Conference Call With Ivo Daalder and Michael McFaul on the Future of NATO

In advance of what many say will be the most important NATO summit since the Cold War, Foreign Affairs hosted a discussion on the future of the alliance with Ivo Daalder, former U.S. permanent representative to NATO and president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia and political science professor at Stanford University. In a conversation with Justin Vogt, deputy managing editor of Foreign Affairs, they discussed what to expect from the summit in Wales, how the alliance might address Afghanistan and Russia, and more. 

A transcript is available below:

VOGT: Hello, everyone. Justin Vogt here, deputy managing editor at Foreign Affairs. Welcome to this on-the-record Foreign Affairs media call on the NATO summit. Tomorrow, as you all know, the alliance will gather for a summit in Wales.

Seven or eight months ago, very few would have expected the sense of urgency and significance that surrounds this meeting. Of course, the crisis in Ukraine poses a real test to NATO. But we also shouldn't forget that the ongoing -- the instability and uncertainty in Afghanistan and questions about NATO's mission there are also lingering in the background, although perhaps they ought to be even further in the foreground.

Joining us to discuss this and more, we're delighted to have with us Ambassador Ivo Daalder, the president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Prior to joining the council last year, Ambassador Daalder served as the U.S. permanent representative to NATO for more than four years.

Also in a few moments, we'll be joined by Ambassador Michael McFaul, now a Hoover fellow at Stanford University. Ambassador McFaul was until very recently the U.S. ambassador to Russia.

Ambassador Daalder, thanks so much for joining us.

DAALDER: My pleasure.

VOGT: Let's start, actually, with the question of Afghanistan, because, you know, if you had mentioned the NATO summit in September of 2014 to someone -- even just seven, eight months ago, or certainly last year, most people would have said, well, this is going to be a meeting all about Afghanistan and what's going to happen to Afghanistan once the NATO mission starts to wind down.

Of course, events have kind of overtaken that story in a way. But the stakes in Afghanistan are still extremely high. And there's still a lot of uncertainty about what exactly is going to happen, especially with this summer's contested presidential election still unresolved.

What is -- what are the leaders, the NATO leaders going to be discussing in Wales about Afghanistan? And what is the outcome of those discussions likely to be? Or what kind of outcome should we be looking for?

DAALDER: Well, you're exactly right. You know, when this summit was announced a year ago, everybody thought that this would be a meeting in which NATO would do two things, first, celebrate the end of the mission in Afghanistan. This is a mission that's been going on since 2004. And in the Lisbon NATO summit in 2010, there was an agreement that the current mission, the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, would come to an end on December 31, 2014.

And, indeed, that mission is scheduled to end by the end of the year. And all combat troops at that point will be removed. So there was the expectation that this would be an opportunity to celebrate NATO's success in completing this mission and completing the tasks that were at hand in Afghanistan. And, secondly, there was the anticipation of an agreement to continue a training and advice and assist mission for some period of time in 2015 and 2016.

Now, of course, quite apart from what's happening in Europe itself, developments in Afghanistan have put a monkey wrench in that part of the conversation, which will start to take place tomorrow, on Thursday afternoon, because in order to have this new train, advise and assist mission and operation, called Resolute Support, there has to be an agreement between the Afghan government and the United States and between the Afghan government and all the NATO countries that would provide -- continue to provide military forces on the legal framework, including the immunities particularly to be granted to those forces that are going to be there after the ISAF mission ends.

And in order to do that, you need a government in Afghanistan, because the current government -- President Karzai -- has refused to sign this agreement. Now, the expectation was that after the June elections for a president, there would be a new government, but we all know what happened. There has been a major dispute about the validity of the vote, whether or not it was stolen, and there continues to be an effort to account for and count the votes that were cast in June.

And one of the candidates, Abdullah Abdullah, who won the first round in the elections, but seemingly lost the second round, said that he will not abide by the results. So we're in a stalemate in Afghanistan. There is no new government on the horizon. And if there is no new government, there won't be an agreement between Afghanistan and the United States and NATO for the immunity issues. And as a result, NATO and U.S. forces would be completely withdrawn by the end of this year.

VOGT: Now, that's got to be a sort of terrifying prospect for the Afghans themselves, for whoever it is that's going to come into at the end of this squabble in Kabul. But, you know, what -- is there actually a chance that NATO would really threaten to just pull out and withdraw and say, "That's it, you're on your own"?

DAALDER: Well, I think the reality is, as we saw in Iraq in 2011, if there is no agreement on immunity, I know that the president of the United States, nor any military commander in the United States, will allow U.S. forces to continue to operate there. And if there are no U.S. forces, then there are not going to be any German or Dutch or British or French or Australian or any other forces there. So it is pretty key.

Now, I do think that -- and would expect -- that the NATO leaders will address this issue head-on tomorrow, and perhaps by making clear that a continued military -- foreign military presence in Afghanistan requires the signing of a security agreement and that such an agreement needs to be signed by a new government and that, therefore, a new government needs to be formed between now and the end of the year may be the kind of threat, I think is a strong word, but the kind of statement and conditioning that is necessary for the parties in Afghanistan to come to an agreement.

But I think no one has lost any -- has gained any money by betting on the future in Afghanistan in the last few years when it comes to whether or not things move in the right direction. And I think it's significantly more uncertain what is going to happen in the next few months than we would have thought even a few months ago.

VOGT: Right. It'll be interesting to see what sort of pressure comes out of Wales, pressure on those Afghan leaders, and also to see just how anything -- any messages about Afghanistan make it out of the fog of messages that is sure to come out -- or maybe not a fog of messages that are sure to come out about Ukraine and Russia.

We should turn to that now. I'm curious for your reaction to some of the headlines today. Earlier today, at a press conference in Mongolia, Russian President Vladimir Putin laid out some conditions for a cease-fire to stop the fighting in eastern Ukraine. Basically, that -- proposing that the pro-Russian separatists there would halt their offensive operations, that Ukrainian troops would have to move artillery back, stop airstrikes. There would be some sort of international monitoring mission and humanitarian aid corridors. There would be a prisoner exchange and somehow some kind of rebuilding or rebuilding effort for infrastructure.

What's your reaction to this proposal? I mean, what should we make of this?

DAALDER: Oh, I think this is part of the same offensive that Mr. Putin has been engaged in since late February of this year. I think these are terms of surrender, rather than terms for a potential deal. It's important to recognize that the three things that really must happen in order to get to a solution were not mentioned by Mr. Putin. First, the Russians need to stop all assistance to the separatist forces -- military, political, in terms of personnel and other ways -- that has fed and inflamed this conflict ever since it began. In fact, it's why it began in the first place.

Secondly, you can't get to a cease-fire or a negotiated solution unless the Russian military forces that are now operating inside Ukraine are withdrawn back into Russian territory. That, too, is not on the table in Mr. Putin's "plan," if I can put that in quotation marks.

And, thirdly, it is the territorial integrity of all of Ukraine that needs to be recognized. Mr. Putin has no role, positive or negative, in that sense, when it comes to the discussion between separatists and Kiev. His role has been purely negative, which is to make sure the separatists had the means to take and hold territory, and he has refused up to this point, and the plan does not pretend to even think about recognizing the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.

And until all of those three things happen -- the ending of support to the separatists, the withdrawal of Russian troops and equipment, and a recognition of the territorial integrity of Ukraine -- I don't think there's much to negotiate about.

And that's, really, I think what we're seeing is an attempt to take the high road, but in rhetoric more than fact. What he's doing is attempting to tempt Ukraine into new terms of surrender.

VOGT: You know, it's interesting you say sort of an effort to take the high road. Obviously, it contrasts very strongly to some remarks he reportedly made earlier this week about being able to take Kiev or be in Kiev in two weeks, if he wanted to.

You know, I wonder -- that might just be bluster, but it does raise the question of just how seriously should we worry about a more robust Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine or in the rest of Ukraine? Do you think -- I think when we last spoke maybe back in April, you had put the chances of somewhere close to 40 percent, I think, that there would be a really large incursion. Where would you rate those chances now?

DAALDER: I still think there is a very good chance that we will see further escalation. I thought since the beginning that this is not about what is happening inside -- to the people inside Ukraine. This is fundamentally about Russia wanting to exert its control over this part of the world. It wants to determine the destiny of Kiev.

The remarks that some have dismissed as kind of a joke by the president of Russia to the president of the European Commission that if he wanted he could get to Kiev in two weeks, that's not diplomatic language. It's not said without some intent behind it.

Now, I don't think that Mr. Putin is ready to invade Ukraine further tomorrow and take Kiev, but he's clearly putting that option on the table. And he is trying to find a way in which the West, the Europeans, the United States, and others, in order to foreclose that option on his part, are willing to settle for a deal, and I think the latest "plan," again in question marks, that was announced earlier today is part of the same cloth, that is designed to demonstrate that if there is continued conflict, the only people to be blamed are the Ukrainian government that is trying to establish control over its own territory, and certainly not Russia.

And as far as I'm concerned, that is -- that's an effort that ought to fail and must fail and that the European and American leaders getting together in Wales this week ought to make crystal clear will fail.

VOGT: Earlier this week, NATO announced that it was going to create a new rapid reaction force of around 4,000 troops for Eastern Europe that would be sort of rotated around in Eastern Europe. How should we understand this? Is this an actual sort of operational or tactical decision? Or is this more of a signal to allies such as the Baltic states or is it a signal to Russia?

DAALDER: Well, I think in many ways it's all three. Operationally, what NATO is about to agree and announce formally in Wales is that part of the NATO response force, a force that has been deployed for many years now, to which NATO countries contribute ships and planes and personnel, et cetera, but isn't very rapidly deployable. It can be only deployed certain elements only in 30 days, some others in 90 or even 180 days.

But there will be an element in that force, the NATO rapid reaction brigade, about 4,000 troops, that could be deployed within 48 hours. And individual NATO members would take responsibility for providing the troops and the capability on a rotating basis, those -- to have that capacity. And at the same time, there will be an effort inside Eastern Europe, in the Baltic states and Romania and Poland to improve infrastructure, to enable these forces to flow in rapidly, to preposition equipment so that they and other reinforcements that would come in would be immediately able to fight.

So operationally, this is a -- it's a capability for a rapid reaction in case of need. And having that capability sends a message to the Baltic states and the Poles and Romanians and others that as far as NATO as a whole concerned, their territory is as important to their national defense as any other piece of territory and that they can count on not only America's commitment, but NATO's commitment to their collective defense.

And that, in turn, is meant to send a signal to Vladimir Putin and to Moscow that basically says, don't even think about doing what you're doing in Ukraine on NATO territory, because we will react swiftly, quickly, rapidly, and with maximum force to make sure that you do not succeed.

So it is a deterrent threat. It is meant to reassure our allies, and it is an operational capability that puts meat on those bones.

VOGT: OK. I'm going to just announce that we've been joined now by Ambassador Michael McFaul. Ambassador, can you hear me? Are you on the line?

MCFAUL: Yeah, I can hear you. I'm here, yeah. Sorry for being late.

VOGT: Great. No, no, thanks so much for joining.

MCFAUL: And I agree with everything that Ivo already said, even if I didn't hear it.

(LAUGHTER)

VOGT: OK. What I'd like to do is just turn to you, Ambassador McFaul, before we open it up for questions to our callers. What I wanted to ask you is, fill is in -- if you could fill us in a little bit on aspect of this conflict which is sometimes a bit underreported in the Western media. We've seen -- we've been discussing Vladimir Putin's messaging abroad, you know, sort of the issuing of threat, of sorts, and then also a kind of cease-fire proposal of sorts. What -- how would you describe Putin's domestic political situation right now? And how should we understand that aspect of this?

MCFAUL: Well, it's an important point. And if you go back before this crisis began, before the fall of the governments in Kiev and then Putin's annexation of Crimea, he was stuck. He was stuck at about 45 percent approval rating, and he'd been stuck for a long time. And he was frustrated by that; I know he was. At least I know from his officials. And he didn't understand why people did not appreciate the -- you know, the sacrifice or his willingness to come back and to be president.

And he didn't really have an argument for why he came back for that third term. And you could hear that frustration in some of his public remarks, especially against the protesters who, in Putin's view, he had made rich and now they were turning on him.

Crimea, of course, the annexation of Crimea, first and foremost, gave him a surge in popularity. This, of course, was phrased as a reunification, not annexation, righting a wrong from a previous leader, Nikita Khrushchev.

He then -- his propaganda machine -- and it is a formidable propaganda machine, by the way -- re-framed the debate as this is all about threats to Russia. "Nazis and NATO" were the two words that suddenly appeared prominent on television every night.

And, again, I just want to remind everybody, these were not prominent themes just a couple years ago on the Russian media, and even right before this crisis, as it was not, so the notion that somehow he was responding to a threat, well, he invented the threat post facto.

But that said, it had its effect. Propaganda works. And I think nationalism generally works. When any country feels that they're in battle and in combat, there's a "rally around the flag" effect. That's not something particular to Russia. And, you know, soon thereafter, he surged up to 80 percent.

I would think two things, though, looking out farther, one comparative and one about Russia. First thing I would say is, remember, that if I recall, George W. Bush also had a 75 percent approval rating for the war against Iraq. And that was with a free press and a parliament that wasn't totally controlled by the White House. So remember that that number is not that much better than that in a very different political setting.

But, secondly, I see signs that the debate is beginning to change about eastern Ukraine. And with sanctions, people are wondering, why are we paying this price? The ruble is at an all-time low, literally all-time low since the 1998 financial crisis. And there is, in the margins, beginning to -- people beginning to question the wisdom of a protracted war in eastern Ukraine.

VOGT: That's interesting. It's actually fascinating to hear that there's beginnings, rumblings of -- rumblings in the Russian political scene of that kind. We'd like to open this up to our callers. If you will, please remember to identify yourself and just let us know exactly who you are asking, who you are directing your question to.

Operator, if you would please take the first question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. At this time, we will open the floor for questions. Our first question comes from Todd Jacobson with Nuclear Security & Deterrence Monitor.

QUESTION: ... taking the time today, guys. I was curious with the nuclear bluster that's come out of Moscow recently with what President Putin said over the weekend about, you know, there are possibilities of -- you know, kind of throwing the nuclear card out there. What does that mean for nuclear NATO and kind of the future of NATO as a nuclear alliance? And if there's -- if this kind of has any effect on momentum that had been there a couple years ago towards disarmament, and not proliferation in NATO?

(UNKNOWN): I guess I'll take that. You're right that, you know, in the past four or five years, NATO has addressed the nuclear issue repeatedly and made very clear that, on the one hand, it would like to -- it will maintain a nuclear presence in Europe for some time. But on the other hand, it is willing to find ways -- mutually and reciprocally -- to reduce that capability.

Under the present circumstances, although I'm record and have long been on record as favoring the elimination of nuclear weapons in Europe, under the present circumstances and the kind of language that Vladimir Putin was uttering over the weekend, I don't see a NATO consensus emerging on moving in that direction, nor, I'm afraid, are we going to see the kind of reciprocal steps that will be necessary on the part of Russia in order to move in that -- again, in order to move in that direction.

So we are pretty much where we had been for quite a long time, which is a small NATO nuclear presence in Europe that is subject to modernization at the present time and dependent on some indication from Moscow that there is an interest in changing the situation, which right now there isn't.

QUESTION: I guess, do you envision the status quo kind of staying, you know, this week at the summit? Or do you envision (OFF-MIKE)

(UNKNOWN): Oh, absolutely. I don't see there's any doubt that -- I would doubt that any language on nuclear weapons will diverge from what was agreed in Lisbon or Chicago the last two summits.

QUESTION: Thank you.

VOGT: Thanks very much. Let's move to the next question, please.

OPERATOR: Thanks. Our next question comes from Joseph Marks from Politico.

QUESTION: Thank you. Ambassador McFaul, I was hoping you could talk about the role that cyber attacks have played in the conflict in Ukraine so far and why there has not been more or less of them? And, Ambassador Daalder, if you could say something about what you hope or expect the leaders to do regarding cyber conflict at this summit, other than formally including cyber war as a possibility for invoking Article 5?

MCFAUL: So the first question to me, I don't have a good answer. I think it's a very important observation. We have not -- we know that Russia has capability, and we saw it in Georgia in 2008. We also saw it in Estonia in 2007 and also in Azerbaijan, if I'm not mistaken, in 2008, related to the Russian intervention into Georgia.

We haven't seen it here. And I'd just note that that's interesting. That's curious to me.

DAALDER: As for what NATO will do, NATO is focused for the moment at finding ways to improve the security of its own networks. And it will continue -- it has agreed to take steps and will continue to move in that direction.

It is looking at ways in which individual member countries and NATO as a whole might be able to assist countries that are subject to cyber attack. And we may find an announcement in regard to that. But the most important decision is likely to be the decision to regard a cyber attack as possibly being of such magnitude that it could lead to an armed response through Article 5.

And, remember, this alliance, which is now 66 years old, 65 years old, has never invoked Article 5 expect on September 12, 2001, in response to the 9/11 attacks on Washington and New York. So it's not insignificant for the alliance to say, listen, a cyber attack can be a new form of Pearl Harbor, as Secretary Panetta put it a few years ago, Defense Secretary Panetta, and that NATO should stand ready to respond, not just with cyber capability, but militarily.

QUESTION: How likely do you think it is that there will be some statement regarding large nations -- NATO coming to the aid of smaller nations that are under cyber attack?

DAALDER: I don't really know. I think this has been an issue that has been on the table for a while. And I'm not privy to the final negotiations that have been going on in Brussels and I guess now by now in Cardiff. But I would be looking for it.

VOGT: Let's take the next question, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Marianne LeVine from Los Angeles Times.

QUESTION: Hi. I have a question for Ambassador McFaul. I wanted to know what -- whether or not you were in favor of lethal aid. And do you think the administration will eventually decide to provide lethal aid to Ukraine?

MCFAUL: Well, I would start by, you know, waiting for the request from President Poroshenko. And there will be a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council. And if that request comes forward, I think we have to -- that the alliance should consider it seriously.

I am not a military expert. I don't know what would affect the battles -- the fighting on the ground. I think it would take a long time for new military assistance to affect things. But from a policy point of view and from a philosophical point of view, I do not understand why President Putin is allowed to arm to the teeth a group of illegal mercenaries and somehow it's against international norms to aid the Ukrainians.

And, secondly, then there's the policy argument, "Well, this will provoke Putin." You know, the way I look at it, he seems pretty provoked already. He is doubling down and has provided more assistance just in the last 8 to 10 days. So I think it demands a serious debate at the NATO summit.

QUESTION: OK, thank you.

VOGT: Let's take the next question.

OPERATOR: Thanks. Your next question comes from Garrett Mitchell from the Mitchell Report.

QUESTION: Thanks very much to both of you for doing this. I want to pose a question, sort of imponderable, perhaps, but just to get some sense of what -- what it is reasonable to assume Vladimir Putin sees as the end game. And I want to do that by citing a story told by some fairly substantial people, but which I -- for all I know is apocryphal, that it has to do with the fact that Vladimir Putin achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel in the KGB, but was not promoted to colonel, and he was not promoted to colonel because he failed on an important psychological test that is part of, I gather, the process by which you get from lieutenant colonel to full colonel, and that is one in which he was judged as not being someone we could depend on for making rational judgments in, shall we say, bad circumstances.

So I suppose the first question is whether Ambassador McFaul or Ambassador Daalder have any idea whether that story has got some truth to it or whether it's apocryphal. And, second, if it has some element of truth to it, whether it is some clue as to what we might anticipate Putin is willing to do in order to achieve his end goal, and do we have a sense of whether that end goal stops at eastern Ukraine or goes elsewhere?

MCFAUL: So I'll take a stab first, but I encourage Ivo to jump in. With respect to the story you just told, I have no way to verify that to be true or not. I've never heard that story. I have watched Putin. In fact, I met him first in the spring of 1991, so I've been around him and watched his decisions and, when I was in the government, interacted with him when he met with our leaders from time to time. He does not strike me as a psychologically unstable person. But that's just my personal observations.

With respect to his end goals, it has been my view from the beginning of this tragedy, because this is a lose-lose-lose for everyone, as far as I'm concerned, including Russia, that he hasn't had well-defined objectives. He does not have a grand strategy for recreating the Russian empire or something like that. I think it was an emotional, tactical response to go into Crimea. I think it was a tactical response to allow the rebels, mercenaries to fester and to supply them and see what would happen.

And in a moment then, he got very optimistic several months ago. That's when he first used this phrase, "Novorossiya," and he also invoked that it was a mistake by the Bolsheviks to have given away this property, you know, not unlike the mistake that Nikita Khrushchev made in giving away Crimea.

But then there was a reverse. And there was a reverse on the battlefield. And the Ukrainians were winning. And he distanced himself. He never endorsed the referendum. He recognized the election of President Poroshenko. And I saw somebody who wasn't sure what he wanted to do in eastern Ukraine.

And then he changed his mind again, in my view. When the insurgents, mercenaries, separatists were on the verge of defeat just a couple weeks ago, and both the major cities were almost surrounded, that's when he decided we cannot afford a total military defeat, and that's when he increased his involvement, both in terms of supplies and with troops.

And I think he's now -- he hasn't decided where he wants to go with that. So at a minimal objective, he wants to have this conflict to fester, to weaken the Ukrainian government, and to make sure that there will never be any NATO membership, as he made very explicit, that's one of their objectives. I would just put in parentheses that that was a problem he created himself. It wasn't on the eve of anything. But now he thinks by having this frozen conflict, not unlike what you have in Georgia and Moldova, he prevents that.

But I don't think he's decided at the -- you know, where his ultimate objectives are. And I think a lot will depend on what the Western and Ukrainian reaction is now. If he thinks it's a relatively easy campaign to continue to take territory and to continue, therefore, to recognize these so-called new governments there, he'll do that. He has not done that yet. But if he sees that that will be costly, I think he'll back away.

VOGT: Ambassador Daalder, would you like to weigh in on that or should we move it along?

DAALDER: Just briefly, because I agree with Mike on the basics, I think he does have a minimal goal. I think he is not prepared to cede control over Kiev and over to Ukraine's destiny to anybody and that he will maintain whatever he needs to maintain to make sure that Kiev doesn't have a free choice, whether it comes to NATO membership or any other kind of alignment, and that's his minimum goal. I think tactically, he is willing to move back and forth in response to countermoves by the West, by the Ukrainian government itself, in the way that I think Mike really described very nicely.

But he has this fundamental objective to make sure that what happens in Ukraine is not to Russia's -- is to Russia's benefit and not -- not in a negative -- that has been negative implications. That's his goal, his strategic goal. How far he's willing to go to achieve that is something we will have to wait and see, but it's clear that that's his goal and that we -- that the only thing he is responding to is not -- is pressure, economic pressure, political pressure, and ultimately military pressure.

VOGT: Let's move on to our next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Elizabeth Pond with IP Journal.

QUESTION: Hello. This is for Ivo Daalder. And the question is about deterrence. It's very well and good for NATO in the next few days to say we're going to protect the Baltics and so forth, but doesn't that throw a red line west of Ukraine? Is there any way that NATO can provide any kind of deterrence to -- Putin's doing whatever he wants in Ukraine.

DAALDER: Well, there is a reality, which is that those who are members of NATO have a different security guarantee than those who are not. It is one of the reasons that countries who are not members of NATO want to become members of NATO, and I think Vladimir Putin is demonstrating why, because it does make a difference if you're a member of NATO. It gets you a commitment from the president of the United States, as happened today once again, as happened in June when President Obama was in Poland, and has happened in every statement he's made on this, that if you are a member of NATO, you can be certain that the United States is there to come to your aid if your security is threatened.

There is, in that sense, a red line that divides NATO from non-NATO territories. It's what alliances are about. That doesn't meant that NATO has no -- NATO as a whole, the countries that make up NATO collectively, have no means to exert pressure on what's happening inside Ukraine. The issue of armaments was mentioned earlier. I think the time has come for not only a serious discussion, but, frankly, a commitment to say that if we can help Ukraine to defend itself against an assault from foreign forces, we should be in a position to do that.

Is that sufficient to deter Vladimir Putin? Maybe. Maybe not. I think ultimately, we're no longer in the deterrence game. We're in a compellance game. We have to compel him to do -- to undo actions he has already taken, which we know from both practice and theory is more difficult than deterrence.

But the first step surely has to be to make sure that when it comes to NATO, we are willing and able and capable of protecting them, because you're -- whatever you're trying to do in Ukraine will be undermined if you can't do it for countries that are already members of NATO.

VOGT: Let's go with our next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Judith Miller with Manhattan Institute.

QUESTION: Hi. Question to both of you. And thank you very much for doing this, this call. Since -- and several callers have been kind of hinting at this. It seems as if we're already conceding eastern Ukraine to him (inaudible) but is there anything short of providing military assistance? One, do you think military assistance is in the cards? And, two, are there any kind of further sanctions that you see being politically achievable that might persuade Putin to change his mind?

MCFAUL: I guess I'll go first. First, let's -- from my own perspective, I'm not conceding that eastern Ukraine is in the control of the Russian military or the rebels forever. I think it's premature to say that. They're on the offensive now, and they're taking territory that they lost, but they're taking it with small numbers of soldiers. And I could see a push-back.

Second, I just want to remind everybody, you know, this is a fight, this is a war, but the citizens that live out there, first of all, are -- the public opinion polls that we have seen done out of companies in Kiev show that they are not big enthusiasts for the rebels,. They're not big enthusiasts for the Kiev government, either. That should be pointed out. But there's not some groundswell of support for this military campaign.

And, second, remember, for the best of the data that we have, which is inaccurate, but the majority in both the regions in question are Ukrainian, not Russian. And so to hold this territory with these folks that are from the outside, have done a lot of damage, and have not, you know, done so well at winning the hearts and minds game of the local communities, that's going to be very difficult for Putin and his surrogates out there. So I think there's a lot of drama left in terms of who ultimately is the legitimate recognized representatives of eastern Ukraine.

With respect to sanctions, I would say, you know, it takes time for sanctions to have an effect. You know, I was in the U.S. government when we went through this debate with Iran, a much weaker, much more vulnerable economy to sanctions, and, you know, in 2010, when the first -- the U.S. Security Council Resolution 1929 went into effect, it wasn't just months later that we saw the effects of sanction. That took years. And that will be true in Russia; there's no doubt in my mind.

Having said that, I get the sense that there is anxiety about further sanctions and, therefore, I think it's appropriate and necessary for the United States and our allies and other countries to move forward with them. And I think it will have an effect, particularly, for instance, going after further restrictions on the banking sector and their ability to do transactions with Western banks. You know, that's an escalatory step that has been floated for discussion. That would have an effect, a pretty major effect on the Russian economy.

VOGT: Ambassador Daalder, do you want to weigh in there?

DAALDER: Yeah, let me just add, short, basically because I completely agree with everything that Mike said, that we shouldn't jump to the conclusion that just because we're not willing to militarily oust the Russian and separatist forces from eastern Ukraine that, therefore, we accept their presence there forever. We have other means. It may take time. But I think what we need -- what we need to come out of the meetings in Wales is an agreement that the NATO countries will have a long-term strategy to reverse the status quo, to go back to a situation in which Ukraine is in control of its own territory, all of its own territory, and that relations with Russia will be determined fundamentally by that, by that goal and that fact.

And until such time which territorial integrity has been restored, there can be no return to business as usual and, indeed, sanctions and other means of pressure will have to be increased.

QUESTION: Thank you.

VOGT: All right. Let's take the next question, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Goya Lee (ph) with People's Daily.

QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. My question is, what do you have to say about the NATO reform? And does the Ukraine crisis give fresh momentum for Ukraine to reinforce itself? And for Ambassador Daalder, my question is, what role does U.S. have in the NATO reform? Thank you.

DAALDER: Well, I think, if there was ever a question a year ago or so what NATO was supposed to be for, Vladimir Putin answered that question. NATO was looking for a particular role after Afghanistan, after its operational involvement in places like Libya and others, deciding what exactly it needed to focus on, and now we know. It is the same thing that it's been focusing on for a long time, which is collective defense of its member states, managing of crises through concerted action of the states themselves, and cooperative security to build a better future for its partners in the region and beyond.

And in that sense, not only is this summit that we're having a defining moment in terms of whether NATO will -- as I think it will -- step up to meet the challenge that Vladimir Putin has confronted it with, but also it will give it a -- not only a new lease on life, but another boost of why it is important for this organization to exist.

And people understand that. I should mention that the Chicago Council has done a poll just recently on American views on NATO. And the U.S. support for NATO now at 78 percent is at the highest levels it has been since we started polling in 1974. And as one whack at it (ph), you can have Vladimir Putin to thank for that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

VOGT: Let's, if we can, move on to our next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Andrei Sitov with Russia News Agency.

QUESTION: Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?

VOGT: Yes, go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Ah, OK, thank you. My name is Andrei Sitov. I'm with TASS. Thank you for doing the call. Hi to both ambassadors. Basically, you have touched upon the question that I want to ask, but I'd like to ask you to spell it out for me. Obviously, you're both for the toughest possible approach to Russia at this point from NATO. And so from that perspective, what do you see is the ideal outcome of the NATO summit, the best-case, so to speak, and the worst-case scenario for the summit?

VOGT: Go ahead, Ivo.

DAALDER: Sure, I'll take a first stab at it. I mean, I think the best case is a reaffirmation of the importance of NATO, collective defense, and a concern for the immediate neighborhood and, indeed, for security in a wider context. And the specific steps that we talked about at the very beginning, the rapid reaction force, a commitment which I hope and expect from the European members to increase defense spending and, indeed, Canadians members, who are the ones blocking that agreement up to this point, to increase defense spending and to make certain that NATO is committed to defend each and every inch of its territory against any attack, no matter where it comes from, is what I expect to come out of this summit and is what I -- what I think is necessary.

Anything short of that, if there were a disagreement on whether to defend any part of NATO territory -- again, I don't think that's likely, but if there were such disagreement, that would clearly be a failure. If there were no agreement to increase defense spending after a decade of very sharp and deep reductions in defense spending, then that, too, would be a failure.

QUESTION: Mike?

MCFAUL: Yeah, I'll just add -- and congratulations on your re-branding, by the way, Andrei. I just read we're back to TASS, not ITAR-TASS.

QUESTION: Not yet, actually. We're waiting for it.

MCFAUL: OK, I jumped the gun. I would just add, in addition to the agenda, which is the formal agenda of NATO that Ivo just outlined, which, by the way, is a substantial agenda -- I mean, I really do think we'll look back on the summit as being a rather historic one -- I think in the sideline meetings, because the president -- at least President Obama will have many bilateral meetings, as well -- I look for results from that in addition.

And two things are of interest to me. One, the president said we need to enhance the capabilities -- the military capabilities of Ukraine -- I'm paraphrasing him -- from his Estonian speech. Well, it'll be to me interesting to see what concretely comes out of these set of meetings that meets that objective that he set out in his speech.

And, two, about sanctions. You know, NATO is not the format for sanctions, right, obviously. But it gives a chance for the leaders of NATO to consult, and there will be other leaders there, too, by the way, not just NATO members, to consult about what are further steps. I think there's been created an expectation that there will be new economic sanctions, and so if they deliver on that in some ways, rhetorically or otherwise, that's a success. If they don't and they have disagreements among themselves about next steps with respect to economic sanctions, that would be, I think, a failure, not for NATO, but, you know, as an event where you have so many leaders together in one place to coordinate on these issues.

QUESTION: Thank you. And one question to follow up. I just read -- and I didn't have the time to look into that -- I noticed that there was a discussion online about whether NATO will formally announce Russia to be its enemy or an adversary or whatever, something like this. I was reading this in Russian, so basically the words are similar in Russian. Have you heard anything like this, about this upcoming summit, any plans like this?

DAALDER: No, I'd be very surprised if something like that came out. I think the -- what the secretary general has said is that Russia is looking at NATO as an adversary. And as a result, we should prepare to act accordingly. But I don't expect a formal NATO statement of declaring anybody an enemy. I'm not even sure we did that during the Cold War.

QUESTION: Yeah, as I said, it's just sort of a rumor that I saw on the Russian Internet. OK.

VOGT: Let's move to the next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Andres Roth (ph).

QUESTION: To both ambassadors, how do you assess the cooperation between the United States and its European allies? You talked about sanctions. Are you satisfied with the speed you feel the European Union is moving ahead with sanctions? And how important do you think still the leadership of the American president is to those Europeans? In other words, would they be acting? Even without getting (inaudible) it was notable that after this latest news of the Russian invasion, I guess, most people said it took the American government quite some time to even issue a statement. So I was wondering to what extent they're just waiting for the Europeans to take the lead, also because events in the Middle East seem to be even higher up in the agenda.

So if you could just comment on the relation between the European and American and NATO allies.

DAALDER: Let me take that first. I mean, I think there is a recognition in Washington -- and within the administration -- that the effectiveness of sanctions depends crucially not on what the United States does as much as what the Europeans are willing to do, as well. And from the very beginning, the president and the administration have tried to lead the Europeans in a direction in which the sanctions that we were prepared to impose, that they -- that they would follow.

I think it's been up to this point quite successful. We have very severe sanctions that have been imposed over the last six months. The MH17 disaster, the shoot-down of the Malaysian airplane, accelerated a willingness by the Europeans to move in this direction. The president has worked very, very closely with Chancellor Merkel, who clearly is a very important key to what Europe as a whole is willing to do, and brought along in a traditional way in which we do leadership, which is to work very closely, talk frequently, to consult, and to then bring along the allies to the point where we are today. And I would expect that to continue in -- as sanctions are -- new sanctions and additional sanctions are considered.

The criticism that somehow the United States should have just imposed sanctions and demanded that Europe follow misses the point that the way in which we leaders get followers is to work with them, to make sure that they do, in fact, follow, because U.S. unilateral sanctions without European support would not have been able to exert the kind of influence that Mike earlier on started to talk about is coming about.

And I agree that clearly one of the things we need to see coming out of the summit in the next few days is a next step on sanctions that the United States will work with its European allies to impose.

MCFAUL: And if I could add, I would just add a couple of things, both the historic point -- you know, everybody's always eager, when was the statement released? When did they get the sanctions together? And when I was in the government, I always remembered the pressure, well, the Obama administration is not moving fast enough.

You know, I would just say, compared to what? I mean, compared to what previous eras, where we had similar kinds of situations? Let's be clear. This is not the first time that the Kremlin has ordered military interventions in Eastern Europe. And if you look back, whether 2008 in Georgia or the crackdown on Solidarity in '81 or '68 in Czechoslovakia or '56 in Hungary, the -- none of those administrations were able to deter Russian aggression. But they did respond rather differently in making the Kremlin pay a price for that aggression.

And I'm impressed with what the administration has done. This is the first time in history that the chief of staff of the Kremlin has been on a sanctions list. You know, Ronald Reagan didn't even do that.

Secondly, these are comprehensive sanctions. This is not -- you know, it's been incremental in terms of ratcheting up, but where you're at today, you have the -- Russia's largest oil company, most of its largest banks -- Sberbank has been out of it so far -- these are not marginal companies. These are the biggest companies.

Second, you have the reinvigoration of NATO, you know, sparked obviously by Putin, but you could have imagined a different historical era and a different historical response to this, had the alliance not been as united and the diplomacy that Ivo just talked about not been put in place.

And then, third, the response to support Ukraine, both economically and politically, and I would say ideologically, as the president reaffirmed in his speech in Estonia today. That to me is the right frame to -- both to support Ukraine and to understand that this is a fight between dictatorship and democracy, as I think he rightly reminded the world in his speech today.

VOGT: Let's take our next question.

DAALDER: (OFF-MIKE) yeah. Go ahead.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Eva Siscerny (ph) from Polish Press Agency. I'm sorry, Polish Press Agency. Eva (ph), your line is now open.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you very much. Actually, I would like to ask again about this -- yeah -- request that we request from President Poroshenko to arm Ukrainian army. If there is no agreement, unilateral agreement, unanimous agreement at this time, do you expect that some countries would be allowed or would be willing to go forward to arm Ukrainian army? Is it possible?

And, secondly, also we hear from Kiev that they would like to restart the procedure to apply for membership. It's not -- it's not for this summit, but do you expect -- or do you think (inaudible) NATO should indicate the response for that? Thank you.

DAALDER: Let me respond to that on both of those issues. First, in terms of arming, NATO as an organization doesn't have any arms to arm anybody with. It has a capacity to train and it may have the capacity to put trust funds together that might be useful in order to assist countries. But it doesn't have armaments to sell or give or anything else. That's something that member states, they individually have. And, therefore, I don't expect a NATO decision or, indeed, even a move to a NATO decision on whether or not to arm -- to provide armaments to Ukraine. That is a national decision that national governments will take individually, and whether or not they will respond to a request is, frankly, up to them. We know that some are more in favor than others, but it will be a series of national decisions.

When it comes to Ukrainian -- possible application of Ukraine for NATO membership, NATO has made very clear -- and it has done so since the early 1990s -- that the door to membership is open. That is consistent with Article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that says that membership to NATO is open to any European state, provided that its joining is -- contributes to the security of the North Atlantic area. And I think that will be the response to any request.

When Ukraine in an earlier time indicated that it would like to become a member of NATO, there was an engagement between NATO and Ukraine to see how that might be possible down the road. When Ukraine later decided that it wanted to be -- not join NATO and wanted to have a status of neutrality, then NATO dealt with it in those terms.

So it's really up to European countries to decide whether they are interested in NATO membership. And then it becomes a conversation between the alliance and the 28 members and, in this case, Ukraine. I should say that I think the prospect of NATO membership for Ukraine any time soon is quite a ways off, given the requirements for membership and given the economic and political and, indeed, military status of the country.

MCFAUL: If I could just add to -- on the first question, there's military assistance in bilateral ways, including from your country, Poland, but I just want to remind everybody, there's lots of other ways that countries can contribute to helping Ukraine succeed short of providing arms. There's intelligence-sharing. There's economic assistance. I mean, you know, as I've written before, you know, there's going to be a time when the eastern Ukraine is going to have to be rebuilt. Why not set up a Donbass Development Fund now and get pledges from countries, European and otherwise, that would be willing to participate in that? And that would help in the information wars, in terms of winning the hearts and minds of eastern Ukrainians, which, frankly, has not been going well for -- on Kiev's part so far.

Third, there's things that can be done in terms of other kinds of information or provision of information about what is happening, what is not happening, taking on some of the myths that are being propagated out of Moscow.

And so there's a large menu, I guess I would say, and then there's non-lethal assistance. I left that out, non-lethal assistance that countries, if they want to do something but don't want to be in the business of arming Ukrainian soldiers, could provide.

So there's a lot more that could be done. And I hope that that will be part of the sideline discussions at the NATO summit.

VOGT: OK. We're going to take one final question now, gentlemen. Thanks again so much for taking the time. Can we, Operator, please move to our final question?

OPERATOR: Sure. Final question comes from Christopher Harress with IBT Media.

QUESTION: Hi, guys. Thanks for having me today. It was very interesting. Obama said today in Tallinn that he expected NATO allies to be spending that 2 percent, that, you know, would -- that he wants to see spent across the board in Europe. I mean, how realistic is that right now, when you consider that would involve a 100 percent or 50 percent increase in some of those countries' spending?

DAALDER: I think it's quite realistic over time to see European countries to spend more on defense. It's not that long ago -- in fact, in the year 2000 -- that the non-U.S. NATO members together spent 2 percent of their GDP on defense. They have been cutting defense for the last decade-plus. And we are confronted with a situation in which most of these countries, including the larger ones, are no longer able to deploy military forces for long periods of time to even do small-scale operations, as we saw, indeed, in Libya.

So there is a very real need for investment by the Europeans. Two percent is a target that has been around for more than a decade. It is not a terribly large compared to what most other countries, including a country like Russia, is spending on defense, or even the United States.

So no one expects this to happen overnight. That's not the call. But it is something that over the next decade or so countries need to be committed to. And importantly, countries are. Estonia is already at 2 percent of GDP. Latvia and Lithuania have both signed new legislation that commits them to do so by the end of the decade. Poland is very close to spending 2 percent of GDP. Romania has a program for getting there in four years.

Britain, all it needs to do is to stop the cuts in defense spending, and it will not fall below 2 percent. France can -- with relative ease -- increase its spending to get to that point. Germany ought to do a little more. And so does Italy and Spain and Portugal and, indeed, Canada.

But the reality is, when you're confronted with the kinds of security challenges we are confronted today, not only in Ukraine, but also in -- to NATO's south and east, in Libya, in North Africa, and, of course, in the Middle East, spending 2 percent of GDP on defense is hardly asking much.

VOGT: OK.

MCFAUL: I agree. And with that, we'll...

QUESTION: I mean, just -- Europe's been through such a difficult time. And that -- part of the defense cutbacks were to spend more money on, you know, things like social care and benefits and things like that, where the money benefits the people who pay the taxes. For some countries, and certainly in the United Kingdom, you know, a lot of people might not want to see more money spent on defense. I mean, we're seeing that in the United States right now. The defense budget's coming down, because people are now tired. What do you think Europeans are going to feel about that?

DAALDER: Well, I think -- you know, I mean, we can have this debate for a long time. But the reality is, much of these cuts in defense spending occurred before the financial crisis. Part of that can be put back. The fact and reality is that in the United States, there is no groundswell for cutting defense spending. Defense spending is coming down a bit from after a decade of spending on two huge wars, but the actual investment in real defense continues, and it as a percentage of GDP remains twice as large as in Europe.

So, again, it depends a little bit on whether you see the threats in the way that we've been talking about in the last hour or so. And if you do, then spending more on defense is not only a requirement, it's a necessity.

QUESTION: Yeah, OK. I absolutely agree. Thanks for your time.

VOGT: All right. And with that, I want to thank Ambassadors Daalder and McFaul for their time. Took a little extra time with us today, really appreciate that. Appreciate your insights from Afghanistan to transatlantic relations, Russia, Ukraine. We covered a lot of ground here. Thanks also to our callers. And I hope you've all enjoyed this. This has been an on-the-record media -- Foreign Affairs media call. Thanks again, gentlemen.

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