June 2016

On June 22nd Blue Star hosted a round table discussion with Ambassador Paula J. Dobriansky as part of Blue Star’s “America in the World 2017” lecture series.  Ambassador Dobriansky is a Senior Fellow at the Future of Diplomacy Project at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and the former Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs.  Her comments, on the “Future of Europe,” focused on the major challenges which Europe is facing, particularly from Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and the need for the United States to band with Europe and defend the liberal international order. 

Although our European allies agreed to extend another round of sanctions on Russia, it appears that their commitment to stand firmly against Russia is weakening.  German’s Foreign Minister, for example, has hinted that Germany may support removing sanctions this year. Moreover, the Brexit vote plays into Putin’s hands because it weakens a united Europe.  Ambassador Dobriansky argued that the US and Europe need to stay strong on sanctions, while at the same time help Ukraine succeed.  A successful Ukraine is the last thing Putin wants.  To that end, the US and EU must continue supporting Ukraine as it makes reform and most importantly fight against the “Ukraine fatigue” which appears to have set in. 

This led to a lively discussion on the best way to manage Russia – whether the nation should be isolated through further sanctions or engaged via diplomacy and an open dialogue.   Ambassador Dobriansky argued that, considering Putin’s actions in recent year’s dialogue is, at best, a temporary bandage and that isolation and increased sanctions may have a stronger effect on Russia’s behavior. 

Many around the table concurred believing that because sanctions will continue impacting Russians daily lives and the Russian economy, it may diminish Putin’s domestic support; however, some argued that sanctions have not worked thus far and that dialogue with Russia is a better solution.   With regards to ramping up sanctions against Russia it was suggested that the EU and allied countries stop refurbishing Russian oil apparatuses because this would have an immediate impact on the nation’s finances and further deplete popular support for Putin’s government, particularly with middle class voters. 

To continue weakening Russia the US also needs to work with the countries that have a vested interest in standing up to Russia like the Nordic and Baltic States.  The May Nordic Summit, Ambassador Dobriansky said, was an “excellent” initiative by the Obama administration because it brought natural partners together and was a way for the US to demonstrate leadership and forge closer bonds with these countries.  Outreach to the Nordic states, she said, should be continued by the next administration regardless of whether there is a Democrat or Republican in the White House.

Not all of the Nordic nations are NATO members and, if Sweden and Finland become more interested in joining NATO, they should be encouraged. The US should work with other NATO member countries to expand the alliance further even after Montenegro formally becomes a member.  This could include Georgia and Macedonia, and Ukraine could be granted some sort of special status to strengthen the alliance and provide a stronger counter-weight to Russian influence in the region. 

While many at the breakfast said that they felt that diplomacy was not enough to challenge Russia’s activities in Eastern Europe, active diplomacy should be undertaken by the next administration and by the State Department at all levels of government to reinforce the liberal international order.  One nation in particular which Ambassador Dobriansky said the US should engage with more deeply is Germany.  Germany could use the moral support in a time when it is trying to keep Europe together post-Brexit and when it is under increasing pressure both domestically and from other EU states over the migrant crisis. 

The breakfast concluded with a conversation on how to re-interest Americans in Europe.  All commented that too few people in the US seem to care about Europe or NATO and that instead the policy community and government officials have been increasingly focused on the Middle East and Asia.  It was widely agreed that the next administration needs an extensive communication strategy to explain to the American public how critically important relations with Europe are and why the liberal world order and its values need to be defended through a transatlantic alliance.