Catherine Sendak: Hello, my name is Catherine Sendak and welcome to the 2023 CEPA Forum, Winning the War, Winning the Peace. It is an absolute pleasure to be here on Capitol Hill today with Senator Jeanne Shaheen from the great state of New Hampshire.
Jeanne Shaheen: Nice to be with you.
Sendak: Yes. Thank you so much. This year CEPA is honored to award its 2023 Transatlantic Leadership Award to Senator Shaheen, on behalf of the Senate Ukraine Caucus. Senator, thank you to your leadership and the caucus’ leadership for strengthening the alliance and supporting Ukraine in its fight for freedom. We are so happy to be here today. Thank you so much. And I’m excited to start the conversation.
Shaheen: Great. Well, this is a perfect day to do that, because we just had President Zelenskyy here briefing the entire membership of the Senate. He, as I said to you, he threw away his notes and he did off the cuff remarks in English and then answered questions and, as always was so inspiring and so impressive.
Sendak: Yes, absolutely. And I’m so happy he was able to be here and connect with the Hill. So we’ll start with Ukraine. You know, you have been such an ardent supporter of Ukraine, both in your senior roles on armed services and foreign relations committees. Unfortunately, there are some voices in Congress looking to perhaps decrease or curtail assistance completely from Ukraine. From your perspective, how do you envision maintaining unity for Ukraine’s victory moving forward?
Shaheen: Well, one of the things that’s been really important has been the bipartisan support for the effort. And it’s been very strong in the Senate. We saw it again this morning, in the conversation with President Zelenskyy, that both Democrats and Republicans talked about the importance of maintaining that bipartisan support. And he talked about it, he talked about the importance of unity, and why that’s important. And I think that view is shared by so many of us, and this is the Ukrainian people fighting on behalf of democracies around the world, as he said, you give us your money and your weapons, and we will do the fighting. I had a group of young Ukrainian women in the military in my office last fall. And one of them said something very similar to that to me, and it’s something I’ve repeated often in New Hampshire, she said, “You need to give us the weapons so that we can fight the Russians so that you don’t have to.” And I think that is a very important message. And for those people who think well, we don’t have to worry about Russia. I can tell you if you talk to Eastern European leaders, if you talk to the Baltic nations’ leaders; there’s a reason why Finland and Sweden decided that they wanted to join NATO now, it’s because there is a threat from Vladimir Putin. And not only is this important to our allies, but it’s important to our adversaries because you can bet that the PRC and President Xi in China are watching what happens in Ukraine. We know Putin, this is going to have a real impact on what he does in the future. We know that Iran and North Korea are watching. So this is about more than just the territorial integrity of Ukraine. This is about: Are we going to, in the democratic world, stand up and say that authoritarian regimes can’t just attack another country and annex it or chop it up based on what their own aspirations are?
Sendak: Yes, absolutely. And having that message that resonates all over the world is so critical at this time. You speak of unity of message, you know, I understand you were in Vilnius this summer for the NATO summit.
Shaheen: With the bipartisan congressional delegation.
Sendak: Yes and you are co-chair of the NATO Observer Group. I would love to hear your perspectives on the successes coming out of the summit. We speak about unity of effort, we talk about, you know, unity of message, and maybe perhaps if there were any missed opportunities or things that you saw coming out, would love your perspective on the way forward after Vilnius.
Shaheen: Well, I co-chair the Senate NATO Observer Group with Thom Tillis, he and I restarted it back in 2018. It was sort of the redux of what had been started when NATO was really seeking to enlarge in the early 90s. And we said there are a lot of issues, now we need to make sure that the Senate is informed and engaged on what’s happening. And so this was our second opportunity to go to a NATO summit. We went to Madrid last year and had a bipartisan [congressional delegation] that went and went again this year with a strong bipartisan group. And I think there were a couple of things that were really important about this NATO summit. One was the unity that continues to be shown to support the Ukrainians in this effort. You know, Vladimir Putin thought he was going to break NATO apart when he went in Ukraine, and it’s had just the opposite effort. It has unified NATO in a way that we haven’t seen, really since the beginning of the alliance. So I think that was very important to reaffirm the message that NATO was strongly behind the Ukrainians. It was an opportunity to talk again, about the importance of the financial commitment for NATO countries, the 2% of GDP on defense spending. And I thought one of the most important things that didn’t get talked about a whole lot that came out of the summit was what they’re calling their regional plans, that gets countries moving towards that 2%, which we know is a floor, not a ceiling, for countries in a way that really helps them think about their own defense in the context of NATO, and that 2% of GDP. So I thought that was very important. And it was an opportunity also for us to hear from some of our allies in the Indo-Pacific, who have now been on the periphery of both NATO summits in the last two years. So the Republic of Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. And this year, we had a chance to meet with the President of South Korea, who was very impressive. And, you know, he started by thanking us for America’s involvement in the Korean War, and for really saving South Korea as a nation. So he was very impressive. We also met with the Prime Minister of Australia, who again was very impressive. And we talked about some of the issues around AUKUS, the new agreement we have with Australia and the United Kingdom. And then last year in Madrid, we met with the Prime Minister of Japan. So the role that those countries in the Indo-Pacific are playing in terms, not just of Ukraine, but looking long term at the fact that what happens in Europe doesn’t just affect Europe, it affects the rest of the world and affects what they’re doing in Asia. And so making sure that we make those connections, and we understand how important it is to collaborate, I think is really encouraging to see that happening with NATO.
Sendak: I think that’s a wonderful point. You know, I think that back to your message and unity of message [in] showing that this is a global issue, this is affecting everyone in a different way and in different ways. And the NATO summit is now becoming a global partnership, a global meeting, which is wonderful to hear. So all of this hard work was done at the Vilnius Summit: regional plans, welcoming Finland into its first summit as a member, hopefully Sweden very soon to follow. But now we’re looking ahead, we’re looking forward to the 2024 summit here in Washington, marking the 75th anniversary of the alliance. Given what we need to implement and execute coming out of Vilnius, from your perspective, what are the challenges that the 2024 summit needs to address next year?
Shaheen: Well, I think really building on what we’ve seen over the last few years. So continuing that support for Ukraine, and for looking at how the alliance continues to be creative, and look at other threats are also part of that. So as we know, we’re also looking at the cyber threat as we look at the war in Ukraine. And that’s something that is not just limited to Ukraine, but all of Eastern Europe, and here in the United States, we’re seeing the cyber threats we’re getting from China and from Russia. So I think, and climate change, which is another area where NATO has said, you know, we’ve got to look at some of the other threats that we’re facing. So I think that’s very important. Continuing to focus on that 2% of defense spending is important. And one of the things that I thought was really helpful is we had in addition to Senator Tillis, we had Senator Sullivan from Alaska and Senator Ricketts from Nebraska who were with us on the trip to Vilnius. And one of the points that they made to everybody we met with was, in order for us to maintain that support we need, that bipartisan support on the Republican side of the aisle, it’s really important for us to be able to say this is something that our European allies are working on. And that’s a message that I think is important to continue to reinforce, and we’re seeing some real progress. But we’ve got more work to do.
Sendak: Right. Conveying that message and making sure there’s an understanding of how everyone is contributing to this effort. Very, very important. You mentioned cyber, you know, the eastern flank of NATO, the eastern flank of Europe continues to confront challenges and security threats. And we see it every day, our eastern allies see this every day. You mentioned the Baltics, of course, the Black Sea region. What are some security threats from the eastern flank that you think we should be paying attention to at this point?
Shaheen: I think one of the biggest challenges that’s hard to really get our arms around because it’s abstract, is disinformation. I remember after the KLM airliner got downed over Ukraine by the Russians back in 2013/14, General Breedlove testified before the Armed Services Committee and saying; you know, we have a pretty good idea who this is, we know who did this, but it’s probably going to take us months before we’re going to be able to have the real data that shows that this is who did it. And as long as that happens, that’s a threat. So looking at how we respond to disinformation and misinformation and being able to do it in a much more coordinated way, and help not just men and women serving in the military, but help citizenry understand. And I think there are some real lessons that some of our Eastern European neighbors can give us, particularly in the Baltic states, where they’ve been on the border of Russia for a very long time, and so they’ve developed some ways to respond to disinformation that I think we should pay attention to.
Sendak: Absolutely, they confront this threat daily. And resilience, not just of military, but of nonmilitary, of societal resilience, is so paramount. You know, getting to that point, learning our lessons, you know, our partners and allies around the Black Sea. This is an area we keep very close tabs on, not just the war in Ukraine, which obviously is a huge factor. But Russia’s increased militarization of the Black Sea, its harassment, now weaponizing grain exports through the Black Sea, I would argue there’s no freedom of navigation in the Black Sea at this point. From your view, you know, addressing our partners and allies in the Black Sea, what can we encourage our allies to do, or the alliance to do, to make the Black Sea secure and stable?
Shaheen: Well, I want to start with the impact on food prices. Because one of the things, and President Zelenskyy spoke to this, and we’ve had some conversations in the Senate about this, one of the things that’s happened as the result of shutting down those grain shipping lanes from the Black Sea has been to increase global food prices. And that’s clearly one of the goals of Russia. They want to increase those prices so that they make more money. And it’s having a huge impact not just on Ukraine, but also on Africa, on other nations that are dependent on food. And it’s having an impact on us too, because obviously, we help provide funding, the World Food Programme provides funding, to help many of those countries and the costs have gone up dramatically. So this is a real challenge. And as you point out, there is no real freedom of navigation in the Black Sea. Now, you know, hindsight is always 2020, but if we had to do over again, having ships in the Black Sea, you know, the UK had some ships in the Black Sea before the war in Ukraine started and they were out by the time the war started, but thinking about that is something that we need to do. I worked with Mitt Romney to pass legislation to ask the administration to come up with a strategy for the Black Sea, so they are still working on that. And that should include not just the military effects, but also how the economic needs of the region and how we can look at that as well. I was in Georgia, last year in the summer, the country of Georgia, and one of the things they were touting that I think makes a lot of sense is this middle corridor. So to think about bringing energy around Russia, from the sands, and through Georgia, under the Black Sea and across to Europe, which is a really interesting alternative that would allow us to undercut Russia’s monopoly of oil and gas.
Sendak: And really target what they think are leverage points for partners and allies in the Black Sea region, and I know our friends in the Black Sea are eagerly awaiting the strategy and really moving forth on a good plan on how to secure the Black Sea. Well, Senator, finally, on that note, all your work with NATO, all your work on European security issues; Where would you like to see the alliance in three to five years in terms of unity of message, collective deterrence? Where would you like to see it going in the next three to five years?
Shaheen: Well, again, building on what’s already happened, I would like to see, I would hope we have a successful outcome to the war in Ukraine. And that we would have had all of our NATO partners meeting that 2% goal and viewing it as a floor; having those regional plans in place that help countries think about their own defense in ways that we may not have done so much of; and see Sweden, also as the 32nd NATO member.
Sendak: Hopefully very soon.
Shaheen: Yes, would like to see that done. And then also the continued focus on not just the other threats that we talked about earlier: cyber, climate, but also continuing to focus on the global nature of threats for democratic countries. And certainly the reference to China, the continued looking at ways that we can include our Indo-Pacific neighbors and allies who share our commitment to democratic values, I think is really important.
Sendak: Absolutely. Doing it in a deliberate way that’s effective. Yes. Well, Senator, thank you so much for the time today. Thank you for coming.
Shaheen: So nice to be with you. Thank you to CEPA for this, really, I’m so honored to receive this award, and I know that the Ukraine caucus will continue its support for Ukraine and its bipartisan message that this is in not just Ukraine’s interests, but America’s interests.
Sendak: Absolutely. Thank you so much. Thank you for tuning into today’s discussion for CEPA 2023 Forum, Winning the War, Winning the Peace. Please visit cepa.org to stay up to date on the forum speakers, agenda, and recorded previous sessions. And please be sure to visit CEPA social media accounts for the latest analysis and events using #CEPAForum. Thank you.