The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Stratfor founder and CEO George Friedman present a discussion on the emerging crisis in Europe.
George Friedman sharply and openly talked about contemporary geopolitics and the role of USA in the world
Text version of some moments Friedman speech:
Nick Brand: My name is Nick Brand and I am the director of the corporate programs at the Chicago Council on global affairs and thank you all for joining us this evening. I like to take this opportunity to welcome George Friedman to the Chicago Council. I believe it is his first time here, so thank you so much for being with us.
Question from the audience: Is islamic extremism really the major threat to the United States and will it die on its own or will it keep growing.
George Friedman: it is a problem to the United States, it is not an existential threat. It has to be dealt with, but it has to be dealt with proportionately. We have other foreign policy interests. So, the primordial interest of the United States over which for centuries we have fought wars, the first, second and cold war has been the relationship between Germany and Russia. Because united they are the only force that could threaten us, and to make sure that that doesn’t happen. If you are an Ukrainian, it is essentially to reach out to the only country that will help you, which is the United States. Last week, about ten days ago, General Hodges, commander of the ‘US army Europe’ visited Ukraine, he announced that US trainers would now be officially coming, not just unofficially coming. He actually pinned medals on Ukrainian fighters, which by protocol of the military actually is not the way, foreigners don’t get to pin on medals, but he did. Showing that this was his army, he then left and in the Baltics announced that the United States would be prepositioning: armour, artillery, and other equipment in the Baltic’s, Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria, which is a very interesting point.
So the United States, and now yesterday the United States announced that it will be sending weapons. Tonight of course they denied it, but they are, weapons will go. In all of this the United States has acted outside of the context of NATO. Because NATO has to have a hundred percent vote and anyone country can veto anything. And the Turks will veto it just for ‘giggles’. The point is that the United States is prepared to create a ‘cordon Sanitaire’ around Russia, and Russia knows it, Russia believes that the United States intends to break the Russian Federation.
I think that as Peter Lory put it, “we don’t want to kill you, we just want to sort of hurt you a little bit“. Either way, we are back at the old game, and if you go ask a Pole or a Hungarian or a Romanian, they live in a totally different universe from a German, and they live in a totally different universe from a Spaniard. So there is no commonality in Europe. But if I were Ukrainian, I would do exactly what they are doing, try to draw the Americans in.
Nick Brand: Alright, next question please.
George Friedman: The United States has a fundamental interest, it controls all the oceans of the world, no power has ever done that. Because of that, we get to invade people and they don’t get to invade us, that is a very nice thing. Maintaining control of the sea and control of space is the foundation of our power. The best way to defeat an enemy fleet is to not let it be built. The way the British managed to make certain that no European power could built a fleet is to make sure that the Europeans were at each others throats.
The policy that I would recommend is the one that Ronald Reagan adopted toward Iran and Iraq. He funded both sides, so they would fight each other and not fight us. This was cynical, it was certainly not moral, it worked. And this is the point: the United States cannot occupy Eurasia, the moment the first boots hits the ground, the demographic differential is that we are totally outnumbered. We can defeat an army, we cannot occupy Iraq, the idea that 130.000 men would occupy a country of 25 million. Well the ratio in New York of cops to citizens was greater than we had deployed in Iraq. So, we don’t have the ability to go across, but we do have the ability to first: support various contending powers so they are concentrated on themselves with political support, some economic support, military support, advisers and in extremis do what we did in Japan, I mean in Vietnam, in Iraq and in Afghanistan. With spoiling attacks, the spoiling attack is not intended to defeat the enemy, it is intended to throw them of balance. What we did in each of these wars, in Afghanistan for example we threw Al Qaida of balance.
The problem we have since we are young and stupid is that having thrown them of balance instead of saying ‘ok, job well done, let’s go home’. We said ‘well that was easy, why don’t we build a democracy here’. This was the moment of dementia that came in. The answer therefore is, the United States cannot constantly be intervening throughout Eurasia. It must be selectively intervening and very rarely, that is the extreme moment, we cannot as the first step send American troops. And when we send American troops, we have to truly understand what the mission is, limit to that and not to develop all sorts of psychotic fantasies. So hopefully we have learned that this time, it takes a while for kids to learn lessons. But I think you are absolutely right, we cannot as an empire do that.
Britain didn’t occupy India, it took various Indian states and turned them against each other and provided some British officers for an Indian army. The Romans did not sent vast armies out there, it placed kings. Various kings were created under the emperor and those kings were responsible for maintaining the peace, Pontius Pilate was one example. So empires that are directly governed by the empire like the Nazi Empire failed. No one has that much power. You have to have a level of cleverness. However, our problem is not yet that, it is actually admitting that we have an empire. So we haven’t even gotten to that point were we don’t think that we can go home and it will be over and done. So we are not even ready for chapter three of the book.
Nick Brand: Next question please. Yes the gentleman right here in the fourth row.
Question from audience: So, I infer from your comments that the euro as a currency will not survive.
George Friedman: The question on the table for the Russians is will they retain a buffer zone that is at least neutral or will the West penetrate so far in the Ukraine that they are 70 miles away from Stalingrad and 300 miles away from Moscow. For Russia, the status of Ukraine is an existential threat, and the Russians cannot let go. For the United States, in the event that Russia holds on to the Ukraine, were will it stop? Therefore it is not an accident that General Hodges, who is been appointed to be blamed for all of this, is talking about prepositioning troops in Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and the Baltic’s. This is the Intermarium, from the Black Sea to the Baltic, that Pilsudski dreamed of. This is the solution for the United States.
The issue to which we don’t have the answer is what will Germany do. The real wild card in Europe is that as the United States builds its cordon sanitaire, not in Ukraine, but to the west, and the Russians try to figure out how to leverage the Ukrainians out, we don’t know the German position. Germany is in a very peculiar position, it’s former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is on the board of Gazprom, they have a very complex relationship with the Russians. The Germans themselves don’t know what to do, they must export, the Russians can’t take up the export. On the other hand, if they lose the free trade zone, they need to build something different. For the United States, the primordial fear is Russian capital, Russian technology, I mean German technology and German capital, Russian natural resources and Russian manpower as the only combination that has for centuries scared the hell out of the United States.
So how does this play out? Well, the USA has already put it’s cards on the table. It is the line from the Baltic’s to the Black Sea. For the Russians, their cards have always been on the table, they must have at least a neutral Ukraine, not a pro-western Ukraine. Belarus is another question. Now, whoever can tell me what the Germans are going to do is going to tell me about the next 20 years of history. But unfortunately the Germans haven’t made up their mind. And this is the problem of Germany always, enormously economically powerful, geopolitical very fragile and never quite knowing how to reconcile the two. Ever since 1871, this has been the German question, the question of Europe. Think about the German question, because now it is coming up again, that is the next question that we have to address, and we don’t know how to address it, we don’t know what they are going to do.