Business File, April-May 2017, No. 110
This underlying philosophy gives him a measured viewpoint in complex international issues, especially with some of the concerns which the Trump administration is currently facing.
Trump’s relationship with Russia being a case in point, Stavridis thinks that he will try and improve relations between Washington and the Kremlin, but there will always be fundamental disagreements. Russian policy in Syria and what is happening in the Ukraine over Crimea are areas of potential discord.
Stavridis also cautions on US/Russian dealings in cyberspace and the unfortunate row which dominated Trump’s transition period, where the US intelligence services were accused of leaking documents and soured the way Trump perceives them; even though US intelligence services have so far been very ac- curate on Russian behaviour, especially in the cybersphere. Therefore it is imperative that Trump realises this, both questioning Vladimir Putin’s motives and maintaining that Russia still needs to be a top national security priority.
Another contentious stance will be with China –aside from Trump’s protectionist economic policies– over territorial disputes in the South China Sea, Taiwan, intellectual property, as well as cyber security.
The question of Europe and NATO
Stavridis asserts that the relationship between the USA and the EU will still continue to be very strong, with co- operation on Syria and NATO, despite the fact that President Trump has stated that the USA would protect members under Article 5 only if they “pulled their weight” in their contributions to NATO. Nevertheless, Admiral Stavridis believes that “the USA will live up to its treaty agreement and that there will be no ‘test’ of nations.” However, there will be more pressure on countries who are not meeting the 2% level of defence spending to contribute the required level. Stavridis underlines the fact that Greece is one of only five countries out of the 29 who make up NATO, who actually meet the 2% contribution.
To put it into context, the figures spent annually on defence internationally speak for themselves: the USA currently spends $600 billion, the Chinese spend $140 billion and the Russians $80 billion. Europe is right in the middle with a $300 billion annual spend on defence – in other words, they spend more than Russia and China combined, so they are definitely contributing as a whole.
Europe also has 2 million military personnel, mainly volunteers, who have operated in a number of combat zones including Afghanistan, Libya, the Balkans and Syria. It would be“a mistake to simply walk away from all those assets and all of that capability and all of that partnership, which has been on display in real world operations over the last decade.”
Once again, the danger of cybersecurity increases the level of vulnerability of NATO and the nations within the pact; therefore, co-operation is needed for stronger cyber defence, both for the alliance and each country individually. This can be accomplished out of the Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia, which is a NATO entity.
Admiral Stavridis asserts that the US must continue to reach out and serve as a model of democracy, freedom and human rights. “To do this, we must build and maintain bridges with other nations and alliances, such as NATO, which re- mains the richest, most effective military alliance in history.”
The Greek position
Admiral Stavridis states quite clearly “Point no 1 is: Greece matters, and not just in the financial scheme of things.” He has always maintained that Greece “is in an incredibly important geo- graphic position, right on the nexus of terrorist routes, in a very contentious area for NATO, and is a willing participant in all NATO operation.” He adds that “it has been a very good and constructive partner from a geopolitical perspective and it affords extremely important strategic bases for the alliance and the USA” and that it is important that Greece is recognised for this contribution.
When commanding a NATO exercise o the coast of Turkey, near Smyrna, Admiral Stavridis could not fail to be moved by the “most amazing historical irony I could imagine” as the grandson of Greek refugees fleeing for their lives from Turkey.
The general outlook in perspective
In a time which seems highly unsettled (many conflicts, geopolitical in- security, terrorism, cyberwar, uncertainty in politics and the economy), overall people are concerned about the future, yet Admiral Stavridis is pragmatic in his outlook, comparing how life was a hundred years ago, when the world was in the middle of a vicious world war, the onset of the Spanish in influenza epidemic in 1918, the rise of fascism heralding World War II, which would eventually kill 60 million people. Put into this historical context, “we are better o today, with stronger technology, higher standards of living, longer life spans and many other advantages.”
He also feels that “it is important to make the case for reaching out, or building bridges with other nations and societies. We have seen this across the world, when nations try to create security by backing away from their neighbours and severing established relationships, policy failures and insecurity ensues. The Maginot Line, the Iron Curtain, the Bamboo Curtain and the Berlin Wall are all examples of fallen walls and failed policies – the world will come and find us, no matter how hard we try to barricade ourselves from it.”
While much of the world feels pre- carious at present and has many challenges ahead, Admiral Stavridis is cautiously optimistic that “we will not only survive as a global society, but actually improve.”
Furthermore, from his “vantage point” as dean of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University: “I can say with complete confidence that we are forming the next generation of problem solvers who will confront the many issues we face with confidence, intelligence and compassion. They are hungry for the challenge and eager to affect positive change.”