In Europe's Shadow: Two Cold Wars and a Thirty-Year Journey Through Romania and Beyond
February 9, 2016
JOANNE MYERS: Good morning, everyone. I'm Joanne Myers, director of Public Affairs programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I'd like to thank you all for joining us.
It is a sincere pleasure to welcome Robert Kaplan back to this podium. I think this must be your eighth visit, and it's always a pleasure to have you here.
With each one of his presentations, something always emerges that reshapes our understanding about the past, enables us to reevaluate the present, and influences our thinking about the future. It's not just that Bob has the ability to see what others cannot, but it is how he applies his intuition about a country or an event that is of lasting value.
Today he will be discussing his latest book entitled In Europe's Shadow: Two Cold Wars and a Thirty-Year Journey Through Romania and Beyond. In it, he writes about his first visit to Romania, which took place in the 1970s when he was an aspiring young journalist. Back then, Romania was a bleak communist backwater. It was one of the darkest corners of Europe, but few Westerners were paying attention. What ensued was his lifelong obsession with a place that, for him, has held an indelible memory beckoning him back many times since—most recently in 2013.
In Europe's Shadow, Bob wistfully remembers the past while recognizing the transformations that have taken place since his first time there. While he acknowledges that Romania is often overlooked, he reminds us that we should be paying closer attention to this country as it is the frontier between a resurgent Russia and Europe. If you look at a map, it is easy to understand why Romania is a nexus—Ukraine is across the border, Russia and the Middle East just beyond.
Geography remains now, as always, disturbingly relevant in determining the future. Taking notice of this, it was reported just last week in The New York Times that the United States is substantially fortifying NATO countries in Central and Eastern Europe, and this includes Hungary and Romania. Administration officials have said that this "was a move aimed at deterring Russia from further aggression by sending a signal to Putin that the West remained deeply suspicious of his motives in the region."
As one would expect, this book brings a unique perspective. With his signature blend of history and geography, combined with an insightful analysis, Bob has assembled a penetrating collection of the challenges he sees looming for Eastern and Central Europe, for Western Europe, and for the world. In using Romania as a lens to examine the European continent, Bob provides a fresh way to look at this part of the world while drawing attention to trends that may portend our future.
Please join me in giving a very warm welcome to a very, very special guest, Bob Kaplan. Thank you for coming back. Thank you.
ROBERT KAPLAN: Thank you so much, Joanne, for that lovely introduction.
In this book, I do something different that I haven't done in previous books. Previous books are about big regions or many countries; Balkan Ghosts covered six countries; Monsoon was the whole Indian Ocean. Here, I do the opposite. I take one country which is unfairly obscure, and I use it to discuss big issues—the Holocaust; the Cold War; the challenge of Putin; imperialism, good and bad; the Habsburgs, the Russians, the Byzantines, the Turks. Romania was the marchland of empires. And so I use one country as sort of a vessel to explore big topics and, most of all, to explore the meaning of Europe. What is Europe? Where is it going in this current crisis?
Let me put it this way: If you were Romania or Poland in the mid-1990s, 20 years ago, the world looked fantastic. You were getting into NATO—and what could be stronger and better than NATO? You were getting into the European Union—what could be healthier and stronger and more vibrant than the European Union in 1995? And Russia—here's the kicker—Russia was then conveniently weak and chaotic under Boris Yeltsin's semi–competent rule. So your historical nemesis Russia was nowhere to be seen. You were leaving history behind. History was over. History with all of its hatreds and wars and violence was over. The Americans were strong. It was the unipolar moment.
Now fast forward to 2015, if you are Romania or you're Poland, for instance, or Latvia or Bulgaria or whatever, the European Union is weak—it's tottering—and because the European Union is tottering, what never gets mentioned in the newspapers is that weakens NATO because NATO ultimately depends on the EU, though it cannot be said, because without European unity, ultimately there is no NATO. And Russia is no longer weak and chaotic. Russia is led by a very capable, organized, disciplined autocrat with a very specific geopolitical vision, which he is prosecuting methodically. So suddenly history is back, in a sense.
I had a long talk—it's quoted in the book—with Romania's president at the time, Traian Băsescu. Băsescu was an old sailor in the Merchant Marine maritime service, a real old communist who knew the score. He said to me, "You don't understand. Article 5 of NATO doesn't protect us, it doesn't protect anyone, because Article 5 is what happens if Russian troops move across the border. That's not the face of Russian imperialism in the 21st century. The face of Russian imperialism in the 21st century is a pharaonic network of oil and gas pipelines, it's buying media through third parties in order to influence public opinion, it's running criminal rackets, running intelligence operations, shaping public opinion, supporting extreme right and extreme left wing parties. This is classic imperialism. Remember, imperialism is not necessarily aggressive and militaristic. It can be very subtle in the way a big power can influence vast regions." He said, "Article 5 gives us no protection against any of this, because it's all so subtle that it's always deniable, and therefore we're terrified."
Rather than talk for the next 25 minutes or so about Romania, let me tell you what I learned about Europe through Romania.
First of all, Europe is redividing into Cold War halves. It's like a retro kind of effect we're seeing. Western Europe is obsessed with terrorism and because it's obsessed with terrorism, it essentially is open to making a deal with Putin over Ukraine because, succeed or fail, Russia is militarily heavily involved in Syria and, therefore, has some ability to affect the outcome there, the flow of refugees, for better or for worse. And, therefore, Russia, because it went into Syria, has leverage over France, over Germany, and other places that it didn't have before.
But if you're in Eastern Europe, you're obsessed still with Ukraine. Western Europe is forgetting Ukraine; it's unclear whether the sanctions will last beyond this summer. But in Eastern Europe, because of reasons of geography and history, you're still obsessed with the Russian threat.
So Western Europe, Russia may be a good thing. Eastern Europe, Russia is a bad thing.
Also Western Europe is cool to the United States. Eastern Europe is desperate for American help because deep down, countries like Romania, Poland, the Baltic States, etc., do not trust NATO. They know that their real protection is not Brussels; it's the Pentagon.
Just last week I was a participant in a war game, and the war game was about a war in the Baltic states. You know, Russia sends a few numbers of humanitarian uniformed rescue troops to help out in a nuclear power problem in the eastern ethnic Russian part of a Baltic state, and the United States is trying to generate an Article 5 memorandum; and Greece and Italy want to do nothing, they just want to send a fact-finding mission. So this is what terrifies them. They know that it's only the United States that is going to defend them in the event of a crisis, and the United States will have to bring NATO kicking and screaming along because of NATO's other members.
Putin is playing this well, or at least trying to. He is using the fear of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) on the one hand in Western Europe, but on the other he is trying to move ahead with a second Nord Stream pipeline which will bring natural gas directly from Russia under the Baltic Sea to Western Europe—to Germany, the Low Countries, and France—that way bypassing Eastern Europe and having a direct link in order to solidify ties between Russia and Western Europe. So this is where energy geography intersects with terrorism in the Middle East to bind together Western Europe and Russia, while Eastern Europe is exposed and looking solely to the United States.
The real fear I have of Russia—and this will be expressed in an article I have coming out probably next week in Foreign Affairs—is not Russian strength; it's Russian weakness. The same with China, for instance—it's not Chinese strength; it's Chinese weakness—because I think the economies in those countries are going to steadily get worse. We're only in an early phase of an economic decline.
You're going to see separatist movements in the North Caucuses, in the Russian Far East, and other places; China has its Uyghur-Turkic population, etc. This internal weakness is going to fuel external aggression. In other words, it's not Hitler; it's not Nazi Germany where external aggression was fueled by internal economic strength. It's the opposite. It's using nationalism as a way to bind the country together in the face of economic catastrophe.
What Putin will try is—he's doing it. Look, there is a whole chapter in my book about Moldova, which is very timely now because Moldova is collapsing as we speak. The European newspapers are covering it feverishly. The American media is not. But it's happening. Just today in The New York Times there is a nice story, I think on page 5, about how there are now big Russian troop movements, not in the Baltics, but in the Black Sea region close to Romania and Moldova. This is what I've been saying for years. The real Russian threat is in the southern front, not in the northern front, because the Kremlin knows if it tries something in the Baltics the West is more likely to fight that if it tries something in what I call the greater Black Sea area, the Pontic breach.
So look at Moldova, look at Kaliningrad where the Russians would like to establish a land corridor to get to the Black Sea; and look at it, not in terms of Russian invasion, but in terms of frozen conflicts that are always deniable—inciting local elements and many of the things, but on a higher speed, that the former Romanian president Băsescu told me about.
There was an American political scientist in the 1950s, Robert Strausz-Hupé, who was an Austrian immigrant who wrote a book about protracted conflict. He said protracted conflict is recognizing that war is a natural human condition; peace is unnatural. But war doesn't have to be violent; it can be constant probing operations, and probing operations, when they get out of hand or they don't need a response, often lead to a big war.
What we've seen in Russia with Syria, in Ukraine and Crimea, China in the South China Sea, is classic probing operations. In other words, you probe, you go further each time. If you get a response, you retreat. If you don't get a response, you go a little further each time, until such a time as it comes when the party that has not been responding is forced to respond—so we live in a time of classic probing operations.
What this means in Europe is a centerpiece of American strategy has to be to defend, what I call, the "Greater Intermarium." Intermarium is a Latin word for "between the seas," between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea. The term was invented by a former Polish leader after World War I, Jozef Pilsudski. But Pilsudski had actually gotten the idea from a British geographer about 10 years earlier, Halford Mackinder, who talked about the need for a belt of democratic vibrant states between Germany and Russia, because if those could not be created, World War I would lead to World War II, because nothing was solved in World War I. Mackinder wrote this in 1919 when everybody was celebrating the Versailles Treaty, to show you how clairvoyant he was, because World War II was really about Germany and Russia as a land conflict.
What is the Intermarium? It starts in Estonia in the north, actually in Finland, and it goes down to Bulgaria in the south, with its two biggest elements being Romania and Poland. I now call it the Greater Intermarium because I include the Caucuses because right now Armenia is a bought-and-paid-for satellite of Russia with, I think, 5,000 Russian troops on the ground. This is not Armenia's fault; it's the decisions it has to make.
Georgia is undermined by Russia. The only independent state in the Caucuses is Azerbaijan, and that is because it has so much oil and natural gas; and that's the real Russian prize—can they undermine Azerbaijan? Can they essentially step up from having Armenia as a satellite to Azerbaijan as a semi-satellite, the way Brezhnev stepped up from having Somalia as a satellite, to having Ethiopia as a satellite, in the mid-late 1970s?
So the Greater Intermarium is, to me, the centerpiece of how an American administration has to look geopolitically at Europe.
And then we get to Europe itself. The European Union is more than a balance sheet, though that's how it's written about. It's more than a balance sheet because one thing I learned researching this book is that people in places like Romania have a far less cynical attitude towards the European Union than people in Western Europe do. To them, the European Union is survival itself. It's survival because it's about legal states and impersonal bureaucracies and the protection of the individual, not about ethnic nations and age-old loyalties and conflicts. The European Union leads places like Romania and Poland out of that world essentially, and that's why the European Union is so crucial to the future of Central/Eastern Europe.
However, the European Union is facing all these problems, we know—Russian revanchism, the refugee crisis, terrorism—but if you had to boil the European Union's problems down to one thing upon which all these other things, or some of these other things, could be alleviated, it would be structural economic reform. Structural economic reform is necessary, ironically, because of the social welfare state.
After World War II, the only main political economic response to the sufferings of two world wars and the human devastation was the creation of the humane social welfare state. The problem has been that, except in the most efficient and dynamic North European societies, the social welfare state as it is presently constituted is impossible to afford. That's what's been the real drag on the European economy. And because of that, you have zero growth. And with zero growth, populations are less willing to absorb new immigrants, especially Muslim immigrants.
If you had a 5 percent growth rate in Europe economically, the attitude towards Muslim migrants would be much different than it is now. But it isn't. It's zero. They are flatlining. A main reason why they're flatlining is because of the failure of structural reform, which itself is based on the difficulty of sustaining this level of a social welfare state.
The European Union is also very ambitious, I learned researching this book, because it encompasses all these different empires with different cultural and, more importantly, economic and development traditions.
What are the most important cities in the European Union? Maastricht, The Hague, Strasbourg, Brussels. What geography is this? This is Charlemagne's empire. This is the Carolinian Empire from the 9th century. Starts at the North Sea, goes south towards Switzerland, has some branches in Milan and northern Italy, over to Frankfurt. This is still the heart of Europe after 1,200 years, the Carolinian Empire. And then you have the Prussian Empire, Berlin, which is the new power. Then you have the Habsburg Empire, and I'll get to that at the end of my talk.
But at the other extreme, you have Mediterranean Europe and you have Balkan-Ottoman-Byzantine Europe, whether it's Romania, it's Bulgaria, it's Serbia, it's Macedonia, and it's Greece.
It's not a pure accident that the most troubled part of the eurozone is at its southeastern corner, a part of Europe that was—you know, Greece being the poor stepchild of Ottoman and Byzantine despotism, rather than of the Carolinian Empire. Greece is the most least-well-bureaucratized state in Europe in terms of institutions. Modern political parties, which didn't fully revolve around charismatic personalities, didn't develop in Greece until the 1980s or so. Greece is institutionally far behind in that sense.
So, a united Europe takes in four or five imperial traditions, all with different development patterns.
Now, when you look at Europe, here's the thing—focus on France because France is the pivot state. France encompasses both Northern Europe and Mediterranean Europe. It's big. It's almost as big as Germany, but it's not nearly as economically healthy as Germany. It's almost as economically troubled as Italy, for instance. So, whichever way France goes will help determine the future of the eurozone.
Probably the most important point I'll make this morning: Europe is fracturing within while it's dissolving from without. It's fracturing within because of the economic problems, different responses to terrorism, different responses to refugees, etc. All these old imperial traditions that I'm talking about are all playing out today in the different responses to the refugees. We are seeing borders go up in the Schengen zone, which is the border–free zone. Parts of Europe are under threat. So, European divisions are coming back, rather than the simplistic map of two Cold War blocs or of a united Europe from Iberia to the Black Sea. We're getting almost a new medieval map of dizzying complexity and incoherence.
But it's dissolving from without because—though European elites will not admit this—one of the reasons for the enormous success of Europe from the late 1940s until 2008 or so was that Europe was blocked off from both Russia and the Middle East. It could develop alone.
It was blocked off from Russia because—yes, I know Russia was communist, it had troops in East Germany, but Soviet Russia was led by stodgy, risk-averse bureaucrats who had all survived Stalin's purges by essentially saying nothing and having no opinions on anything. So, they survived.
The Americans handled the Soviet threat very well. Because the Americans dealt with it, the Europeans could spend their money on social welfare states.
Then, even better, Russia was in chaos for 10 years. No threat there. But now, finally, Russia is strengthened—well not recently, but over the first decade of the 21st century—Russia was strengthened because of oil and gas, and it now has an aggressive leader who is threatening Europe. So Russia is back on the table inside Europe.
The Middle East: The Europeans could preach about human rights, but it was very lucky for Europe that the Arab peoples were locked up in prison states led by dictator wardens like the Assad family, Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, where immigration was impossible, nobody could get passports, and there was stability. So Europe was separated from the Middle East.
That's all ending now. These states are collapsed or, in Syria, they have been seriously weakened. And suddenly there's this rush of peoples, and Europe is learning the truth of the great French geographer Fernand Braudel's theory of the 1940s, which is that Europe's southern border is not the Mediterranean; it's the Sahara Desert. That's the real southern border of Europe, because the Mediterranean is a unitary zone where the northern Mediterranean is united with the southern Mediterranean, which means North Africa, Muslim North Africa.
So, we are finally seeing the beginnings of a Mediterranean unity, in terms of terrorism and refugees, that we really haven't seen since the collapse of the Roman Empire or, more specifically, the Islamic invasion in the 7th and 8th centuries which separated North Africa from Europe.
And the Balkans are back to being what they always were throughout history, which is a transition zone for migration from the Near East into Central Europe. That has always been the role of the Balkans. It's not an accident that Serbia is so troubled by refugees and why Croatia is putting up fences, Hungary, etc.
Then we have the United States. The question is: Is the United States becoming post-European in a sense? Does it have less of an interest in Europe than it had during the Cold War? Well, of course. There's East Asia. There's the Middle East. There's Latin America. The United States is more and more focused on many regions, whereas during the Cold War it could have a laser-eye focus on Europe.
Just an aside—one thing I've noticed in the State Department and the Defense Department is you see all these young deputy assistant secretaries of defense and deputy assistant secretaries of state, these people in their 30s, they are no longer of European background so much. They are from immigrant families from India, Latin America; and they come with different family histories, different interests. So American foreign policy is slowly shifting, because the age of where all these people had European names is over, or it's ending.
I will never forget what Silviu Brucan, the grand old man of Romanian communism, once told me in 1998. He had survived. He was Gheorgiu-Dej's speech writer. He was Ceausescu's right–hand man. Then he broke with Ceausescu two years before 1989 and was one of a small group of people who essentially ordered the execution of the Ceausescus. He said to me, "Robert, the West did not desert Eastern Europe in Yalta. It had deserted it six-seven years before at Munich."
The real geopolitical importance of Munich was not appeasement, it was the desertion of Central/Eastern Europe by England and the West, because by making a deal with Hitler, Western Europe and the United States were essentially saying "Eastern Europe doesn't matter; it's not essential to us." That's when we were deserted.
So it raises the question: Are we deserting Eastern Europe, Central/Eastern Europe, now, though in a much more slower, gradual, less dramatic way than that?
I would end with two points, quickly. We all know that the Middle East has still not found a solution to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. My question is: Has Europe found a solution to the collapse of the Habsburg Empire? The Habsburg Empire was about humanism, tolerance, cosmopolitanism, protection of minorities, stability.
There is a great short story by Joseph Roth about a Habsburg count who is of Italian-Polish descent who says, "I'm not a Pole. I'm not an Italian. That's so barbaric. My loyalty is to the emperor, to something beyond nationalism." That's very post-modern when you think about it.
Has Europe found a permanent solution to the collapse of the Habsburg Empire?
Just the final point is that Putin is a challenge. We can disagree with how to deal with him. Maybe we are being too aggressive, not aggressive enough, whatever. But remember that geopolitics in the hands of a liberal democracy like those in Europe, like the United States, is essentially a moral enterprise. It's not a cynical realpolitik enterprise. If liberal democracies do not use geopolitics, geopolitics will be in the hands solely of those who are opposed to us. That was a book written by Robert Strausz-Hupé in 1942 called Geopolitics: The Struggle for Space and Power.
Thank you very much.
QUESTION: James Starkman. Thank you. That was such a great summation.
Would a British withdrawal from the European Union be the nail in the coffin of the European Union? Even though it seems unlikely, if it did occur, it would be quite a nail in the coffin. Also, the European Union is China's second biggest trading partner. In other words, would the Chinese problem be aggravated significantly should the European Union deteriorate?
ROBERT KAPLAN: The answer to both is 1) is almost yes, the second part of the question is yes.
Almost yes: The withdrawal of Great Britain from the European Union would be less important economically than psychologically and politically. It would basically be a vote of no confidence in Europe from one of Europe's strongest economies. And the government—remember, the Cameron government, we can have a lot of complaints about it, but it has handled the British economy very effectively. You know, they get an A+ in terms of just competence—maybe not inspiring, but competence. So withdrawal from the European Union would have a massive effect.
I think one of the more important things the Obama administration should be doing now is lobbying the British government, saying, "Do not withdraw from Europe. Do everything in your power not to withdraw from Europe." With all the complaints the United States has had with Europe, and disagreements, without a strong Europe the West is reduced to being an island of North America, essentially.
On the second part of the question, yes, we live in an interconnected world where every region interacts with every other region as never before. The demand in China is less and less; and that is going to be another hindrance to Europe getting off its flatlining economy, because Europe exports quite a lot to China.
Martin Wolf, the FT columnist, has a long essay, which just came out in The American Interest, where he said that what happens inside China will determine the world essentially in the next decade or two. [Editor's note: For more from Wolf, check out his September 2015 Carnegie talk "Is the Eurozone Crisis Over?"] It affects Europe, it affects Africa, big time, in many ways that we don't have time to talk about. It affects the South China Sea and many other things. But yes, Europe can be undermined by a British withdrawal and by a slowing China.
QUESTION: Don Simmons.
Two related questions. In the 1990s, was it wise for NATO to admit to its membership the three Baltic countries? And then secondly, today with NATO weaker, maybe less important, should it still be an objective of our policy to bring Ukraine into NATO?
ROBERT KAPLAN: The NATO expansion of the 1990s to the former Warsaw Pact, meaning from Poland to Romania and Bulgaria, I think was justified and is not a cause for the instability and aggression of Russia we see today. The Baltic States were an in-between category. They were part of the Soviet Union, but only part of the Soviet Union since 1940 and again in 1944. They were not historically part of the original Soviet Union. They were also Westernized, were so well-institutionalized, a strong argument could be made that that was the right thing to do.
However, this talk of bringing Ukraine and, a few years ago, Georgia, etc. into NATO, I think is wrong. The reason is it basically telegraphs to the Russians, "We're your enemy and you can never be a great power again; and therefore, the centerpiece of your foreign policy has to be to fight us in one way or another."
Ukraine is historically a border area that always meant more to Russia than it meant to the West. Russia came out of Ukraine. Ukraine in Russian eyes is integral to Russia. So Ukraine can never be a member of NATO, I don't believe. I don't believe it can be a member of the European Union. It could be an associate member of the European Union. It has to have some sort of special status, I would say. That has to be the endgame in Ukraine.
But one footnote to that, though, I would add is that Russia is never giving back Crimea. Crimea is lost. It's gone.
QUESTION: Warren Hoge, International Peace Institute.
Bob, in your upcoming Foreign Affairs piece that you mentioned in passing, I know you argue that we in the West, we in the United States, should take no satisfaction out of the coming failures of the Russian and Chinese economies. Two questions out of that: What would be the consequences for us of failures of those two gigantic economies, and is there something that American policymakers ought to be doing to forestall that outcome?
ROBERT KAPLAN: The central argument of my Foreign Affairs piece is that we have already factored in and discounted for the collapse of small- and medium-sized states in Africa and the Middle East. What we haven't yet realized is the weakening or partial collapse of big states in Eurasia like Russia and China. Remember, Russia is 11 time zones, it's half the longitudes of the earth, and it is riddled with minorities, weak government in its east and the north Caucuses, in Siberia. There is a lot of potential in Russia for real unraveling; and as the economy implodes, that can happen. The same with China.
However, this is only bad news for us, because it means a more aggressive Russia, a more aggressive China, a more unpredictable and a more unstable Russia and China, especially in China's case.
We have had it good with China. They have had, like in Russia during the Soviet Union, risk–averse, collegial, uncharismatic functionaries in power there from Mao's death, from Deng Xiaoping right up to now. But now it's going in the other direction, towards a more centralized charismatic, aggressive, nationalistic kind of leadership. We can't stop this process. We cannot internally micromanage, or even direct, what's going to happen in Russia and China. We will have to deal with it.
We should do two things. Establish clear red lines, but never announce them publically, because the one thing you should never do is bait and humiliate a weakening state because if you do that—and this is something Congress has to learn . . . every minute out of Congress there is one irresponsible statement after the other. The last thing you should do is humiliate weakening powers because they can really strike and lash out. It's all about pride, you know, in many senses. So, we need strong red lines, quietly communicated.
QUESTION: Richard Valcourt, International Journal of Intelligence.
Bob, we've been talking about what the United States and the European Union should do. We've talked about Russia and so on. But your book deals specifically with Romania. Now, many of those states that were former Soviet satellites have been trying to essentially assert their own individuality, so they are caught in that squeeze.
In your book, you deal with Romania. In our pages, we deal particularly with the security institutions. Both the former heads of the Slovenian intelligence and Romanian intelligence have been writing for us. Those countries are trying to democratize their security apparatuses.
When you've traveled through Romania, to what extent have you seen the results of that attempt to democratize, in terms of the public's response to an apparatus that was a persecutorial one to one that is supposed to be protective in the face of these external threats?
ROBERT KAPLAN: Look, I'll give an individual. The former head, until recently, of the Romanian internal security service, George-Cristian Maior, was one of the most respected men in Romania because he is seen as clean. Remember, the job now of an internal intelligence service in a country like Romania is to fight corruption, essentially, and to fight Russian intrusion into companies. That's what it's about.
There are all these anti-corruption investigations going on in Romania. The internal intelligence service plays a role in this. It plays a role with the prosecutor's office in this. So, ironically, it's the internal intelligence service that tends to have a higher reputation among Romanians now; whereas of course, during the Cold War, they were the most hated and feared part of the government. So everything is flipped, or a lot of things have flipped.
But you cannot have a stable modern democracy without a clean intelligence service because you need intelligence services, especially in this age of cyber-hacking and all of that. Your intelligence network is often your front line more than your military is, especially with this new kind of Russian Imperialism that we are seeing.
QUESTION: Krishen Mehta of the Aspen Institute.
You mentioned that Moldova is collapsing but it's not being covered in the United States. There's also some concern that in the United States there is a lot of dialogue that is taking place that is not being challenged sufficiently by the media. You know, many outbursts on the Republican side in the political debates seem to be just taken in stride as part of the process. And some believe that what we are seeing right now is kind of a media malpractice, almost like not challenging, not bringing to the American public some significant issues.
Now, you have written very extensively for the media. Do you have some comments as to what is happening in the U.S. media right now that could make us better informed about what's happening globally and in this country?
ROBERT KAPLAN: All I can say is technology has totally changed the media. The media used to be, when I started out as a journalist, in fewer hands. You had the main newspapers, many of which had foreign correspondents—not just The New York Times and The Washington Post, but The Baltimore Sun, The St. Louis Post Dispatch, The Atlanta Journal Constitution all had their own foreign correspondents. So, foreign news was much more intimately covered than it is now. You had many more bureaus, because the economics of print at the time could support it, so to speak. The economics of the digital world cannot.
In the world of the web, there is much less reporting and much more opinions, people essentially reacting emotionally to what happens the day before rather than going out and reporting. I mean, there are many exceptions to this rule. There are some great reporters on the web. I'm talking generally, of course.
Another thing about the web is it tends to confirm your prejudices, whatever those may be. If you're a right-wing conservative, there are many websites you can go to to basically justify your opinion. If you're a left-wing liberal, it's the same thing. So the web has a way of challenging you less, of just confirming your prejudices.
And what I've noticed is, with much less reporting, the world is more of a mystery than it's ever been.
First of all, it's more and more dangerous to go to many places.
Secondly, many places what is "covered" means somebody goes to the capital city and interviews 10 people but doesn't travel around the country—or can't; he doesn't have the budget to do it.
In the media, Tunisia is a success story. That's true as long as you don't leave Tunis. Once you get out of Tunis and you see the state of Tunisia's borders with the former Libya, with Algeria, even its southern towns where there's like 50 percent youth unemployment, Tunisia is no success story. You know, it's a mystery, it's not even reported on. And that's true in many parts of the world.
One of the things I've tried to do over the years is go to places that were not reported or too little reported but yet still deserved being reported.
QUESTION: Susan Gitelson. This was fantastic, of course.
Let's go to Berlin. Berlin has been so strong for so long. But now how would you evaluate what's going on to Angela Merkel, but to the whole country, in terms of the costs of the huge migrant population, the loss of export markets which have always been the backbone of the economy, and opposition in many areas? So what's going on in Berlin?
ROBERT KAPLAN: Angela Merkel works under severe constraints. On the one hand, she doesn't want Germans to have to work until 70 so Greeks can retire at 50. On the other hand, she cannot lose Greece and Italy or any of these poor Southern countries because she needs them inside the eurozone to serve as a market for German products, because Germany is to Europe what China has been to the world in terms of exporting consumer products. Her country occupies the geographical position between east and west. She cannot take such arch–aggressive stances against Russia as the United States can, for instance. That's not in her power.
Also, because of the legacy of Nazism, she cannot be the leader of Europe in the way that Bismarck or Frederick the Great were leaders of Europe. She has to really, really lead from behind, hiding inside the European Union so to speak. That's why Germans always needed the European Union more than any other country, in order to hide behind it, so to speak, to exercise their leadership through the European Union.
One of the dangers of a weakening European Union is it unmasks German power and makes German power more apparent, which Germans are uncomfortable with. Keep this in mind.
Many people are disappointed with her. Look, after her it gets worse—just like I've written after Putin it gets worse in Russia—because here's the problem with Germany: because Germany can't lead, because of the history of the 20th century, you have a European Union that becomes more like the late Holy Roman Empire, which is an empire in name but not in fact and which ultimately collapses.
But what happens if the right wing wins in Germany? That's the real danger, a new right wing in Germany, which wears the face of anti-Muslim immigrants. A right wing in Germany could do one of two things. It could move closer to Russia, which is bad; or it could have nothing to do with leadership at all, it can just say, "Europe is not our responsibility." It could abdicate leadership, or it could use leadership to move closer to Russia. Both things would be bad.
Merkel represents the only possibility for a responsible German leadership in terms of her vision, as constrained and restrained and half-measured as it is.
QUESTION: Ellen Berenson.
You talked a great deal about Romania in 1995 as opposed to the situation today, and also about the influence of Putin. I wondered, are there any Romanian rulers today, or Romanian leaders today, that have any influence? Who are they and what role do they play in this whole geopolitical situation?
ROBERT KAPLAN: Yes. The new Romanian president, Klaus Iohannis, who I couldn't cover in my book because of a publishing deadline essentially, is not ethnic Romanian, he is ethnic Saxon-German, and he had very little money to campaign compared to his opponent. And here were ethnic Romanians, with a very bloody and difficult history, essentially deciding en masse, "We're not going to have a Romanian leader, we're going to have an ethnic German leader." And why did they follow him? Because he said his strategy, his campaign platform was closer to the West; end corruption; Romania's future lies in being like Singapore more—good government, transparent institutions, a good place to do business essentially. "That's our only salvation." And those were values that the population followed.
There is a big drama going on now with an anti-corruption drive in Romania, which the population is demanding. In other words, the Romanian public has higher and higher standards as to what they require from leadership.
There is also—it's interesting. It's a bit funny. The real father of modern Romania was a German, Carol I, Hohenzollern, who was imported from Germany, who ruled from 1866 to 1914 and built the Romanian State. He's seated on horseback in the center of the Grand Square in Bucharest. He's like the national hero. And so there was feeling during the campaign, "Another Carol, that's what we need, another Carol I"—you know, to get us into shape, so to speak.
So the Romanian public's political values, as registered through public opinion and elections, are very healthy. Romania doesn't have an extreme right-wing party like Poland has now. It hasn't gone into neo-authoritarianism like Hungary. It's going to have a 4 percent economic growth rate, which is, I believe, the highest in Europe at the moment. To do that, given Europe's situation, and as I say to Romanians, "You were lucky; you never got into the eurozone and you never got into Schengen. And because of that, you have very few refugees and you don't have the Greek economic crisis. You were out of those systems—which seemed like failures at the time but ended up being blessings."
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Chris. Thank you very much for your talk.
I want to ask you a little bit about the connection you make between internal weakness and the assumption that that will lead to external aggression. I understand there are many historic examples you can point to on this, but it also seems there are so many social forces at play in all the countries you're talking about—the smaller countries, the bigger countries—that serve to empower individuals in a way that would make the mass mobilization required for certain kinds of external aggression less and less likely.
I read something this morning that said 60 percent of Americans between 18 and 29 think the United States should send more troops to combat ISIS, but 62 percent say they would never go. I think a similar dynamic is at play in a lot of other places. We see a decentralization of authority as sort of a long-term trend in a number of these big countries including the United States. So, how do you see the future in terms of that assumption?
ROBERT KAPLAN: Okay, you raised a fascinating point.
First of all, authority in Moscow and Beijing in Russia and China is centralizing; it's not decentralizing. Putin has created a kind of retro-Soviet state. His camarilla of advisors replicates the politburo essentially, except it's built on money rather than on ideology. And like the old politburo and like this politburo, it's built on intelligence-gathering and intimidation and thuggery, essentially.
In China, too, we see an anti-corruption drive, which is really a great purge. Xi Jinping is essentially getting rid of all of his political enemies. What we define as corruption is just the way business was done in China, essentially. So you can go after everybody, but you're not going to go after everybody; you're going to go after the people who are inconvenient to you.
So both the regimes in Moscow and Beijing are centralizing.
However, what you said about the 60/62 percent is interesting. Russians are very nationalistic. Putin's opinion poll—Putin would win an election with 83-85 percent of the vote today. He is more popular than any politician in the West. But he also knows that it's very risky, because, while they support him in the Ukraine and they support his aggression in Syria, if there were significant numbers of Russian body bags coming back, the public might revolt, which is what happened in Afghanistan in the 1980s, which helped undermine the Soviet system.
So what he needs is aggression but without bloodshed on Russia's part. That's why frozen crises undermining regimes in Moldova, Lithuania, sending an air combat—you know, he's fighting an air war in Syria. He has very few ground troops. That's deliberate. With an air war, he can't get into a quagmire; he can always leave.
Once you put in significant numbers of ground troops, then that becomes much more risky. He hasn't done that in Syria. He has used proxy forces in Ukraine. He's being very careful because he knows that this can flip, that this nationalism can flip, if there are significant casualties.
JOANNE MYERS: Once again, I just want to thank you for an extraordinary morning. It was really special.
ROBERT KAPLAN: Thank you so much.