Each year CFR organizes more than one hundred on-the-record events, conference calls, and podcasts in which senior government officials, global leaders, business executives, and prominent thinkers discuss pressing international issues.  
  • United States

  • Media

    Ted Koppel discusses his distinguished career and the changing nature of journalism and social media. The Distinguished Voices Series focuses particular attention on the contributions made by a prominent individual at a critical juncture in the history of the country or the world.
  • Venezuela

    Panelists discuss the political stalemate in Venezuela, the spillover effects of the humanitarian crisis, and the scenarios and policy options the United States should consider as the regime of Nicolás Maduro continues to threaten regional security.
  • China

    Panelists discuss the U.S.-China technology competition, including China’s advances in the field, U.S. universities’ competition and collaboration with China, and the concerns of the U.S. business community in relying on technology supply chains based in China. The C.V. Starr & Co. Annual Lecture on China was established in 2018 to honor the trailblazing career of C.V. Starr and the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of C.V. Starr & Co., Maurice R. Greenberg.
  • United States

    Alice C. Hill and Leonardo Martinez-Diaz discuss their new book, Building A Resilient Tomorrow: How To Prepare For The Coming Climate Disruption. Decision-makers at all levels of government and business have been actively seeking ways to help communities build resilience to the impacts of climate change. In their book, Hill and Martinez-Diaz offer concrete, actionable policy recommendations and behind-the-scenes stories from their personal experiences in the U.S. government. 
  • China

  • Saudi Arabia

    Speakers discuss the FRONTLINE documentary “The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia” as well as U.S.-Saudi Arabia relations. This film captures the rise to power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his policies over the past two years, including his handling of dissent, vision for Saudi Arabia’s future, and ties to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Watch the full documentary here: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/the-crown-prince-of-saudi-arabia/
  • United States

  • Turkey

  • Democracy

    The 2019 CFR annual Back-to-School Event celebrated the tenth anniversary of the podcast The World Next Week with a live taping before a student audience. CFR Senior Vice President James M. Lindsay, CFR.org Managing Editor Robert McMahon, and Deborah S. Amos of NPR and Princeton University looked back at the last decade and discussed the decline of democracy, the Middle East, and U.S.-China relations.
  • Germany

    German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz discusses fighting climate change in multilateral settings, European economic developments, and German economic policy. ALLEN: Good morning. Thank you all for being here today. And we welcome you to today’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting with Olaf Scholz, the finance minister from Germany. I’m Thad Allen, a member of CFR’s board of directors and a senior executive advisor at Booz Allen Hamilton. I’ll be presiding over today’s discussion. And at this point, I’d like to invite Mr. Scholz to the podium to give his remarks. SCHOLZ: Thank you. Thank you for the kind introduction. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m happy to be here at the Council on Foreign Relations today, and I look forward to be a frank and lively discussion with all of you. I want to use my opening remarks to address a topic that concerns all of us around the globe with increasing urgency, tackling climate change. This year, millions of people, young people in particular, have taken to the streets to remind us of the urgency of limiting global warming. But at the same time, we have seen pushback from those who refuse to grapple with the reality of climate change, who question the science, and who deny the need to take action because they find it inconvenient. I would like to respond to them by quoting one of your founding fathers, John Adams. “Facts are stubborn things. And whatever may be our wishes, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” Manmade climate change is a fact. Another fact, the global community hasn’t done enough so far to limit global warming. None of us, including Germany. Speaking for Germany, I can say we want to change that. To this end, the federal government has recently laid out its multibillion-euro climate strategy for the next decade. As I like to point out, to those that always insist that Germany should be spending more to combat climate change, Germany is investing fifty-four billion euros in the period until 2023. And if you look at the next decade, until 2030 we are in the region of one hundred and fifty billion euros. When we undertake such a massive task, there is one central question that we need to answer: What’s the point? Why do we bother when at the same time new coal-fired power plants are being built in other parts of the globe? When, as in Germany’s case, our share of total global emissions is about 2 percent? My answer is threefold. Firstly, it is the right thing to do. As industrialized countries, we have emitted the bulk of mankind’s greenhouse gas emissions until now. Now we need to acknowledge our responsibility and start leading the fight against climate change. Secondly, we can do it. We have the necessary technological and financial capacity. Germany prides itself on its engineering. If we can show that it is possible to reduce emissions significantly, and be all the more successful for it economically, others will follow suit. We can lead the shift to a low-carbon global economy. And thirdly, it is an opportunity. Yes, making this transition requires a big effort now, but ultimately it will strengthen our industrial base. From battery-powered vehicles to hydrogen fuel cells, we are seeing climate- friendly technologies improve to the point where they are becoming commercially viable, similarly to what happened, for example, to wind energy. The fight against manmade climate change will become a business opportunity. And in a country which prides itself on its business instincts, in a country of dealmakers, I say if you do not join in the fight against climate change you are voluntarily forgoing a great deal. Ladies and gentlemen, the fight against climate change will be the defining issue of the coming decades for all of us. Climate policy will shape all policy areas, economic policy in particular. By the way, we are also seeing this trend at the IMF. Tomorrow, on the margins of the current IMF and World Bank Group meeting, we will be having a special meeting of the coalition of finance ministers for climate action. Increasingly, foreign policy will have to be climate policy. The need for coordinated action to reduce overall emissions is only one of the channels connecting climate change and foreign policy. We need to consider the link between migration and desertification, of flooding, between water scarcity and the potential for international conflicts.   We all know that climate change poses a global challenge. And so, in the fight against it, we will need international cooperation and strong international institutions. Here, at the Council on Foreign Relations, in the heart of the capital of the most powerful nation in the world, I do not have to stress the importance of international cooperation and strong international institutions. Everyone is aware of this, at least almost everyone. Let me put it this way: The future does not belong to those who deny reality and isolate themselves. The future belongs to those who take action together. Thank you. (Applause.) ALLEN: Thank you, Mr. Minister, for the remarks. If I could follow up on your remarks and have you comment on the economic impact in Germany, on their economy, of the proposed climate change package you put together and some of the pros and cons you’ve had to deal with in cobbling that agreement together. SCHOLZ: I would—so it is one hundred and fifty billion for the next ten years. This is quite a lot of extra impact for the economy. But it’s more important that it also helps to do the necessary investments into the infrastructure, for instance, in the railway system, in the infrastructure of our electricity grid, in the infrastructure which is necessary to have new battery companies and things like that. So I think it will be an aspect of future growth, which is coming from the investments we do now. And it will be even more important because if we are able to produce things without fossil—using fossil energy, this might be of big importance in ten or fifteen years when anyone is willing to look for a solution like that. ALLEN: One of the major tools in implementing this program will be a carbon tax. I know there was a lot of discussion on the level of carbon tax, what would actually allow you to achieve your goals. Can you comment on that? SCHOLZ: We have a strategy where we increase the price for using CO2 on different levels. And we are now implementing them step-by-step. One of them which is already decided now is to increase the tax on using airplanes. So there is a special tax we already implemented, and we will increase it. This will be extra benefits for financing what we are doing, but it helps that people use the railway, for instance, where there is a chance to do so. And this is why we, at the same time, reduce the value tax at this level for trains. Then we will have an increase in the car taxes we take if there is a big—if they are producing a lot of CO2. And so we changed the way how people buy cars. This is what we hope. And the third thing is we will have an increase in the road taxes, if you would call it like this, for trucks, if they have very high CO2 emissions. And the last thing is then to have a very special CO2 taxation, which is an extra model. We will organize it in a way that the people have to buy certificates. And we start with the low price, increasing it for the next years up to 2025. And afterwards, there will be a market which will be built because we have the agreed limit of CO2 emissions by Germany in the sectors of transport, of housing, of heating, of every culture and small businesses. And this is going down each year. And if enough investment into reducing CO2 emissions would have been done before, the price will increase. I think if nothing would happen it will increase up to a hundred euros per ton of CO2. And knowing this, I hope—and all of us hope—that this will have an impact on private—on decisions in the future. ALLEN: I think any great technological challenge, at least in this day in age, cannot be solved by an individual country or the private sector. There’s a large automobile manufacturing industry in Germany. Can you comment on the public-private conversation that goes on around an agreement like this, and how you actually interact with the private sector, specifically the automobile manufacturing sector? SCHOLZ: The first thing to understand is there is nothing—there is nothing like a German car industry. There is a European car industry. And this is a market of four hundred and fifty million people living there, if we expect that the United Kingdom will have left the European Union soon. But there is a common decision about CO2 emissions, which are allowed for cars in the next years, and a very strong aim for 2030. This is due for cars and for trucks. And it’s very similar what is happening in China, for instance. So big markets of the world are giving regulations, which are saying the production of CO2, the emission of CO2 should be reduced, otherwise you will have to pay a lot of extra money in this case to the European Union. And this is the field where all our activities are now taking part, because they are an environment where anyone knows there is a big market that asks for other cars, which will be battery electric cars, which will be plug-in hybrids, which will be in the end, especially for the big ones, hydrogen with—using hydrogen with—and all the things which are necessary for that. And I think that this is now going on. Because the market is big enough, what we now do is building the infrastructure. Our aim is now one hundred—one million charging points for electricity in the streets. ALLEN: Thank you. Since you mentioned Brexit, it looks like the outline of an agreement is coming together, at latest from the press reports. Can you comment on how this is actually moving along, and the potential economic impacts for not only Germany, but the European Union and specifically the euro? SCHOLZ: It’s a good message that there is, again, an agreement on how the Brexit could take part. It is much later than we expected, but in the end it is early enough if the House of Commons will accept it tomorrow. And I hope that they will do. It’s good for the U.K. economy, because they would suffer a lot if there would be a hard Brexit. It’s good also for Europe, because there is some uncertainty which is related to a hard Brexit. We are prepared for that. Mostly in the financial sector there will be no problems because anything is done, and it’s more virtual. You can do it easily. The bigger problems are coming from the supply chain of goods in Europe, because there is already something where a car that is produced is produced at forty places, and it’s going back and forth. And if you interrupt this supply chain, this has a negative impact on economic growth. So I would be very happy if we will not have to suffer from those problems. ALLEN: Thank you. One of the issues with introducing new technologies, and I think we see this globally, is the transition of workforces at new jobs. You have a very strong apprentice model in Germany. Any comments regarding how you’ve been able to adapt to changes in technology, some of the things that you just mentioned, and how you actually build the workforce to do that? SCHOLZ: The most important thing is that we have to invest in research and development. This is my—I’m absolutely sure about that. And if you look at what Germany is doing this is quite a lot. It’s more than 3 percent of GDP now, which is one of the reasons for the global competitiveness of the German economy. But the other part of skilled labor. And, yes, we have this model of apprenticeship which is working really well. The more important question is to convince young men and women leaving the schools that this is something they should use for their activities and for their—for their vocation, for their training. And the second is to convince the companies that they offer something like that, like an apprenticeship. And this should be changed due to the new needs. So now anyone is in the car industry, trying to figure out how to people could deal with electricity, which is not the case in this size today. My view is that we not—should be not just successful at university and at the vocational training schools to react to the changing request of the economy due to technical reasons. We also should be able to have a better chance for adult people to change their profession. So my view is something of an apprenticeship which is better financed than when you are seventeen years old or so, but with forty-six or fifty-one, to take a new job if the world changed. And I think this is one of the things that people expect from us for being safe in an always changing world. ALLEN: Thank you. As you know, we’re pretty occupied in this country right now with issues related to trade between the U.S. and China. I wonder if you want to comment on the impact that has on the European Union and Germany specifically, that maybe is not caught up in the discussion that we hear, which tends to be bilateral between the U.S. and China. SCHOLZ: We are very much looking at the trade conflict between the United States and China, because it has already an impact on the global economy. And this is not just because of tariffs. They have an impact, and anyone can find out that they will reduce growth, and they are already doing in United States, in China, and in the rest of the world. But the more important aspect of this conflict is that there is a growing uncertainty. And if those taking decisions in the companies all over the world are not sure what the future will be about, they postpone their decisions. And the lower growth in the global economy we face today is the—is the direct outcome of postponing decisions because no one is sure what will be the future about. And so this is one of the reasons why this conflict should end as soon as possible. And it would be a good message for world economy if this would happen. ALLEN: Thank you. Assuming that Brexit occurs and you’re not dealing with the British pound, just the euro community, there have been some stresses in the past, the—Greece and others. How do you see the European position to move forward and deal with those kind of challenges when they arise? SCHOLZ: When the U.K. will have left the European Union, 85 percent of GDP will be directly produced in Europe. There is—there are two countries now directly asking for participating in the euro system very soon. And I think that earlier than anyone expects, all the rest of the countries will follow. We don’t know yet if this will be in five or ten years, but it will be earlier than anyone thinks. And then the whole European Union will have one currency in the end. I’m sure about this. And we managed to be more effective in fighting crises. We did so with Ireland, with Spain, with Portugal, with Cyprus, and with Greece—especially the Greek program was the biggest program in the world to save a country that lost its contact with the world—to the financial markets—bigger than any program the IMF financed before. And this shows that there is a lot of strength in Europe to do things like that. And now we build the necessary institutions, and we are remodeling them now at this time to be more successful. Also, to act much—a long time before a real crisis appears on the scenery. And this will be one of the aspects of the changing agreements we are looking for in Europe. We did our political work the last year, and we are now doing the legal work to make it feasible. ALLEN: Moving beyond the euro, we live in a digital world and we’ve seen the rise of digital currency. Would appreciate any thoughts you might have on how that’s evolved. And recently Facebook indicated that they might launch their own digital currency. Your views? SCHOLZ: First, to be—frankly, there is a technical and economic question, which is related to this approach. And this is that there should be a better payment system. Cross-border payments should be faster and should cost less than they do today. And the payment systems within our countries need to improve as well. So there is something to do and to organize. But this is not the reason for building a new private-owned currency. I think this would be a danger for all democratic states, but in the end for all states, if the sovereignty on currency is moving from states to private-owned companies. And I would like to say directly, this should not happen. It was not the best model of developing the world to have this private companies, like the West Indies investment companies from London and from Amsterdam. We shouldn’t have something—like in a currency way—in our twenty-first century. ALLEN: Thank you. Interested in your views in the context of what we’ve just been discussing about the European Central Bank and the future of that institution moving forward. SCHOLZ: The European Central Bank was successful in fighting the last crisis. And President Draghi was really successful when he said that they will do whatever it takes. And I think this was the important sentence for making this a strong currency that is able to fight any difficult situation. And now, after all the reforms we have done and the reforms we are working on, I think the European Central Bank is stable. And with the new president, Madam Lagarde, who has a lot of experience and who made a very great job at the IMF, I’m sure that this institution will be able to do the right decisions, in all the different economic situations we will have to survive. ALLEN: Thank you. There’s been some discussion about the possibility or the potential for a larger European budget, the ability to do eurozone public bonds. Your views? SCHOLZ: These are two questions. I very much supported the idea of my French colleague that we should do something about the eurozone budget. And we made a common proposal to our friends in the European Union and the euro group. Now we succeeded to get consensus on a special model, which is not including any aspect that was in the discussion in the beginning, but in the end we will have it. It will have a small size in the beginning, but it is the model to enlarge it, if there is the time to enlarge it. And so the more important question is to have the institutional framework for acting, which is taking years to get it. And now when we will get it, we have it to use it for immediate action, if there is a need for it. And this is, I think, what is the best advantage from the proposal and from the agreements that we had in the last meeting of the finance ministers in Europe. My view on bonds is that we need to build something like really working banking union. And my idea is that we should very much look to the United States, because this is also—or, this is a federal state. They have some central institutions that work quite well. And so we have to understand how in a big continent like the United States is—in the end, it is feasible to have a united banking system. The FDIC is something we have to look at, and things like that. And if we do this, I think there will be more stability in the banking sector in Europe. It will be much more able to solve problems with—for financing we will have a better growth. But this is the next big task. And if we do so, I think sovereign bonds will be part of the banking sheets in the end. And they will have—they have to find out how they do it themselves. ALLEN: Across the range of topics we’ve talked about this morning you’ve emphasized multilateral institutions and cooperation as a way to move ahead. My last question, before we go to the fellows here in the room is, just your general view on multilateral institutions, transatlantic partnerships. And moving, and this world is getting more complex, and the tension between nationalist and populist movements, and where do you see all this headed? SCHOLZ: I think the only way for a good future is the multilateral approach. We will be not successful just to look at our own nations, because the world is getting closer. And it is better to cooperate. My view on the world of 2050, or of the world in hundred years is more or less that there will be big countries. The United States will be one of them, and obviously the strongest, as they are today. But there will be other strong countries or groups. Hopefully Europe will be one of them. There will be still Russia, there will be China, but there will be also India. And if you just look at India and China and their part of GDP they had two hundred, three hundred years ago, this is something which gives us an advice how the world will be in thirty-forty years. And knowing this, it is really wise now to work for a multilateral world that works and not to do the things which are more on the line to avoid situations with a lot of strong nations. ALLEN: Thank you. At this time, I’d like to invite members to join our conversation with their questions. Just a couple of reminders. This meeting is on the record. Please wait for the microphone and speak directly into it. And please stand and state your name and your affiliation. And if you can limit your request to one question and allow as many members as possible to speak. At this time, we’ll take your questions. Q: My name is Hattie Babbitt. I’m on the board of director of the World Resources Institute, which is a global environmental think tank, but based in Washington. And I’d like to get back to the climate change issue. One of the things that has happened in the environmental community in the past has been that we have been shuffled to the environment ministry in discussing climate change. You spoke very eloquently about the role that the finance ministers are now playing in this. And I wonder if you could talk about how you have been successful—those of you—those of you who are finance ministers and dealing with this—in bringing together the health ministries, the people involved within your governments on refugees, on what—those other issues that all feed into the climate change issue. It’s herding cats, in some cases. And I’d be grateful for your—to learn how. SCHOLZ: We should understand that climate change is one of the really big challenges we are facing, and that it is not—we will be not successful if we just act in the responsibility of the ministry that is responsible for climate, and environment, and things like that. So cooperation is necessary, and that we understand that all the different decisions we take are linked to each other. If we are not successful in fighting climate change, this will have deep impacts on the economy. This will have impacts on the situation of refugees, as you already mentioned. This will have impact on the natural resources we can use, and so on. And so I think this is absolutely key that we understand this is nothing we just let those who are directly responsible. We have to cooperate, and we have to think about the necessary steps. So my view is governments should have a common strategy to fight against climate change. And we should discuss on international levels with all those involved in the different views of the question. But we must go from literature, discussing, speeches and things like that. We must go to action. This is the real change that needs to happen now. ALLEN: I’ll come back over here. Q: Hi. My name is Charles Reynolds, State Department Foreign Service officer going out to Berlin for my next assignment. I’d like to know if you can talk about the shape of the state of Germany’s economy and if there is potentially a global slowdown how that may affect you, and what steps you’re taking to prepare for that. SCHOLZ: First, the economic situation in Germany is not that bad. We have the highest number of people employed we had ever. And there’s—all the forecasts say that there will be a continuous increase in labor, and people at the workforce. So in the dimensions of Germany, we are now—have more than 45 million people employed, which is really a lot. And we haven’t had that much ever in the past. And we have a lot of industries, not just but also construction, where they are desperately looking for better capacities because they are not able to work for all the requests which are there on the market. And we have quite a very stable situation in the inner market of Germany. So there is an increase in growth coming from that, which helps in the difficult situation we have due to the global economy. We had to support the situation with reducing taxes for low- and middle-income families. We increased the support for childs in the families. We will get mostly rid of a special tax we implemented after German unification for financing it. So there is a lot of impulses for growth coming from Germany itself. But in the end, if you are a really competitive economy that’s successful on the global market with goods and services, as lower growth in the world has an impact on your economy. There is no—nothing to avoid that. But if you understand that there is this slower growth, we are still having a quite—not a difficult situation. This is my view on that—on that aspect. And just referring to some of the public debates we sometimes have, we have the biggest figure of public investment financed by the federal budget we have had ever and this is how just supported also by these special decisions we took on climate change, and the investments related to that. ALLEN: Thank you. Q: So there is a growing view that monetary policy has been pushed too far, to the detriment of the economy. That emergency measures in the past have been regularly applied to non-urgent conditions. So how do member states, especially important ones like Germany, play a role to help steer a different course going forward? SCHOLZ: I think we did a lot to understand the situation. We have very good supervision institutions. Not just the European Central Bank, but many others. And they cooperate a lot in the world. So our knowledge about the difficulties in the financial system, problems that may come up, are much better than they had been before. And after the last crisis, we took a lot of decisions to have better regulations. I’m a bit afraid that now, at this stage, some people think they should get rid of them, which I think would be a mistake because they had good reasons for being implemented. And if we are working on this field very exactly and understand the development in the financial system well enough, we are able to act very soon if there—if a problem is coming up. And just for looking at the European Union, already mentioned that aside of the European Central Bank we built up the European Stability Mechanism, which is giving us the ability to support a country that has—that’s losing contact with the financial markets. We have the ability through this system to help a country out of a difficult structural crisis. And we now are remodeling it to have better instruments. This will be supported also by the eurozone budget we spoke about before. And we built up a system of how to deal with banks that are relevant for financial security. And there is a supervision or an authority that has been built in Europe. And we built a fund that is financed by the banks to the resolution of banks, if necessary. So there is a lot of activity that has been done to be much more prepared for a difficult situation than we were ten years ago. And this is a reason for being quite confident that we will be able to manage situations. ALLEN: Thank you. In the back. Q: Thanks. I’m Megan Greene. I’m a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. And some of my colleagues have put together this atlas of economic complexity. I’m not sure if you’ve seen it, but Germany is a terrifying outlier on it. So they basically look at countries and what they produce, and connectiveness of what they produce. So how easy is it, if you produce one thing, to jump into something else? And it turns out for Germany, it scores very low on connectiveness. It’s really easy for Germany to jump into other industries. They also look at complexity, so how easy is it for you to move up the value chain and boost your productivity. And there, Germany is actually already at the top, which suggests there’s really no more room for Germany to move up the value chain. And this suggests, you know, the common narrative is that Germany needs to provide fiscal stimulus, and that will solve everything. This actually suggests that won’t solve much of anything. So I’m just wondering if you have any plans at all for what to do about this connectivity, complexity problem. Because Germany really is an outlier here. SCHOLZ: So in a situation where the economy is running quite well and where we have a lot of people employed, and where a lot of Mittelstand companies are successful in the world market, it is quite—it is—I do not agree that there is not an ability to develop new technologies and to be successful in the future markets. I think many of them do. The main aspect of this is spending money for research and development, which is happening quite well. And we are increasing it right now. We are launching a new act which is dealing with the question of supporting research activities in private medium-sized companies to have it not just in the big corporates but also in many other activities in the business environment. So I believe that we would be able to react to different situations. And what is happening now is that the country is remodeling itself and becoming more independent from fossil energies. And this will help us to be successful in the future as well. My view is, just to give you the figure, that it is necessary to increase research and development as the aspect of getting the future, and not just having it in some companies, and not just having it at universities and research institutions—which is something the state can do—but also enabling the companies to do it all very broadly. And this was the mood of the past. Now they have to do the necessary decisions. My view is that if we make it, for instance, to have mobility that is not related on fossil energies, but working with batteries, with plug-in hybrids, with hydrogen, this will be something which will support the activities of many companies, not just big car producers but all the supplier industries around. And this is the same with the energy supply in the country. This is the same in investment into infrastructure for supporting the digital development. What is the things we have to do in Europe and in Germany? I think we have to make it more easy to have big digital companies that are able to be successful on the world market. Some of them occur, but they are not of the size they should have to—if you look at the dimension of the European Union. And working in this field, I think, not just on legislation but also on legislation, not just on research but also on research, and not just in business but also in business, I think is key. Q: Hi. Andrea Shalal. I just wanted to build on that question. ALLEN: Who are you with? Q: I’m with Reuters. Andrea Shalal with Reuters. I wanted to build on that question. So in—there is a lot of sense that China kind of won the artificial intelligence race, and a lot of the sort of development on higher-end technologies, and that Europe has waited too long to get into that game. You’ve just mentioned this lack of critical mass on companies. Do you anticipate any changes coming? I mean, are you able to convince the EU—the new EU Commission that perhaps there should be sort of mega-companies and mergers allowed? And then, just very quickly on the technology piece, where do you see opportunities for Germany and for Europe to get ahead or get into a sort of pull position to make a difference in the future technologies? SCHOLZ: Most things will depend on whether we are successful in continuing the building of the European Union and its market. The next step is the banking union. And this should have—and the capital market union—to make it more successful, as they are today. And one of the outcomes should be that there is a change in the way how we finance the business. If you compare the United States to Europe, you will find that 80 percent of financing the business is equity. In Europe, it’s 20 percent. And my view is that there should be a change. And building the banking union and the capital market union could be a way to get there, and to get further growth for those companies who are successful in inventing new technologies, which is happening all over Europe. But they should always understand that there is market that they can reach very soon, and which is not fragmented. And this must be the European Union, with its four hundred and fifty million inhabitants. And we should cooperate in questions like artificial intelligence, and increase our public research activities, which we are doing. This is happening in most of the countries. Germany is doing a lot. France is doing a lot. Many other also. And if we join our forces, I think there is a chance that this is the basis for then later business models coming from that. We are working in the question of some cooperation in this field. And if we continue to do things like that, it is not that difficult. Where we should have a better progress is better cooperation. And it must be necessary that the next commission is working how we can make it easier that two things are happening. First, new companies to become big very soon, and being supported by equity markets so that they can grow by this support. And looking at the whole European market as the first one to get. And second, the opportunity for those companies who could be successful in the world market if they get together. And I think there is something that should be changed. The third is that we are very successful in opening markets, especially our own, but we are not very successful in defending the markets. So we did a lot that big payment companies now can get into cooperation with any bank in Europe. But we did not make it feasible that these banks could cooperate with the payment companies and ask them to give them access to their technical opportunities for their clients. And this is just a big mistake, and I think it will stop very soon. Q: Hi. Rebecca Patterson from Bessemer Trust. I’m an investor. It seems to me that there’s a difficult challenge that Europe so far has been very successful with, which is managing or balancing national, economic and political priorities with the regional European monetary union and EU goals. And you talked about the importance of working across countries to succeed in the future, whether it’s banking union, et cetera. Do you think there’s enough leadership within the monetary union today to drive that forward at the speed that’s required? And do you think that the German population appreciates the need to be thinking not only domestically but also regionally? You’ve got a strong consumer in Germany. What’s pulling down Germany is broad. It’s not domestic. SCHOLZ: Yes, there is a need for leadership. And as I’m part of this leadership in Europe, I think we will be successful. (Laughter.) And to the second question, just to give you an idea, on the question of banking union we are working very hard. And I will also make my own proposals on those questions very soon, because I think it is not wise just to speak about it. As in the question of climate change, we have to go to action. We have to understand what is the right way to do. And this is why I said we have to look at the United States. They have their banking union, in a way. And learning from that, we could do something, which is then a European approach which would be successful. And the second question, about the people if they accept that it is better for them to be part of a strong European economy and a strong and sovereign European Union, yes, I think there is a broad majority in Germany understanding it. And if you argue in the questions and explain what is necessary for it, I think you will have the support of the people. There is no need for being afraid. Q: Hello. Brad Setser. I’m a senior fellow here at the Council on Foreign Relations.  I’m wondering if you would be willing to comment on the consequences of negative interest rates for fiscal policy, both in Germany but also for European fiscal rules. And in particular, do you believe that it is still necessary for questions like France and Italy to aim to bring their debt-to-GDP ratios down to 60 percent? SCHOLZ: I think that it is one of the key advantages in building the European Central Bank Germany fought for that we have an independent central bank. So the decisions on interest rates, which are taken by the central bank and all the activities they undertake, are their business. We are discussing with them, we have our own views on the one or the other discussion. But if you are the one that was fighting for independence, you cannot always intervene and say, please do it the following, because this would be a wrong arrangement in this field. So I think, just looking at the past, that the European Central Bank more or less did necessary things. And especially what Mr. Draghi said when there was the big crisis. And what he did was a big advantage, which saved the European economies. And we should not forget that. This is my view on this question. So we will see what will happen the next time. My view on interest rates is that the problem is not just a question of central banks, neither in Europe, nor in the Bank of England, nor the Fed, or the Bank of Japan, or—and so on. There is a lot of money in the world looking for interest and for ways to earn money. And if they are—and they have to go to the real economy, and to invest more in this field. But this is the question we are dealing with. And as it is the case that we have that much money, this will have an impact on interest rates, aside of the activities of the central banks. It’s not just a central bank question, to my—this is my point of view. On the GDP—debt-to-GDP ratio, I think it’s wise to have a stable financial situation. You should do it very intelligent, to look at the situation where you are in and where you want to get to. In the case of Germany, when there was the last crisis we increased the debt-to-GDP ratio to 80 percent. Now we are doing down this year down under 60 percent. And having this idea of being able to act in a crisis, but using better times to get to a lower debt-to-GDP ratio I think is still wise, because the strength in the crisis is key for the ability to do something against negative impacts coming from a world economy slowdown, and things like that. And the message for Germany is we would be able to do anything necessary. And this is, I think, a good message. ALLEN: I’ll throw a question in. Would you care to comment on the current large current account surplus in Germany, and certainly the larger eurozone, and what should be done, if anything, to bring it down? SCHOLZ: The surplus is the outcome of business activities. And it was already mentioned, there was a question about it, but the strong Mittelstrand companies being competitive on the world market are the reason for the surplus. And in the end, any country needs some companies that are not just acting on the home market, but also worldwide. And they may be small. They may have just five hundred employees, or two hundred, or two thousand or so. But if they are competitive, this is the key reason for strength, and economic strength. And the outcome of this sometimes is then the surplus you mentioned. For the future, just to give you some figures, there is more than $500 billion which are invested in research and development by the United States. It’s a bit smaller from China, but they are at this size. Japan is at about $170 billion research and development. Germany is about $130-140 billion. The rest is following far behind. If the European Union would do the same as Germany is doing, investing more than 3 percent of GDP in research and development, it would be $600 billion. And this is one of the answers to your question. Q: Gale Mattox from the U.S. Naval Academy. Let me ask you another percentage, and that is the one that this administration mentioned often, and that’s the 2 percent for defense. Where do you stand on this? And will you meet the Wales summit percentage that you agreed to? SCHOLZ: We increased the military budget in the last years more than we did all the years before. And we did it due to needs from our defense forces. And this is part of our activities within the NATO, since we are supporting very much transatlantic partnership and all the things related to that. We are always doing it in a way that we can finance it from our budget. And this is, I think, the most important message. What we do, we will be able to continue to do in the next years. And if we have increases, they should be not just for one year, or for two. They should be something that is stable for the future as well. And constantly we are working on this question, looking at our budget abilities, and things like that. And as you look—see from the past, there has been a bigger increase than we had before. ALLEN: Maybe I’ll close out with a question related to our conversation before we came in. If you read the minister’s biography, you know he’s a former mayor of Hamburg, Germany, a major seaport. We had a discussion, maybe we could extend it into the room here, sir, on maritime transportation growth. Ninety-five percent of the goods that come in and out of the United States go by sea. There are environmental issues related to that. There are cyber issues. There are issues regarding modernization of ports. You had some interesting views. Would you like to share them? SCHOLZ: Yeah. We had a very interesting debate on that question. I hadn’t expected it, but it was really something which I was—I discussed about very much when I was the mayor of the city of Hamburg. I think we should understand that for globalization and for the global economy, shipping is key. It’s a cheap transport we have. And without the ships, and without the containers, all the possibilities we—advantages we had from globalization would not happen. But we have to manage it in a way that it is good for our future. So we have to reduce emissions. It is necessary that decisions are taken, and that we try to implement it into the shipping systems. We have to do something with the ports, so that there is less emissions-producing problems for the people. And for instance, I think we should make it feasible that when they are at the shore, in the port, they should—they should use electricity from land and not from the ship with some diesel, and things like that. And we should discuss about something, which is getting away from a permanent growth of the size of ships. So we are now—we reached twenty thousand containers, and more. I don’t think that we should give—go far beyond that, because this would have constantly new investments necessary in all the ports all over the world. This would enforce dredging and things like that all over the world, which is not the best thing for the environment. And so international agreement possibly about the size of ships and the further enlargement could be helpful for environment and for the world economy. ALLEN: Thank you. We have time for one final question. Otherwise, we’ll give you back a couple minutes here. Thank you very much, sir, for joining us this morning. We appreciate it. (Applause.) (END)
  • Economics

    Jens Weidmann discusses the challenges facing the Deutsche Bundesbank, the role of central banks in Europe, and the global effects of transatlantic trade tensions. This event is cosponsored with the American Council on Germany. The C. Peter McColough Series on International Economics brings the world's foremost economic policymakers and scholars to address members on current topics in international economics and U.S. monetary policy. This meeting series is presented by the Maurice R. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies.
  • Russia

    Panelists provide first-hand accounts of the 1986 Reykjavik Summit with U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and discuss how the Cold War–era meeting shaped future U.S.-Russia relations and efforts to dismantle nuclear weapons programs.  WALLANDER: Good evening. Welcome to today’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting, Eyewitness to History: Reagan and Gorbachev at Reykjavik. I am Celeste Wallander, president and CEO of the U.S.-Russian Foundation. And I will be presiding over this fantastic event his history. I am going to introduce our speakers using the titles they held at the moment of that historic event. (Laughter.) You have their bios, and they are well-known to you. But I thought it would be nice to remind you, because we are with eyewitnesses to history, from which perch they were witnessing that history. So, first, we can Steve Sestanovich, who was senior director for policy development on the National Security Council. Ambassador Roz Ridgway, who was assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs. And Kenneth Adelman, who was director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. Some of those titles—in fact, all the—all the titles still exist, but I’m not sure all the agencies do. (Laughter.) So it’s a good thing we have these witnesses to history, so we don’t lose those important elements of U.S. foreign policy. So I’m going to start—I thought we would start by stepping back a little bit and thinking about what was—what the United States was trying to deal with in terms of priorities and challenges that were posed, generally, in the Soviet relationship, but priorities for the United States and the Reagan administration at the time. And I wanted to ask Roz if you would start with that kind of strategic context for our members and our colleagues. RIDGWAY: I think at the time, starting in 1985, when we were in Geneva, the United States had for some time been looking for a dialogue partner with the Soviet Union because so many of the issues of the day, not just arms control but the regional issues, the Afghanistans, the Central Americas, even the question of how to build an embassy and have it not so wired that you couldn’t talk anywhere except maybe in the garden out in back, and even then it was questionable. (Laughter.) Just a number of large issues and small irritants that had come together to clog up the dialogue with the Soviet Union, and a sense, I think, throughout the United States government, all agencies, that somehow had to be found to have a dialogue partner. But of course, we had to wait for that person to emerge on the Soviet scene and be willing, in fact, to meet with the United States at an appropriate level. And so by 1985, with Gorbachev in place, with Margaret Thatcher telling the world that he was somebody that we could all work with on the issues that were of concern, we went off to Geneva for the president to meet Gorbachev for the first time. And I think it was at that meeting, at the first summit, that so much of what was successful about Reykjavik, and I’m among those who say in retrospect Reykjavik was a success, that the—that the necessities for successful Reykjavik were in large part put in place, starting with the relationship between Reagan and Gorbachev. The two men met as equals, very much an objective of President Reagan who was determined to treat Gorbachev with the respect of a head of a state, even though people back in Washington were still, for the most part, calling him names and the like. They met in a private conversation. They emerged from that, I think, feeling quite good about their ability to talk with each other. And then off-program, marched down to a cabin by the water that had been set aside with a fireplace and a fire going. And the two of them walked off and talked. Came out and announced they had agreed on two summits. One in Washington and one in Moscow. Which surprised everyone. It was probably the last item on the agenda. People though it was going to be a tough one to get. The other thing that I would—I would point out is that the agenda was still taking shape. The Soviet side was not at all convinced that human rights belonged in the bilateral agenda. They wondered about regional issues, and certainly they considered probably the bilateral things as embassy management and the like as sort of beneath the dialogue. But in fact, that was not—was not the case. The one instance that I watched in Geneva that I would—I would make a prelude to what these people saw on arms control, using simultaneous translation for the very first time—not that boring consecutive translation where you fall asleep for thirty minutes while somebody speaks in a language you don’t know, and then they fall asleep for thirty minutes while it was translated. It had been agreed that at least in the American-sponsored dialogue that it would be simultaneous translation. The two men met eye to eye, with instantaneous understanding of the words that were being used, in—I think in an incident that most everybody refers to, the president in discussing under arms control—and he had already done, by the way, human rights at length in his private discussion with Gorbachev—says that: Look, I’m willing to give you, we’re willing to give you, access to the SDI technology after all of this takes place, as soon as we get rid of all of the nuclear weapons. And Gorbachev, looking at him across the table, caused all of us to drop our pencils when he said: You won’t even give us milking machine technology. Why should I think that you would give us the SDI technology? (Laughter.) And we had this flashpoint, but it was engagement at that very high level of the two men who were responsible, ultimately for these issues. And it was that and the agreed statement, that started out nuclear wars cannot be won and must never be fought, that both men signed onto that got us headed then to what was supposedly going to be the Washington summit. And if you remember then 1986, it was a dreadful year. Chernobyl in the spring. We had some evidence of the Marine guard having more romances than were good for the security of the embassy in Moscow. There were a number of issues that came up, ending then with the case of Nick Daniloff. And the case of Nick Daniloff just about broke the relationship. We could not find a way to solve it. People kept saying our guy is OK, their guy’s a spy. They said, your guy’s a spy and our guy’s OK. And it was a public discussion as to how this was going to be resolved. It was resolved quietly. Long discussions between Shevardnadze and George Shultz. Referred back then to Moscow. And a formula was arrived at that involved a summit meeting away from the capital, the release of dissidents. And an agreement to return to the arms control agenda. And that all appeared in a letter from Gorbachev to Reagan. And everybody was surprised. It seemed the way out of a difficult situation. It seemed the way to address the issues in arms control that were frozen in Geneva, and to get on then with four-part agenda—again, a new start on human rights, on the regional issues, and the rest. And so it was agreed Reykjavik. Thought there were too many distractions in London. Not so many in Reykjavik. And let’s got to Reykjavik. And that’s what we agreed to. And that was the background. But the men who arrived with Reykjavik, with full teams, were men who understood each other, who knew how to talk with each other, who respected each other even though they violently disagreed on this particular subject of SDI, and who made it possible then to hope that some headway could be made in these vital issues for the United States—with the world watching, knowing that nuclear weapons were the greatest threat for all of them. WALLANDER: Great. Thank you very much, Roz. So, Ken, what was the arms control agenda? I mean, arms control now, I fear this generation of college students is not going to know what that means—(laughter)—but that was the primary—a primary element of bilateral, you know, superpower relations. And you were the one who was responsible for figuring out what would be discussed in Reykjavik. What were the issues you needed to address? ADELMAN: Well, it’s wonderful following Roz, because Roz did a wonderful job as the assistant secretary. And George Shultz was always very, very fond of you, and thought you were terrific. And Steve was the most brilliant guy around for sure on what the Soviets were like and what they were up to— RIDGWAY: I’m not going to buy that car, no matter what you say. (Laughter.) ADELMAN: But I do remember in the Geneva summit when we had lunch with Reagan. And, Roz, you were there. When Reagan came out from the morning meeting with Gorbachev. And he had a little joke for us all. He left his arm out of his sleeve and said at lunch, where is this arm? I had it before we started? (Laughter.) And then Reagan started talking, and in the Reaganesque way he was, wherever his mind would take him. And it took him to the queen, he was riding horses with the queen and talking about Granada for a while. And then, you know, one of us said, well, how about Gorbachev? And, you know—(laughter)—the whole world is here wondering what happened. And he said, well, Gorbachev is just a new type of Soviet leader. And it sounded very profound. I thought to myself, well, he’s never met another type of Soviet leader, but—(laughter)—we’ll let that go. But this was the first Soviet leader he ever met. Anyway, turned out to be true. And we were on our way. We were on our way that didn’t last very long. And the whole purpose of Reykjavik was that Gorbachev, in the summer of—late summer of 1986 decided the whole thing was stuck. And everybody was boring each other like crazy, like we had for many, many years in Geneva for these absolutely sonorific and awful sessions that would repeat each other. And we needed something to crack it open. And so he suggested that they meet. We had set up, and Roz was really responsible, and Steve did a wonderful job, setting up the Geneva summit. And that took about a half a year, as I remember. Reykjavik was a come-as-you-are grab summit. It was, you know, a surprise party summit that was announced, I think, fourteen days in advance. And, you know, the Secret Service went to our ambassador in Iceland, who was very fond of deep sea fishing—so it was kind of a good post for him, to tell you the truth—and said that, you know, the good news is ten days the president’s coming over and taking over the residence here. And he was all excited. And he said, the bad news is you’re going to have to move out. And he wasn’t very pleased about it, and we didn’t see him for the rest of that weekend. (Laughter.) But one of—I think one of the charms of Reykjavik and one of the amazing parts of Reykjavik was because it was so quick. And we had a president and we had a Soviet leader, that really were not buried in memos, were not buried in talking points, were not buried in studies and analysis. And when you look back at the notes—the American notes and the Russian notes of what happened at Reykjavik, I think they were more like themselves than at any time when they were in office. They were saying what came to mind and without any kind of reins on them. And Reagan, you know, would have these pronouncements that were totally against U.S. policy. (Laughs.) And, you know, for example, on, you know, the ABM Treaty and on mutually assured destruction he would just say, well, he thought it was just immoral. Well, that was the U.S. policy, and it had been the U.S. policy for forty years. And presumably he had known about the policy and bought onto it. But he was just denouncing it to Gorbachev. So it was a real natural. It was ten and a half hours. I don’t know if any of you have ever spent ten and a half hours talking to one person for—in one weekend, which is two days—it’s a long time to talk to somebody. And they were doing it without notes, and really very, very little participation by Shultz and Shevardnadze. What’s so surprising is during the ten and a half hours neither president, neither head of state, turns to his one person in the room who is there advising him and says: What do you think? RIDGWAY: I think that there’s a little bit of note passing. ADELMAN: There’s a little note passing, but it was, you know, right on kind of note passing, which is good to do with a president. Oh, you’re doing a great job, kind of thing. (Laughter.) Steady as she goes, right now. But that’s not very helpful. It’s nice, but it’s not helpful. And so the two of them were just by themselves. And it was a remarkable time. I remember at 4:30 in the afternoon on Sunday, after we had gone into overtime. And Reagan sat in the corner of the second floor of the Höfði house, plopped down. He said: I’ll go down there one more time, but that’s it. And he said, you know, I told Nancy I’d be home for dinner tonight. And I volunteered very kindly, well, she knows where you are. It’s not like you stopped in a bar on the way home, or anything like that. We had 3,200 press on the lawn right there. And that was the only story that weekend. And he said, I know, but I told Nancy I’d be home by now. So we decided that this was going to be the last time down. And it didn’t work because Gorbachev wanted basically to kill SDI. So all the negotiations that we had done the night before, starting at 6:00 at night, ending at 6:20 in the morning. And we reported in the bubble to the president at 8:30 that we had accomplished more than night than we had in seven-and-a-half years in arms control negotiations in Geneva—more that one night—and then Gorbachev on Sunday tied it all to SDI. And we were off the rails then. RIDGWAY: But a question that was with all of us, how many of these concessions—how much of this advance in these Geneva negotiations will following over in the following period? ADELMAN: Right. Mmm hmm. WALLANDER: So, Steve, I want to pick up on something that Ken alluded to, which is that there’s this new Soviet leader, the new general secretary. We had a little hint of what his priorities were by ’86. The terms glasnost and perestroika were being—no one knew exactly how they were going to be implemented. But the important one for what your responsibilities were at the time—(laughs)—new thinking—actually hadn’t been expressed. And so there was a lot of debate. And it was your job for this meeting to figure out, is he—is he a Soviet leader of a new type? Are his—is his agenda such that there’s a space there? Take us back to thinking about how do you figure this out? What were you thinking? What were you advising? What were you writing to the president, even if he was—even if he was not listening to any of his advisors, apparently, in the actual room? SESTANOVICH: Well, but that’s the important point here. You have, just to distill what Roz and Ken are very amusingly telling you. Which is, you have a very deep anxiety on the part of the staff about what the boss is going to do. (Laughter.) And I mean, I remember coming back from Geneva, and afterwards hearing that Reagan had thought Gorbachev was a completely new guy. You know, as he said, Maggie was right, we can do business with him. And so the staff said, well, what makes him think that? And the answer was, well, Gorbachev doesn’t believe in Marxism-Leninism. And we thought, well, how did he come to that conclusion? And you know, in some ways Reagan was right about that. But he intuited it while the rest of us thought, you know, Gorbachev is just doing a number on this guy. And that anxiety was most acute when it came to arms control, because Gorbachev had—his strategy was to play on Reagan’s romanticism. So in the beginning in 1986, Gorbachev makes a big proposal to abolish nuclear weapons by the end of the century. Well, you can imagine all of the harrumphing around Washington about that. Except for one person. Reagan said to Shultz, well, maybe we should ask him why wait until the end of the century? (Laughter.) So, you know, that—again, that’s the sort of thing that makes the staff freak out. (Laughter.) You don’t have any confidence about what is going to happen, but you know what Reagan’s approach is going to be. And in retrospect, we—I mean, in the aftermath we’ve learned what Gorbachev told his colleagues he was trying to do in Reykjavik, which was to throw the president off balance by offering some big proposal that was so tantalizing, just as Ken said, that he couldn’t resist. And we didn’t know what the result of that was going to be. Now, you could prepare for it. We did a session in which Jack Matlock sat down with the president and pretended to be Gorbachev. And he actually spoke in Russian, and he had an interpreter there to do the interpretation for him. But he said, he admitted to the president, you know, we can make this very lifelike. And Jack’s Russian was brilliant, and he had a kind of ill-understood theatrical side. He loved doing this. (Laughter.) But he also admitted—he also admitted, I don’t know what he’s going to say. (Laughter.) And, you know, here’s somebody who spent his whole career understanding the Soviets. And he had no idea what the game was going to be. The game ended up being, you know, Reagan was, in a way, extremely savvy about this, in a way that we couldn’t have prepared him for. You know, his approach to, you know, completely utopian crazy idea was to go one better. You know, I can come up with something even more crazy and utopian than that. And so what the weekend was about was each, for a time, trying to top the other with a more unrealistic idea than, you know, had been put forward by the other guy. And that’s something you can’t prepare for. And, you know, Gorbachev had it thought out. Reagan was kind of winging it, in the sense that he was—you know, he was channeling his inter—his inner nuclear abolitionist. And so, you know, it—what’s the staff going to do? (Laughter.) So I was—you know. WALLANDER: Watch. SESTANOVICH: Yeah. (Laughs.) WALLANDER: Yeah. RIDGWAY: In fairness to the staff, though, in the background, while these two gentlemen are winging it, or whatever you want to call it, the committee negotiations on SALT—or, on START, and the committee negotiations in INF, which were often smaller rooms and all this, were making the kind of progress that suggested that the Soviets had some to Reykjavik with a much more liberal, much more flexible approach on both of those topics at that level. WALLANDER: And I would just recommend Ken’s new book, how he relates especially the famous overnight negotiating session, which on the Russian side for the first time was led by an actual Soviet—see, I’m doing it—Soviet military officer, Marshal Akhromeyev, and explains sort of the dynamics on the Soviet side. It’s just extraordinary. And it won’t surprise many of you, but Akhromeyev had the authority to go quite far, because he knew what Gorbachev wanted. And the scenes you relate of all the kind of foreign ministry guys who were the usual, you know, beat up on the Americans during negotiation, just being totally sidelined by this brilliant military leader, who’s going to give away—negotiate how to give away or get rid of all of Soviet nuclear weapons in exchange for an agreement on the American side. It’s really, really amazing. I highly recommend it. ADELMAN: Well, thank you. The book was a lot of fun to write. It’s a key study in leadership. And I learned from that that writing a book on leadership doesn’t necessarily make you a great leader or reading a book on leadership doesn’t necessarily make you a great leader. But I did learn that buying a book on leadership—(laughter)—really makes you a great leader. So I would urge you, if you want any leadership position to do that. But to tell you the truth, I was—I had been telling stories of Reykjavik for all these many years and wanted a film on it. And we’re on the verge of making a film with Brian Garrida (ph), in the audience, who’s the scriptwriter and did a wonderful, wonderful job on the script. And someone said, well, why don’t you write a book about it? And so I said, oh, I don’t know. I’d written five books and that was enough for Moses and it was going to be enough for me. (Laughter.) And they said, well, write your sixth and exceed Moses. So but when I looked in it, I was surprised by many things. And one of the wonderful things I was surprised at is the American notes and the Russian notes of what Gorbachev and Reagan talked about. It is very impressive on both sides. It’s very impressive on the frankness that Reagan used to Gorbachev. When, at one point, Gorbachev says, well, you know, it’s unfair, these—between the two systems. And Reagan is in his flourish there. And he’s saying, well, yours is based on, you know, a dictator and everybody’s arrested if they don’t agree with you. And he went into his whole kind of classic GE show speech about how terrible Communism was. And Gorbachev is sitting there, kind of dazzled to tell you the truth. And then Gorbachev says, well, let me tell you what’s unfair. And Reagan says, what’s unfair? And he says, you know, we see a lot of American films in the Soviet Union. And you guys see no films in the Soviet—you know, no Soviet films in America. And Reagan says, well, because you make lousy films. (Laughter.) And Gorbachev says, no, some of our films are good. And Reagan then says, well, Mikhail, I know something about films. (Laughter.) And so he’s feeling really good at this part about that. You know, he’s on a smooth territory. It’s a lot better than ICMBs, and SLCMs, and throw-weight for him. (Laughter.) And they talk about that. And his frankness is wonderful. His mannerism is wonderful. And his directness—where everybody else is dancing around in all kinds of diplomatic language—his directness was genuine. And like I say, what’s wonderful about looking back at Reykjavik is I believe that the two men who were in office, Reagan eight years Gorbachev I don’t know how many years—something like that. RIDGWAY: Six. ADELMAN: Six? OK. And this is the most genuine either of them were. They just weren’t scripted. And to see them really as the way they were is divine. Now, for us, you talk about the staff, Steve, being, you know, upset. To tell you the truth, Reagan and, I would say, Gorbachev, wasn’t very interested in whether the staff was upset or not, to tell you the truth. (Laughter.) And they were doing their own thing. And for us, the ups and downs of the weekend were thrilling. I mean, it was like an Agatha Christie novel. We had this little house on a little isolated place, in a city of a hundred twenty-five thousand, in a country of three hundred thousand, in the middle of nowhere. And rain beating on the windowsills. RIDGWAY: Which would change to sunshine. ADELMAN: Yeah. And sunshine and rain, sunshine and rain. And the house was thought to be haunted. It was proclaimed as a haunted house. And all the neighbors called it a haunted house, for various reasons. And two characters, over one weekend, have the most amazing spiritual happenings there. So it really was like an Agatha Christie. And we were—we were thrilled to be part of it. SESTANOVICH: Can I break in here just a— WALLANDER: Yeah, let me, and then I’m going to end with Roz. And I know you all are dying to get in this. And I got it. I’ll be there in a second. SESTANOVICH: I think we’re having too much fun—(laughter)—and we’re making it sound as though this was actually maybe a success. And from a long-term perspective, one could say that. But you have to remember that actually this was two guys butting heads against each other for two days, ending in complete disagreement. And I think some of the impact of Reykjavik actually comes from the failure, not from the meeting of minds. Remember Reagan—Gorbachev went back and told his colleagues he had just spent the weekend with a, quote, “feeble-minded caveman.” (Laughter.) ADELMAN: See, I don’t believe that. SESTANOVICH: He did. ADELMAN: OK. I just don’t believe it. SESTANOVICH: I’m sorry. ADELMAN: OK. SESTANOVICH: He might not have meant it—he might have meant it for strategic reasons, to convince his colleagues that he’d been tough. But he—the really important impact of Reykjavik is that for all of the camaraderie and warmth, Reagan was extremely stubborn. And his message to Gorbachev was: I’m not giving in. And so the real turning point in this relationship that Reykjavik represents is the Russians stopped doing the attempts to knock Reagan off-balance, to come up with a more utopian scheme than he can possibly imagine. And instead, the next two years are about kind of giving the Americans what they want. And that means an INF Treaty 100 percent according to American preferences. It means coming to Washington telling Reagan: I’m going to cut off the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. It means essentially Gorbachev deciding, I can’t budge this guy with pie-in-the-sky schemes, so I’m going to have—we’re going to have to do something more incremental, so as to create an environment for radical reform. WALLANDER: Well, and delinking SDI from offensive arms treaties. SESTNAOVICH: Absolutely. Absolutely. WALLANDER: So I’m going to end with this opening, Roz, with you. And you mentioned something—or, you referred to, also, that this ended up, although a failure in and of itself, sort of ushering in the successes that followed, as Steve noted. And there’s a tendency for all of us, looking back, to think, well, it was inevitable. You know, the Cold War was going to end, the Soviet Union was going to crumble. But can you—can you kind of help us feel like what did you—or, understand, what did you think was something contingent, something that happened in the relationship in Reykjavik or after, when you then were managing the relationship that if it hadn’t gone in that direction it might not have—it might not have ended the way it did, with the end of the Cold War? RIDGWAY: I think it’s very difficult and somewhat unwise to try to pick the one event. But in the runup to Reykjavik there were a number of trips to Moscow to meet with people. And one of the visits we made was to the—I’ll call him prime minister—Nikolai Ryzhkov. And in a very candid moment, he described how he and Gorbachev had made their way through the bureaucracy of the party and up the ladder, and up the ladder, until finally arriving in senior positions. And, he said, and when we got there the cupboard was bare. I think much of what drove Gorbachev was the realization that he had no economy, that he was in a perilous position with respect to the philosophy, the ideology. They couldn’t afford it. It didn’t work. Everything was bankrupt, it was going in the wrong direction. And here he was, having to somehow survive and pull out some kind of not face-saving victory, but money-saving victory. I mean, they could not afford this race. And I know that people would say, well, that’s you folks back there in Washington who want to say that they were in such terrible economic straits and so on, and so on, because you want to get in the way of the relationship. But the fact of the matter is, they were broke. And there had to be an answer for them. And the answer for them was to somehow stop the arms race moving in a direction they could not afford. And it took a while. And he—Gorbachev, I think, started out very bravely with trying to reform, trying to open up the economy, trying to bring the architecture of their military posture into a more reasonable shape. And he lost. And is that a victory, or just the way things happened? I think in large respect, the posture that Reagan took at Reykjavik, stubborn as he was, was in fact what was the final—the beginning of the final push down the hill for Gorbachev and the Soviet Union. WALLANDER: Great. Thank you. All right. So at this time I’d like to invite members to join the conversation with your questions. And a reminder for everyone that this event is on the record. I’d like to ask you when I—when I call upon you wait for the microphone and speak directly into it, and please stand and state your name and affiliation. And because, as you’ve already seen the stories here and the insights are virtually infinite, keep your questions concise so we can get as many in and as many insights from our wonderful experts and panelists as possible. Yeah, here. Q: Jim Kolbe, with the German Marshall Fund. The discussion we’ve just heard tonight, you know, seems to almost demand the comparison of the way this was conducted with the ones that we’ve seen more recently by the current president. I mean, what we’ve heard tonight. Seat of the pants, unscripted, no notes, very much done by the seat of—as you say, by the seat of the pants, we’ve heard here tonight. We have a current president who goes into summits, with whether it is Kim or whether it’s Putin in a very unscripted way and conducts himself in that fashion. But of course, has been much more criticized as a result of that. How would you compare what’s going—the way this president conducts the summits with the way that President Reagan did? WALLANDER: All right. No holds barred on the first question. (Laughter.) Who would like to jump on that one? Steve? SESTANOVICH: Well, let me tell you a story. (Laughter.) When I hear people say, you know, Reagan was unscripted and improvising, I always want to push back because he didn’t read all the briefing books, but he had his concept of what he wanted to do and he was very, very single-minded about it. It was hard to blow him off course. And he was much more capable of articulating that than people tend to remember. When we came back from Reykjavik, the president had to give a speech on national television the next night. And we, NSC staffers, arrived on Monday morning to receive his many-page legal pad single-spaced, handwritten version of the speech. And everybody was horrified. The speechwriters, and the arm control experts, I mean, they all said: On, no, no, no. We’ve got our speech. And so we had to send Admiral Poindexter back to Reagan and say, you know, the staff has got its speech. And he looked at the staff speech and he said, no, no, no, no. I like my speech. (Laughter.) And I read the two, and I actually thought his speech was a better speech. This was somebody who could take a big argument and articulate it in a legal pad, single spaced, over many pages. It wasn’t finished. He—you know, he ended it by saying, you know, you finish it up. (Laughter.) But, you know, I ask you whether the incumbent could do that, all right? WALLANDER: Next? Q: Jan Lodal, Atlantic Council. First of all, it’s great to have you guys talk about this subject. Having sat at the table for about six of these things and three different presidents, it’s fascinating to listen to this one. But let me ask you to be a bit contrarian. I think there’s a case that could be made that Reykjavik failed because it—what was on the table violated a lot of concepts of strategic stability and what made the world safe. In particular, you know, if you got rid of all the offensive forces, but one side had a lot of defensive forces, well, that gets pretty unstable pretty rapidly. And it seems to me that that that’s kind of been a problem we’ve had with arms control negotiations. It happened again a little bit with President Obama’s efforts to look at global zero. It wasn’t looked at very precisely, if you will. And it seems to me that, you know, when you’ve got the (acrimony ?) all sitting there, and other people sitting there, eventually it makes it hard for the presidents to do things when the guys are saying, well, you know, think through this another couple of steps here and it’s not going to be very good for us this way. And then when we have had success, it’s when we’ve been able to work around those kind of problems and make sure that we didn’t actually end up threatening each other in a serious way if the deal was done. WALLANDER: Ken, that seems like it’s in your— ADELMAN: You were right, Jan, that the—what Reagan had in mind for strategic defense initiative was contrary to defense deterrence theory, since Brodie and, you know, all the wonderful theorists in the ’40s and the early ’50s. But Reagan thought it was immoral. He thought that having the world depend on two leaders with guns to each other’s head for the rest of time was a lousy way to run the world. And I don’t know about you, Jan, but I was brought up on the South Side of Chicago, Bryn Mawr grammar school, where Mrs. Obama went to grammar school a few years after me. And at Bryn Mawr on Tuesday morning at 10:30 we went marching down the hall, got on our knees, and put our heads in the locker because the Soviets were going to have a nuclear attack. I remember asking Ms. Mulroy (sp), our principal, how do we know it’s going to be Tuesday morning at 10:30 Chicago time? (Laughter.) And she said that, you know, as principal she had worked all that out. (Laughter.) And I said, well, you know, my head’s in the locker, but my fanny’s still in the hall. Won’t that be burned off? And she said, no, if your head’s in the locker you’ll be fine. (Laughter.) But I remember those days. My brothers remember those days. That wasn’t a very good way to live. And the idea that Reagan had, you can call it pie in the sky and to a certain extent if you’re talking about a wholesale assault the Soviets versus the United States it is unachievable anytime soon, OK? But if you’re talking about a limited nuclear attack from North Korea from, God forbid, Iran, if they get nuclear weapons, from Pakistan, from a rogue state. We have the capability now, all these many years after Reykjavik, to shoot down one, and two, and three missiles. OK, not hundreds, but the tests on that have been very positive over the last five years. Last point I would make on the failure of Reykjavik, this chart I got from the State Department a few years, and it’s the whole nuclear stockpile from 1961 to 2016. And Reykjavik is right there. And this is the Soviet and Russian stockpile, this is the American stockpile. I mean, I think the chart is pretty clear. And was all this caused by two days at the middle of nowhere in Reykjavik? No. But did it start the process? The process is pretty damn impressive. RIDGWAY: It’s the first time one of those negotiations had talked about reductions. ADELMAN: And that was Reagan’s idea. RIDGEWAY: And then they were subsequently achieved in follow-on negotiations. ADELMAN: And that’s why we renamed the talk. The day Reagan took office he said: It’s not going to be START anymore. RIDGWAY: Not going to be SALT. ADELMAN: Not going to be SALT anymore. It’s going to be START, because we want reductions in that. And Senator Ted Kennedy, and even Sam Nunn and others, and Senator Al Gore I think as a congressman then—Congressman and then Senator Al Gore, said basically the Soviets would never agree to those kind of reductions. That’s pie in the sky. Talk about pie in the sky that, you know, they want a limitation on growth. So if they’re at a thousand now, limit it to in ten years they won’t exceed twelve hundred. In other words, they’re going to grow, but you’re going to limit the growth. And Reagan didn’t want that. He wanted real reductions. And that’s why he came up with his first speech on—in 1981 on his plans for nuclear weapons was going to be cut the strategic arsenals in half. And he gave that at his alma mater in Illinois. WALLANDER: Great, thanks. Others? Yes. Q: Hi. My name is Alex Yergin. My question is, was it in any of yours, or anyone’s mind at Reykjavik that the Soviet Union might collapse soon? And if not, what was your vision kind of the long-term U.S.-Soviet relationship? WALLANDER: Steve? SESTANOVICH: Definitely no. (Laughter.) Although I think there was a debate within the U.S. government as to how difficult their situation really was, and how much stirring of the pot Gorbachev was prepared to acknowledge. I think the long-term relationship that was envisioned was one—the good outcome—was one in which the Soviets came to grips with their internal limitations and, on that basis, reformed and home and pulled back their foreign policy abroad. That’s a very, very boiled down version of it. There were plenty of people who said, no, that’s unattainable. I remember, you know, Bob Gates used to come and lecture entering CIA officers about how the internal difficulties were going to make for more progressive foreign policy. And that was an example of how people found it a little hard to get their heads around the possibility of some kind of change, and how the different elements of change would fit together. RIDGWAY: A lot of—a lot of the signals were let gone. Went right past them. They didn’t fit the then-current assessment of the strength of the Soviet Union. But certainly a key one was Gorbachev’s speech in an Asian setting, in which in a very small paragraph he indicated that the Soviet Union would no longer be sending forces to put down local insurgencies or rebellions. There wasn’t going to be another Hungary. There wasn’t going to be another Czechoslovakia. They were going to be staying home. The impact of that quietly in Eastern Europe, in the capitals of the Warsaw Pact, I think was missed by a lot of the people looking at the future of the Soviet Union. ADELMAN: And let me—let me pick that up if I can, Alex, on your very good question. It raises the whole question, what did cause the collapse of the Soviet Union? And the easy answer, and the answer you get from Strobe Talbott and a lot of people who really know the topic very well, I think, is just wrong. And that is, it would have collapsed on its own devices, and that was—you know, it was almost inevitable. All right, there’s lots of things wrong. Number one, at the time of Reykjavik, the CIA was, and declassified material now we know in the official documents, was saying the Soviet Union was growing at 2 percent a year. It wasn’t deficit. It was growing at 2 percent. Now that’s about what America’s growing at right now. So, now, the CIA estimates, you could say, are wrong in various respects. But it wasn’t clear to them or anybody else that there was a precipitous decline, that you always have that. Number two, empires go on a long time. And an economic decline really doesn’t faze them very much, all right? Gibbons ends one chapter of the Rise (sic; Decline) and Fall of the Roman Empire with this wonderful sentence saying: This intolerable situation lasted another three hundred years. (Laughter.) OK? And there’s no reason that governments collapse. If there was, you’d see North Korea where people are eating bark right now, and grass, collapse. They haven’t collapsed since 1949 in North Korea. You’d see Cuba collapse. These countries don’t collapse because of economic decline. And the Soviet Union was not in economic decline. They were probably stable at that point. What I think really was the great historical contribution of Reykjavik, and this is the title that could be considered inflated—the subtitle of my book—the forty-eight hours that ended the Cold War—was that after Reykjavik this guy decides: This guy’s not going to give me what I want, which is SDI. That was the one thing I came here to get. I’m going to have to accelerate my reforms. Reforms were underway at that time, but I have to accelerate. Within a few weeks they called the central committee, they called the—you know, the central—I don’t know what all these words were. But for the first time since Stalin they had a meeting of all the people involved in—leaders who run the Soviet Union. And Gorbachev says: We have to accelerate all this. The reforms were accelerated. They proved to be a disaster. And I think that unwinding of the Soviet Union was because of the reforms, because he couldn’t get SDI. That’s my interpretation. RIDGWAY: And the sad note on that is it led, in time, to the attempted coup that took him out of power, among which of the leaders was Akhromeyev. SESTANOVICH: Who committed suicide. RIDGWAY: Who committed suicide. WALLANDER: Yeah, right here. Q: David Sanger from the New York Times. It’s been a fascinating conversation. We’ve read a lot about what President Reagan thought SDI was, and how well it would work, and maybe overestimated it. What did Gorbachev think? Because it sounds from this as if he actually believed this was all getting ready to go, because if he didn’t believe it he wouldn’t have made that his number-one demand. So was this the great propaganda victory of the entire summit? ALDERMAN: The Soviet KGB files are now open because of the Gorbachev Foundation. And he was fighting with Yeltsin at the time, so he opened up all the papers. They certainly wouldn’t have been opened up otherwise. And so we can see them, David, right now. The KGB overestimated how far SDI was, OK? Gorbachev vastly overestimated what the KGB had told him. So there was a really inflated view of the KGB. Gorbachev read it and though, oh my God, they’re underestimating everything and it’s a lot worse than that. He started out both in Geneva but especially at Reykjavik talking as if SDI was almost built. This increased Reagan who thought, you know, I didn’t think it was that far along but, holy cow—(laughter)—you know, this guy fears it so much it much be something out there. So the two of them were jacking each other up all weekend, as one of you said. They were playing off each other and they were, holy cow, this is really something. So by—you look at the notes. At the end of the Sunday afternoon, it seems like the thing is working, and is all plugged in, and it’s delivering its goods. And you wonder, God, these guys have just flipped out. But it was because of the KGB overestimating, and Gorbachev really fearing it like mad, and Reagan in delirium because he was so happy that it had been working so well. SESTANOVICH: I think one thing you have to add is sort of bureaucratic politics. You had a military that was saying no matter—you know, whether it’s really going to work exactly as promised or only, you know, part of it, we need a much bigger budget. And that was a problem for Gorbachev, because as he said in meetings after Reykjavik and in the—in the following year, we’ve been stealing from our people too long. We have a highly militarized economy. So the—it isn’t—he didn’t necessarily have to believe it would work exactly as advertised. Even so, it could create an internal problem for what he wanted to do. WALLANDER: And I’ll just observe, you know, the more things change. The very same calculations are happening with the Russian military and intelligence services now on American limited missile defenses. I was part of the—during the Obama years—the attempts to cooperate on missile defense. And the Russian presentation of what European Phased Adaptive Approach could do—all the Americans are sitting, like, wow, we didn’t know that. That’s really amazing. We can do all that? I mean, the worst-case scenario tendency within the security services, plus the bureaucratic interests, are really powerful. And when they’re briefing political leaders, it can have this kind of effect. It’s pretty extraordinary. I shouldn’t do that, though. I’m supposed to be calling on people. Yes. (Laughs.) Q: Thank you all very much. I’m Frances Cook, former State Department like Roz. We all know what a role political and cultural memories play in leadership, so I’d like to bring it forward to talk about our current Russian leader that we’re dealing with. Do you think there’s any memory of what happened at Reykjavik or what happened to Russia then and thereafter has impacted? We’ve all heard about the submarine accident. We’ve all heard about his terror at what happened in East Berlin. But I haven’t seen any reflections on Gorbachev’s failures, what impact that had on making the Putin that we’re trying to deal with today, who seems to be as—has more surprises each week than even our own president does. Thank you. WALLANDER: Steve, can I start with you? SESTANOVICH: Yeah. It’s interesting. You know, the conventional analysis of Putin and his people is that all of Russia’s problems trace to the ’90s. There’s very little discussion of why the ’90s were so terrible, because a system that did not work had fallen apart. And that understanding of the ’80s is very underdeveloped. You don’t hear a lot of people saying—well, what you do hear people saying, well, Gorbachev overreacted. He didn’t get very good terms for the end of the Cold War. He could have done a whole lot better. But that’s all an attack on Gorbachev. It’s not a systemic analysis of how bankrupt they were, how demoralized they were. I mean, I’d add to what Ken said about the other factors that contributed to the collapse, just a complete demoralization of the leadership. They really stopped believing in their own system. And that kind of picture of the ’80s the Russian are not propagating because it sounds a little too much like today. WALLANDER: It also makes it hard for them to blame the United States. Whereas the 1990s, it’s much easier to point the finger at us. SESTANOVICH: Yes. Yeah. That’s right, yeah. WALLANDER: We probably have time for two more questions. So I want to—sure. And then I have to let you go at 7:30, because I hear that there might be a baseball game? I don’t know. (Laughter.) Oh, or the debate, right. (Laughter.) Q: Thank you for that, by the way. Henry Nau, George Washington University. One of the mysteries about Reagan, for those of us who worked with him, is that he was so modest, he was so disarming, almost in every situation. And he allowed people to underestimate him. Before you told your story to Jim Kolbe, I recalled how—I was on the NSC in the early 1980s—how the little yellow pages would come out of the White House. All of his early speeches were written initially in his hand. And then, of course, you had a huge battle with the bureaucracy to try to keep his version in the speech. So I guess what my question is, from your interactions with him, why do you think he was that way? And is he—you know, do we learn something from this? Do we learn something that maybe leadership is not just about stubbornness or these other virtues? It’s about understanding the world, as I think Reagan did, and having the political gifts to mobilize public support and implement policies to realize that vision. And in the end, you can’t prove direct causation. I’m not suggesting that. But nevertheless, this man was rather intelligent, as well as intuitive. WALLANDER: Roz, can I let you? Please. RIDGWAY: I think there’s a lot to be said about people being comfortable in their own skin, men and women, and how they carry themselves through life. And if they’re comfortable in their own skin, they don’t have to add features to it, or be aggressive, or anything of the sort. And what I’ve tried to tell people about Reagan, and I certainly sat in enough meetings with him. And a couple of time he’d see me enter a room and he’d sort of pat the cushion next to him and tell me to come and sit next to him and all of this. I don’t know that he remembered my name, but he remembered that I was a part of whatever it was. I often say to people, I found Reagan to be the kind of a man who could wear a brown suit to a wedding and get away with it. (Laughter.) He didn’t need the symbols of power or success or anything else. He was himself. He knew what he knew. And he lived life as he thought life should be lived. And that’s the end of the story. Does it produce modest, humility? I don’t know. But it certainly means that people who met him were incredibly, instantly comfortable in his presence. Which allowed him, in cases like with Gorbachev, to really—in many cases Gorbachev may have thought he had the back-footed Reagan, but it was very much the opposite. WALLANDER: Great. Another question, or a comment, or an observation? Yeah, please. Q: Hi. My name is—sorry. My name’s Dan Bartlett. I’m with the Department of Defense.  What lessons can contemporary diplomats or folks that are working on arms control take from this period? We are seeing rapid modernization on the part of the Russians and the Americans in this space. So what lessons would you offer to this generation of folks dealing with these contemporary issues? WALLANDER: That is a super closing question. Let me give each of you—I’d like each of you to address it. ADELMAN: Steve, why don’t you go first? WALLANDER: Steve? SESTANOVICH: Well—(laughs)—that’s a really hard one. WALLANDER: You got one minute. (Laughs.) SESTANOVICH: I would say it’s, you know, aiming high. I mean, Reagan was not interested in incremental change. He was interested in transformation and understanding how stubborn you have to be in order to get that, and how many people you’re going to have to, in your very modest and genial way. I mean, he was impossible not to like, Ronald Reagan. But you’re going to have to tell them no, a lot. And that was the story—to my mind—the story of the Reagan presidency is intense likeability and extreme stubbornness to the point of pigheadedness. You have to be extremely willing to insist on your point of view. WALLANDER: Roz, as our diplomat?  RIDGWAY: But there’s no rule that says you cannot be polite, continuing to inform yourself on whatever the issue is that you’re being stubborn about, and being willing to turn to others around you to ask an opinion and to listen to it. You may not incorporate it, but you have listened to it. And it keeps your mind growing and keeps you sort of in in an even place in what it is that you’re trying to do. But mostly, I also think you have to know what it is—what is it that I am trying to do? And if I can’t get it, where do I go next? WALLANDER: Great. Ken? ALDERMAN: What I love, and to pick up what Steve and Roz said so wisely, what I really loved about Reagan, looking back especially, is how he really had no animosity towards anybody. And this came out constantly, all the time. It was impossible for him to dislike anybody. There was a case where in 1984 he was going on a motorcade with the head of the Republican Party then. And he was, you know, going along, and some guy—they were slowing down because he was going to get out. Some guy was next to him with a big sign: Impeach Ronald Reagan. Worst president since Herbert Hoover, or Chester Arthur, or somebody. And he’s the most terrible guy in the world and, you know, just kind of frantic about it. And Reagan turned and he said, you see this guy here? And I said, yeah. He says, put him down as undecided. (Laughter.) Probably leaning against. (Laughter.) And my favorite, if I can take thirty seconds, my second is after the Granada invasion, where Maggie Thatcher really had a fit and did what’s called hand-bagging, you know, which is, you know, taking her handbag and whacking him. And she was—sent some emissaries to tell how terrible this was. This is an island that, you know, had sovereignty under the queen. It had been a former British colony. They were best friends, et cetera, et cetera. So she called Reagan and Reagan did his, you know, soft-shoe on the phone for a while. And Mike Deaver was listening in on the other phone under the George Washington portrait on the white couches, and Reagan was behind the Oval—behind the desk in the Oval Office. And she started to ramp up because he was, you know, just like tumbleweed. Oh, yeah, thanks, you know—and he was just saying nothing and bobbing and weaving while she was getting angrier and angrier, getting some reaction from him. And finally, she just kind of lost it and started getting out of control. Mike Deaver was so embarrassed on the couch that he thought he was going to break protocol, and interrupt, and say: You know, Madam Prime Minister, you’re talking to the president of the United States, just remember that. And he was kind of all red. And his Irish face was all—you know, all puffed up. And he was just mad about the way Thatcher was talking to Reagan. And all of a sudden, he’s ready to bust in and he hears: “psst, psst, psst.” He looks up, and there’s Reagan behind the desk. He says: Mike. And Deaver says, what? And Reagan puts the hand on the phone. He goes up and he says, Mike, isn’t she marvelous? (Laughter.) WALLANDER: All right. So I am so grateful to all of you for joining us tonight, because there are some other things going on this evening. But I think you made the right choice. I would like to ask you to thank our panelists, who were billed to you as eyewitnesses to history. But I would like to thank them because I think we all understand that they helped make this history. And they kept America safe and advanced our interests during this period. (Applause.) (END)
  • Russia

    Panelists discuss the extent of disinformation, its impact on democracy, and what can be done to prevent, mitigate, and stop its spread. THOMPSON: Welcome to today’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting on “Stemming the Tide of Global Disinformation.” I’m Nicholas Thompson. I’m the editor-in-chief of Wired. I’ll be your moderator today. Let’s get crackin’. Rick, how are you? STENGEL: Good. How are you? THOMPSON: Great. You have just spent the last three years writing about disinformation. He has a new book; it will be available later. You spent the last three years thinking about disinformation. Tell me how your thoughts deepened as you went along, because we all know why disinformation’s a problem. There’re some obvious reasons why it’s a problem. But now that you’ve spent more time thinking about it than anybody else, tell us what you learned that we don’t know. STENGEL: I don’t think I’ve spent more time thinking about it than the president has. (Laughter.) What a way to begin! THOMPSON: Yeah. (Laughter.) STENGEL: The other false premise of your question is that my thinking has deepened about it. So my book, Information Wars, is about the time I spent at the State Department countering disinformation, countering Russian disinformation, countering ISIS propaganda. And I had never really seen it before. I’d been a—I was editor of Time for a bunch of years, had always been in media, and after the annexation of Crimea by Putin in 2014, we saw this tsunami of disinformation around it, you know, recapitulating Putin’s lies about it, and it was a kind of a new world. And the idea of disinformation as opposed to misinformation is disinformation is deliberately false information used for a strategic purpose. Misinformation is something that’s just wrong, something that we all, you know, can get in the habit of it. And I saw this whole new world being born. I don’t mean to steal your thunder with the question, but inside we were talking about whether there’s more disinformation relative to correct information now in history than ever before. I don’t know the answer to that, but what I do know is it’s easier to access it. And once upon a time the Russians, who pioneered something called “active measures,” which was their idea that warfare, the future or the present of warfare is about information, not just kinetic warfare. The way they used to do it in the ’50s was they bought out a journalist in a remote newspaper in India to put out a false story about something and then the Russian media would start echoing it and then it would get into the mainstream. Now, they hire a bunch of kids to work in a troll farm in St. Petersburg and put it up on social media with no barrier to entry, no gatekeepers to prevent it from happening. And I don’t know the answer to whether there’s more of it, but there’s easier access to it. And I do think as we approach 2020, part of the other problem of disinformation is it’s not just a supply problem; it’s a demand problem. People want it. You know, confirmation bias means we seek out information that we agree with. If you’re likely to think that Hillary Clinton is running a child sex trafficking ring out of a pizza parlor in Washington, D.C., you’re likely to believe anything and seek out information that confirms that. That’s a problem, and that’s a human nature problem. THOMPSON: Paul, let me ask you a variation on this, having just listened to Rick. You’ve just published a report on this very topic. You could have written reports on lots of topics. BARRETT: I suppose. (Laughter.) THOMPSON: You’ve got a varied career. Look at the man’s bio. You know a lot of things. Why are you so worried about disinformation right now? BARRETT: Because it is a foot in the land, it is pervasive, and without a good distinction between real facts and fake facts, we can’t run a democracy in an effective way. People can only make honest political choices with real information. And I think we have at key moments and in key places a lot of false information, and intentionally false information. THOMPSON: And is it getting worse? Is it worse today than it was yesterday? Is it worse today than it was four years ago? BARRETT: I think that’s hard to say. I mean, I think it is—it was present and significant in 2016 and has not stopped since, and I think there’s every reason to think that we’ll see it kick up again as we get closer to the next election as well. THOMPSON: Amanda, how worried are you? BENNETT: You know, I’m going to—I’m going to be the dull and boring person at this party, because nothing I do has—I was going to say has anything to do with tech or bots or deep fakes or anything like that. THOMPSON: Help people set up zingers. (Laughter.) BENNETT: Well, let’s hope that that’s true. But my argument is that we are under-valuing the pursuit of straightforward, truthful, honest news and information in our fight to push back this other thing, these fake things. And that disinformation, misinformation—give me your definition of disinformation again. STENGEL: Deliberately false information used for a strategic purpose, nefarious purpose. BENNETT: So I’m the director of Voice of America and yes, we still exist; no, I don’t wear the funny hats anymore; and no, we don’t do propaganda. Thank you. But that definition right there, I will maintain that half of the world at least lives under that condition daily, with no other—no other news or information. And so this is nothing new, the thing that we’re talking about. If you’re talking about the kind of technologically sophisticated things, I’m going to be the boring person to say that this exists in great proliferation throughout the world already, and that what seems to be an antidote to it in many ways is putting something straightforward in front of people. THOMPSON: So I totally buy that. Are you also saying that we talk about disinformation too much in this country? BENNETT: No, I’m saying—I stipulate that everything you guys say is true. Everything is true, we should be worried, these deep fakes are a problem and we should— THOMPSON: And we should talk about it, or does talking about it so much make us think there’s more of it than there is? BENNETT: And this—the article that we just read back there that talks about cynicism, I think if you talk about this type of disinformation and misinformation and its goal being to breed cynicism and confusion, the fact that when you talk about straightforward truthful news and information being possible or desirable people roll their eyes at you, says to me that they’ve already kind of won, that we’ve already come to the idea that we—that that is not an effective way of pushing back at things, but actually we need technological solutions to things. STENGEL: I mean, the thing that has exponentially increased is user-generated content. Remember, the biggest platform in the world, in the history of the world, is all created by content that we put on it, not professional journalists. It’s not vetted. I mean—and so that has—is the thing that has exponentially increased, and because it is created by regular folks and isn’t professional content, the possibility for disinformation, misinformation, anything wrong is that much higher. And one of the things we’ve also—and we will chat about—is the fact—is that the law, the Communications and Decency Act that created all these platforms, does give primacy to third-party content and doesn’t give them any liability for publishing false content if it’s put on by a third-party person, as opposed to a professional journalist like we all are or were. THOMPSON: All right, but let me give each of you a hypothetical. So let’s assume I have two kids; they’ve just graduated from college. They’re really interested in this problem. One of them says, I’m going to go into deep fake detection. I’m going to figure out how to get rid of disinformation. I’m going to help Facebook fix their algorithms so they can identify disinformation. And the other says, I’m going to go be a reporter and I’m just going to tell the truth about everything and I’m going to tweet out all my stories. BARRETT: Well, one will have a job and the other one likely won’t. (Laughter.) THOMPSON: True. But who’s doing the more important work, the work that we need right now? BARRETT: Well, it’s—seem like equally important work. Sorry not to—(laughs)—not to go for your bait, but— BENNETT: I would have said I’ve been a really good parent if that’s—if I have—I have that choice there, I’d say I’ve been a really good parent, that both those things—(laughter)—are incredibly, incredibly useful. THOMPSON: Probably my kids are going to work for troll farms. But anyway—(laughter). STENGEL: You wouldn’t say the reporter. BENNETT: No, not necessarily. I’m not—I’m not saying that one of them is more. I’m saying that right now all this attention is going onto things that, actually, a lot of people out here in the room, it’s more scary because we can’t touch it—we can’t do anything about it—when, in fact, I think what’s happening is that your attention is being turned away from the fact that really truthful—people can distinguish truth from lies. One of the ways they can do it is by seeing things head-to-head and they can make decisions. I mean, the famous example is the Chinese trail (sic; train) derailment. Remember that, when they said nothing here to watch, nobody hurt? And the people that were there doing their—you know, uploading their photos, were showing that there actually was. And that caused a lot of dissonance in the Chinese media ecosystem. So I’m maintaining that not just there’s too much of it or we shouldn’t be doing it, just that there’s something else out there. There’s something else. STENGEL: I would—I’d actually tell my kid to do the deep fake detection, and I’ll tell you why. Because disinformation warfare—information warfare is asymmetrical warfare, right? It’s like a bunch of young people in a troll factory in St. Petersburg, which costs a relatively tiny amount of money compared to an F-35, can do more damage than an F-35. And so it’s asymmetric warfare in that countries that can’t afford missiles or jets or tankers or whatever can engage in this. So that, in that sense, what has also happened is the offensive weapons in disinformation war have matured and evolved faster than defensive weapons. We actually need better defensive weapons, and we need to spend more money on it. So I would argue that somebody who could figure out a system to detect deep fakes instantly would be doing a lot of good for the world. THOMPSON: I appreciate that answer and I also appreciate something you said in there, which is offensive weapons. Should the United States have offensive weapons when it comes to disinformation? STENGEL: (Pause.) Are you talkin’ to me, Nick? (Laughter.) THOMPSON: Based on the way you paused, I am 100 percent talking to you. (Laughter.) STENGEL: Well, I mean, we do have—I mean, I’m not in government anymore, but I think I’m still—have to abide by the strictures of classified information and all of that, or I’ll be prosecuted by the State Department. But I—you know, we do have offensive weapons. I mean, there are—there are well-publicized examples of us using them in Iran, for example. I actually think— BARRETT: But those are cyberattack weapons, as opposed to actually spreading— STENGEL: Yes. BARRETT: —you know, spreading bad information. So what the U.S. Cyber Command does is actually pretty distinct from what we the United States could be doing, which is matching what the Russians are doing with information operations. And we—so far as I know, we don’t do that, at least not anymore, and I think that’s a good policy. I don’t think we should do that. I don’t think we should be in the truth-twisting business. STENGEL: Yeah. So Paul makes a good point, and I talk about this in the book. There’s a—on the spectrum of hard and soft power of information, the hard end of information war is cyberattacks, malware, things like that. The soft end is propaganda, content and this and that. On the soft end we don’t do—I mean, I was involved in the creation of the—of what is now known as the Global Engagement Center, which is a not-completely-funded department which is a kind of whole-of-government department residing at the State Department to combat disinformation. But again, it’s all done in a non-classified way. All the content is labeled U.S. Government. It doesn’t create false information or disinformation. THOMPSON: So what about—OK, so let’s take another example. So Amazon has this thing where they pay tons of people, some of whom work for Amazon, and they pay them to tweet what an amazing place it is to work at Amazon, and they give them scripts, right? And so there’s this kind of this steady flow of—it’s not false; these people may genuinely like to work for Amazon, particularly since they’re being paid to tweet. And so they tweet out, but just kind of garbage. Should the U.S. pay people to tweet out positive things about the U.S. image and tweet The Star-Spangled Banner in Russia? STENGEL: (Pause.) You’re still lookin’ at me. (Laughter.) Well, I— THOMPSON: We got a definitive answer of no. STENGEL: So Amanda and I— BARRETT: But that’s a little different. I mean, the idea of someone—you know, tweeting the United States is great and its enemies are not great. And doesn’t the State Department set up projects and programs that essentially do that? STENGEL: Look, once upon a time, the U.S. Information Agency, which was then folded into the State Department, did create what I would call positive propaganda about the U.S. I was dinged here on another panel a couple of years ago for saying that there’s such a thing as good propaganda as well as negative propaganda. I don’t think propaganda just is automatically a terrible thing and that nations do practice it. So all those trolls will get upset again. But we don’t really do what USIA used to do anymore, you know, in terms of Frank Capra—why we fight and documentaries about great black athletes and things like that. I mean, all of which was true content, it just was used to give people a better picture of the United States. And I always argued when I was in government that we do that already. I think U.S.—I would always want to make people around the world be able to see U.S. media and not only what we say about ourselves that’s good, but what we say about ourselves that’s critical, so people see that we have an open press and what that’s like. I think that sends a great message, which is essentially the message that you send, Amanda. BENNETT: Hmm. The word “message” is a very, very dirty word at the Voice of America because that implies that you are deliberately moving your content in order to achieve a particular end. Yes, I say that we have an offensive weapon, and I do say that this whole argument has in fact won a little bit, because I’m going to tell you what I think our offensive weapon is and I’m going to see a collective eye-roll around the room, which is our most effective weapon is our First Amendment. And I say that we export the First Amendment and that people can tell the difference. Not completely. I stipulate that everything you guys are saying is true, that deep fakes and all this stuff in troll farms are bad and dangerous and hazardous. I’m glad that you guys are paying attention to it. But I’m also saying that—and I’m so glad you brought up that F-35, because my personal budget at the Voice of America is less than two F-35s. If anybody’s out there listening would like to help fix that problem anyplace, that would be great, because I think that we reach, you know, hundreds of millions of people around the world for a very small amount of money. And so the First Amendment, neutral news, truthful news, not messaging, independent of a government. People can tell if it’s—if it’s being moved around. Here’s my—here’s my question right now. You guys all read newspapers still, right? In paper? Any of you in this room? Somebody? Thank you. And sometimes you see these inserts like from the China Daily or from, you know, Abu Dhabi, the City of the Future that kind of stuff? How many of you read them? Have you ever read a single word of them? One word? OK, a couple words out there. And why don’t you read them? Because you know that they are moving something, they are trying to sell you something. You’ll read the newspaper that surrounds it, but you’re not going to read the thing inside. That’s what I’m saying that propaganda is like, and that you can tell the difference. Maybe not if you have good deep fake that’s doing things, but—so I agree that you guys are good, but people can tell the difference and it’s a worthwhile thing to do. It’s a very worthwhile thing to do. (Applause.) THOMPSON: All right, let’s move to the platforms, the social media platforms. That was a good answer. BENNETT: That wasn’t the eyeroll I was expecting. (Laughter.) THOMPSON: Standing up for truthful news? Journalists are going to—I’m certainly going to applaud that. All right, let’s talk about the technology platforms. Paul, you’ve just published a report on what they’re doing, what they need to do. Last time when we talked about the 2016 election, we mostly complained about Facebook and Twitter. After 2020 when we’re all diagnosing what went horribly wrong on the social media platforms, which ones will we be looking at? BARRETT: Well, I say in my report that Instagram, which is owned by Twitter, a photo- and video-based— STENGEL: Owned by Facebook. THOMPSON: Owned by Facebook. BARRETT: Excuse me. Forgive me. By Facebook, I apologize—deserves more attention. And the main reason for that is because we already know that it is a disinformation magnet. The Russian Internet Research Agency, the main trolling operation that the Russians ran in 2016, had more engagement on Instagram than it did on either Facebook or Twitter. And experts in this area have pointed out to me that increasingly, disinformation is being conveyed visually, and that is Instagram’s specialty. And I think that’s the platform to focus one’s attention on, at least initially. STENGEL: It’s also harder to find— BARRETT: Harder to detect, that’s a very good point. THOMPSON: Rick, would you agree? STENGEL: I do agree. I mean, I—Paul’s report, by the way, is absolutely terrific, and it’s a great primer, I think, on disinformation, both what happened in 2016 and going forward. The Senate Intelligence Committee report that came out, I think two days ago— THOMPSON: Yeah. STENGEL: —you know, had a lot that Robert Mueller had, and the stuff in my book that Robert Mueller didn’t have—I’m just telling you that too. But one of the things that they did have is that the Russians have actually increased in terms of volume what they’ve been doing since 2016, and largely on Instagram and other platforms that we probably don’t even know about. What Mueller didn’t have—and I want to get to the platform things in a second—is that what the Internet Research Agency was doing was completely integrated with what Russian mainstream media was doing, with Russia Today and Sputnik and TASS. And with the Russian, you know, foreign minister, who used to echo canards and misinformation that was created from the Internet Research Agency and start talking about it at a press conference, and then it was covered worldwide. So it had a much greater impact than just the audiences that the Internet Research Agency was going for. But in terms of the platforms, I do think—and we—and Paul also talks about this in his report—they need to have more responsibility and more liability for the content that they publish. They cannot escape this idea that they’re—that they’re not publishers anymore. The gentleman from NewsGuard here, which is a fantastic new organization that is fact-checking information on the web. I actually stole some language from you about what the companies need to do. They can’t be liable the way Time magazine or Wired is for every word that they publish, but they have to make a good-faith effort to take down demonstrably false content, as Paul talks about. I would argue hate speech, speech that leads to violence, those—there’s no excuse for that, even if it’s framed as political speech. That should just be off, and they should be liable if they don’t take it off. THOMPSON: So let’s do an example. Let’s talk about, I don’t know, the famous example that came up was the video of Nancy Pelosi slowed down so it looked like she was slurring her speech and drunk. So you can make the argument that’s demonstrably false or you can make the argument it was satire. Satire’s got to be a protected form of speech. What do you guys think? Would you take that down if you were Mark Zuckerberg, would you knock that off the internet? STENGEL: I— BARRETT: Well—I don’t want to—I say yes. STENGEL: I say yes. I mean, and I think also one of the things that they did, so they slug-did (ph) or—“slugged” is a journalism word. They had a—you know, a chyron up saying this is not true content, or this is manipulated content. One of the things that influences all of this, and I write a little bit about it in my book, are these cognitive biases. And there’s a terrific dissertation, and I forget the young woman’s name who wrote it, about belief echoes, she called it, which is that this idea that if you see something false, even if you then immediately are told that it’s false, and even are persuaded that it’s false, it creates a belief echo in your head that never gets erased. So to me, part of the problem of putting a caption under the Nancy Pelosi video is that you can’t un-ring the bell. You can’t un-see that. That stays in your brain. It should not—it should not have been on the platform at all. THOMPSON: So you would knock Andy Borowitz off the platform too? I mean, political satire, making fun of things that—pretending that Trump said things that he didn’t say? Because there could be belief echoes with that, even though it’s slugged as humor. STENGEL: You’re trying to trick me now, Nick. I am—(laughter)— THOMPSON: I’m just trying to get some of the complexities here. BENNETT: Do you—do you remember when the People’s Daily re-ran the story about Kim Jong-un being the world’s sexiest man, that was written as satire? And they were like, “world’s sexiest man declared by U.S. publication,” right? THOMPSON: I ran traffic analytics at the New Yorker and sometimes Andy Borowitz’s post would be picked up as true in China, and the traffic spikes we got were killer. (Laughter.) BENNETT: Yeah. Yeah. THOMPSON: All right, so let’s—so we’re kind of ragging on the platforms right now and talking about some of the problems they have. 2016, obviously lots of problems. We had a 2018 election and as far as I can tell, wasn’t a whole lot of misinformation. The only thing that I read about was a bunch of Democrats running a test to try to take—to criticize Roy Moore in Alabama, right? We had very different disinformation problems. So maybe it’s under control. Maybe we’re over-indexing on 2016. BARRETT: Maybe, but I don’t think we should take the risk that that’s the case. You’re absolutely right that the Russians’ level of interference was negligible immediately around the time of the election. We don’t know exactly why that is; they’re keeping their powder dry for 2020, a much more important engagement perhaps. Perhaps the platforms deserve some credit for having gotten more on the stick and more in the business of taking down phony accounts which they are now doing in some numbers, whereas in 2016 they were completely asleep to that. The Cyber Command that we mentioned earlier reportedly ran an operation that shut down the IRA, at least for a few days, around the election itself so that they were taken off the internet temporarily. All those things may have played a role. But the general problem continues. There is disinformation flowing from abroad, not just Russia but also Iran. And I just don’t think this is the kind of problem that you say, well, we had one good outing, so we’re done, all our problems are taken care of. THOMPSON: But are the signs that you’re seeing, right—we’re a year out. Are you starting to pick up a sense that it’s going to be like 2016 or are you picking up a sense that’s going to be like 2018? STENGEL: One of the things in the Senate Intelligence report that I found interesting was this idea that the Russians masquerading as Americans would seduce or entice actual Americans to do their bidding on the Web. You wrote about some examples that they did in 2016. BARRETT: Right. STENGEL: The one that still kills me that actually wasn’t in the final Mueller report—it was in the first Mueller indictment, and I think you mentioned it in your report—that from St. Petersburg the guys from the Internet Research Agency create—did a rally, a pro-Trump rally in Palm Beach where they hired a flatbed truck and an actress to play Hillary Clinton in a prison cell on the back of a flatbed truck, and they did that from St. Petersburg. That was in the first Mueller indictment. I don’t know why he didn’t put it into the Mueller report. But in terms of them using Americans to do their bidding, I would worry about that in 2020. That’s very hard to detect. Because if you persuade somebody in Palm Beach to do something like that again, then that’s an American person expressing their First Amendment rights to, you know, say Hillary Clinton should be in prison. THOMPSON: All right. Let’s spend the last five minutes we have before we go to Q&A, coming up with an agenda for the United States of America, for citizens of America, for the government of America, to lessen the risk of disinformation. Because, as Paul said at the very beginning, democracy can’t function if nobody believes anything. So we should have engineers looking for deep fakes. We should have true and faithful news. The platforms should be looking for this stuff much harder. What else do we need to do? BARRETT: And cooperating with each other to a greater degree than they do, and cooperating with the government to a greater degree than they do in order to exchange information and, you know, sort of suss out threats sooner than otherwise they might. And they need to do a lot of what—a lot more of what they’ve already been doing, hiring more people to review content and continuing to improve their artificial intelligence filters. THOMPSON: Amanda, what else do we put on the agenda? BENNETT: You know, I would go back to the same thing, which is keep your eye on the ball. What are you trying to push back disinformation for? What is—what is the thing you are trying to push it away from? And that, I would definitely strengthen that, and I would not roll our eyes at the 1999 concept that this stuff actually has value. And that it—and it can be believed, that people can believe it. STENGEL: I agree with all that we’ve said. I think vetting mechanisms like NewsGuard and others are valuable. I also think a long-term solution—I mean, one of the things I say in the book is we don’t have a fake news problem; we have a media literacy problem. Lots and lots of people—once I left journalism I realized wow, lots and lots of people can’t actually tell the provenance of information and where it comes from and what’s a reliable source and what’s not a reliable source. It has to be taught in schools, starting like in elementary school. And that’s the reason that so much of this has purchase is that people can’t tell that it’s false and they’re more susceptible to believe it. THOMPSON: All right, so let’s give a lesson to everybody in this room. We’re all going to—at some, point we’re going to see information that might be false. How should people evaluate it? How can we learn media literacy? Members of the Council on Foreign Relations, well educated, but they’re not going to go back to school for this. STENGEL: Well, actually, one of the proposals I have is about—is about journalism, digital journalism being way, way, way more transparent, right? So when—in the day when we did stories, we did interviews, we did research, we talked to people, it was fact-checked, we wrote an outline. I think all of that—you should be able to link to that, that you write the story, in the New York Times there’s a link to “here’s my interview with the national security adviser.” “Here are the photographs we took that we didn’t use.” “Here’s the research I did, this chapter from this great new book by Rick Stengel.” (Laughter.) Oh, sorry. And would every reader look at that? No, but it would show the kind of the—how the building is created and it would create more confidence in the result. THOMPSON: How about changing the law? Should we make the social media companies liable if there’s an excessive amount of disinformation on their platforms? STENGEL: I think so. BENNETT: And I will say what I always say, is write the laws as if your adversaries are going to be the ones implementing them. Just make sure you know what’s going on. You can write them because you think of what you want, but think about—think about a law like that in the hands of somebody you don’t like. BARRETT: And interestingly, Mark Zuckerberg has actually proposed something roughly along those lines, has talked about having some type of government body that would assess the prevalence of bad content on the sites and sort of superintend whether the sites were making progress. I doubt he would go for actually creating, you know, private liability and litigation to flow from that, but the idea is not as far out as you might think. THOMPSON: But he might go for that, because the only company to be able to comply with those laws is his. STENGEL: Is his. Exactly. THOMPSON: And any start-up would be wrecked because they won’t be able to hire all the lawyers and lobbyists they need, which is one of the problems with these laws is locking in monopolies. But, Rick, you said yes, we should change the law. Which laws? STENGEL: Section 230 of the Communications and Decency Act, which basically gives all of these companies zero liability for the content that they publish, because it’s third-party content. Now, when it was written—when you write a law to incentivize some behavior, like you write a law saying hey, we need to have more people go to Staten Island, let’s—you know, I’m going to create a law where you can build a bridge, you can have a toll for it for ten years, but then you change the law. The law from 1996 did incentivize this, in a massive way, in a way that unintendedly created all of this other stuff. Needs to be changed now. These platforms need to make a good-faith effort to do that. And one reason they don’t take content down is because if they took content down Congress would go, oh, you’re an editor after all, so you should have liability for the stuff on your content. That’s why—one reason that Facebook is so loath to take things down, because they don’t want people to say, hey, you’re performing an editorial function. THOMPSON: All right. It’s 1:30. I’d like to invite members to join our conversation with their questions. A reminder, the meeting is on the record. Second reminder, the Council on Foreign Relations is not liable for any defamatory statements that you put in your questions. (Laughter.) Please wait for the microphone. Speak directly into it. Stand. State your name and affiliation. Please ask just one question and keep it concise so we can get as many as possible. All right. In the back, in the light blue. Q: Hi. Kathryn Harrison, CEO of the Deep Trust Alliance. You talked about media literacy. That’s like telling everyone who drives their car poorly that they need to go back to school. STENGEL: I agree with that too. (Laughter.) Q: An important—an important part of the solution for sure. But as the equivalent of cars, as the technology for creating videos, images, text get better, faster, stronger, cheaper, is there not an opportunity to make in the technology itself standards, labels, or other elements that would provide the guardrails, the seatbelts, or the airbags for consumers who are viewing that content? STENGEL: What would that be? Q: You could have a very simple labeling system, human-generated, computer-generated. You need to be able to track the provenance—what’s the source, how is it manipulated—but that would at least give you a signal, much like when you go to the movies, you know if you’re going into an R-rated movie that there’s going to be violence or sex or language, versus if you go into a G-rated movie. That’s the first place where we’ve shown kind of information that isn’t real. How can we use some of the models that we already have in society to tackle some of these problems? Because it definitely needs technological as well as human remedies. BENNETT: I often thought that was really interesting. You know, like, I’ve got friends who forward really stupid things like the one-cent tax on emails. How many of you have got friends that forward the one-cent tax on email thing? I think, oh, guys, get a grip, you know? (Laughter.) But on the other hand, I would really love to see something. This thing was posted by something that in the last thirty seconds posted ten thousand other things. I just think that would be a really useful thing to have and it wouldn’t be that hard to do. I mean, Facebook and Twitter can both do that right now. STENGEL: So what—I’m a little wary about the content purveyor creating the definition. Now one of the things that a lot of bills that are out there, like the Honest Ads Act for political advertising, or almost any advertising, is to show the provenance of the advertising. Why were you selected to get this particular ad? Well, it turns out that you bought a pair of Nikes last year and they’re looking for people who bought Nikes in Minnesota. I think all advertising that—and I actually think advertising has a role to play in the rise of disinformation, because automated advertising, when people started buying audience as opposed to brands, that allowed disinformation to rise. So I think the kind of transparency in terms of political advertising and other advertising insofar as that could be applied to content, without prejudging it, I would—I would welcome that. THOMPSON: All right. In the back, who also might be in turquoise—slightly misleading my initial calling. Yes. Q: My name is Aaron Mertz. I direct the Aspen Institute Science and Society Program. A lot of the examples you gave came from very large entities, governments, major corporations, often for quite nefarious aims. I’m thinking about individuals who might have ostensibly good intentions, parents who want the best for their children, but then who are propagating false information about things like vaccines. How do you counteract that kind of disinformation that’s coming from individuals who then can band together, form these groups and then potentially even lobby governments to change policy? BENNETT: I think you’ve just put your finger on one of the real—the real, you know, radioactive things about this whole discussion. How far do you go from vaccines which we don’t agree with to a form of religion we don’t agree with? Let’s talk about Christian Scientists. Would you like to ban that from the internet? I mean, that’s—you’ve just put your finger on the third rail. THOMPSON: So how do we solve the third rail? BARRETT: Well, I would encourage the platforms to diminish the distribution of or take down altogether phony life-threatening medical information. So, I mean, you have to do it carefully, you have to be very serious-minded about it, but I— THOMPSON: Who determined—who gets to determine what’s phony? BARRETT: Hmm? THOMPSON: Who determines what’s phony? BARRETT: I would go with doctors and scientists. (Laughter.) BENNETT: Me. BARRETT: You? BENNETT: I’m going to do it, yeah. BARRETT: Well, I’m less impressed by you. (Laughter.) STENGEL: But to say something that will also be unpopular, when I went into government, and having been a journalist, I was as close to being a First Amendment absolutist as you could be, you know? Justice Holmes, the First Amendment doesn’t just protect ideas that we love, it protects ideas that we hate. And traveling around the world, particularly in the Middle East, and people would say, why did you allow that reverend in Florida burn a Quran? Well, the First Amendment. There’s no understanding of the First Amendment around the world. It’s a gigantic outlier. All of these societies don’t understand the idea that we protect thought that we hate. I actually think that, particularly the platforms, the platforms have their own constitutions; they’re called terms of service agreements. They are not—they don’t have to abide by the First Amendment as private companies. Those need to be much stricter about content closer to what the—what the EU regards as hate speech and other countries do. There’s a phrase called dangerous speech, which is speech that indirectly leads to violence. I think we have to be stricter about that, and I—and the platforms can do that because they are private entities. THOMPSON: All right. I’ve got so many follow-ups. We’ve got a lot of questions. George Schwab in the front center here. Q: Thank you. George Schwab, National Committee on American Foreign Policy. From the perspective of international law, does state-sponsored misinformation constitute aggression? BENNETT: Not my thing. STENGEL: Well, one of the things I’ve been saying for a long time is that the Russians didn’t meddle in our election; they did an act of cyber warfare against the foundation of our democracy. That’s not meddling. I think when there’s state-sponsored disinformation, I think there should be repercussions for it. And part of the reason there’s more and more is that no country pays any consequences for it. I mean, yes, we sanctioned the Russians, or a few Russians, but it’s not a disincentive for them to do more. THOMPSON: So what should we have done? STENGEL: I’m sorry? THOMPSON: What should we have done to the Russians after 2016? We’re not going to nuke them, right? (Laughter.) Like, where’s the line that we’re going to— STENGEL: Well, I think we should have declared—there’s a—something akin to a kind of information national emergency, that our election is being interfered with by a foreign hostile power in ways that we still don’t know, and people have to be wary. THOMPSON: OK. Far right here. Q: Peter Varis, from TechPolis. Richard, you mentioned two cases that you actually worked on, the ISIS misinformation and the Russians after Crimea. It’s obvious that we have a lot more misinformation because the cost has declined. But what’s the difference from a terrorist group or, ditto, an insurrection like ISIS, and a state-sponsored little campaign of misinformation, which is—both are linked to actual kinetic warfare. STENGEL: Yeah. Q: But what’s the difference? Because that helps us to understand the budget difference. With $50 you can have a lot of impact with targeting on the internet, but what did you feel, hands-on, on those two experiences? STENGEL: So I write about both trying to counter ISIS messaging and Russian disinformation. And the former is easier in the sense that the ISIS disinformation, they weren’t masquerading. They weren’t pretending to be other people or Americans. They were digital jihadis, and when then advocated violence, right there was stuff that you could take off. I mean some—and I, in the book I talk about how—what great things that Facebook and Google and YouTube did in taking down violent extremist content. In fact, someone at Facebook likened it to child pornography, where the image itself is the crime; you’re under arrest. Promotion of violence, you’re out. The problem with the Russians is they pretended to be Americans. They pretended to be other people. They were hidden in plain sight, and that is—that’s a lot more difficult, and it’s still more difficult. THOMPSON: All right, let’s get some questions on the left. As far left as we can go. Right here. Q: Speaking of far left. (Laughter.) Peter Osnos with Public Affairs Books. So some of us grew up with Russian propaganda. Then it was called Soviet propaganda. And what we all agreed was that it was incredibly clumsy. So in 2016 and beyond, suddenly those same Russians, now a new generation, managed to create vast amounts of bits and pieces that were considered effective. And you referred to the stuff up in St. Petersburg, and there are people who say it was in Moldavia or some other places. Who was doing all that stuff? Who—low-paid trolls? Who created tens and tens of millions of these bits and pieces, many of which were, I’m sorry to say, very effective? BARRETT: Well, there was a—the main engine for the information operation side of it, as opposed to the cyberattack against the DNC computers, which was brought off by the GRU, the intelligence wing of the Russian military. The information side, the IRA, was run like a company that was owned by a crony of Putin’s and allegedly, according to Robert Mueller and U.S. intelligence agencies, was something that Putin himself approved of. So— Q: That’s not the answer. BARRETT: Not the answer? STENGEL: But Peter, I’d make a distinction between effective and sophisticated. What they did was effective; it wasn’t sophisticated. I was a recipient of all the stuff from trolls. I can’t even—I can’t say the words that they said. They couldn’t even spell them. The grammar was atrocious; they had terrible English. We looked at the handbook that the trolls would get when they went to the Internet Research Agency; it’s laughable. But as someone said to me, a marketing guy said to me, you know the emails you get from the Nigerian prince who needs $20,000 to get out of prison and you’re going to get $10 million? I said, yeah. He said, and you know they’re like filled with spelling errors and grammatical mistakes? And I said, yeah. He said, that’s deliberate. Why? Because if you respond to it, they know they’ve got a live wire. So the stuff that the Russians did were for people, as I said before, who will believe these strange conspiracies people, who don’t really know about the Oxford comma. (Laughter.) So they don’t really care about it, and that’s why it’s effective. THOMPSON: All right. Let’s go to the back. The very, very back. Q: Steve Hellman, Mobility Impact Partners. Do you expect more vectors of interference in the 2020 election, particularly Chinese, for example? Do we expect foreign adversaries to weigh in on both sides of the election at this stage? What do you think? BARRETT: Possibly. I mean, I think the Chinese are a possibility. We’ve just seen them active in Hong Kong, where they used Facebook and Twitter accounts, some of them English language, to try to undermine the democracy protestors in Hong Kong. I see shifting the attention over to the United States as only a minor potential adjustment. I think the Russians could be back and the Iranians have already test-driven their information operation. So I think there’s every possibility that there could be more vectors, as you put it, coming from abroad. And in terms of volume, we should remember that the vast majority of dis- and misinformation comes from right here at home where we’re doing this to ourselves, in a sense. So there’ll be that aspect of it as well. THOMPSON: But isn’t one of the interesting questions when you try to think about what countries will try to influence our election is which country has a clear goal in the outcome, right? So who—will China want Trump or his Democratic opponent to win? Like, Russia had a clear goal in ’16— BARRETT: In promoting Trump, and presumably China would have the opposite goal. THOMPSON: Perhaps, unless they think that the backlash Trump has created is beneficial to them. I mean, I’m not a China foreign policy expert, but— BARRETT: Me either. THOMPSON: Who is going to—who has a clear interest in the outcome? STENGEL: One of the things that we saw about Chinese disinformation and propaganda operations was that it wasn’t directed outward. It was much more directed inward, both for the Chinese audience itself and also for marketing the Chinese miracle around the world. They weren’t trying to effect particular political outcomes. I mean, that may have changed, and what’s going on in Hong Kong is evidence that they’re getting more sophisticated about it. But they were not nearly as aggressive as the Russians, of course, and the Iranians, who do also have an interest. But I also would quibble a little bit with—the Russians did end up of course helping Trump, but in the beginning, I mean, their whole goal, and has been— THOMPSON: Helping Bernie first. STENGEL: Well, but their whole goal was sewing disunity, discord, grievance. That’s what they’ve been doing since the ’40s and ’50s and ’60s. It was only when they saw Trump starting to lead the pack and praising Putin to the skies that they turned and started marshaling resources about it. I mean, one of the things I write about is that in the beginning, the first six weeks, you know, Trump was made fun of by the Russians just like people here were doing. THOMPSON: All right. Do we have a Chinese foreign policy expert who wants to raise their hand? BENNETT: This poor lady’s been right in front waving her hand. It’s driving me crazy. (Laughter.) Q: I’m Lucy Komisar. I’m a journalist. In the New York Times yesterday there was a story with the headline Ukrainian President Says ‘No Blackmail’ In Phone Call With Trump by Michael Schwirtz. He said Mr. Zelensky also said “he ‘didn’t care what happens’ in the case of Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company that once employed” a son of former Vice President Joe Biden. “In the phone call, President Trump had asked Mr. Zelensky to do him a ‘favor’ and investigate the debunked theory that Mr. Biden had directed Ukraine to fire” an anti-corruption “prosecutor who had set his sights on the company.” “Debunked” was the word of the author, not of Trump. Well, go back to January 23, 2018. In this room, Joe Biden, speaking to the Council, on the record. “And I went over, I guess, the twelfth or thirteenth time to Kyiv and I was supposed to announce that there was another billion-dollar loan guarantee, and I’d gotten a commission from Poroshenko and from Yatsenyuk that they would take action against the state prosecutor, and they didn’t.” I’m eliminating a couple of paragraphs just for time, just to get to the nut-graph. “I looked at them and said, I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money. Well, son of a bitch—(laughter)—he got fired.” Now what would you say about this disinformation in the New York Times yesterday? And do you think that they should take down this demonstrably false information? STENGEL: What are you saying is false about it? Q: Well, the writer says that it was a “debunked theory” that Biden directed the Ukraine to fire an anti-corruption prosecutor who had his sights on the company. In this—in the Council here, Biden says exactly that he said we would not give the billion-dollar loan guarantee unless you fired this prosecutor. It seems to me that Biden in one place is telling the truth and in another place he’s not. Maybe we have to figure out that, but I don’t think he lied to the Council. It’s all online; anybody can see it. Therefore, it seems to me the Times wrote fake news and they should be asked to take it down. BENNETT: I think the point that you’re—that you’re actually making the larger point I think people would be interested in is that a reputable organization that does this looks at errors and puts—researches them and corrects them when they make them. If it in fact is an error, then people should correct it. But that’s a generalized principle, and I don’t know anything about the truth or falsehood of what you just said. I’m just saying that’s one of the things you want that Rick’s talked about, is transparency and correction. THOMPSON: Let’s not—I don’t think we want to litigate this, because we don’t— BENNETT: Yeah, we— THOMPSON: We’re not experts on that particular statement. BENNETT: We’re not expert on that. We don’t— STENGEL: If I could just to go in the weeds for a second, having gone to Ukraine several times at the same time that Vice President Biden was there—he was there twelve or thirteen times; I went three times. That prosecutor was a corrupt prosecutor who was shaking down the people he would potentially prosecute who already had exonerated Burisma, the company that his son worked for. So he was saying the prosecutor that exonerated Burisma needed to be fired. And you know who else was saying it? The IMF, the World Bank, the EU, everybody else. It was a corrupt prosecutor. Q: He now says he—(off mic). THOMPSON: All right. Woman at the table behind. Right there. Yes, you. Yes. Q: Going back to the question of whether there was disinformation— THOMPSON: Oh, and your name and affiliation. Q: Oh, sorry. Absolutely. Ann Nelson, Columbia University. The question of disinformation in the 2018 campaign, I wonder whether you were looking at U.S. intermediaries at state-level campaigns. So specifically the National Rifle Association, which has its own apps and its own dedicated social media platforms and they have repurposed Russian memes and as the Senate Commerce Committee minority report pointed out last week, the NRA, Maria Butina, were very heavily involved with the Russian campaigns over a few years, including supporting her attendance at the Council for International Policy. So looking at campaigns such as Heidi Heitkamp and Claire McCaskill, where the NRA was extremely involved both online and on the ground, do you still think they weren’t very involved in 2018? BARRETT: Not sure exactly how to answer that. The NRA was active in—I mean, the Russians had certain contact with the NRA. I’m not sure that that is—fits in exactly the same frame as the information operations that we’ve been talking about, but certainly you’re right that the NRA is reputed, certainly by its foes, to stretch the truth on a regular basis and they have that intertwining with certain Russian agents, namely that woman. Beyond that, I don’t really have the—know what else to say. THOMPSON: OK. Gentleman in the far back, in the blue jacket. Q: Hi. Jamaal Glenn, Alumni Ventures Group. What’s your prescription for how to deal with information that doesn’t fall in the demonstrably false category? I want to challenge this notion that some of the Russian operation weren’t sophisticated. I would argue—maybe not technically sophisticated, but incredibly sophisticated if you look at their ability to identify American political fault lines and play to those. Things like race. I have friends exceptionally well educated who played right into the hands of some of these actors. And many of these things weren’t technically false. So I’m curious. What’s your prescription for these things that sort of fit in this non-demonstrably false gray area? BARRETT: Well, I was going to say the platforms, but mainly Facebook, already has a mechanism for what they end up calling false news, which would be broader than in my—in my thinking than demonstrably false information, and they down-rank it and label it, if they—if their fact-checkers have found it to be false, they label it so that when you go to share it, you’re told with a little pop-up that what you’re trying to share here is false, so, you know, think twice before you do it. I think that mechanism, for something that’s determined to be false, but where there’d be some difficulty in calling it demonstrably false, might be the way to deal with that. A certain amount of misleading information, you’re not going to be able to do anything with because you’re not going to be able to know in the first instance where it came from or who’s manipulating it. THOMPSON: But what if it’s true? Q: But what if it’s true? BARRETT: OK, well— THOMPSON: So what if the Russian government is spending money to promote stories that are irrefutably true. Say they’re about— BARRETT: Yeah, then you’re looking for categories of behavior that indicate that there’s some inauthenticity to the accounts that are sending it. The platforms have been moving more in that direction, taking down accounts on that basis. But all of this points to the fact that you’re not going to be able to get everything. No matter how aggressive you are, and not everyone wants to be that aggressive, this environment is going to be shot through with material of questionable provenance. THOMPSON: OK. Right here on the right, gentleman in the orange tie. Q: Michael Skol of Skol and Serna. Isn’t this partially a generational problem? I am one of those who does read the morning papers on—in paper. the Times, the Journal, the Post when there’s a funny headline. But I don’t—I don’t think there’s a lot of people a lot younger than I am who follow this, and which—what are the implications of this, that this problem is only going to get worse because the younger people who don’t pay attention, who don’t prioritize demonstrably true media outlets, are growing up and they overwhelmingly, possibly, there will be a population that’s worse than it is now. BENNETT: Again, let me—let me be the cheerful, non-cynical person in the room. Because we are able to look at digital behavior around the world, and let’s just stipulate that based on what you said, paper is for our generation; digital’s for everybody else. One thing we are finding that is fascinating is that people are coming to look for news and coverage from other countries, and I’ll give you one specifically. In China, what we found in the last six months or so is that the volume of traffic coming out and looking for news on Venezuela has just gone through the roof. Now, why would that be, and who is it? I think it’s because they’re trying to find out things that they’re not being told at home. I think that is a really interesting thing. It says to me that these things are true that we’re saying here.  It is also true that people want to know what’s really going on and they have a search for truth. I know this is, like, 1990s, 1980s, but I still believe that that is true. And we’re watching our digital behavior. When there were the street protests in Iran, our traffic went crazy. Our Instagram traffic went crazy. This is all people coming off of cell phones, so it’s young people carrying their cell phones. They were looking for stuff. So we saw this happening. And so I’m saying that I’m not sure you can say that everybody under the age of 65 is kind of undiscerning and stupid. I don’t actually believe that. Well, sometimes I do, but— BARRETT: Some of us are. (Laughter.) BENNETT: But not often. Anyway— THOMPSON: I would just add that the data from 2016 shows that there is a real generational problem with fake news. But it’s the older people. (Laughter.) BARRETT: Yeah. BENNETT: Yeah. THOMPSON: On the left. (Laughter.) Q: Jove Oliver, Oliver Global. My question is with your journalist hats on, when you see , say, a public figure, maybe the president of the U.S. breaking the terms of service on a certain platform, whether that’s by spreading, you know, disinformation on maybe Twitter or something, what’s the—what’s the remedy for that with your journalist hat on? It’s a public figure. Arguably, what they’re saying is in the public interest. At the same time, they could be causing violence against people or certainly spreading disinformation, which is against the terms of service of these platforms? Thank you. THOMPSON: Or we could even make it more specific. Rick, you sit on the board of Snapchat. Should you kick Trump off? STENGEL: Well, I’ll—(laughter)—I’ll answer that in a second, but I’m going to—the previous question. It’s a well-known fact that stories on paper are more factual than stories on telephones. Wasn’t that the implication of your question? That’s a joke. Q: Depending on which paper. (Laughter.) STENGEL: OK. I think the highest order of magnitude—and again, one of the things that’s been great about this panel, Nick, is you’ve actually caused us to have to think while we’re up here, which is usually not allowed on panels. But to me, the highest value is whether something is demonstrably true or false, rather than the news value of a certain story or the news value of a certain news figure making that statement or the higher protections that political speech has than regular speech. So that was the—that was the story about Facebook and the—now taking off that ad. They were privileging political speech over regular speech, and they—basically they were saying, to me, was that political speech, even if it’s false, is protected, whereas regular speech, if it’s false, is not protected. I would say the highest order is the falseness or trueness and even if it’s a public figure, then that content should be taken off. THOMPSON: Banning Trump from Snapchat? STENGEL: You know, not everything he says is false. And there is a—he is a newsmaker, I believe, and one of the things that—and as Nick mentioned, I’m an adviser to Snapchat. Snapchat does more of a traditional curation of news where the news is linked to a brand, rather than a topic or audience. And in fact, one of the things that I also say in the book is that the rise of automated advertising where you buy an audience, as opposed to buying an ad in Time magazine or the Economist or Wired, is one of the reasons that all of this disinformation becomes out there. And I’m going to say something very unpopular now among my news brethren, that I actually think the movement toward subscriptions also creates a greater volume of disinformation because the true content is now behind a paywall that very—that relatively fewer people can get, whereas the bad content is open and free. So talking about this age discrepancy, young people are now going to think well, I got to pay $68 a month to subscribe to the New York Times but I can get all this other stuff for free, free is a very powerful word in our society. And in fact, I used to say in the early days was, you know, when people used to say information wants to be free, I would say people want free information and we gave it to them and that’s why they are biased in favor of it. So I think the subscription paywall model is also a recipe for the increase of disinformation. THOMPSON: Well, there’s only one way to solve that problem and that’s for everybody in this room to subscribe to Wired. (Laughter.) All right. It’s 2:00. We’re done. Thank you very much to this panel. Please turn on your phones and spread some true information. (Applause.) (END)
  • Economics

    The World Economic Update highlights the quarter’s most important and emerging trends. Discussions cover changes in the global marketplace with special emphasis on current economic events and their implications for U.S. policy. This series is presented by the Maurice R. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies.
  • Health

    Over three million U.S. teens reported e-cigarette use in 2018, nearly double the prior year. A mysterious lung disease associated with vaping killed has nineteen people and injured hundreds. Congress and the president promise regulatory action, but some health advocates argue the backlash threatens the potential for e-cigarettes to make traditional cigarettes obsolete and improve the health of millions.  This roundtable, part of the Global Health, Economics, and Development Roundtable Series, is a discussion on e-cigarette regulation internationally and its lessons for U.S. policymakers. 
  • Economics

    Neel Kashkari discusses U.S. economic growth, monetary policy, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. The C. Peter McColough Series on International Economics brings the world's foremost economic policymakers and scholars to address members on current topics in international economics and U.S. monetary policy. This meeting series is presented by the Maurice R. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies.
  • Yemen

    Our panelists discuss the humanitarian and political situation in Yemen, and the state of U.S. involvement in the conflict. AMIRFAR: Good afternoon and welcome, everybody. It’s a real pleasure to be here this afternoon with you here at CFR for “An Inside Look at Yemen.” So, again, good afternoon. My name is Catherine Amirfar. I’m a partner and co-chair of the Public International Law Group at Debevoise & Plimpton here in New York City. And just I’ll be presiding over today’s discussion. And we’re extraordinarily lucky to have this group of four esteemed experts. And with their prior permission, I’m going to grossly truncate their amazing profile and qualifications because you do have it in your materials and I want to spend as much time as possible engaged in a discussion with them. So we have Radhya Almutawakel, who is here with us and co-founder and chairperson of Mwatana for Human Rights; Gregory Johnsen, a fellow at Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies; Priyanka Motaparthy, human rights lawyer and advocate; and Peter Salisbury, senior Gulf analyst at the International Crisis Group. So, again, welcome. And just a reminder to everyone that this is an on-the-record conversation. So let me start, Gregory, with you, for the unenviable task of getting us started by really setting the stage. You’ve written extensively on the situation in Yemen and how we got here. So tell us a bit your perspective of how we got here, and including an overview of the current contours of the conflict and the various factions involved. JOHNSEN: Right. Yeah, thanks to—(laughter)—for that enviable task. To set the stage, I think the most helpful way to look at Yemen is to think about it—what we talk about as one war in Yemen, I think it’s much more helpful to think about as three separate wars. So you have the U.S.-led war on al-Qaida and ISIS. The al-Qaida portion’s been going on, obviously, since September 11, maybe even going back to the USS Cole. That’s one war. That’s sort of this broad war on terrorism. You have the war that we always think about, this regional war, which is a Saudi-led war against what they consider an Iranian proxy. So this is Saudi Arabia and the UAE against what they consider an Iranian proxy in the Houthis. And then underlying that you have a longer-lasting and I think a much messier civil war. And this brings in a variety of different actors, from the Houthis up in the north, President Hadi’s government in the south, the Southern Transition(al) Council, al-Qaida and ISIS are both a part of this, as well as a variety of different militia groups and tribal groups spread throughout the country. And I think there’s a couple important things to remember. One is that this civil war has been going on longer than the regional war, the Saudi-led coalition war which started in 2015, and this civil war will likely go on long after the Saudis and the Emiratis eventually go home. I think if I could just add, when we look at the trend lines going forward, Yemen has what I would call a Humpty Dumpty problem; that is, it’s broken and there’s simply too many groups with too many guns for any one of them to ever impose their will upon the entire country. But at the same time, all of those groups have enough power and enough guys and enough guns that they can act as a spoiler to any sort of reconciliation process. So this means that the longer this regional war—this Saudi and Emirati war against the Houthis—goes on, that the more bloody, the more violent, the more fragmented Yemen will become in the civil war which will take place after that. And so I think right now we’re looking at a situation—if you sort of project forward in looking at how this conflict is going to unfold, we have a situation in which the idea of a unified Yemen is really a fiction. And I think that the country has broken not into two pieces, but into multiple little statelets. And that’s going to raise, I think, very serious policy questions for the United States, regional actors, and for Europe moving forward. AMIRFAR: Thanks, Gregory. And I want to come back to where we are going into the future. You mentioned a bit about the reconciliation efforts and the prior reconciliation efforts. Could you give us a little bit more on what’s happened previously and in your estimation why it hasn’t worked out? JOHNSEN: Right. So when we talk—most of the reconciliation efforts have been U.N.-led. This is where crises that have no real solution end up sort of in the forum of last resort, the U.N. Security Council, and the U.N. has a special envoy. They’re now on their third special envoy. The were on their third special envoy in four years. It’s now the third in fifth year—in five years, excuse me. None of them have been very successful. I don’t think this is because the various special envoys aren’t talented diplomats; I think it’s because they’re dealing with a very uneven field. That is, the Houthis up in the north feel as though they have the territory. They feel as though they are negotiating from a position of strength. The Saudi-led coalition has had four-plus years of airstrikes and air campaign, which have done very little to push the Houthis out. In fact, I would argue that it’s given the Houthis, who are very bad at governance, very repressive—it’s given the Houthis in the north a bit of a free pass because you’re not going to have people rising up on the ground when you’re being bombed from the air. And so the Saudis are left in I think a very unenviable position, which is they can continue to do what it is that they’ve been doing for the past four years and continue to get the same results; they can withdraw completely, which would give the Houthis victory; or they can go forward and—with some sort of a ground offensive to try to push the Houthis out. And they are not going to do that, for obviously reasons. Such an offensive would be bloody, long, with no guarantee of success. So with those sort of military options on the table, the Saudis still continue, and the Houthis as well continue, to sort of dance around the edges but not make a whole lot of—whole lot of progress on reconciliation. AMIRFAR: So, Radhya, let me—let me turn to you. At really great personal cost and an amazing amount of bravery you’ve been on the frontlines of trying to shine a light on the human rights situation for Yemenis that have been caught in this conflict. And I think, certainly as you know, the United Nations has warned that this is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, with 80 percent of the civilian population in need of some kind of assistance. And since you addressed the U.N. Security Council two years ago in order to give them a picture of the crisis on the ground, there has been a lot of humanitarian relief in the form of billions of dollars and commitments from 190 organizations to commit that money to getting relief into Yemen. Can you give us a sense, two years after you’ve addressed the United Nations, a sense of what the picture is on the ground from a human rights perspective? And is that humanitarian assistance being effective? Is it getting to where it needs to go? ALMUTAWAKEL: Well, the war in Yemen is very preventable, and it’s much cheaper to stop the war than to keep paying this humanitarian assistance. So Yemen started to be known as the worst humanitarian disaster since two years, and now the situation is even worse. So twenty-two millions of Yemenis, they need a certain humanitarian assistance, and this is almost all of us. I stopped counting the numbers since last year. But what we have—keep saying that it’s not—we should remember all the time it’s not a natural disaster; it’s a manmade disaster. So all the violations that is committed by all parties to the conflict led to this disaster. So the humanitarian aid is a lifeline for millions of people now. But even humanitarian NGOs started to say they lost their battle in the face of famine and there should be a solution in Yemen to solve the humanitarian issue. Otherwise, they will just fill—keep filling the gaps and it will never be ended, like, the humanitarian need. And even if the war is still going on in Yemen, Yemen doesn’t have to be the worst humanitarian disaster only if parties to the conflict, they respect the international humanitarian law and they protect civilians and civilian objects. But there is a huge lack of accountability in Yemen. It affects everything regarding the humanitarian aid. So besides all the human rights violations—the very direct ones like the airstrikes, landmines, child soldiers—there is one violation that is even worse than all of these violations, which is starvation. And we keep saying that Yemenis are not starving; they are being starved. And one of the things that caused starvation, it’s not even blocking the humanitarian access; it’s salaries. Thousands of Yemenis are not receiving their salaries since years until now, those who are under the control of Houthi areas. And after the Stockholm peace process some of them started to receive their salaries, like the retired people, the health sector, but suddenly in Aden the proxy forces of the United Arab Emirates decided to control Aden by force. Now, again, no one is receiving their salaries. Really, the salary is one of the things that broke the back of Yemenis more than anything else. AMIRFAR: Radhya, let me pause a moment on accountability. You talked about accountability. When you addressed the Security Council two years ago, you mentioned the necessity of setting up a commission of inquiry in order to document abuses and violations. And more recently, just a month ago the U.N. Group of Eminent Experts released a report and they actually endorsed the establishment of a commission of inquiry. What did you think of that report in terms of its documentation, its utility going forward? And specifically, what does accountability look like in Yemen at this stage? ALMUTAWAKEL: Well, as I said, accountability’s still absent in Yemen, 100 percent. Most of the violations we document are very preventable violations. So, for example, in 2018 we documented only in 2018 about eighty airstrikes where hundreds of civilians were killed and injured. In many of these airstrikes there was no even a military target. We documented about more than one thousand child soldiers, most of them by Houthis, and much more than this. And it’s very preventable, but they don’t care. They trust impunity more than anything else in Yemen. So that’s why the Group of Eminent Experts that established out of the Human Rights Council was very important. It was the only mechanism that concentrate on the human rights in Yemen. And it’s taken seriously by states, by parties to the conflict, and also by people in Yemen. It’s very important. The report is very good. I invite everyone to read their last report. Although they didn’t have access to Yemen, they didn’t have access even to the countries that are part of the Saudi-led coalition, but in spite of this the report was very good. It gives a very good picture of what’s going—what’s happening in Yemen. And they also mentioned the starvation as a method of war. And I think that they need to be supported because they are the only path now toward accountability. We don’t have another path. Security Council cannot be peace process until now. We want to stop the war. So the mechanisms that come out from the Human Rights Council, it’s the only one until now beside the civil society and human rights NGOs, and need to be supported. It was very difficult to have this mechanism. It’s not like other countries. Other countries, they have a commission of inquiry, tribal (IM ?), tribal (IM ?), because, yeah, there are some states who are not allies with the criminals. But Yemen, it’s different because many allies to Saudis and Emiratis didn’t want this to happen. But it happened in spite of this and it should continue. AMIRFAR: Is there something—do you think the report went far enough? Is there something you wish you had seen in the report? ALMUTAWAKEL: I wish that the work will continue. So they covered many types of violations, but still what’s happening in Yemen is much more than all the work that happened in human rights, whether from the GEE or from the human rights NGOs. So I hope that will continue. And I hope that it will be linked to accountability in different ways, so it’s not going to be only documenting violations but going in a process that give a very clear message to parties to the conflict that this is a step toward accountability. AMIRFAR: Thank you. Priyanka, let me turn to you. So war crimes and accountability. Obviously, your prior group, Human Rights Watch, had spent a lot of time extensively documenting what was happening on the ground. Tell us a little bit about your view of the war crimes, particularly in a context where some have noted rightly that there has really been an outsized role, if you will, of third countries in the conflict, whether it’s the United States, the U.K., Iran. What is—what do you think is the approach and the—in terms of documentation of war crimes? And tell me what you think that these participation of the third states, how that impacts the analysis and whether there is complicity there. MOTAPARTHY: Great. So when we’re talking about war crimes in Yemen, the most prominent example of war crimes in Yemen, the one that most people are familiar with, tend to be the airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition. These airstrikes have had indiscriminate impact on civilians. The Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights has documented more than seven thousand civilian deaths and we know that number is very likely to be much higher than that. But when we talk about war crimes in Yemen, we cannot only focus on the airstrikes. There is, in fact, a very, very long list. I could spend the rest of our time together here today merely listing and categorizing and describing the war crimes that—the apparent war crimes that are happening in Yemen, which have in fact been carried out by all parties to the conflict. When you listen to Greg give his overview of, you know, who are the actors on the ground, how we got here today, each one of those actors is identified with a kind of signature apparent war crime they have carried out. So with the coalition you have the airstrikes. We’ve discussed the humanitarian situation. You have impeding humanitarian aid upon which the civilian population is dependent and needs for their survival. You have starvation as a weapon of war, which includes of course not just food items but medicine, supplies necessary to provide water. All of this is an intricate and linked together structure in Yemen. And when you look at the actions the coalition has carried out to block critical supplies, when you look at actions the Houthis have taken to block humanitarian aid or, indeed, turn back humanitarian aid, these are also examples of potential war crimes. Let us not also forget the potential war crimes associated with detention practices. Both Houthis as well as the Emiratis, who are a party that we often forget to talk about in the context of this conflict, have run extremely abusive detention centers, have carried out widespread arbitrary detentions, have subjected detainees in their control to torture, to sexual and gender-based violence, and to arbitrary killings on a scale that it is difficult for us to fathom given how difficult it is to document these types of violations and given how the scale of these violations so far outstrips what groups even like Radhya’s—like Mwatana, which has more than eighty staff members in Yemen—is able to cover with their resources. So the list of apparent war crimes is wrong. And this ties closely to the issue of accountability because, of course, I say apparent war crimes. It is not my role as a human rights investigator or human rights advocate to make that ultimate decision. That needs to be done through a process that meets legal standards, that is able to collect evidence up to certain standards, and that is able to make what can be quite a complex legal determination with questions of intent and knowledge and all of that. You raised an important question around complicity. Since the beginning of the war the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and of course Iran as well have all taken a lot of criticism for their support for various sides in this conflict. The sort of specter of complicity has been raised. It has been increasingly used by advocates like myself and international lawyers to put these countries on notice that they may be doing something wrong in providing this support. Now we are more than four years into this conflict. The standards around aiding and abetting international crimes are—you know, again, I’m not going to sort of give you the whole legal test, but more or less knowingly contributing to internationally wrongful conduct. Do these countries know that they are contributing to conduct that is very, very likely to be wrongful under international law? I think there is quite a strong argument that they do. And you see this recognition both reflected in the work of the United Nations commission—I’m sorry, the Group of Eminent Experts. If you look at their report on last—from last year, they raise a very strong question: Are these countries complicit? If you look at their language from this year, they go further. You can see that they are hinting that these groups, that they may well—these countries may well be complicit depending on the level of support, the level of influence they have exercised. You also saw that the U.S. scaled back its level of support by stopping the refueling of planes. But complicity is a very, very important question. And at this point, all these countries are both on notice about the severity of abuses in Yemen and about the likelihood that their conduct contributes, and they may be—they may be guilty of aiding and abetting. And you can also see this reflected by the numerous legal cases that have been raised in different jurisdictions. Mwatana is a part of many of these cases. Human Rights Watch participated in a case in the United Kingdom. There’s litigation in France. There’s litigation in Italy, as well. And so you really see this as an increasingly significant issue. AMIRFAR: And can you just speak really brief to the commission of inquiry and what you think— MOTAPARTHY: Yes. AMIRFAR: What role would that play in this type of determination of complicity, of accountability that you’ve just gone through? MOTAPARTHY: I mean, I think that, you know, you see—there’s very clearly a need for accountability in this conflict, you know. Radhya has spoken about the damaging effects of impunity. Neither the coalition nor the Houthis seem to have any real fear that they will held to be—be held to account for their actions. And why should they? In more than four years of war, not a single individual has faced a completed prosecution for actions they have carried out. At the same time, the Group of Eminent Experts, when they had their mandate renewed this fall in Geneva, you saw a slight expansion of that mandate and important expansion, which speaks to the question of accountability. They now have a mandate to—I think it is to collect and preserve evidence that could lead to future accountability. But I think when we talk about accountability we could be talking about a wide range of options. So is there accountability domestically in Yemen? And that has been a very impoverished scene. We haven’t seen that. Is there accountability at the coalition level? Some of you may be familiar with the Joint Investigations (sic; Incidents) Assessment Team, whose work Human Rights Watch and others have examined very carefully and have assessed as not credible, and not even appearing to properly understand and apply principles of international law. Then, at the international level, as Radhya said, the main avenue thus far has been these U.N. panels. And the—you know, the Security Council one calling for sanctions and the one in Geneva fulfilling its investigative mandate. But much more needs to be done. And it’s really about looking for those opportunities and creating those pathways, including pathways to redress for individual victims, so. AMIRFAR: All right. Peter, let me—let me turn to you. You are going to have another unenviable task, which is to peer into the crystal ball. Now, you’ve said and written previously to the point that Riyadh needs a win, I think as you put it, in order to bring an end to this conflict. Now, with also taking account of the scaling down of Emirati forces, is that likely at this stage? Where are we headed with this conflict? SALISBURY: Sure. So we were talking just before we came in about wanting to reframe the question. I’m going to do that slightly, but I will come back—come back to this point. So Greg did a really lovely job earlier of explaining the complexity of the conflict. There’s this internal layer, which is based on local grievances, local rivalries; and then there’s this regional and international layer. And what’s happened over the past year or so, really, is that we’ve seen within Yemen a process of consolidation by certain groups. So we have really three core centers of power in terms of the military and economic capabilities of the groups on the ground. So we’ve got the Houthis in the northwest of the country, who have backing from Iran. In the center of the country we have this collection of groups in Marib, which is a sort of desert area in the center of the country, who are linked to local tribes; to Islah, Yemen’s main Sunni Islamist party; and remnants of the Yemeni military who didn’t join the Houthis at the outset of the war. And then in August we saw a group called the STC, the Southern Transitional Council, take over Aden in the south. The STC are backed by the UAE and the guys up in Marib are backed by the Saudis. So we’ve got sort of this interesting regional overlay, and we’ve got all these different agendas that the local groups have and the regional groups have. And a lot of the time when we talk about countries like Yemen, we tend to slip into this very linear idea of what a proxy is, what a proxy force is, and we work on the basis that Saudi Arabia has command and control over group X, Iran has command and control over the Houthis, et cetera, et cetera. But in fact, in every single group’s case what we’ve seen is a demonstration of the local group’s willingness to do things that their paymasters, if you like, don’t want them to do on the basis that it better serves their agenda. So the Houthis at the beginning of the war were told by the Iranians fairly clearly don’t try and take Sanaa in its entirety and then don’t expand across the country. And more recently, some people from Iran told the Houthis not to sign up to this agreement that prevented the battle for Hodeidah last year, the Stockholm agreement. In 2016 the Yemeni government vetoed what could have been something like a peace deal which some in Riyadh wanted to see. And then in August we saw the STC moving ahead with a plan that was already in place to take over Aden without a UAE go ahead, largely on the basis that the Emiratis would join them along the way, and that’s what happened. I think that’s a really important thing to bear in mind, that everyone’s got their own agenda. What do the Saudis want in Yemen? At the beginning of the war they said that they wanted to push back Iranian influence in Yemen, prevent the creation of a Hezbollah on their southern border, and restore the legitimate government of the president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, to Sanaa. That’s really shifted over time, in part because there is a general consensus that any peace deal for Yemen will usher Hadi out and bring in some new administration. So what the Saudis really want and need at this moment in time is some sort of deal that brings the Houthis into their sphere of influence and removes them from the Iranian sphere of influence, and gives them some sort of veto power over Yemeni politics. What does the UAE want? It wants a group that can act as a bulwark against political Islamism, both in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood, which they see as heavily influencing the groups in the center of the country, and Iran with the Houthis. And what does Iran want? Well, Iran has got an incredibly low-cost opportunity to annoy and pester and distract the Saudis and also the U.S. And it’s also, it has to be said, had an opportunity to test Saudi Arabia’s aerial defense systems. I think that we saw quite recently how that’s played out. They got really good knowledge of how the Saudis defend against things like drones and missiles, and all of a sudden they launch an incredibly sophisticated attack, allegedly, on Saudi Arabia. So when we talk about a move towards a peace process, each of these groups has a different influence internally but also internationally. So at the beginning of the conflict, one of the early diplomatic successes the Saudis had was pushing through at the United Nations a resolution, 2216, which essentially frames the conflict as one between the legitimate internationally recognized government and the Houthis. And there are conversations to be had about the interpretation of that resolution, but that’s really become sort of the way that it’s read internationally, it’s read diplomatically, and it’s become a straitjacket for the special envoy in Yemen. He has to get a deal between these two groups. And really the Saudis, because of their outside influence over the Hadi government, have veto power over any deal. So when we hear about diplomatic initiatives on Yemen, people spend as much time speaking to the Saudis in Riyadh as they do the Yemeni president in Riyadh because they know they need Saudi buy-in. So we’ve got the Saudis as a kind of super spoiler because they can spoil things on the ground, they can spoil things at the diplomatic level, and they can spoil things at the international level. The Emiratis and Iranians don’t have the same level of influence, but they do have a ground game, if you like. They have the ability to push these groups in various different directions. And then the groups on the ground themselves also have agendas and interests. So they want to get things out of this conflict. They’ve shed blood. Their grievances, if they weren’t sort of fully sort of realized in the beginning of the conflict, are very, very real now. So we need an internal reconciliation process, as well as all these sort of international/regional/local layers. And now just to make things easier, we’ve got really strong rumors of the Omanis becoming more involved in the political scene, the Qataris, and the Turkish. So Yemen’s sort of increasingly looking like the way we sometimes imagine Syria, just this sort of really sort of complex, three-dimensional game of chess that’s really hard to resolve. But one of the keys that we have here is that over the past year, arguably, our analysis has been that we have moved towards this place where we’re seeing consolidation and bargaining on the ground. The Houthis are in a very strong, dominant position in the areas they control, but they have an understanding that at this moment in time they can’t expand geographically. They can defend, but they can’t sort of move across the rest of the country. The STC in the south has demonstrated sort of its sort of de facto sovereignty over certain parts of the south, not the south in its entirety. And then the guys in the north also have a strong game there. And all these groups are now talking to one another, and they’re all trying to position for any eventual political settlement that we might see. So what’s needed? The key to unlocking—turning that informal backchannel conversation into something real and diplomatic is really the Saudis because they’re the blocker at every single level that we go down. The positive is that there are voices in Riyadh—there are those who think, do you know what, let’s do it, let’s engage with this recent Houthi offer of a cross-border ceasefire leading to a wider de-escalation process that could lead to political talks. But there are strong voices inside the Kingdom, those who promoted the conflict throughout and have benefited from it, who don’t want that to happen. So we have the dove/hawk problem everywhere across all of these groups. But until the Saudi system really aligns in such a way as they say, OK, we’re ready to do a deal with the Houthis that saves some face but maybe doesn’t allow us to say that we, quote/unquote, “won the war and defeated Iran,” it’s very, very difficult to get to the end there. Sorry, that was a little more than five minutes. AMIRFAR: No, no, no, that was exactly what we needed. Let me—let me just follow up really quickly on one of the—one of the things you mentioned that is strikes me is a structural constraint; which is as you’ve said it’s been conceived since the outset as an international armed conflict, whereas if you look at the facts on the ground you could see some parallel non-international armed conflicts going on at the same time, and that the envoy has been hamstrung as a result of that. Is that perhaps a key, as well, to get all of these various factions to the table in the sense of actually hashing this out, and perhaps in a way that addresses the hawks in Saudi Arabia? SALISBURY: Absolutely, and that’s kind of where our advocacy has been in terms of a peace process. On one side it’s relatively simple. You’ve got the Houthis and some remnants of the GPC, the former ruling party of Yemen. On the other side you’ve got this mishmash of different anti-Houthi groups, we can call them broadly. And up till now the Hadi government, which is based in Riyadh, which has lost its second capital in five years recently, which is not seen as particularly legitimate by many people on the ground, is the representative of Yemen. And what that means is even if we get a deal between the Houthis and Hadi, we end up with a deal that no one’s bought into. And a good example of that is the Stockholm Agreement last year, where the Hadi government had to come in as the representative of the forces fighting the Houthis on the ground even though the vast majority of those on the ground were UAE-backed forces who do not have a lot of time for the government. So if the Hadi government goes in and does a peace deal for Yemen and these groups aren’t at the table or they don’t have a say on what that peace deal looks like and they don’t buy into it and feel bought into it, then really we’re looking at Yemen War 2.0, maybe without some of the international dimensions. AMIRFAR: OK. Well, thank you for that. Let’s open it up. We now have thirty minutes. Want to open it up to the members. Just a reminder, this is on the record. Please wait for the microphone, state your name, and if you could please be concise so that we can get as many members as possible. Please, over there. Q: Hi. Thank you very much. My name is Gary Sick, Columbia University. I have read about most of you, writings, and I appreciate very much the chance to see all of you here today. We’ve never had this much expertise on Yemen in one room, I don’t believe. I would like to ask what I think is a rather simple-minded question. But to sort of simplify where things are, could one say that at this point the Houthis are really winning, that the Saudis are really losing—that they’re taking a beating—and that the UAE has sort of withdrawn from the field but has its proxies in place in the south, and is still trying to influence the way things are going? And even if that is accurate, which it probably is not, the—I’m particularly interested whether the Saudis recognize this. And you talked about the fact that the Saudis—that the Houthis have territory, but have shown an inability to expand to the rest of the country, which is obviously true. What about expanding north? I mean, I’m curious about how much territory the Saudis have actually lost thus far up along the northern border of Yemen, and whether this has really sunk in, and whether there’s even a—does anybody remember the fact that those territories in Saudi Arabia just north of the border were Yemeni within living memory? I just wonder whether anybody is taking that into account. And are the—are the Saudis losing as badly as I suggest? AMIRFAR: Who wants to start us off on this one? Gregory, Peter? JOHNSEN: Yeah, so I’ll—so I think the Houthis are certainly winning on the ground. I think the Saudis see themselves winning in the court of international diplomatic opinion. Despite all the fallout from the Jamal Khashoggi and everything else, there has been very little, I think, international diplomatic pressure where it counts, that being either from the U.S. or the U.K., on Saudi Arabia. And so you have a situation where both sides look and see themselves as being stronger in a particular area—the Houthis holding the territory on the ground, the Saudis internationally. I think a lot of people in Yemen remember that Asir and Najran were Yemeni provinces back in the 1930s. And there are some Zaidis—I think the Saudis have—in a number of border towns have pulled a lot of the residents back. The Houthis have made some incursions, but there’s also pushback from some local Yemeni forces that are being backed and now trained by the Saudis up in—up in Saada. Anyone else? AMIRFAR: Anything to add? SALISBURY: Sure. The one slight corrective, I would say—I would give would be there’s been a lot of talk of the UAE “withdrawing,” quote/unquote, from Yemen. And certainly our research points to a slightly more nuanced read of what’s happened there, which is the UAE had a large number of forces in the country performing a number of different functions; they reached a place where they no longer needed to carry on with offensive operations along the Red Sea coast, and they removed many of the people who ran sort of various high-tech weapons systems from the Red Sea coast and people who were an extra layer. But they left in place those who were coordinating with the local Yemeni forces, who had been doing all of the frontline fighting alongside them or on their behalf since at least 2015. So the UAE position in Yemen actually remained very little changed despite the removal of large numbers of troops. And I think there was a degree of convenience in terms of their messaging and their narrative—that they were ready for peace, that they no longer saw this as a war, and that they did not intend to carry on with the offensive on Hodeidah, which is positive to diplomatic efforts—but didn’t actually take away sort of their strength and their place in the conflict overall. And I think it’s just important to have that little bit of nuance. They definitely still have skin in the game right now. A couple of years ago I was pretty close to the border. I was in Saada itself with the Houthis. And one of the things a fairly member said to me is in 2009 in our border war, when the Saudis started bombing the Houthis, we entered Saudi territory, and that’s what ended the conflict. And a lot of—you could remember that Saada, which is where the Houthis come from, which is their heartland, is directly on the border with Saudi. So the geographical political mentality of many members if the way to defeat our enemy—and they see the Saudis as the, quote/unquote, “aggressor” in this conflict—is to go across the border and attack them. So I think it’s very important and it’s a great point that you make, and they really want to signal they have the ability to do so. And certainly, they’ve shown the Saudi armed forces up a number of times and have really dented the Saudis’ not-great-previously reputation as a military force among sort of the international actors who work with them. AMIRFAR: Here. Q: (Off mic)—Charney of Charney Research. You know, I remember our last roundtable on Yemen. It was about five years ago. And not only were there far fewer experts at the front, but there were also far fewer participants in the room. But I do also remember that at that point, before the new stage of the war had begun, there was a lot of discussion of the National Dialogue and the fact that all sides had become achingly close to a solution with this odd system called democracy, midwifed by USAID. Now, my understanding is that it was the Houthi military actions that actually blew up that process or at least subsequent to a deadlock in the process. Be that as it may, though, I’m wondering, are there any possibilities for moving in this direction again and finding a solution along those lines? ALMUTAWAKEL: So first I want to—want to clarify that it’s not—the situation was not that everything was fine and then the genie just came suddenly out of the lamp and just destroy everything. It was a very complicated—accumulated mistakes from everyone, including the National Dialogue. They wanted to show the National Dialogue as if everything was OK, but while parties to the conflict were discussing in the hotel they were flighting by blood in the ground at the same time. And as I tell a lot, but I don’t know if we should go back to the National Dialogue because the way that was—things was decided just led to the war. But anyway, peace is very possible in Yemen, and I keep saying this all of the time, because there is a balance of weakness between all parties to the conflict. I’m sure that Saudi Arabia is losing, but I’m not sure that Houthis are winning. No one is winning in Yemen. They all, they don’t have a peace plan. They don’t have a war plan. They have a very heavy file of violations. They strength each other by their badness. So Houthis are strong because their enemies are very bad. And also other side, they are getting stronger because Houthis also are very bad, I mean, in the ways they control the areas they are controlling. So there is a balance of weakness between all of them. I don’t know why they are going on the war. It’s very weird because they are all losing, having a very huge file of violations. They couldn’t meet the demands of people in the ground. And so they can be pushed easily to go to the table, and this happened after the Khashoggi murder when the—when the pressure became just suddenly very higher from the U.S. and the U.K., and only in two months they succeed to send Houthis and the government to the table, to Stockholm, and to start a kind of peace process. Only because of the pressure. So they are always ready to be pushed—even Saudis, Emiratis, Houthis, STC, all of these groups. They are—they can—so but if there is no will from the international community, especially the U.S. and the U.K., then the war is going on. Why there is no strong pressure to stop the war? I don’t know. We can discuss this more. Maybe arms trade is part of it. But I will stop here. AMIRFAR: That’s an excellent question. Please? (Laughter.) JOHNSEN: I would also just add I think Yemen has a fundamental problem in that there’s a small pie and there are more players than there are pieces. And right now you have a situation where it you don’t like the results, you can take up arms and you can spoil the whole process. That was the situation—part of the situation then. If the Emiratis complete their drawdown, if the Saudis withdraw, if that—if this war, the war that has taken up most of our interest, if this war ends tomorrow, then the local groups on the ground are in all likelihood going to keep fighting and they are going to try to get as much as the pie as they—as they possibly can. And the Saudis and the Emiratis, by sort of holding I think what Peter called this rickety anti-Houthi alliance, that will fragment and fracture, and they’ll be at each other’s throats. AMIRFAR: So let’s go back to the question, though, that Radhya put out—U.S., U.K., that one of the key pressure points is their ability to bring that to bear with respect to the Saudis and the Emiratis. Why hasn’t that happened? Why did it happen only for, as you put it, for a couple months right after the Khashoggi murder? SALISBURY: So I think last year was an object lesson in shifting narratives, where the U.K. and the U.S. for years had said, look, we’re pressuring the Saudis as much as we possibly can to move in a certain direction but we’ve really used all our leverage. Post-Khashoggi, partly because the Saudis understood that the court of international opinion, as Greg decided it—described it, was turning against them, and that they couldn’t control U.S. Congress, really felt sort of less emboldened. And British and American, specifically American, diplomats and others felt emboldened. But it’s also important to remember that it came down to really an individual last year. So it was Mattis making a phone call to Mohammed bin Salman on pretty much the last day of the talks in Stockholm and saying you have to do this, otherwise you’re toast, basically, here in D.C. and there’s nothing we can do about it that really changed— AMIRFAR: You’re paraphrasing, but yeah. (Laughter.) SALISBURY: Yes. I wasn’t in the room. (Laughter.) That changed the game. I think the thing that we have to be—to be honest about right now is that sort of absent that kind of context, politicians in these two countries are focused on many other things. Yemen has a very low order of priority. The U.S. in particular is very focused on its campaign of maximum pressure against Iran, the U.K. is going through some stuff that we definitely don’t need to discuss right now, and it’s difficult to imagine them returning to this posture. I think it’s almost more helpful to try and think about how do we move toward some kind of process of peace. How do we hand the U.N. leverage in this process rather than waiting for the return of a Mattis-like figure and a Khashoggi-like event? MOTAPARTHY: I think another important current to keep in mind on the role of the U.S. and the U.K., and even countries like France, is how much the citizens of those countries have become aware of the Yemen War, have become aware of the immense humanitarian toll that it is taking, have become—there’s become increasing public awareness of the roles of these governments selling the amounts of arms they do, the kind of contours of these deals, how little some of these governments know about how these arms are being used. There have been various disclaimers used at certain points, so you have, for example, the French government saying, our arms are only being used defensively. And then of course, you know, in the last several months investigative journalists in France came out with this incredible scoop, you know, including secret government documents showing that in fact the government had clearly misrepresented its role in the war, how its arms were being used, the level of knowledge that French politicians had around this. And you see similar dynamics playing out in the U.K. and the U.S. Not to oversimplify, of course, but in the U.S., you know, as an American myself, I’ve found it both fascinating and disturbing to see how the Yemen war has really tested the limits of the government, the different branches of government and actions they have taken to try and hold each other in check or pursue certain lines of policy. And so I think just noting this growing discontent and intolerance of the situation in Yemen amongst the populations of these influential countries is really key. JOHNSEN: Yeah, I would just add as well—sorry, to be really brief, the U.S. is in a really difficult situation in the Yemen War, in that when the war was announced by Saudi Arabia, they did a very strange thing, which was they had their ambassador in Washington, D.C., announce the beginning of the war in D.C., even though the war was taking place from Saudi Arabia and Yemen. And right after that announcement, the Obama administration made an announcement the same night, that they were setting up a joint planning cell to coordinate logistics and intelligence support with the Saudis. This put the U.S. in a situation where they were now tied to this war with no say over how it was going to be conducted on the ground. And the U.S. has been struggling with that ever since. I completely agree with Radhya that unless there is any U.S.—absent U.S. pressure on Saudi Arabia, this war is going to continue because no one else has the leverage to sort of end the war. The U.N., the Security Council, is not going to be able to do it on its own. And as Peter laid out, I think very convincingly, Saudi Arabia is the key to this. So absent that pressure, this war is going to continue and in four or five years, we’ll be back here; we’ll be talking about the same thing except it’ll be much, much worse. AMIRFAR: I think—up here. Q: Thank you. Jeff Laurenti. I wonder if you could tell us whether there are urban centers in Yemen that are sufficiently, quote, “secure” that there is a little bit or greater room for, quote, “civil society” to exist, to flourish, to perhaps create some sort of countervailing social pressures or affecting Yemeni opinion in a way that the warring parties’ leaderships have to pay some attention. And to the point that Gregory Johnsen had raised, in terms of the internal revenue pie being presumably small, what are the sources internally of financing the recruitment of soldiers on one side or another? How long could that continue if external sources were to be phased down in some kind of international agreement to pull back? AMIRFAR: The Yemeni civil society and internal sources. Who wants to take a crack? SALISBURY: I think Radhya’s good—(laughter). AMIRFAR: Radhya, everyone’s looking at you. ALMUTAWAKEL: It’s shrinking very much. So all those who used to be political parties in Yemen, they are parties to the conflict now. And Houthis, al-Manshia, but also the 80 percent that were controlled by the government and the coalition. They empowered armed groups. So it’s—they replaced a militia by another militia in the middle of this. And the civil society is very divided politically, and now it’s even shrinking more. Armed groups, and our neighbor is Saudi Arabia; we are in the middle of a war. So still Yemenis, they are trying to resist through working in civil society. I still, with my NGO on the ground, we are about a team of 80 people working all over Yemen, but we are still considered unique because in general, the civil society is shrinking. And this is very dangerous, because it’s the only civic space for many people who do want to engage in the work to act, to use it as a platform, and it’s shrinking. And this is one of the things that there should be pressure on parties to the conflict to have more space for media, for civil society. So Yemen was never good before, but we used to have diversity and political parties and media and civil society. We used to have a ship of state, and now we don’t have any ship of state and it’s a very difficult situation. It’s not that there is no civil society, but it is shrinking every day. It’s to the maximum, that you have to take permission from Houthis to do, like, this gathering in Sana’a, for example, and you just can’t imagine. So I don’t know to what extent we can depend on it, but we are doing our best. AMIRFAR: Over there. Q: Thank you. Joanna Weschler, Security Council Report. Some of you mentioned accountability, or rather the lack thereof, and the total impunity that is virtually guaranteed for all the atrocities occurring in Yemen. Should the international community get serious about accountability in a meaningful way? Would this make a difference with all the actors that you have been talking about a moment ago, the very numerous actors, Will they—would it penetrate? Would this be something preventing them from committing major abuses? AMIRFAR: Priyanka, want to take that one? MOTAPARTHY: Yeah, sure. I think that the lack of attention to accountability has been really marked, and that if the international community were to take that more seriously it would make a huge difference. We have seen small improvements, as I mentioned, the expansion and the mandate. The renewal first of the mandate, which every time it comes up is a fight, and then the expansion of the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts is a tiny victory, but a very important one. I think that one, you know, in terms of accountability, for the Houthis, of course, in a certain way the international mechanisms work quite well. You have the Panel of Experts. They’ve named a number of Houthi leaders and military officials and recommended them for sanctions; their documentation on that side is quite large. At the same time, you see Houthis behaving in a way where it’s very clear they have no fear of actually facing that accountability. If they did, they would not, for example, carry out attacks on civilian airports, claim those attacks, state publicly in their media that their intention was to hit the civilian target. And so you have on one hand, you know, a source of accountability, but on the other hand, clearly a lot more work needs to be done to figure out how to make that message hit home for the Houthi leadership, how to make it actually seem like a credible threat and start to factor into their decision making. We haven’t reached that point yet. On the coalition side, at Human Rights Watch we spent years, you know, explaining why the coalition accountability or sort of investigative mechanism, the Joint Investigative Assessment Team, was not an effective body, how they did not properly represent facts, they did not appear to understand or correctly apply principles of proportionality and distinction, bedrock principles of international humanitarian law. And yet even with these major Western governments like the United States and the United Kingdom, they continue in advocacy settings to say, well, they’ve made improvements, this is getting better, they are trying, this is a serious effort. They—there has been a real unwillingness to acknowledge this body for what it is, which is a way to sort of nod to this need to investigate without actually carrying out serious investigations using a transparent and credible methodology and producing investigations that hold up to scrutiny. I’ll stop there. JOHNSEN: I just—yeah, so just on accountability, as someone who served on the U.N. Panel of Experts for Yemen for a couple of years, the sanctions right now are very lopsided. So the last set of sanctions was in 2015. I think the mood in the Security Council is, I don’t think Russia or China would be excited about any more sanctions in Yemen. The sanctions that have been levied have all been on the Houthis or on Ali Abdullah Saleh, when he was still alive. And in fact, the sanctions as they were—as they were put into place in 2014 and 2015 actually shifted the conflict, because they had very little impact on the Houthi leadership. The sanctions were basically an asset freeze and a travel embargo, so you couldn’t travel internationally. That didn’t really hurt Abdul Malik al-Houthi, the leader of the Houthis, or these guys who are up in the mountains. But it hurt very much Ali Abdullah Saleh, and it really weakened his network. And when the two came into conflict a few years later in 2017, Saleh didn’t have much financial resources upon which to draw. And then his network, he wasn’t able to pay them from 2015, 2016, 2017. He had much more difficulty doing that, and that’s one of the reasons that when they came into conflict, Saleh was so weak and was then eventually killed. I think a strong message, as Priyanka said, would be for any sort of—the threat of sanctions or sanctions against someone in the coalition, then people would pay attention, I think, in a way that they haven’t previously. AMIRFAR: Over there? Q: (Off mic)—Baruch College. I have a couple questions. Which party is more accountable for the war crimes in Yemen, the coalition or the Houthis? And would you say that initiative for peace is coming from primarily the Houthis but not from the Saudis in the latest Stockholm talks? And why aren’t the Saudis not working towards peace? Sorry. And what would be the face-saving measure for the Saudis before they are ready to pull out of the war in Yemen? And lastly, what—(laughter)—any comments on the use of child—children as soldiers? Thank you. AMIRFAR: So you can pick or choose, I think, among the four. Where do you want to start? ALMUTAWAKEL: I’ll take the first question. AMIRFAR: Please. ALMUTAWAKEL: Whenever you see the map of parties in the conflict in Yemen, never try to find the good guy. Never. There is no good guys. And I never—as a human rights defender, I can’t say this one is doing violations more than this, because for the families, if one family was killed because of Houthis, then this is enough for them. It’s the world for them. So all of them are doing horrible violations. Maybe the Saudis and Emiratis, they have more weapons, but it doesn’t mean the Houthis are better than them. And it’s not only the coalition and Houthis. We have also other forces, like the SDC, like proxy forces, like an—and groups loyal to the Hadi government. So they are all complicit in violations against civilians and they are all same. AMIRFAR: And does someone want to briefly just speak to the child soldier’s question, which we haven’t touched on? ALMUTAWAKEL: So the child soldiers story? AMIRFAR: Yeah. ALMUTAWAKEL: We documented—we document the child soldiers by interviews and observation. Because it’s very difficult to take interviews, so we documented thousands of cases. Most of them, it’s by Houthis. Seventy percent of them by Houthis. SALISBURY: So maybe I’ll speak to the face-saving measure and who does the peace initiative come from. Since 2015-2016, the Houthis have said that they’re willing to sit down and work on a peace deal, but on the basis of what they see as the reality on the ground. And again, we’ve had 2216, which in effect demands a total Houthi surrender and handover of everything that they have. So those are the terms that, unsurprisingly, the Hadi government and the Saudis have asked for any peace deal to be based on. The return of sovereignty, the legitimate sovereign government and for the Saudis to sort of in effect be able to declare a win. And clearly that’s not going to happen and the goal posts have shifted. The Saudis need to be able to say at this point in time that they have definitively ended Iranian influence in Yemen. And they need—one of the things they keep returning to is the need for the Houthis to cut all ties with Iran, which is obviously a very clear Catch-22 because, I mean, I can stand here and say that I denounce Iran and I cut all ties. How do you—how do you prove it? And clearly I have no ties with Iran. (Laughter.) At one and the same time, the Houthis need guarantees on their side, so you need some sort of mechanism that sort of point-by-point ratchets things down. We’re moving in that general direction and, hopefully, it won’t just be one thing. It’ll be little bits that sort of build up to something where the Saudis feel confident that they can be part of any process that the Houthis are in and that they can interact with them. But they will need something like some sort of declaration, some kind of statements from the Houthis, which they’ve made many times already, that they are sort of not under the control of any external actor. And they may need some sort of symbolic gesture, like sort of people visibly leaving the country. But a question that I’ve asked repeatedly of the Saudis, the Americans and others is, do you have a list of names of people inside Yemen who you want to go? Or from the IRGC, from Hezbollah? And the problem is that they don’t. So there’s this very strong language around Iran’s influence and their presence, but there’s always been—the Iranians are very good at plausible deniability, and a lot of what’s happened in Yemen has been about skills transfer rather than a command-and-control and staffing relationship. And I don’t think the people have really reached the point where they’re able to deal with that nuance. AMIRFAR: So we just have a couple of minutes. Any final comments from anyone? Yeah, please. ALMUTAWAKEL: So peace in Yemen is not a ceasefire. I’ve heard many from—Saudi officials saying we can protect our borders, and then we leave you for militias to fight forever. And this is true. This can be happen. Houthis can have an agreement about the borders and then they leave us for militias. And the war in Yemen is not the airstrikes. Peace in Yemen, it means a comprehensive political agreement between all parties to the conflict. When we ask for peace, we don’t ask for ceasefire; we ask for a political agreement which we think is very possible. And till now we still have groups who we already know who they are and they can all be in the table and agree on something. Until now, the scenario for the future in Yemen, if we don’t have peace, that fanatic groups will be empowered more and more, expanded more and more. Those people will never go to the table, will never care about accountability and will never—we can be in a civil war forever. So when we ask for peace, we ask for a political agreement between all parties to the conflict in Yemen. SALISBURY: Just to jump on that really quickly, I think that’s such an important point. And as we start talking about the possibility of a U.N. peace process, there’s a real danger—and we saw this, I think, in the past in Yemen—that if you frame the peace process incorrectly, in a way that doesn’t reflect these realities on the ground and doesn’t make it a truly Yemeni-Yemeni process, you’re actually just sort of stopping the internationalized aspect, or removing it from public view, and then moving towards a renewed conflict, Yemen War 2.0 or 3.0. So this is a really fragile moment where we really need to start bringing in some real Yemeni voices into sort of thinking about how to do this, not over the next one year, but ten, twenty, thirty years. JOHNSEN: I would just make two points to end. On the point on—that Peter brought up just a moment ago on the Houthis and Iran, what we’ve seen is Saudi went into the Yemen saying, we want to prevent Iran from coming in. This has become—this war has really become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The longer it’s gone on, the closer the relationship between the Houthis and Iran have become. In fact, just in August the Houthis announced an ambassador to Iran and Iran recognized the Houthis as a legitimate governing authority. This is what the Houthis want. The longer this war goes on, the tougher and the more difficult it will be to peel those two apart. The second thing I would say—and this is sort of more broadly speaking with regards to Yemen, the sooner this war ends, obviously, the better it will be for Yemen. But Yemen is never going to be put back together again into a single country. It won’t even be put back together again into two countries, into an old north and an old south, like it was in the 1990s. I think Yemen will revert to a historic mean in which you have a variety of warlords or militia groups who are in power in different parts of the country. And this raises, I think, some pretty serious policy and security issues for the United States with regards to shipping lanes, with regards to counterterrorism, with regards to Saudi border security, as well as what’s happening in the region. And I don’t think that given, as Peter said, how low Yemen is on the list of priorities for the U.S, that there’s been a lot of attention paid to Yemen the day after. ALMUTAWAKEL: And Yemen can surprise you. (Laughter.) AMIRFAR: Priyanka, anything final? MOTAPARTHY: Yeah. I mean, I think that just, you know, to give a very small example amongst a very big war, even if you follow the conflict only peripherally, I think all of you will remember the airstrike on the funeral hall in Sanaa that led the Obama administration to reconsider its sales of precision-guided weapons. It was in the news for weeks afterwards. I visited the site a few weeks after it happened and just saw the level of devastation that happened there. And, you know—this is falling off, but—but following that case, you know, I—when I returned to Yemen in February of this year, I asked people who was held accountable for that strike, a strike in which more than a hundred civilians or a hundred individuals were killed, including children? One of the things that shocked, you know, shocked the world in terms of the human toll that it took, two mid-level Yemeni military officers referred to prosecution, and that—they were referred to investigation. That did not even reach the stage of becoming a trial. That’s where we are on accountability today. That’s how far we’ve gotten in terms of Yemen and accountability today. I think it’s a very illustrative example. AMIRFAR: And on that note, please join me in thanking this amazing group of experts. (Applause.) (END)
  • Syria

    As the Syrian conflict extends into its ninth year, risks to international security and regional stability remain. Our panelists discuss U.S. policy toward Syria, including military, diplomatic, and economic initiatives and multilateral efforts to bring the conflict to a close. SHANKER: Well, good afternoon to all of you and welcome to today’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting. The topic is Syria: State of the Conflict and U.S. Policy. I’m Thom Shanker. I’m an editor with the New York Times Washington bureau. And I’m completely thrilled and honored to be here with a blue-chip panel, as always. Whenever the Council convenes on these important questions they get just the absolutely best people to elevate a conversation with all of you today. Just a couple quick housekeeping things. If you have cellphones, please silence them. I’m sure you know that already. We’ll begin with a half-hour discussion here on the stage, and then I’ll move to your Q&A. We will end at 1:30. I lived five years in the Soviet Union, so I run these meetings Stalinist efficiency—(laughter)—and all of you with busy schedules will be out at 1:30 sharp, I promise. And most importantly to me, and many colleagues in the journalism profession, this discussion is on the record today. Our panel includes Gayle Lemmon. She’s adjunct senior fellow for women and foreign policy here at the Council on Foreign Relations, and the author of a couple outstanding books, I highly recommend them, Ashley’s War and The Dressmaker of Khair Khana. Welcome. We have Mouaz Moustafa, executive director, Syrian Emergency Taskforce. We have Michael Mulroy, who’s deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East. And we have Joel Rayburn, deputy assistant secretary of state for Levant affairs, and special envoy for Syria. Thank all four of you for being here today. Everything important in life I learned from two sources, Johnny Cash and the United States military. And the military is relevant today because when you look at complex problems like Syria, the military breaks them down into strategic operational and tactical to try to understand. And I thought we would guide our conversation today along the same lines. So I’ll start at the top with a strategic question for all four of you, please. As a nation, we’ve learned since 9/11 that militaries can’t win wars. Militaries can defeat other militaries, but it’s up to the rest of the government, NGOs, and others to actually win the peace. So as you look at the very complex situation on the ground in Syria today, it’s a civil war. There are terrorist safe havens. There’s international meddling. Very complicated relations with neighbors. Walk me through, if you could, what is the route to peace and stabilization? LEMMON: (Laughs.) So I should start with a Johnny Cash song I Walk the Line in giving this answer. I think I’m very keen to hear from the other panelists. It’s delightful to join all of you today. I do think that we have a moment where there is a chance. There is a sense that the Iraq War is the ghost that hangs over every decision that has been made on Syria. And a sense on the ground, certainly when you’re in the northeast, that there actually is a moment, there is something to protect. Because, having had the privilege of traveling in and around the northeast six times in the past two years, I will tell you that it is a story of progress, and very fragile, very endangered, but very real gains that moms and dads are fighting for every single day. And so in this one corner you have a by, with, and through that actually has done its job, and perhaps done too good a job because no one wants to pay attention to it. There’s another Johnny Cash song, It Ain’t Me, Babe, you’re looking for. Everybody’s sort of trying to drop the hot potato and walk out. And I do think that there is a fragile progress that is worth protecting. And then you have the question of how do you get to a diplomatic endgame, and where is the pressure going to be? Who is actually going to help get to some kind of process that works? It’s hard to find people on the ground who believe in Geneva. And I would actually love very much to hear other people’s views on this. But I think that you have a northwest situation, al-Qaida discussions. I know there was a piece from your colleague that is concerning to many. And the question is, how do you solve multiple conflicts at one time? I do think there’s a role for the United States to help exercise leadership and get the concerned parties at the table. I think that our colleagues here from the U.S. government have been working on this and can talk to this. But there is nothing easy about what comes next because I don’t think that, policy aside, anybody sees the Assad regime going anywhere, except perhaps a day trip to either Tehran or Moscow. SHANKER: Thank you. Mouaz, please. MOUSTAFA: So I want to thank the Council on Foreign Relations for having me here. It’s truly an honor to be back and to sit on such a respected panel. And I want to thank the service of DASD Mulroy and DAS Rayburn for all that they have done in the service of our country, and also to help get Syria through this horrible mess that it’s in. And as we look at the over—I agree with the points that you made, Gayle. And I think that, you know, with all the competing interests in Syria, and the fact that the country now, if you go to a certain, specific geographic location, and the armed groups on the ground, the political powers on the ground differ greatly. And I think one mistake that we have made in the past is we’ll focus—for example, be hyper-focused on the northeast and not think about the implications of the events happening in the northwest and how that affects it. Same applies across the board in the different areas in Syria. I think the complicated conflict, the competing interests from regional countries and others make it very difficult. But at the same time, I think it’s very, very important to stay in tune with the population itself—this population that came out in 2011 in multi-confessional, nonviolent, peaceful protests initially asking for reform. And as the brutality of the regime and its allies increased exponentially, they started asking for a full transition from this dictatorship to something that they’re all hoping for, which is to have their dignity, first and foremost, but to have freedom and democracy in Syria. And I think investing in civil society, investing in these people is very important. I think they look at the situation today and they do not see the United States sitting at the table. In the last administration, and to a degree in this administration, there had been sort of a ceding of the decision-making for long-term strategy future of Syria to Iran, Russia, and Turkey. If you look at Astana and Sochi, these are processes that, at least in our interaction and our work on the ground in Syria, do not vibe and are not respected by the population. I would say to a greater degree they would look, and they would prefer to go back towards Geneva and the agreements that we had there. So I think what’s most important is, first of all, to remember what the Syrian people have gone through, because without justice, without accountability, and without really sort of catering to their grievances and managing their expectations, we can get anywhere. And so you’re looking at around thirteen million people displaced, half a million dead, hundreds of thousands that are in jails, with unequivocal proof of the torture, of what the regime, Russia, and Iran has done. And so what I think is really important is we need to ensure that the Assad regime and its allies understand that they themselves cannot have a military solution to the conflict, that that’s simply not possible. Whenever the regime commits horrendous crimes—whether that be with chemical weapons or conventional weapons—and the world sits on as a bystander, then the regime, again, thinks that he can, by military force, take over Idlib—by the way, potentially doubling the refugees in Europe, empowering extremist propaganda—and he can sort of wait the United States out in the northeast. What’s really important is that we find a way, first of all, to create some sort of continuity between the northwest and the northeast, all the areas that are liberated and free from Assad regime control. It’s important that we do everything we can here, as the United States, to come back and sit at the table, where Sochi and Astana are not the drivers of the future of Syria, but Geneva and Resolution 2254. And at the same time, by doing all we can here to higher the cost of the Assad regime, Russia, and Iran’s criminal activities and genocidal atrocities that are unfolding in Syria. And one way to do that here domestically is something—is, for example, the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, one that is not going to solve and end the conflict, but it represents a ray of hope to many Syrians that see this as the very least that the United States can do to help, you know, find a way that’s conductive to a political solution in Syria. SHANKER: Please. MULROY: So, as somebody who spent a whole career in conflict zones, I couldn’t agree more with the premise of the question. The U.S. military plays a part in these, but certainly should not ever be the only answer to these really complex problems. So I break it down to three things in Syria, at least groups I can talk about. The kinetic element. Obviously the quality and the capability of the partner force that was the SDF allowed the U.S. military to do what we call an economy of force mission. So we enabled them. And I think it’s important to note, they bear—they bore most of the burden when it came to defeating a caliphate—a territorial caliphate that got to be the size of West Virginia. And I know we have a lot of work to do, but we shouldn’t just gloss over the efforts that it took to actually accomplish that. We, quite frankly, could not carry out our strategy, our national defense strategy, if it weren’t for partners like that. So that’s the first thing. And I know we’re going to talk a lot more about that. Stabilization. We don’t have the lead, Department of Defense, of stabilization. The State Department does. And the major implementors are USAID. The Defense Department, with our ability to do logistics and security, support them. And we’ve codified that in the SAR 2018 agreement that was between all the heads of those agencies. We are still working through issues that I see in that when it comes to authorities to spend money and then authorities to be protected under the Department of Defense. We can go into that later if you’d like, but those are things that we have to work out internally so that we can maximize the effect of the stabilization operations we have, because at the end of the day the stabilization part of this is just as important as the kinetic. It is just as much a part of defeating ISIS as the military direct-action campaign was. And if we don’t do that, we will be back there, for sure, doing this again. We owe it to the people that live there, who have beared unspeakable burdens, and we owe it to the men and women that are going to come after us at the State Department, at the Defense Department, that we don’t just leave this undone. The last part I’d say is more of a philosophical political part. As Gayle might have mentioned, but I know she just got back from Al-Hawl camp. That is a big concern for us at Defense Department, not just because it’s a massive humanitarian process—or, crisis, but also because these are people, many of them children, who are only going to have one view and one philosophy the entire time they’re in that camp. So if the international community doesn’t come up with a way to rehabilitate them and reintegrate them into society, that’s the next generation of ISIS. They have no other input. And if we don’t do something about that, we consider that to be a substantial issue for the world—not just for the United States, and certainly not just for that region. The last thing, and I know Joel will get into this much more, is the UNSCR 2254 process. We spent a lot of time; we met with Mouaz and Caesar this week. And we also—we also have a representative from the White Helmets here, Asaad Hanna, which I’d really like to recognize, because that’s an organization that we feel is one of the best operating out of Syria. But we’ve had a lot of those discussions this week. And it’s really on us to be there, from my perspective, the military, to enhance the mission of the people leading the charge, which is DAS Rayburn and Ambassador Jeffrey, when it comes to the United States. And just having that presence there, I think, helps that efforts. SHANKER: Joel, please. RAYBURN: Like the other panelists, I appreciate the opportunity to speak today, and for the Council for setting this up. I’m nervous, though, because my West Point debate team partner is in the room, and I’m afraid she’ll stand up and start cross examining me. (Laughter.) She was a much better debater than I was. SHANKER: Whoever it is, feed me some notes. (Laughter.) RAYBURN: But the Syrian conflict is a political conflict. It has political causes, so it has to have a political solution. That’s what we mean when we say there can’t be a military solution to the Syrian conflict. The Russian military and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, on behalf of the Assad regime, aided by Lebanese Hezbollah, could attempt to reconquer every square inch of Syria, and that wouldn’t be the end of it. What you’re seeing is a conflict that spans the northern Middle East in such a way that if the political causes are not addressed they will go on, and on, and on, and our children and grandchildren will be dealing with the same conflict. I’m confident of that, having sat through the same movie a number of times in Iraq. Earlier this year the president gave us in the executive branch some very clear guidance on what strategy to implement to try to bring a close to the Syrian conflict. He gave us three strategic objectives—three overarching ones. There were some others that were in support. But the first was to continue the campaign against Daesh so that in the—especially in the former territories of the physical caliphate, Daesh has no chance to come back. In other words, to complete the military phase of the campaign and then to do the things that come after to ensure that you inoculate those territories from Daesh’s return. The second was to—was to achieve a withdrawal from Syria of all Iranian-commanded forces and militias in Syria. In other words, to roll back the Iranian power projection grab that is taking place. The Iranians—the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, IRGC, on behalf of the Iranian regime, has essentially reached across Iraq, Syria, to the Beqaa Valley, trying to threaten the Golan Heights, in a bid to try to establish strategic outposts in Syria that can pose a new kind of existential threat to Israel and to others of Syria’s neighbors. And that’s something it’s in my view, it’s the most dangerous strategic element in the northern Middle East today, and it’s the factor that’s most likely to cause a regional conflict across the northern Middle East. But the third objective that the president gave us was to try to achieve a political resolution to the Syrian conflict under the auspices of U.N. Security Resolution 2254. In other words, to get a political solution to the conflict that could address really the other two objectives, because both the Daesh caliphate and al-Qaida-type safe havens that pop up here and there, and the IRGC power projection across the northern Middle East are symptoms of the underlying conflict. They’re not the cause of the conflict, they’re things that—they’re things that have arisen on the part of those who’ve exploited the underlying conflict. So the proximate cause of the conflict has to do with the nature of the Assad regime. It has to do with the nature of governance in Syria. It has to do with the—with the way the Assad regime has behaved in the region. In order to—a political solution to Syria—to the Syrian conflict, in order for it to be sustainable, the Syrian government’s behavior toward its people and toward the region is going to have to change. And that’s what we’re—that’s the path out of the conflict. That will require serious pressure from the United States and from the rest of the international community, on the Assad regime and on those who are the patrons of the Assad regime, to compel the regime to change its behavior, to make the concessions that are necessary to get to a resolution under 2254. SHANKER: Well, thanks all four of you for that fabulous survey. You’ve touched on all the important issues. I’m going to drill into a couple more here, and then, of course, all the members in attendance will do the same. The question of chemical weapons came up. That is one of the things that does capture the attention of the broader public, when the regime uses chemical and other prohibited weapons. What tools of deterrence does the U.S. and its partner nations have? And what should be done about that? And I don’t even want to raise the “redlines” phrase, but where are we today and what should be done? Please. RAYBURN: Well, you’ve seen two times the president has shown that he’s willing to use military force to try to do—prevent the use, and production, and proliferation of chemical weapons inside Syria. He’s willing to use military force when he deems it necessary. We have other tools that we use. And both times that we did military operations in response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons we used economic pressure and diplomatic pressure alongside those. So we have a range of tools. Most recently last week Secretary Pompeo was able to announce that the United States has come to the determination that the Syrian regime used chlorine as a chemical weapon in May in Latakia province. And our response to that was to use our economic sanctions tools and to use political pressure that has only just begun to play out at the U.N. and other international fora. So we do have a range of tools. Clearly the use of chemical weapons in May shows that the Assad regime is not yet deterred from using them. So it’s going to take more pressure on our part, and on the part of the international community. And I would say there’s a strong international consensus behind that. And secondly, it also raises the risk that the Assad regime may not have abandoned the idea that they can somehow rebuild their chemical weapons program with who knows what kind of dangerous chemical weapons. I mean, we know they’ve used chlorine, we know they’ve used sarin. So that’s something that’s a threat, not just to the Syrian people but to the surrounding region. And because of the propensity for proliferation by a rogue regime like that, to international security. So it’s definitely something that, you’re right, does get a lot attention. And it rightly does. But we’re bringing the—we have a pretty full toolbox to use, I think. SHANKER: Michael, thoughts from the Pentagon perspective? MULROY: So to Joel’s point, obviously we have shown that we are politically willing to take action in response to chemical attacks, and the military capabilities are obviously there. I don’t think anybody doubts that. I would say that if you look at the last response in 2018, that was the result of an attack that killed upwards of seventy people—men, women, and children. I’m sure that was a factor that was considered. We are, of course, tracking the same announcement that Secretary Pompeo made at the General Assembly on the last use. I would say going forward factors that will discussed in any response will be—again, to Joel’s point—deterrence, right? So we’ve obviously taken strikes before. They did not deter them. You know, should—whether that level of strike is sufficient or not. And if they were not, then perhaps it would be more substantial. We’d also like to recognize that it wasn’t just us last time. It was also the French and the U.K. And we’d hope that even more countries would join in any response, either politically or even militarily, in the event they’d make the terrible decision to use chemical weapons as a means of war in the future. SHANKER: Joel, you spoke at length about the Iranian influence. I’d love to hear from the panelists about another foreign power that’s very much involved in Syria, which is Russia. Do you have—any of the four of you—what’s your assessment about their role today? How the level of communications is with the U.S.? And, you know, how the U.S. should impose some measures on that, looking to the future? MOUSTAFA: I’d just like to say, I think what’s really important—first of all, Russia coming into Syria was a disaster. I’m speaking strictly from sort of the perspective of just the humanitarian toll that’s happened. We run for school for orphans, women’s center, bakeries in places in Syria. And I remember, when the regime would bombard with its horrendous barrel bombs and take out an entire residential building, killing many civilians, that was horrible. Then when the Russians came in, they’re essentially testing weapons on Syrian people, I think by their own admission, even in terms of the new weapons that they’re utilizing. And they’re taking out entire city blocks. This is resulting in things like massive flows of refugees and so on. I think what’s important about Russia is I think it’s easy—first of all, we shouldn’t overstate its leverage over the Assad regime. In a way, I think the Iranians have even more leverage with Assad, and they’ve sacrificed a lot more in blood and money there. But there are places—they’re not sort of—they don’t have the same interests in the country. And I think we need to find ways of exploiting that difference between Iran and Russia to help drive the Iranians completely out, and make Russia understand that in the long run they cannot afford to keep up what they’re doing there, and try to give them some guarantees for things that they would care about, whether it is their Tartus space on the Mediterranean, and others. But the Russian role in Syria I think is a result of the United States sort of ceding that whole area. And, again, that began under the previous administration. I just want to add one more thing on chemical weapons. I think it’s really important that the next time, God forbid, the Assad regime uses chemical weapons against civilians, the strike must be much harder than it was. I Think the—what President Obama’s inaction on that was a disaster. The Trump administration deserves credit for its response on the first attack. And then on the second attack, the response was even weaker. And I think we need to up the price for the Assad regime, to ensure that never happens again. SHANKER: Gayle. LEMMON: Just on the Russian front, I mean, having written for Kevin Baron and some others here on this for the early years of this conflict, right, that Russia has been all-in on the side of the regime, while folks struggled for years to understand where the Americans were, and what their equities were, at what point they were willing to intervene. And so when you have this Russia and Iran are all in versus a United States that couldn’t quite decide how much, right? And I think this is now the second administration that really hasn’t, for very understandable reasons, wanted to get further into wars in the Middle East, right? And I think that has been a defining both characteristic and, I think, a behavior shaper of the previous two administrations. And when you are on the ground it’s very clear that Russia has really seen this as a success story in many ways. And it has used it as a testbed of unmanned in particular, if you look at what they have used in terms of testing, because even if there’s a failure of those systems it’s a learning point. And I do think you see what happens when there is no U.S. leadership. Or, I shouldn’t say no, you see what’s happens when there’s very little U.S. leadership. SHANKER: But even for those who may think that the Syrian conflict is away and doesn’t affect, the Times did a story in recent days, it was referenced earlier, that the Russian air defenses in the northwest that are there to protect their allies in the Assad regime are actually giving cover to a new Qaida affiliate, creating a safe haven that may, again, launch attacks against the West. So, I mean, is there some way to work with the Russians against that real and clear and present threat? RAYBURN: Can I? SHANKER: Please. RAYBURN: First, just to address the overall Russian role. The Russians, in my view, have decisive influence over the Assad regime. The Assad regime could not survive without the support that the Russians give them. If the Russian Air Force were to ground itself tomorrow, I think within a month the Assad regime would be losing the war again. The Assad regime military is extremely weak, and without heavy, heavy support from the Russian Air Force and from Russian private security contractors, who act as ground forces, I don’t think the Assad regime would be taking back any territory at all. That seems demonstrable on the ground. The Syrian government operates at a deep deficit. No one, really, I think knows how much, but it’s big. And that deficit is made up by the Russians. It’s made up—and partly by the Iranians too. The Iranians are quasi-gifting oil to the Assad regime right now. But the Russians are making up deficits in wheat, and in a whole host of other things that the Syrian regime needs, and in cash. Usually lines of credit, I think, by this point, not actual cash, that the Assad regime needs just to keep going. The state apparatus in Syria could not run without these things. So if the Russians took the decision tomorrow to actually work with the international community on a political resolution of the conflict through UNSCR 2254, the Assad regime could not defy them. The Russians can’t—the Iranians can’t possibly replace all the support that the Russians give. So the Russians are in a good position. They can make the Assad regime do whatever really they think they need them to. Recently the Russians—we do have—we do have continuing contact with the Russians on a diplomatic level. Nick can talk about military deconfliction. That’s not in my lane. But on a diplomatic level we’re in pretty constant touch with the Russians on ways to get to an end state that, I think, we both roughly agree with, which is that, as I said before, governance inside Syria and the Syrian government’s behavior in the region has to change in order for the underlying causes of the conflict to be addressed. But how we get there, we have a lot of disagreements about. And we talk about those all the time. One way in which we were recently able to—one area in which we were recently able to agree, though, was in the establishment of the constitutional committee, which we’ll try to—which will be charged with undertaking constitutional reform to try to address some of these structural problems in Syrian governance. So we have high hopes for that. It’ll kick off at the end of this month in Geneva. But the Russian role. Let’s not be—there’s a lot of speculation about, well, how much leverage do the Russians have over Bashar al-Assad? He’s a very tough client, et cetera. I don’t—I don’t buy that. SHANKER: But we haven’t really seen Russia doing much. RAYBURN: Yeah, so it’s a matter of—it’s Russian will. It’s not that they don’t have the ability. It’s not that they don’t have the leverage. Of course they have the leverage. SHANKER: Please. MULROY: Sure. To Gayle’s all-in point, which I agree with, they are all in, but they should be all-in for all the consequences as well, right? So we could spend the rest of the time talking about the atrocities done by the regime and their Russian backers here, so I won’t do that. But I will point to one statistic that stood out at me as were preparing for this. Between April and September, fifty-nine schools have been destroyed in Idlib province—fifty-nine schools. RAYBURN: By aerial bombardment or shelling? MULROY: Yes, shelling, right? So it’s not just chemical weapons use that’s bad, but killing innocent civilians by any means is wrong, and they need to be held accountable, to the point of— RAYBURN: And in lot of cases, it is a war crime. MULROY: It is. So I like to point that out. They’re all-in for the consequences of all the bad decisions that the regime makes. To your point on al-Qaida affiliates, obviously there’s many. And they keep spawning additional ones. And so you had Al Nusra, then you had HTS, and now you have Hurras al-Din. We’re not going to mitigate our efforts to attack them and to ensure that they’re not plotting external plots outside of Syria, or whether it’s, you know, in Europe, anywhere in the world. And you can see that. We just—we just conducted an attack that was very successful. I know I already brought up the National Defense Strategy. Counterterrorism is, like, the fifth priority. And that’s where it should be. However, one of those attacks is successful, and you know how that’ll turn out. So we’re never going to let off the gas when it comes to the threat, specifically posed now—and I’ve seen this, I would say, on my past job. Oftentimes when a terrorist organization is relieved from the burden of governance—I take that from a quote that was written on a wall once when we liberated an area—they’d get back to their true calling, which is killing the infidel. RAYBURN: Right. MULROY: And I think that is something that we, and particularly DOD but also my old organization, will spend a lot of time ensuring that if they return to that, and we know they are, that we will do everything we can to mitigate it. SHANKER: Right. I know the members here have lots of questions, so I’ll self-edit. But I do want to ask one more before I go to questions from the members. It’s about the humanitarian catastrophe, but a very specific part. You know, there are two thousand foreign fighters in SDF camps, and more than seventy thousand ISIS women and children. And there’s lots of hang-wringing about that. But I’d love to hear specifically in a concrete and tactical way, how we deal with that? And, again, not to be too practical, but it’s not just a humanitarian disaster, but it’s setting up all of the prerequisites for ISIS 3.0. What do we do? Gayle, please. LEMMON: So I was in Hawl camp in May. And I just want to say, I deeply believe that this is entirely foreseeable overnight crisis six months in the making. It is almost as if, to use an example some are more familiar with, we took the Northern Alliance post-2001 and said: Hey, seventy-three thousand Taliban families from all over the world, please, find a way to house, feed, care, educate them. And the international community cellphone is going to be off in case you need any help. It is absolutely astounding to me that folks whose children and whose colleagues died fighting ISIS are now really being held responsible solo, in many ways, to take care of the children and the wives of those—and members. Because I do think it’s more than ISIS wives. I think that reduces the agency for many of these women, who deeply believe in the Islamic State. And people are pleading. People who run these camps are pleading for assistance from the international community. You know, this one woman said to me: You know, one of the main challenges is the mentality of the new arrivals. We can’t do much for them, and they’re having a big impact on the people who are already there. This is a camp that nine thousand people, had kids going to school, and it was prepared for twenty (thousand), thirty thousand more. And now they’ve seventy-three thousand. And when you go, it is more or less the United Nations of the Islamic State. I mean, there’s so many different languages. My colleague and I—my wonderful colleague and I were trying to figure out if we could decipher. There were many—which I think I’m pretty fluent in a number of them—they we couldn’t identify. There were folks we met from Seychelles, folks we met from Germany, folks we met from Egypt. And I am not arguing, actually, that all of these people are ISIS members, or should be imprisoned. It requires the international community to come and help solve an international problem. This is not a solely homegrown effort that requires folks who are stretched thin to resolve on their own. You now have a nonstate actor, in the form of the SDF and the SDC, faced with real state problems, and nation-states who don’t want to pony up and help. And I do think we have to address this, because it is about the little ones and the next generation. These kids did not choose to be in this camp. They did not choose the ideology of their parents. And I’m telling you, there’s great fear in the region. One mother I met who was—I think probably gave birth baby in Ayn Issa camp during the Raqqa campaign the summer of 2017. I saw her again. We’ve been tracking her story for the last two years. We saw her. She’s now cleaning at Mercy Corps in Raqqa. And she’s just, you know, one of the most articulate, powerful voices in terms of Syrians who have seen too much, whose children have seen too much, and who are fighting for their kids’ futures. And she told me there were twenty-four ISIS family orphans. I don’t want to call anybody an ISIS orphan. But children of ISIS, of followers, who came to Ayn Issa. And I said, oh—she said, they’re so cute, but nobody wants to take them because no one knows what’s in their heart. And I’m telling you, this is not just her issue alone. SHANKER: Thank you very much. I’m eager now to invite members to join the conversation with your questions. I’ll remind you this is on the record. If you would please wait for the microphone, stand, identify yourself, and please be concise. Sir. Q: I’m Don Alishek (ph) from Turkish embassy. You may know there is a terrorist organization that’s called MLKP, which is Marxist-Leninist Communist Party. They are based in northeast Syria. They have a camp there. They do military training and then they sign songs about starting the revolutionary violence in Turkey. And last weekend they attacked a bus carrying Turkish police officers in Adana, Turkey. And they announced it on their Twitter account. They put photos glorifying the great attack against Turkey. And we know there are other European— SHANKER: Sir, can I ask for your question, please? Q: Yeah, yeah, I’m coming. SHANKER: Well, I’d like to hear the question now, please. Q: For sure. For sure. The other European far-left organizations that are also getting military training in the northeast. So what is the U.S. position regarding these structures that definitely PKK is fostering in northeast Syria? Thank you. RAYBURN: So you know, right now at both—on both the diplomatic side and the military side—we’re embarked on implementing an agreement that would establish a zone along the Turkey-Syria border of varying depth that’s meant to—we’re meant to have a security mechanism within that zone that will ensure that there can be no threats that would emanate from that zone against Turkey, and that there would be no threats that would emanate from within that zone against the people of northeast Syria. It’s meant to be a zone that’s safe for both Turkey and for—and for Syrians. So far, the implementation is going pretty well. It’s going apace. We have a lot of military to military coordination on the ground, but I would leave DASD Mulroy to comment on that. But I would say that this is part—this is part of a larger effort to stabilize at a political level the border between Turkey and Syria east of the Euphrates, because we think that’s the only—that’s a necessary condition for the resolution of the overall conflict. As long as there is the danger of a conflict along the Turkey-Syria border, it’ll be difficult—that’ll make the job of reaching a political resolution of the conflict much, much harder. And we certainly think that a conflict along the Turkey-Syria border would serve the interests of all the bad actors in the conflict and in the surrounding region—whether that’s Daesh, or al-Qaida, or the Iranian regime, or what have you. MULROY: So on the security mechanism, we do believe there’s been progress from the military side. We’ve established a joint operations center on the border. We’ve begun joint patrols both in the air and on the ground. And some of the fortifications that were of concern have been destroyed. So we think working together we have made progress on that, for all the reasons that Joel just mentioned. SHANKER: Thanks. Michael. I’ll abuse the power of the chair and call on a friend and colleague. (Laughter.) Q: I’m Michael Gordon, Wall Street Journal. A question for the DOD and State Department reps. It was stated that President Trump’s goal is to have Iranian forces leave Syria. How do you propose to do that, since striking Iranian forces is not within the mandate of the U.S. military in Syria? The Russians seem to have no interest, or even the capability in getting the Iranians out of Syria. They don’t want to be the ground element. And while the sanctions may be hurting the Iranian economy, Iran has become more aggressive, to witness the attack on the Saudi oil facility. So what’s your plan to get Iranian forces out of Syria? Or is there a real plan, beyond relying on Israel? RAYBURN: So there are a number of things that we’ve undertaken to try to bring pressure to bear on the Iranians and on the Assad regime to get Iranian forces—Iranian-commanded forces, which is not just the IRGC; it’s also the militias that they’ve exported into Syria—out. First of all, we use economic pressure. We use economic pressure against the Assad regime. We use economic pressure against the actual forces themselves. And we link the pressure campaign that we have inside Syria to the maximum pressure campaign against the Iranian regime. Those of us who are implementing the president’s Syria policy and strategy stay very tightly coordinated with our colleagues who are managing the Iran front, such as Brian Hook. And you’ll recall that when Secretary Pompeo described the outlines, the conditions that the United States would have for essentially relieving the maximum pressure campaign in his speech that he made in the spring of 2018, as he laid out his twelve conditions on of the conditions on the list of that Iran policy was that IRGC and militias should leave Syria. So it’s very—we’ve made it very clear to the Iranian regime that one of the things that it’s going to have to do if, at the end of the day, it wants to get out from under the pressure from the United States and from the rest of the international community that cooperates with us, is they’re going to have to exit Syria. We think that’s pretty powerful. The Iranian military presence in Syria comes under pressure from other powers, not from us. We watch that out of the corner of our eye. And we just predict—we observe that that kind of pressure is probably going to continue for as long as those Iranian-commanded forces are in Syria and are posing a serious threat to Syria’s neighbors. MULROY: So I agree. You’re right. We’re not—we do not have the authorization for direct military action against Iran in this area. We’re there to defeat ISIS, and that’s the authorization. But I would say that our presence, just like with stabilization, also has a positive effect when it comes to the Iranian problem. Physically, being there obstructs—not completely, but it does obstruct the routes that—what we call the GLOCs, but in regular terms the routes that the Iranians use to move weapons systems, some of them very lethal and very precise, right next to—right over the border with Israel. Being there actually makes it difficult for them. Al-Tanf garrison is a good example of that. And also, being there does provide both DAS Rayburn and Ambassador Jeffrey leverage when it comes to the whole political process, part of which, as just described, is their reduction or elimination of Iranian-backed forces in Syria. That’s part of the process. It won’t be easy, but it is there. SHANKER: Thanks. I want to go to the back of the room and work my way around. There, in the corner, please. Q: Kevin Baron from Defense One. A question from, first, the two gentlemen from the administration. I heard in the beginning you mentioned stabilization efforts be as important as the military. But we’ve heard that, and we’ve heard generals and others asking for a much larger presence of the U.S. stabilization projects, or something, for years now. So give us the current state of what the U.S. contribution to that is, versus what the international community has been able to contribute. And for the other two on the left, the on-the-ground perspective of the same question. What are you seeing out there? How effective is that? I mean, I was—it’s been a while—I was in Raqqa a couple months after the liberation. And there were about, you know, three or four bulldozers with the State Department logos on them, or AID, for a whole city. But that was a couple years ago. So where are we now? Are we really getting—is the U.S. really involved? Or is this, you know, Band-Aid level stuff? RAYBURN: So we have—we have some pretty good burden-sharing going on in northeast Syria, especially in Raqqa and some of the other areas that were once under the control of Daesh not too—not too long ago. The U.S. does have some portion of funding that we’ve been executing. But we’ve gotten really good contributions from our coalition partners, from some of the Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE in particular, that’s helped us to be able to do the kind of restoration of essential services and those kind of stabilization activities that we’re used to, as well as some very good contributions from European countries. The United States does a lot in northeast Syria. We have a lot of—our military forces that are there do a lot through their advising of local partners, and through the kind of—through the kind of projects that they’re able to do. And of course, we have humanitarian assistance throughout the country. It’s never—the Syrian conflict is such a deep hole of instability that we’re always going to feel like we’re running behind in the funding that is necessary to address it. But I do think that there’s a pretty good commitment—right now, the kind of things we do at a diplomatic level and to try and keep the international community focused on the Syria problem. And so that the international community doesn’t just conclude that because the Daesh territorial caliphate is destroyed that it’s time to move on, and the funding would dry up, and so on. We’ve been pretty successful at that so far, but it’s always something that we have to—it takes—it takes constant tending. MULROY: So, like I mentioned, the—I focus on conflicts, and my travel reflects that. I go to a lot of these areas, and that’s where I know the most people actually. And one of the things they all tell me is how important stabilization is. We’ll never get from phase three—and using DOD parlance, the kinetic phase—to phase four if you don’t have that. The Department of Defense does have the authority to do humanitarian aid, and we do, in Syria right now. We also have stabilization with our partners. We are pushing to have—in the cases where the only personnel can get to these areas are DOD, for us to actually have the authority to deliver the stabilization funding, which is different from humanitarian aid. It’s more about economic infrastructure—turning the lights on, turning the water on, and getting life back going. It’s called defense support to stabilization. And we’re talking to all of our committees in Congress right now about making sure that we can do that and increasing the actual funding. And we are grateful for all the countries that do contribute. And one of the reasons why we wanted to have this event today was to bring this issue to the forefront, through all of you, so we can talk about contributing more to that effort. SHANKER: Thanks. Mouaz, did you want to comment? MOUSTAFA: Yeah. So I think it’s a very important question, Kevin. And I think that a lot of amazing work is being done by the State Department and Department of Defense. But I think that—for example, the cutting off of humanitarian aid and support that was going to the northwest, I think that’s a problem. One thing that is important to mention, especially when there is lulls in bombardment by the Assad regime and Russia on places like Idlib, that’s when the population goes out, not to protest Assad, and Russia, and Iran, but to protest against things like HTS and like others. And so ensuring that what we’ve already invested in in the northwest, whether it the amazing work of the White Helmets or the civil society organizations there, and the people that are trying to rule and govern local communities in a way that keeps at the heart of their sort of vision, which is the values that they came out with so many years ago, calling for democracy and for their voice to be heard. That is disappointing that that has stopped. And continuing that isn’t just humanitarian aid and stabilization. It’s a very important counterterrorism tool. When it comes to the northeast, I think what’s really important is to try to empower as much as possible not just our direct partner forces that played a role in defeating ISIS—which, by the way, has a huge contingent of Arab fighters that were there but that feel in a lot of way disenfranchised. They feel that there as more token representatives than people that can make decisions. So empowering the majority Arab Sunni population in that area, both in ensuring that they’re playing an important role that’s not just a symbolic role in governance, and supporting them, I think that’s something that is very important to do, because that’s what’s going to keep them away from being prey to the messaging of violent extremist actors. And that’s something that I think we could do a lot better job of. And finally, when it comes to places that have been very difficult for the United States’ State Department to reach, and I bring up again Rukban camp that’s next to the Tanf base, there are some situations where it might be the best decision to declare at the State Department that this is something—due to the Russian and the regime blockading and hurting the sort of U.N. process of providing these people aid—and allow the Department of Defense to bring direct aid there. I already know that the amazing work of American servicemen and -women is already overwhelming, such a huge responsibility. And I don’t say it easily that—or take it lightly that they should take a role in providing that direct aid to Rukban camp, for example. But that’s a camp within ten miles from a military base. And these are the families of some of the partner forces that are fighting against ISIS and keeping Iran, Assad regime, and other enemies at bay. So we owe them that. So I think there’s a lot more that could be done. SHANKER: Gayle, please. LEMMON: So stabilization is the thirteen-letter word that has been a four-letter word, even though it’s absolutely central to keeping conflicts ended. And when you see it on the ground, what you see are people—I went in Raqqa April of 2018. And there were very few people there in term of if you compare it to now. Now there are traffic jams, you know, a very fragile stability that those on the ground are the ones fighting for. And the first thing you heard was the sound of generators, you know, people who had spent their money on getting generators going, who had either rented, or borrowed, or somehow gotten ahold of very light equipment to do rubble removal. And you think, you know, these are folks who are working themselves to rebuild their lives. And stabilization dollars that could do rubble removal, demining, very basic, you know, water, power, light—that is, I think, central to keeping conflicts ended, which has been a challenge for the United States. And here, you have folks on the ground who are willing to do the work. You know, one mother I met—there’s a shopkeeper I met who was one of the first women I met in April of 2018 who had a shop. We went and talked to her. And then we visited again. Business was very slow, so we visited again in May of 2019. And I thought her shop would be closed. And so we walked in. And actually now she had a sixteen-year-old girl who was nearly arrested for ISIS for crossing between apartment buildings and going to see here family uncovered. And she had been very scared to come out and to, you know, go to this shop but to work. But because her cousin had this shop, and the shop was doing well, she came and started working there. And the shopkeeper said to me, you know, I was open till 12:30 a.m. last night because of Eid. You know, people were coming out. She said, we see this city. We are willing to do the work. We just need the basics of help. And so I think that it is absolutely true, this often becomes it’s the Kurds versus everybody else, especially from the Washington discussion. But when you go around Raqqa, you hear a very different story about people who are simply pushing ahead. And my final story is I went to the opening of the Raqqa Women’s Council in summer of 2018. And I interviewed people—woman after woman who was telling me they were there because many of them had husbands who were pushed too far by ISIS. So one woman had three of her husband’s relatives were hung by ISIS. And so they had to assume responsibility for all the wives and all the children of that family. And she was just talking about the fact that what we have now is room for us to rebuild our own society. And I think that’s where the stabilization dollars go in to make a difference, is helping with the basics for stability and people who are fighting for their own futures. SHANKER: Thanks. This table, yes, please. Mmm hmm. Q: Thank you. I’m Asaad Hanna from the White Helmet. So I have very quick two questions. First thing, when we talk about changing the behavior of the regime, that doesn’t—you don’t see it, like, in message to the regime that if you change something, we will keep you in power. For example, if he released all the detainees now, and he became, like, the best regime in the world, we will forgive him for killing half-million people? Will we forget him for using the chemical weapons in Syria, and for using the bomb barrels? So what’s that? Like, how we identify changing the behavior of the regime? Isn’t that a solution who—like, which kill all the accountability process in Syria? First thing about—second thing about civilization, how can we talk about making civilization in Syria, meanwhile the countries and U.S. starting the fund for the hospitals and for the education and for—like, they started all the fund for the civil society organizations in the northwest of Syria, not in the northeast. So how can those people, which—as a city—there is more than four million people now in Idlib under the attacks, under everything. And we started the main—the essential two things for them. We started the hospitals, and we started the schools. So what do we think, in the future, those people will have? SHANKER: Thank you very much. Who wants to take that one? RAYBURN: On the question of the Syrian—the way I would term it is the Syrian government’s behavior. The U.S., as we went through our policy process that the president decided upon earlier this year, we came down to a set of conditions the United States would have to have any Syrian government meet—whether it’s the current one or a future one—in order for the U.S. to have normal relations with that government in Damascus. And they amount to a change of policy and behavior by the Syrian government. The first is we would require that that government sever its ties with the Iranian regime military and its militant proxies. Second is we would require that that government cease being a state sponsor of terrorism. Third, cease being a threat to its neighbors. Fourth, surrender its weapons of mass destruction programs, verifiably. Fifth, create the conditions on the ground for refugees and displaced persons to return safely and voluntarily to their homes. And sixth, and gets to the point that Assad Hanna was making, is we would require that that government hold war criminals and atrocity criminals accountable or cooperate with the international community in doing so. I agree with Mr. Hanna that you can’t have political stabilization in Syria without real political reconciliation. And you’re not going to have political reconciliation unless there’s an accounting for what has happened. The Syrian population that has voted with its feet is not going to go back home into the teeth of a killing machine that’s still there unchanged, unreformed. So there has to be some measure of accountability. And we have not just an interest in that for the purposes of stabilizing Syria, but also for the global example. There are some NGOs that are quite reputable that estimate that there could be up to or maybe even now exceeding 215,000 people who have disappeared into the Assad regime’s detention centers whose fate is unknown. The Assad regime is re-running the Holocaust in the twenty-first century. And we, all of us, have an important stake in making sure that one of the lessons of the Syrian conflict is not that an authoritarian regime can kill its way out of a crisis that it has created because of its unwillingness to acknowledge legitimate calls of reform from its people. Because if that’s the lesson that people take from the Syrian conflict, then the twenty-first century is going to see that repeated—that method repeated over, and over, and over again. SHANKER: Well, we could spend the rest of the day talking about how we get from here to resolving those six points. That’s the hard part. But in the three minutes left, I know there was a question in the back. Yes, ma’am. Q: Missy Ryan from The Washington Post. (Comes on mic.) Thanks for being here. My question is for DASD Mulroy and DAS Rayburn, and building on your earlier question, Thom, about what to do with the foreign fighters, and their families, in the camps in Syria. So just so I can understand what—again, what the—what the plan is, if—what is the plan B if the European countries and the other countries of origin do not take large numbers of their citizens back in a timely manner/ You know, it seems like from what everybody said, if you wait several years the problem—the radicalization problem is going to increase exponentially. What is the plan B? What is Iraq’s role in all that? Any details would be great. Thanks. SHANKER: Do you want to start? MULROY: Sure. I mean, it’s already been pointed out there are about seventy thousand families, right? Well, there’s about eleven thousand fighters that are being held. Two thousand of them—over two thousand of them are foreign. And they come from fifty different countries. So I know this is a lot of admiration of the problem, but I guess that’s the first step, right? You need to identify the issue. We expect countries to take them back. As has been pointed out by many of the panelists, this is a nonstate entity who’s bearing the burden the world, housing their most dangerous problems. There’s a lot of people, or countries, on the sideline criticizing the conditions, et cetera, but quite frankly they only have so many resources so be able to do this. We’re going to keep pushing countries to take back their foreign fighters that came from their countries. And there does have to be a plan B of what we do next. I can’t declare what that is here today because, quite frankly, we haven’t developed it entirely. And it’s not up to me to be the one to say that. But the problem, just like you said, is serious. And if it’s not addressed directly—not just the fighters. We already know they’re a problem. They’ve proven to be a problem. But what are we going to do with the children, for example? They didn’t do anything. And they’re not going to stay incarcerated, because you can’t do that. They’re going to—they’re going to get out. And we think as an international community we have to come up with a plan to rehabilitate them so they can get back into society and not follow the path of their fathers. SHANKER: Thanks. And I do need to keep my promise to the Council and to the members. I know, again, this topic is so rich, the panel is so expert, your questions are so smart, but we do have to adjourn now. I thank the four panelists for a very thought-provoking, if troubling, discussion. I thank the Council for hosting this terrific event. And I thank all of you for coming and sharing your thoughts with us. (Applause.) (END)
  • Afghanistan

  • Women and Women's Rights

  • Iraq

    President Barham Salih discusses the challenges facing Iraq, its role in the region, and its relationship with the United States.
  • Georgia

  • Colombia

    President Duque discusses Colombia’s response to the political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, the economic prospects for the region, and the future of relations with the United States.