Ep 21: The past, current and future of the Russia-Ukraine war - George Beebe
Former Director of the CIA’s Russia Analysis, George Beebe, on America’s involvement in the Russia-Ukraine war and how an end to the war will require difficult compromises.
Arjun Moorthy: The war in Ukraine is almost a year old, and it has unfolded in ways that few would've predicted at the start. Both sides have said that they're open to peace talks, but they're opening demands appear to be unreasonable to the either side. So what are the prospects for peace in Ukraine and what might the world order look like in the coming years? To answer this and other difficult questions, we’re joined by George Beebe.
George is the director of Grand Strategy at the Quincy Institute. He has spent more than two decades in government as an intelligence analyst, diplomat, and policy advisor, including as director of the CIA's Russia analysis and as a staff advisor on Russia matters to Vice President Cheney. His recent book, the Russia Trap: How Our Shadow War with Russia Could Spiral into Nuclear Catastrophe, came out in 2019 and is oddly foreshadowing of where we are today, and warned of how the US and Russia could stumble into a dangerous military confrontation.
So George has a very relevant background and we're delighted to welcome him to the Unbiased show today. Welcome, George.
George Beebe: Great. Thank you very much.
Arjun Moorthy: I have to start with a really simple question. Director of Grand strategy at the Quincy Institute. What's with the Grand Strategy?
George Beebe: Well, I pushed for the title to be the Grand Director of Grand Strategy, but for some reason I was unsuccessful in that. This is actually a technical term. When we talk about strategy, we're often talking about military. Strategic weapons, nuclear weapons, intercontinental ballistic missiles, that sort of thing.
Grand strategy is about something that goes well beyond military strategy into essentially what is the United States trying to do in the world in its foreign policy. What are our vital national interests? What are our secondary national interests? How do we balance the capabilities that we have with the objectives that we're trying to pursue in the world.
Now, a long time ago, a famous American foreign policy journalist, Walter Lipman, used to talk about the importance of balancing means and ends in foreign policy, and he was quite critical of a gap that he believed existed between what the United States was trying to do in the world and what its capabilities.
So grand strategy is really about those things, and I think, very much like, Lipman the United States today is in a great deficit between what we're capable of doing in the world and what we're trying to do. And I think that's something we've gotta address quite urgently.
Arjun Moorthy: Before we even get into where the war is today and what the future for peace looks like, I wanna go back a little bit to how we got into this, because you wrote a whole book on this.
What role did the United States play in encouraging this war or making the environment for this war, or is that completely off topic and it was inevitable because of Russia's desires to merge with Ukraine based on past history?
George Beebe: I don't think that this war was inevitable. It was foreseeable. Many people foresaw what was coming down the road, and I think there were things that could have been done, which would've reduced the chances of this war occurring.
That doesn't mean that I believe this war is the fault of the United States. Putin made the decision to invade. He didn't have to do that. He was not attacked. Under international law, a country certainly has the right under the terms of the UN charter to self-defense. But that wasn't the case here and I think the responsibility for the war falls squarely on Putin's shoulders, and it, it's certainly true that it's not hard to envision that a different Russian president might have made a different choice in how to handle this. That said, It's not as if Emer Putin woke up on February 24th and decided, gee, I'd really like to have Ukraine be part of the Russian Empire.
Again, there was a long prelude to this war. A lot of things contributed to the situation that we find ourselves in today in the United States. I think there were things during a long period of time preceding this war that contributed to where we are now. And I think there are things that we could have done and should have done, which would've reduced the likelihood of this war occurring.
I tried to warn about that in the book. I tried to describe the different factors that were coalescing to produce a very explosive environment. And I likened it to the prelude to World War I, World War I was not a situation where Imperial German leadership suddenly said, Hey, let's go start a war.
It had a variety of different factors that combined. To put Europe on a path toward conflict that none of the great powers of Europe really wanted and none of them expected would result in this catastrophic, continent wide conflict that had such a devastating effect on everyone. And I think this war in Ukraine is best thought of.
Akin to what happened in the prelude to World War I. A lot of things have combined misperceptions, mistrust, yes, some classing national interests, but also missed opportunities for compromises and things that could have managed these tensions and prevented them from getting out of hand. And I think the United States and Russia as well as Europe, all contributed to these problems.
Now, another factor in all of this, The continuing after effects of the breakup of the Soviet Union. We're seeing that playing out to some degree in Ukraine right now. When the Soviet Union broke up a large number of ethnic Russians who were citizens of the Soviet Union, but living outside the Russian, Soviet federated Republic found themselves outside of.
In a newly independent country, in which in, in almost all of these cases, they were not the titular national majority. And none of these countries really have dealt very gracefully with how to handle that. And in Ukraine, your millions of. People living across the country, but mainly concentrated in the eastern regions of Ukraine that found themselves outside of Russia and felt that they weren't being treated as equitably as they would've liked.
And had a very strong interest in Ukraine, maintaining a close relationship with Russia, a friendly relationship with Russia. There's a lot of trade that went on. Both countries were, were heavily involved in bilateral trade. There was a lot of culture that they shared in common. A lot of the intermixing of families through what you might call mixed marriages between Ukrainians and Russians.
To the degree that Ukraine was trying to build a new national identity to unify that country, the government in Kiev had to pursue some means of addressing this problem. How do we make everybody feel a part of, of Ukraine in an entity that's not defined along ethnic national terms? And Ukraine has never really found a way to do that, quite honestly.
And that has contributed to the situation that we're in. And, and it has, has made the relationship between Russia and Ukraine that much more emotional and volatile. Than it would've been if, if only these big strategic issues about the relationship between Ukraine to Europe and the west to Russia weren't involved too.
So it's a, it's a, it's a very complex situation that has a lot of sources. There are
Dan Sally: so many questions I could ask As a follow up to that, before that, I'm gonna state that I'm gonna defer on the question I really want to ask, which is, what are the chances we get the Super Bowl ring that Putin took from Patriots owner, Bob Kraft back, but we may get to that later on, George, if you're up for it.
But the way this has been characterized, and I'll simplify it, is there's one side that says this is a clear war of aggression. There's another. That really blames the war on outside actors. So for example, NATO involvement with Ukraine. When you look at the, let's say, internal and external factors, which shares the greater portion of
George Beebe: the blame, I come down somewhere in the middle on this.
I think both of those factors were were critical to producing the situation that we're in. I would tend to lean more toward external factors as more important in all of. and the internal factors were, were ones that grew in importance over time as, as Putin and the Russian establishment grew more and more pessimistic that the West would agree to some sort of mutual compromise on things like Ukrainian membership in NATO and, and the broader relationship of Russia to the west.
But the reason why I say that is, and this is a history that most Americans don't know and, and really isn't discussed in mainstream media treatment of this war right now. But after this war broke out in 2014, the Russians did a couple of things. They annexed Crimea, which caused great consternation in in Ukraine and in the west.
And they also very heavily, but, officially covertly helped separatist movements in the Donbass region of Eastern Ukraine, which had declared independence of, of Ukraine to defend themselves when the Ukrainian government sent in military forces to, to tell these so-called separatist republics, no, you're not leaving you are a part of Ukraine.
You'll remain that way. The Russian. Essentially had a great deal of military dominance at that time, and the Russians, through their, their aid to the, the separatist movements essentially defeated the Ukrainian military. And they were in a position to do all kinds of things. They could have continued.
They could have actually sent the Russian military officially and directly in rather than just covertly aiding separatist movements. They didn't do that. Putin could have recognized the independence of these separatist republics in the Don Boss, something that the Russian nationalist movement. Inside Russia urged him to do and he refused to.
And he took a great deal of heat politically at the time for not doing that. And I think the reason why he didn't either follow through with a full invasion into Ukraine or recognized those independent, the, the separatist republics as independent was precisely because he thought he could get a deal with the.
That at the time France and Germany were trying to mediate a solution, they ultimately came up with something they called the Minsk two agreement, which provided for disengagement a new political relationship between the central government and Ukraine and the separatist republics, where they would have a great deal of autonomy inside Ukraine.
What would remain part. Part of Ukraine and Putin liked that Minsk two deal. He wanted to see it implemented and it never was. Obviously, in retrospect, that agreement fell apart amid mutual accusations of failing to implement it on, on both Ukrainian and Russian sides. But to me this tells you a little bit about that relative mix of internal and external motivations.
Putin, if he were really motivated at that time, by this desire to rebuild the Russian Empire, to Resu Subjugate Ukraine, to bring it back into. Part of the Russian Empire. I don't think he would've handled the situation then the way he did, especially not in a way that took so much heat from the so-called patriotic forces in Russia.
Now, since that time, Those forces have grown in influence and I think Putin as well has become even more disillusioned and embittered about how the West has handled all this. So the desire to pursue that nationalist agenda I, I think, has grown inside Russia. And, and I think Putin has, has really adopted more and more of their agenda.
But I, he didn't start out that way. In fact, he was much more centrist and, and he took a lot of heat inside Russia for being in their minds too willing to try to find an accommodation with the west.
Arjun Moorthy: It's interesting, listening to that Putin doesn't come off like a madman, at least in history.
Certainly his recent actions would probably get him closer to that, but listening to how he has changed over time because of external and internal factors, sort of it, it paints a more. Nuanced picture of this man versus what we see now as completely irrational actor. It's very interesting.
I wanna talk a little bit about the role that the US is playing now. Okay, we've got a little bit of history on how we got into this mass. Now the US and really a lot of countries, of course, are supporting Ukraine through tremendous amounts of. And I think thus far the United States has authorized 110 billion worth of aid to Ukraine.
Most of it being military aid. That is about 30 times more than the next. Biggest aid recipient, which is Israel, and possibly more than the entire budget of the Russian military, which has estimated around 80 billion a year. What does this level of support imply now and in the future for the us, for Ukraine,
George Beebe: for this war?
it has enormous implications on, on all kinds of things. For one thing, it's clear that the, the Ukrainians are almost completely dependent on the United States as a benefactor, that without which their economy would, would cease to function, number one. They're entirely dependent on US economic outlays and to a lesser degree from Europe as well.
But militarily, they can't prosecute this war. What the United States is providing, and it's not just weapons. As important as those weapons systems are, it's quite possible that the intelligence that we provide to the Ukrainians is even more central to their ability to prosecute this war. The Russians have significant numerical advantages and.
Intelligence has been the great equalizer in all of this. It hast enabled the Ukrainians to do more with less. So there's a degree of dependence there that's quite significant. Now, the, on the other hand, that dependence is increasingly running both ways, and by that I mean we have made such an investment in.
That we really can't afford for the Ukrainians to lose. That has become unacceptable largely for political reasons and for reasons of sunk costs and , how invested we are in in all of this. So that means paradoxically. The US by virtue of Ukraine's dependence on us, in theory, should have a great deal of leverage over how the Ukrainians conduct this war and what their war aims are going to be in practice.
However, because this runs both ways, it's quite difficult for us to exert that leverage because we can't afford to have the Ukrainians. Lose. Now this of course raises the question, can we afford to have the Ukrainians win conditionally? In other words, not drive Russians off of all Ukrainian territory, including Crimea, but far enough that the Russians have been dealt?
What? What the world regards as a loss? But they're left with enough that they can call this domestically some sort of achievement and move on. That's the question I think we're really having to wrestle with right now,
Dan Sally: is victory in the sense that we might describe it for Ukraine, a possibility in the sense that Russian troops leave and they regain previously annex territory and their borders are respected and,
George Beebe: and.
Not in the sense of unconditional victory like that of the Western allies over Nazi Germany and World War ii or over Japan, Imperial Japan, and World War ii, where those regimes simply surrendered unconditionally. And Nazi Germany was occupied by the Western. Powers and, and by the Soviet military and Japan was occupied by the US military.
We rewrote the Japanese constitution, Germany, Nazi Germany was, dismantled. And I don't think that kind of outcome is possible. For Ukraine to achieve over Russia for the simple reason that the, the Russians have, the world's largest nuclear arsenal, . And if push comes to shove, I think if they face a choice between that kind of outcome with Putin and his cohort carried off to the Hague for war crimes trials in handcuffs I think they would use that arsenal before they would allow that sort of thing to happen.
I think if Crimea were threaten. Which in turn would threaten the Russian Black Sea fleet, which is based there, that is of such strategic importance to the Russians as well as political and, and, emotional resonance for Russia, that I think the Russians would escalate this war quite significantly rather than allow that sort of outcome to happen.
So I don't think the, the unconditional victory on the part of the Ukrainians is, Which leaves you wrestling with. Okay. What then is possible? What kinds of, of settlement terms would be acceptable to the United States and Ukraine and all of this that the Russians might also be willing to compromise on?
I, I think those are the kinds of questions that we have to be asking ourselves. It's interesting,
Arjun Moorthy: George, because Ukraine's foreign min. Said that they're ready for peace talks, but before they would talk directly to Moscow, Russia must face a war crimes tribunal. And what you just said is, yeah, that's a non-starter.
They would escalate rather than deescalate at that point. Ukraine must know this. Why would they state this as a requirement before they have peace talks? .
George Beebe: I think you, you're saying both sides posturing right now. Neither one wants to come out and say, no, we won't agree to talk. That's a bad look from a PR point of view.
But the Russians are saying, sure, we're willing to talk to the Ukrainians. We're willing to settle this all. All the Ukrainians have to do is recognize that. What we've annexed in the Don Voss is Russian territory, , which is obviously a non-starter for the Ukrainians, and the Ukrainians are attaching, similarly unacceptable conditions in their terms.
They're, they're saying, sure, we're willing to talk with the Russians. Let's talk about peace. First of all, the Russians have to withdraw from all Ukrainian territory. They have to agree to war crimes, prosecutions, and then we can negotiate, which is of course, those are terms of surrender. Those aren't terms for negotiation.
So I think this highlights just how far apart the two sides are right now. What strikes me about popular discussions about this is a lot of the discussion ends, right? They, I think, accurately point out that neither Ukraine nor Russia is anywhere close to being ready for negotiations. And then we throw up our hands and say, oh nothing that we can do.
And in fact, the, the official position of the US government right now is that it's up to Ukraine to decide if and when it engages in negotiations with the Russians. Not up to us. And I, I don't think that's where we ought to. I think people ought to be asking themselves what can the United States do?
What might the United States do that would increase the likelihood that these two sides get closer to being ready for negotiations? We're treating this as if the United States just, just standing by completely incapable of, of exerting any influence on either side to try to bring this closer to a settlement, and I just don't think that's right as.
Part as these sides are right now, I think there are things that the United States could do that would prepare the ground for ultimate negotiations, make that end game more likely, more quickly than it would otherwise be. And I do think it's in our interest to do that. George, what are
Dan Sally: some of the things we could be
George Beebe: doing right now with Ukraine?
I think Zelensky has himself a little bit of a, of a domestic political problem when it comes to negotiations. There is a very sizable, and I would say growing nationalist movement in Ukraine that is completely opposed to any kind of compromise with Russia. Their belief is, we will take this.
To the end, we will win. We will drive the Russians out out of all of Ukrainian territory, including out of Crimea, and we will not stop until that objective is achieved and some Ukrainian officials have, I think there's no other word for it. Threatened. Zelensky that, if he were to try to pursue some sort of compromise settlement with Russia, that he would not belong for the presidency.
Now that doesn't mean I believe he's in imminent danger of some sort of removal or, or assault by right wing nationalists in Ukraine, but it is a real political problem and I think he needs help with that. Now how might the United States help with that situ. I think he needs a little bit of a push.
Some of that needs to come privately behind the scenes, and I think particularly at this stage in the war, we need to be talking to Zelensky and to other key Ukrainians inside the government, in the business community, and helping them understand why an unconditional victory over Russia is very unlikely.
Something that the United States in fact does not. That we, we do not support an effort to retake Crimea precisely because of the implications that that would have for escalation into a direct US Russian military confrontation. I think we need to point out to not just the Ukrainian government, but to the Ukrainian business community that Ukraine is not going to.
Reconstructed economically unless there is an agreed settlement with Russia. Now, why do I say that? I don't think the Russians can win this war, meaning the Russian military has shown it can't occupy all of Ukraine. It can't seize Kiev, put its own public government in place in re subjugate Ukraine, and, and essentially remove it as an independent player that's beyond Russia's capability.
but I think what the Russians can do is so thoroughly wreck Ukraine that it's in no condition to rebuild itself or join the European Union or join NATO because it, it's, an open wound. Essentially, the Russians won't give up that leverage unless there's an agreed settlement with terms that, that, at least address some key issues that the Russians believe are important to them.
Otherwise they can hold over Ukraine. The threat of these, massive missile and drone strikes on Ukraine's infrastructure bombardment in its eastern regions such that Ukraine. Will not attract the kind of, hundreds of billions, if not trillions of dollars of reconstruction money that it will require to rebuild itself.
Nobody's gonna invest hundreds of billions of dollars in trying to rebuild Ukraine. if we worry that the Russians are only gonna destroy it next week. So there's gonna have to be an agreement o of some kind or the or The Ukrainians aren't gonna be able to reconstruct themselves. And I think those are things that we need to be talking about with the Ukrainians now.
And even bigger problem is not on the Ukrainian side of this. It's on the Russian side. The Russians right now are convinced that the United States will not negotiate over things like potential U Ukrainian membership in nato, that we will not address the question of Russia's place in Europe's security architecture.
That in fact, our goal is at a minimum Rush's SubD. It's removal from the ranks of the world's great powers. If not, it's breakup and destruction altogether. Those things sound odd to Americans, , who, basically say, wait a minute, we're not, we're not trying to destroy Russia. We're trying to defend Ukraine against an invasion from an aggressive country.
But the Russians don't see it that way. Their, their perception here. Really what the United States has been doing for years through the eastward expansion of nato is gradually to surround Russia, to cut it off from the world, to cripple its economy, remove its ability to have a black sea fleet, and no longer be a great power, and ultimately break up Russia, change the regime in Moscow, and, and put in place a harmless from, from the American point of view.
And subordinate country there. So that's a perception. As distorted as it may seem that we have to address, if we're gonna get somewhere with engaging with the Russians, we're gonna have to do a few things to address that misperception. To start to build trust in the relationship, which is at rock bottom levels.
And in so doing set the table so to speak, for a time when we can engage with the Russians in more serious diplomacy over how this war ends and, and what follows.
Arjun Moorthy: Wow, that level of distrust and misperception on the Russian side. It's very hard to even reconcile, like how would we help solve that or reduce or, or write that.
Let me ask you a tough question then, George. Let's say that you were president and it was up to you to solve this conflict. You've been studying this for a long time. You're an expert in these matters. What are the first two or three things that you would do to either write this misperception or bring these two countries closer to peace talks?
What would you do? And it might be politically, Unpalatable or even unlikely. But I'm just curious, it's, you waved the magic wand, what would you do?
George Beebe: I think one thing we have to be doing is talking both with Ukrainians and and Ukrainians that are, not just in the government but outside it as well, along the lines that I talked about earlier.
Another thing that we need to be doing is engaging with the Russians, and we've been increasingly disengaging with the Russians and it's gone. Many years, but our diplomatic staff in Russia has been slashed quite significantly. We have a small rump embassy right now because of the dispute that has been going on with the Russians over diplomatic representation in both Washington and in other parts of the United States and, and in Russia.
And this, came outta Russia. Where, we actually kicked the Russians out of a facility in Maryland that they were using for their diplomats. And the Russians reciprocated in some tit for tat things. And, we expelled a bunch of people that we thought were spies. The Russians did the same thing and, and pretty soon.
The embassies in both countries are, are not really talking, and I think we need to address that. We need to be talking to Russia's ambassador here in Washington. They need to be talking to our ambassador in Moscow. Those are small things, but they're important. They send signals that the United States believes that we do need seriously to discuss some of these great strategic matters that.
At the, the root of the war in Ukraine. And you're gonna have to do this step by step. You can't simply announce, guess what we want peace. Can't we all just get along here? This is so complicated that, that something like that might actually set back the cause of a settlement. I think the president has to prepare the American.
For some sort of compromise here. The notion that Ukraine can win and and should win unconditionally to serve the causes of cosmic justice in all of that is one that actually makes it politically less possible for the United States to engage in diplomacy. Ultimately, we're gonna have to strike a compromise.
We're gonna have to give something as well as the Russians having to give. Right now and the the US people are not prepared for that. There's a belief not only that Ukraine can win and should win, but pursuing that is not particularly dangerous and that settling for anything less than that is immoral and dangerous because it will wet Russia's appetite for future conquests l elsewhere in.
And I, I think all of those things are, are, are wrong analytically speaking. If they can't even take a country on their border where they benefit from very short, logistical supply lines, relatively good understanding of the terrain that they're, they're fighting over. If they can't even do that, can we really imagine that they're gonna take, Germany or, or Poland?
I think that is highly unlikely. I think the, the dangers that we're in right now are closer to the dangers that, that we ran in the aftermath of World War I. Where the treaty of Versa was so punitive relative to Imperial Germany, that that piece, the retribution that we focused on there, actually put in place the groundwork that led to World War ii, to the rise of, of Nazism in Hitler, in Germany, this myth of being stabbed in the back.
All of those things were factors. That radicalized Germany and laid the groundwork for an even more violent and dangerous confrontation thereafter. So I think we need to be thinking about what does Europe look like? What does our relationship with Russia look like moving forward that is not focused on breaking up Russia, dismantling its military rendering.
Russia incapable of. Committing another act of aggression. Again, I don't think those are the terms that we need to be thinking about. Russia is already in a situation where it's been essentially taken down several pegs, largely through its own mistakes. In this war, this military has been exposed as far less capable than most people thought.
Those objectives have already been accomplished, and it's already been shown that Russia can't, conquer all of Ukraine. So we need to be thinking. What Europe are we aiming toward? How do we achieve it? How do we build a new relationship with Russia that is stable and accepted and one that can help serve as a counterbalance to China, quite honestly, which is a, a real challenge that we face and our ability to deal with China actually is diminished the longer this war in, in Ukraine goes on.
So these are all things that we have to be thinking about. What
Dan Sally: impact do you feel the silence of both China and India will have on this? How does their neutrality impact both Russia's calculations, but also
George Beebe: that of the west? I think the way the Chinese and Indians have dealt with this war is emblematic of some serious changes in the world order in in the distribution of power in the world.
Today we leaned on the, the Chinese prior to the war to to discourage Putin from invading. We knew what was likely coming down the road. I think US intelligence did a very good job of anticipating warning what was coming. And the Chinese essentially have refrained from taking aside in all of this.
The Indians is. As well have pursued an independent approach to this. They have not joined in Western economic sanctions on Russia. In fact, they've taken advantage of an opportunity to buy Russian energy at at. Great discounts and in turn not just benefited internally in their own economy from this, but they've been reselling this energy at higher prices at a profit and have essentially said, look, this isn't our national interest to do this.
We don't have any great sympathy for the Russians and the war in Ukraine. We're simply advancing India's national interests in all of this. And much of what is called the global south is doing the same. No great sympathy. For the Russians, but a belief that they have to pursue their own national interests in all of this and that those are independent of what the Russians or the United States might want.
And I think we're heading toward a world that is not divided between democracies and authoritarian. States as, as the Biden administration is, is fond of saying, but a but a world in which there's a new distribution of power among the great powers and increasingly the global south is not willing to align itself exclusively with any of those great powers that it's pursuing much more independence.
And, and that's a different world that the United States has had to deal with. For much of the last 30 years we've been in. What you would call a unipolar world, where, the United States had no pure competitors and acknowledged as, the world's great military and great economic power with, with an awful lot of cultural sway and, and soft power.
That, that came along with all of that. And no one that, that was. At all to that. And that's no longer the case. The Chinese are a peer challenger in many of these categories now, and the global south has said, guess what? We're independent players. We're gonna pursue our own interests. And sometimes those, those are gonna be things that the United States doesn't like.
And if the United States doesn't like it, too bad, we now have the ability to, to pursue a much more independent course than we've. Quite some time and we're gonna do that. So these are big changes in the world and I think the United States is gonna have to, to think very hard about how we navigate in this changing situation.
Arjun Moorthy: By the way, George, do you think these countries, China and India, could play a role in peace talks because of their neutrality?
George Beebe: In principle they could, but I don't think there's much desire on the part of the Chinese to do that. This is not a bad situation for China. Quite honestly. Growing independence of the global South comes at the expense of the United States more than it does at the expense of China and.
Russia is being increasingly left with no geopolitical alternatives, but to be aligned with the Chinese and in a way that's really subordinate. The Russians don't have a lot of leverage. They don't have many alternatives. That plays to, to China's advantages as well. Unless the United States is willing to make some concessions that help to mend that relationship with Russia, we're gonna be facing a situation in which much of the world is either aligned with China or so independent that the United States can't really use that leverage against the Chinese.
So the Chinese don't have a much of an incentive right now to try to end this war. They also have no history of being an independent media. They don't have experience diplomatically to draw on, and it would be a risk if the Chinese committed their prestige to trying to mediate some sort of outcome here and they were to fail, that would be a blow.
My guess is that the Chinese at this point would look at the situation and say there's a high likelihood of failure. So why would we undertake this? And I think that's also true of India to a lesser degree. The Indians, I think, might aspire to that simply because this would be a prestigious thing for India to pull off.
But right now I don't see the Russians or the Ukrainians leaping at the opportunity for the the Indians to get involved. And then the other thing that's an issue here, the United States has got to be involved if there's going to be a settlement, we're central to this. We're, we're doing everything but putting boots on the ground.
At this point, the Russians don't believe that Ukraine is the interlocutor that they've gotta be dealing with here. They think that Washington is calling the shots, and if there's gonna be a deal, they've gotta be talking to us. And that also means that the importance of a mediator, a third party in all of this, is much less than it would be under, under other Condit.
Dan Sally: I'll ask you this question as grand director of grand strategy, I've just promoted you on this podcast, congrats. What are our national interests?
George Beebe: in all this? I think the biggest one is not to get into a nuclear war with the Russians, and that that is by far the greatest existential threat to the United.
And, over the last 30 years since the end of the Cold War, Americans have largely lost their fear of that. There was a time when there was a, a large anti-nuclear movement in the United States, particularly on, on the, the political left. There was concern that our confrontation in Europe, between NATO and the Warsaw Pack could escalate into a war that in turn would go nuclear.
We had tactical nuclear weapons stored all over Europe. That would almost inevitably service trip wires that would make this thing go nuclear quickly. And with the end of the Cold War, I think we essentially said, that's, that's history. Been there, done that. Berlin Wall fell, all of that fear was misplaced.
It didn't happen. No rational actors would want to get into a nuclear war and because, Russia and the United States both recognize that that would be mutually suicidal. It won't happen. Rationality will ensure that we don't go there. And therefore we can take all kinds of risks in this war because the threat that this actually does go nuclear is minute. And, and I think that actually is, is a misplaced confidence. Not that I believe the Russians are eager to use nuclear weapons, but because I think it's easy to envision an escalation in this war, which has been escalating by the way, for quite some time, and is continuing. It's easy to envision a situation where one side takes an escalatory step that essentially forces a direct US military involvement or makes direct US military involvement in this war much more likely.
And once you're talking about direct US military involvement, I think it becomes, To prevent this from escalating into a very dangerous confrontation that in turn could go nuclear. And just to pick one example, our ability to provide intelligence to the Ukrainians and the Ukrainian's ability to use pro precision-guided munitions to target Russian forces is heavily dependent on.
On satellites in orbit that are vulnerable, they're vulnerable to anti-satellite weapons of various kinds, and in theory, they might be vulnerable to cyber attacks of some kind. Now, what happens if the Russians were to say okay enough? We're, we're taken out one of these satellites to send a signal to the United States that we're done fooling around.
we recognize what you're doing, how vital your intelligence is to Ukraine's prospects, and we are actually going to go after that problem. It's a legitimate military target. What does the United States do in that kind of situation? And what's our CATA response? And it's hard to imagine that the United States would ignore that.
This would be, an enormously provocative act. But it's also hard to imagine that whatever response that we were to come up with would not in turn, lead to a Russian response. And it, it's not that hard to envision at that point. You know how you get into a very, very difficult to manage crisis one in.
Both sides are deeply mistrustful the other side, and there's a, a great degree of fear and misperception that leads to what you call crisis instability. And when you're talking about the world's two largest nuclear powers, I, I find that prospect extremely discomforting. These are issues that I think we have to be wrestling hard with.
Arjun Moorthy: Let me fast forward a little bit down the road. Let's say that we actually do. and that there is some sort of treaty and, and we get to a, a truce of some kind. What is the legacy of this war? And specifically one of the things that I'm thinking about is there's a lot of munitions now in Ukraine. Is there a risk of that materially falling into the hands?
Bad actors or breakaway militias or things like that similar to what we found with the Taliban when we the Russians pulled out, or is that fear misplaced?
George Beebe: I think it's very hard to say. A lot of history of these kinds of conflicts has produced exactly that sort of outcome. Libya became a source of illegal black market weapons trafficking through through.
North African, the Middle East, in the aftermath of of that war, kafis fall, Iraq has been a problem. Afghanistan has been a problem. Syria has been a problem with all of these things. Whether that would prove true in Ukraine or not, nobody can say at this point, but I do think it's legitimate to worry about that possibility going forward, which I think is another reason why it's our, our interest to try to steer this war toward a diplomatic.
So that you can address these kinds of concerns in that context and, and you can move toward a European future in which Ukraine is stable. Governed, integrated into Europe, but not in a way that. Rex an enormous wall between Ukraine and Russia and between Europe and Russia, where Russia two is a player in Europe.
And how we get there is gonna be very, very difficult. There's no question. But I think that's the, the, the kind of future vision that we have to be thinking about because the alternative is likely to be a Ukraine that's chronically unstable in which there is. Settled outcome to this war, and in which various Ukrainian groups and Russia see it as in their interest to continue fighting on and off in some way.
And that's not gonna lead to a, a stable outcome. And I think it, it will probably radiate problems out into the broader region, into Russia and, and into Europe, in, in ways that nobody's gonna.
Arjun Moorthy: Thanks so much, George. I think just a very thought-provoking conversation. Yeah, boy, the stakes are high. I think foreign policy, as you probably know, , this is your field.
It's not usually top of mind for Americans when it comes around to election. Foreign policy is very low on the totem pole of interest and just. Thinking through all of this conversation, the ripple effects of this are so wide that it brings home that this is not just some war in some far off country where most of us couldn't even identify Ukraine on a map.
This actually impacts a lot of us economically, politically, and not just now, but maybe for years and decades to come. That's right. It's very, very thought provoking. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise, your ideas with us. I hope people come away with this, maybe recognizing that there is a peaceful outcome here, but it's not gonna be one that anyone's gonna.
But it might be the best that we can get.