first recommendation is that we get our eyes off our feet and not look at the individual things which are happening but to look at the collective of Russian actions in the Western world. And we have to see the full breadth and depth of those actions and then we have to act on them and in my country For God’s sake, we have to get past election politics and begin to see the large picture and begin to act. My second recommendation, we have to resolve to take the field, in military terms. Remember the discussion of Ukraine? Russia attacked Ukraine in all 4 major elements of national power, and how did we respond? Only in one. We need to resolve to take the field in all elements of power. It will take all elements of our abilities and influence in the west to meet this challenge from Russia. Third, stay the course on sanctions, as soon as I say that, I will speak out of the other side of my mouth. I worry a little bit about sanctions frankly we need to stay the course now, if nothing else to show the collective resolve of the western world to bring pressure on Russia. But if all we ever do is sanctions and we do more and more and more sanctions, sanctions well become the new normal for Russia and then what does it get us? Have sanctions produced the change in Russia that we want to see? I’ll leave that for you to debate in the Q&A. but we need to stay the course now I think to show solidarity in the west, but we need to open our eyes up to other elements of national power. Next to last, concerning nukes – in the case if the west as I see our nations – We are updating our fleet, we are chasing what I call RSA: Reliability, make sure our fleet is reliable, make sure that our fleet is Safe and then most importantly for military men, continue to assure that our fleet and our weapons have an Assured effect. It’s no good if we have a weapon but we can’t deliver it. We need to assure our capability to deliver the effects of the weapon. So I believe we need to be as steady as possible in our approach towards the nukes. No need for new numbers, no need for any new grand capabilities, but what we need is a safe, reliable fleet and weapon that can be delivered in the new challenging environment that we have out there. The final recommendation is where most people look at me cross-eyed… I did served through the Crimea, I served through the Donbass, I was labelled by people of my own country as a Hawk and I do believe we need to deal firmly with Russia. So I’m not going soft on Russia when I tell you that I firmly believe we need to engage. I’m an engineer by training. Two degrees in engineering and we study vectors and right now our vector with Russia is in a bad direction and if we don’t apply something to that vector, it’s not going to change and continue to stay bad. We have to change something and I believe the first change is to make with Russia is to form a position of increased readiness and responsiveness. Form a position of a strong alliance and solidarity in the alliance. We need to engage Russia in thoughtful conversation about the way forward. We need to find places where we can, on the margins begin to cooperate. Rebuild the trust relationship that has been lost and start working on regimes of things that would be hard. And I would offer that we start small and I have suggestions should you want to ask and then when we have successes we can move on to more important things, but the bottom-line is, I’m not going soft on Russia. From a position of strength, from a position of unity, we need to engage them. And to answer the first question that I always get asked when I give this conversation, people challenge me “Why are you worried about Russia? Their economy is failing, their demographics are failing, their system of government will not change either and they won’t be a problem in 10 or 15 years.” I tell you that my worst nightmare is a failed Russia with 10000 nuclear weapons. We don’t want Russia to fail like that. We want to find a cooperative way forward in my opinion. That’s the end of my remarks, thank you very much.

 

 

Bob Seely: General, thank you very very much indeed for that. We will have half an hour of reasonably quick questions. Can I just make 2 or 3 requests? Can you just say who you are, can you say where you’re from if you’re from somewhere, but perhaps most importantly…you’re not from anywhere that’s fine, if you’re from the Russian embassy please do say… Can you not give a statement but a question? Because I want to get through as many questions as possible. So anyone who wants to make a 5 minute statement will be given 30 seconds and then that’s it. So first question lady in the back with the hand up.

Speaker 1: Thank you, Lisa Brown from the Daily Mail. Do you think there should be a collective response to the assassinations of Russians on British soil? And if there should be a collective response, what should that look like?

General Philip M. Breedlove: So what I found in my past is that it’s very dangerous to become involved in the politics of any of the NATO nations as to which I will refrain from making a reply to this specific event. What I would tell you is, as I mentioned Russia is emboldened in many ways across our nations and these assassination attempts are not just in the UK but in other places. And so we in response, what have we done? And I think if you ask yourself, precious little has been done by any nation, not this one but in context please. So I do believe there needs to be a price paid when these things happen. And that’s a matter of this policy that we talked about and the nations need to work together so that we are consistent and we are collective in that response, and I won’t venture out on the ground of trying to say what that is because that immediately becomes political.

Bob Seely: Thank you very much. Next question.

Speaker 2: I’m [inaudible] Back in the 1970’s and 80s when the cold war was at its height I was a speaker for peace and development [inaudible] because the personality and the nature of the Soviet Union at the time. When you look at the personalities now, mainly Mr. Putin and around the world, you have command of nuclear weapons. In your recommendations do you include the fact that we are dealing with a much more narcissistic group of people then back in the 1970s and 80s?

General Philip M. Breedlove: So thank you baroness and it’s a tough question and what I would offer is that I won’t speak to any one person but collectively in this world we are much looser and much more open in discussion than we were in the past. I would tell you that military people like me and I flew the F-16 all my life, this is a mission I was qualified to do. People who ever had that authority and responsibility will be the last to ever talk about using those weapons, that’s not where we go. And so I have some faith and confidence that those who are advising these less constrained individuals, will be giving them the kind of advice that they need and I think that this remains an incredibly big step for anyone ever to take. Now I didn’t answer your question directly. Yes there are some people out there that I think those who surround them have to help them get to the right place among these issues. But I’m confident that those people are in position.

Bob Seely; I think one of the most depressing things for me is how often the Russians talk about nuclear weapons. And I think that’s because it’s a failing state with reasonably small but improved armed forces. And what they are good at is active measures, subversive action and nukes, of which they have an awful lot of. Problem is everything in the middle is hollowed out. And this is all part of the sort of old crazy Ivan routine that if the Russians keep threatening us with nuclear weapons as they did during the cold war we’ll back off to Eastern Europe. Because they’ve been threatening nuclear weapon use and in the exercises, there’s major exercises that they conduct in Eastern Europe. Not every time, but half the time they’ll end up dropping a nuclear weapon in order to come to a logical end of that exercise. Now as soldiers no you don’t plan for fantasy exercises and fantasy scenarios. You plan for realistic scenarios, most likely course of action, most dangerous course of action. So if the Russians are ending their nuclear war play by dropping a nuclear weapon that is part of their scenario and that is a worrying thing in itself. Now this gentleman over here.

Speaker 3: Thank you very much General. The name is Ewan Grant, institute of Statecraft. Before that I the UK law enforcement analyst for the Soviet Union and I was in Kiev in April 2014 on a European Union commission project where I’m afraid to say, large numbers, although not the ambassador in the EU delegation were carrying on as if it were business as usual. So really it was most disturbing, although not universal. So my question is about your very pregnant comments about the information warfare, I’m not talking about technical details but are there any areas where you think we are ready to go on this? Or any areas of real concern? I have great concern about certain aspects of academia in Britain and I suspect that is repeated in some parts of continental Europe. Thank you.

 

General Philip M. Breedlove: I’ll answer this in 2 ways because, that very last part I thought I knew where you were heading with your question. I believe that our 2 nations and other nations in NATO are absolutely capable for information warfare. I mean this sounds flipping, but it’s not. We have Hollywood, if we can’t tell a story, if we can’t figure out how to communicate, shame on us. So we have the people and the know-how and frankly military people trained in these skills to enter into an information campaign but we do not have the policy to do that and in most western democracies there is a debate inside of the democracy about who owns information warfare. Is it the foreign ministry? Is it the department of defence? Is it the intelligence agencies? And so we have not organized ourselves around being able to employ information warfare we need policy and in a soldiers term we need mission type orders. You’ve got the mission, here are your broad boundaries left and right. Here’s your capabilities, you have responsibility, authority and now you have accountability, move out. We haven’t gotten to the point yet and so we are not returning fire in the information space.

Bob Seely: Sorry to interrupt but isn’t there a larger problem with that? The Russians see information, like they see the church, as something instrumental to be manipulated for some really quite tactical and operational ends and the problem through society is that is it perhaps difficult or very unwise to be in that same game where our information warfare power for a better term, because the BBC isn’t controlled by the government. But it comes because the Anglian church wouldn’t do anything the government ever said. So the fact is that we’ve got these fantastic weapons in our civilisation and in our society, but they can’t be directed by the government.

General Philip M. Breedlove: So I am in violent agreement. And I would never as a commander sign up to public disinformation in order to enter into these spaces. But what we haven’t even begun is the telling of the truth. As you said, when Crimea was happening I was exposed to all of this exquisite intelligence but made it very clear that it was the Russians. So how do we get this story out? Because the story in the press was the Russian story. We’re not there, those green men are not us and the nations were embracing that and were saying “yeah, prove it to us” So the ability to tell the truth is what I’m asking and telling. That we have to vigorously tell the truth. And we cannot respond for every little attack. Here’s something for you to research. When MH-17 was shot down in Eastern Ukraine within just a few minutes over 2 hours, the Russians had 4 different stories on the street about how the west did that and how America had done that one of the stories was so ludicrous that CIA had bought an old airplane and filled it with cadavers from our hospitals and crashed it in order to blame it on the Russians. So 4 stories out in a little bit more than 2 hours. How long did it take the West to debunk those 4 stories? A couple of days over 2 years. Our friends in the North and the Malaysians who had lost the most they ran the investigation and 2 years later debunked them. So if they can create these stories in hours and we take years to debunk them, we can’t meet them tit for tack for everything. We need to pick those central truths that are important and tell them vigorously and we have magnificent ways to do that.

Speaker 4: [inaudible] You are talking about solidarity, but how can we achieve solidarity if we France and Germany are talking about a separate European army? President Trump doesn’t believe in article 5 and Turkey is becoming increasingly dissatisfied with turkey. Either yes or no, do you think we are heading towards war with Russia?

General Philip M. Breedlove: Separate army, Trump and article 5, Turkey and then yes or no? Ok, so ma’am I would read from your question that you’re a pessimist about this. I must tell you that after 5 major commands in my life I’m an optimist in general. I am pessimistic about our way forward with Russia and why? Because Russia in my opinion is a cleptocratic state run by cleptocrats. How do we as a Western world have very different values and I believe that while we’re not perfect, our governments are not cleptocratic, how do those 2 ever reconcile going forward? I’m a pessimist. For a different set of reasons I’m an optimist for the West and China, that’s for later if you want to talk about it. So you must know when it comes to Russia I am pessimistic but when it comes to NATO, I remain optimistic. It’s hard to believe that the commander of NATO would be any other way. We have faced far tougher problems during the past, the cuba missile crisis for instance and other things. The NAC has faced far tougher times in the past and we have survived. I think we are the most successful alliance in the history of the world. We are not perfect, far from it. So I am optimistic. I am not concerned about a separate European army and I get asked this question all the time. If the Europeans choose to invest in their army, it’s all good for NATO, because 22 of those nations are also in NATO. What I wouldn’t want the European Union to do is to invest in more bricks and mortars and flacks and generals and headquarters. We got lots of those in NATO. A good example of how they work together is Bosnia-Herzegovina where a European Union force is commanded by in fact a British 4 star deputy SACEUR of NATO. So we have a NATO commander on top of a European Union force and that works wonderfully. So I’m not worried about a European army as long as they make the armies more capable. What we don’t need is to reinvest money that NATO already invested, in HQs commanders, what you call ISTAR in the UK and those things that are very expensive. So I’m not worried too much about that. First Trump and article 5 I think is next. I think what you have seen is some pretty heavy language during the campaign and right after the election about NATO but I think what you have seen since then is a steady voice in Brussels hat says “we are here. We are part of this alliance. We are committed to article 5.” I would invited you to read the book “The art of the Deal”, read the 3 chapters about how this president starts a negotiation and it is to be shocking and set a high bar and you negotiate back from there. Read the chapters, it’s quite instructive. I’m not worried about the United States’ commitment to article 5. Turkey… I served in Turkey multiple times and I still have a strong personal connection to leaders in the Turkish military and I’m less optimistic with our way forward with Turkey, but I believe we can get through it. We’ve had these same kind of issues more than once in NATO with individual nations and we’ve always worked our way through it. The difference here of course is that we have a leader that is very much driving the country into a very different direction and that’s problematic. So I don’t have a good answer for you on Turkey. We have more hard times ahead trying to…this is an important ally and a good ally. I would only say this that our mill to mill is good and in my country for years, decades…my government cannot talk to the government of Columbia, could not, but the militaries continued to talk and cooperate. Now, we are getting along magnificently and the military is a steady constant in those times and our two countries work extremely well together. So I think that our job in NATO is to continuously reach out and connect with Turkey and try to bring them along to a place where we get along better. Are we going to go to war with Russia? No. I do not think Mr. Putin wants to fight us and I can guarantee you we don’t want to fight him. We just need to unfeather some of these problems we have, get the policies on, cooperate and move out. I do not think we’re going to war with Russia.

Bob Seely: There is deliberate war and then there is an accidental gamble that backfires and then there’s quite negative scenarios whereby the situation gets worse in Russia. Either Putin has success and gambles something…and then the slowness and the steadiness of the NATO operation kicks in. So you talking about a deliberate strike and acts by Putin and sort of the miscalculation of the First World War rather than the deliberate policy of the second.

General Philip M. Breedlove: I absolutely believe in a deliberate manner or we won’t get there. The reason I used “engage” as my last of the 5 recommendations is because we need to have the conversations that allow to avert those incidental wars. When Turkey shot down the Russian aircraft the consternation was incredibly high because we did not have the avenues to immediately engage to disengage from that problem in the North-West part of Syria and so part of our engagement with Russia, one of the suggestions I was going to make, was to expand the thing that we call incidents at sea, incs.

Speaker 5: Sir, how do you General, explain what Putin did obviously for world consumption to boast about his developed weapons, way beyond anybody’s comprehension, in terms of ability, range, ability to not be detected?

General Philip M. Breedlove: As I said in my remarks, I think he s doing that from a position of struggling with some problems that he created and he now has to speak I think first to his internal audience “We have this horrible enemy out there in the West and in America but look what we have developed. All these magnificent nukes to take care of the West. We are again in the primacy and we are in the driver’s seat.” I think that was the message to his internal audience. To the external audience, talking about nukes incites worry. It is a problem, it incites worry in me, as I shared with you in my remarks. So I think that the world reacted well to what Mr. Putin did. We did talk about it but it died down pretty quickly in the news cycle and it didn’t get the play that it should and in fact what you saw is Mr. Putin going right back at it again and try to re-incite it and get it back into the public press. So yes I am concerned about Russia’s nuclear investment. Yes I am concerned that they think the need to develop all these new capabilities but I don’t think that what we need to do is have public panic about it because that feeds the beast, if you will allow me to use those terms.

Speaker 6: Audrey Well from [inaudible] I wonder how you General far you see Russia’s policies affected by their fear …do you think they have a genuine fear of NATO and feel the need to take action against NATO encirclement ? And we spoke about it before but what do you think should be done about Crimea?

General Philip M. Breedlove: I do believe that the Russians are feeling we are encircling them. We have to be intellectually honest enough to understand what they see. So I absolutely believe that they believe it. I hate that term. Because it makes it sound like it was a deliberate act by NATO to go out and get these nations and pull them into NATO. Could not be further from the truth. For three years I watched the discussions about who might come into NATO and who might not come into NATO. It is easier to drive a camel through the eye of a needle than it is to get into NATO because it is so hard to get through the processes and to get the vote. NATO didn’t go out and grab the Baltics. Trust me, there was a huge conversation about whether that should happen. I could just run down the list. So the appearance in the world is that we went out and said we wanted “that that that” and then we have those Russians right where we want them. That is not how it happens in the NAC. It’s almost exactly the opposite. So I hate that term encirclement and enlargement but certainly NATO has grown because nations have gone and aggressively tried to get into NATO. Ma’am I got to tell you…and you can trust me or you don’t, I am unaware of us trying to destabilize Ukraine. I’ll stop there. Now do we support democratic movements in all manners of nations around the world? Yes. What are we going to do about Crimea? And you will not like the answer. We will probably not do anything about Crimea. Because the only thing we can do about Crimea is go in there with military force and I do not think anybody in the west is going to sign up to that. Now I do absolutely believe that the West should press on re-establishing the international border of Ukraine and getting Russian forces out of the Donbass. I believe that re-establishing the border, which is a part of the Normandy process and agreements, is the key to our path forward in Ukraine. My opinion, not the US opinion. Crimea is never going to change. We can never accept what they did. We should never acknowledge what they did and we should never accept it in any shape or form. But setting all that aside we should focus on re-establishing the international border of the Ukraine in the eastern part of the country and then let the issue of the Donbass be worked out like with any other nation.

Bob Seely: Alright we are going to take 3 more questions. That gentleman there and that gentleman over here. Can you make them brief questions and preferably not multi-facetted?

Speaker 7: Ted McDonald, financial services. Can I ask you about Russia’s campaign that is going across several countries, like Venezuela, China and so on, can you give us some context?

General Philip M. Breedlove: So you’re asking me if I see a multi-facetted campaign of Russia. That’s a question I have never really entertained. Shooting from the hip a bit, during the time where we were bringing the most pressure on Russia as in regards to Crimea. Of course you saw them go out and work out a new big deal with China and that involved the sale of oil and many other things that I think was part of a campaign to say to the West and specifically to the United States “Listen, take it easy because we’re now teamed up with our buddies in China.” I think that they often try to play that card out there. I don’t think they got a very good deal thou and I would think most economists would tell you that they came out on the bad side pretty badly. But I do see that Russia uses other places in the world to bring pressure on us. I think Syria, they were clearly there to prop up Assad but it was also to say to the Western world that “We’re a major power. We’re on the block and we will exert our influence here.”

 

Bob Seely: Gentleman with the glasses.

 

Speaker 8: You did mention technology. In Putin’s most recent speech he mentioned hypersonic missile technology. Shouldn’t we be asking where he obtained that technology? How he obtained that technology? During the cold war and Reagan there was a counter-intelligence initiative to prevent the theft of our technology. But now it seems we are simply doing a reset and we inadvertently gave military technology, possibly hypersonic technology to the Russians and you think that we should have more efforts to prevent that.

 

General Philip M. Breedlove: Yes. I’ll elaborate a little bit. I think that one of our biggest concerns and I think it’s the same in your government and other governments is that there are a few large nations in this world that have aggressively gone after our technology in cyberspace. And a word that I have heard from 1 of the 3 agencies is that terabytes of industrial information of our newest weapons have been stolen. Stolen not so much from out of the secret governmental coffers but stolen out of the industrial base that’s out there. And the industrial base will tell you that’s a big problem. And so much of what we see … the front end of one of the airplanes that we face out there now looks exactly like one we built. Our data has been infiltrated in so many places. So yes. I’m not too familiar with the hypersonic story, we have been doing that for some time, and it would not surprise me if that was one of the technologies. Are we going to focus on it? I think we are beginning to re-focus on it, if I could use that word, an interesting fact – we used to have a certain amount of people working on the Russia problem in my country and then we went to war in Iraq and in Afghanistan and many places in the Middle East and our intelligence agencies didn’t grow but were repurposed so we used to have a certain amount of people working on the Russia problem, now we have a certain amount of people working on the Russia problem. These people were repurposed to all the places where your soldiers and my soldiers were fighting and dying and so we repurposed a limited asset and now we have to re-think the distribution of those assets in order to better cover the problems, just as you talked about.

Bob Seely: Final question, gentleman over there.

Speaker 9: How about feeding Russia in information wars? I think that’s a particular problem in Britain. Russia does respond to the sanctions, obviously we got too far on sanctions, I think we could end up with the worst situation but some countries in Europe do have economic dependencies on Russia, caused by a general weakness of the European economy. How can the West provide opportunities for less dependency on Russia?

General Philip M. Breedlove: So if I can actually turn that around a little bit and then I’ll answer your question. Again don’t accuse me of going soft on Russia, but if we could find a way forward to diffuse the defence issues that we have with Russia, think about that market and if you are a person that understands transportation, if you look at the road and railroad network that feeds in and around Moscow and the western half of Russia, this is an amazing capability to move goods through the market and so I think that if we can figure out how to get the defence problems corrected, we should look at Russia as an opportunity. But in no way, shape or manner do I suggest doing that now. There’s far too many bridges we need to cross in correcting bad behaviour before we ever get to that point. And so to answer your question about how do we help nations that are economically dependent on Russia, we need to understand, what I think I said before and I will just reiterate it: Russia attacks in all manners, diplomatically, informationally, militarily and economically. We only reply typically in economic terms. There are other tools we can use I think to address this problem and I think that’s where there is work to be done by the leading nations in the West.

Bob Seely: its 7 o clock, I think we better end it. General thank you so much indeed for talking to us. I found it absolutely fascinating. I think it’s interesting that you’re still using DIME, the old sort of military …

General Philip M. Breedlove: Diplomatic, information, military, economic.

Bob Seely: I wonder if that actually works now with the Russians because they are so subterfuge and they use so many tools that I wonder if DIME had had its day. And I wonder if it’s not too simple.

General Philip M. Breedlove: I am a fighter pilot and we do things very simply.

Bob Seely: Thank you so much general for being with us.

HJS



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