Sunday, November 20, 2016

NATO Workshop Report: Can We Panic Now?

I was in Montreal on Friday for a workshop that been organized to ponder the NATO-Canada relationship after the Warsaw Summit.  Something happened in between the summit and the workshop that makes the summit just a wee bit less central to our thinking about NATO--the rise of Trump.  I learned a great deal from the participants, which included academics from Europe as well as the French General who is the Supreme Allied Commander-Transformation.  This used to be SACLANT, commander of NATO forces in the Atlantic.  Not entire sure what SACT does, but it is one of hte highest jobs in NATO, on par (technically but not politically) with SACEUR (the commander of all NATO forces in Europe.

It was not clear whether this was under Chatham House rules, so I can only give my impressions and reactions.
  • Before this weekend, I was not sure what the acronym for SAC Transformation was--SACT is probably a bit less controversial than SACTRANS.  
  • The officers around SACT were  most sharp, as I had a very informative conversation with one of his staff over lunch.
  • One speaker made me realize that there is a big window of vulnerability for NATO and opportunity for Putin between Trump's inauguration and when the deployments to the Baltics begins.
  • The Europeans generally seemed to share the same hope: that what politicians say in campaigns is different from how they govern.  I pushed back, as we know that politicians do tend to keep their promises AND Trump's first choices for key positions indicates that he is going to be as bad as we feared.
  • As a result, my talk was far more alarmist than anyone else's.  I went so far as to suggest that Lt. Gen Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser might ease the principal-agent relationship between Putin and Trump, serving as the equivalent of a police patrol/commissar (the guys who would shoot Soviet troops if they retreated from the Nazis and ensured party control).  No, I don't really believe Trump is acting on the orders of Putin, so the P-A stuff does not quite apply.  But I do harbor suspicions about Flynn, given that he has been on the payroll of a Russian propaganda outlet (one that invited me for an interview and which I declined).
  • In the course of conversations, I realized why Erdogan of Turkey is more comfortable with Putin these days--the aftermath of the coup attempt has allowed him to shed his democratic clothing and embrace his authoritarian ambitions.  So, he has to ask Putin for the secret handshake for Autocrat Club.  Of course, first rule of Autocrat Club is to kill the media who report about it.  Uh oh.
  • The young folks organizing the conference--UdeM's Phd Students--were super-sharp and well organized, filling in gaps in the program that opened up a few times.  
  • The lunch was a Quebec version of a bento box.  Not bad.
  • Oh yeah, traffic in Montreal sucks more than ever.

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