U.S. Senator Bob Graham: "Can we easily extend our defense umbrella to the country that is seeking admission"?

Posted in Europe , Russia , Broader Middle East , United States , Israel / Palestine | 15-Aug-10 | Author: Corneliu Pivariu

U.S. Senator Bob Graham (left) and Corneliu Pivariu: "Can we easily extend our defense umbrella to the country that is seeking admission?"

- Interview with U.S.Senator Bob Graham realized by Corneliu Pivariu, President and CEO of Geostrategic Pulse -

Geostrategic Pulse: Senator, thank you very much for having this meeting with us. It is really a pleasure, so thank you very much for inviting us on the board of such nice vessel.

US Senator Bob Graham: Thank you very much and thank you for accepting the invitation. This is a cruise which is made up of a very international group of passengers from Asia, Europe, Latin America, United States and Canada, most of whom had never been to the Black Sea before. That was the reason that they largely took this cruise, because it is a new experience and we've been very graciously received in all the places that we have stopped. I know there are several hundred people enjoying Romania this afternoon, and I thank you for extending that experience by being willing to come on board and talk to the passengers about contemporary events in Romania and this Black Sea region and how they fit into the overall world geopolitics.

Geostrategic Pulse: And also we want to thank you very much for accepting to give us an interview for Geostrategic Pulse, and this is taking into consideration the important position of your very huge political experience as former president of Senate Select Committee on Intelligence of the other high positions in the United States government.

US Senator Bob Graham: Well, I've been very fortunate to spend 38 years in elective public office, and now I'm serving on a number of appointed boards and commissions. I think public services is a very high calling and responsibility and I hope that this conversation that we are going to have will be the beginning of an ongoing friendship and we can both learn more about what democracy can offer to the peoples of our countries.

Geostrategic Pulse: Thank you very much, Senator. Our first question is: as you know, the global financial crisis and the economic recession in some European countries are quite serious, and according to some analysts, they bring risks and threats to state security. How do you comment on Mister Barosso' statements, from the perspective of the Alliance internal security?

US Senator Bob Graham: There is no question that economic crises have frequently been the precursor of national security conflicts. When people feel that they are under economic duress and they are uncertain about their personal future, they have a tendency to become more likely to look across their borders and see that the problems they're having were caused by those other people and that can then be the beginning of a conflict, even war. I hope that we are now towards the end of this financial crisis. It's going to have a shadow of influence for a number of years, but I think the crisis itself may be behind us. There are some countries, not far from were we are today, such as Greece, that have been particularly adversely affected. But even there, it appears as if they're taking control of the situation and that it's not going to threaten the democracy of Greece. Similarly, I don't see any of the democracies in Europe or Asia or elsewhere as likely to fall into the hands of an authoritarian government because of this financial crisis.

Geostrategic Pulse: Thank you very much - this is good news for us, for we are now on the top of the crisis. We go on to the second question and we would like to hear your opinion about the report of the expert group led by Ms. Albright for the new strategy of NATO. Not very clear answers are given concerning the improvement of the partnership between NATO and the EU. What could you tell us about this?

US Senator Bob Graham: I'm going do what no politician likes to do, which is to admit that I do not have total knowledge of the subject. I know Ms. Albright, in fact we serve together on an advisory panel to the Central Intelligence Agency. At our last session, she discussed some of the developments that she was working on. I think I fairly quote Ms. Albright in saying that she considered that what is happening today is a beginning, but there are many more steps to be taken, and the issue that you raise, as to the relationship between NATO and the European Union is one of those. My feeling, as an American, as we are part of NATO but not part of the European Union, is that membership in the European Union should be somewhat of a prerequisite to membership for European countries in NATO. I felt the European Union provides the means of strengthening the domestic economic and political ties across countries and then, layered on top of that is NATO, which is the alliance for national and continental and North American security. That seems to be an evolving pattern, and it is probably going to be tested in some of the states in the Black Sea that currently are neither EU members or NATO members, and the next five or ten years will probably be very significant in terms of the relationship of the European Union and NATO.

Geostrategic Pulse: From the same perspective, how does the American Congress see the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), especially the concept of Strategic Autonomy of the European Union?

US Senator Bob Graham: In the United States, both the President and the Congress are committed to an alliance strategy of national security. We drifted away from that a bit in the last decades, but I think now there is a renewal of commitment to alliances and the international approval for actions which those alliances provide before military action is taken.

Geostrategic Pulse: Back to the area where we are now, in the Black Sea: Does the recent agreement in discussion between Russia, Ukraine, and Turkey on the security of the Black Sea, which we believe has been generated by recent important economic collaboration, especially in the field of energy - can it affect the long-term strategic interests of the United States in the area?

US Senator Bob Graham: Well, almost anything in this region of the world has an effect on the strategic interests of any other part of the world. The Black Sea countries are so central politically, economically, militarily, that their actions reverberate around the globe. I personally think that it is a good step to see those three countries seeing themselves as allies rather than as adversaries and working together. I think it's a moderating influence; it's an influence which has more prospects of contributing to a peaceful resolution of issues then if those three countries are making their policies singularly and without reference to the other two.

Geostrategic Pulse: As we have noticed recently, Ukraine shows that they no longer wish to join NATO and no collective defense system guards them, other than the CIS countries. On the other hand, Georgia still wishes to join NATO. In these conditions, what will be the Black Sea security structure, with NATO naturally involved on its eastern and southeastern borders? Will the Black Sea become an area generating challenges and a potential field for confrontation?

US Senator Bob Graham: Of course, the Black Sea region has historically, at least in the last hundred plus years, been an area that has generated confrontation. For instance during World War One, as in many ways World War One started just to the west of here, in Sarajevo. And then in World War Two, the countries around the Black Sea were allied with both sides of the great conflict. So having this region being a significant part of world stability is not a new phenomenon. I think that the decision of NATO first has to be a judgment made by the people of the individual countries, as to whether they think it is in their interest or not. As an American, I'm very pleased that the people of Romania saw with apparently a very high level of support, that it was in their interest to be part of the NATO alliance. Then, from the perspective of the Alliance itself, I think we have to ask questions like: "Can we reasonably extend our defense umbrella to the country that is seeking admission?" Admission in NATO not only carries serious responsibilities for the countries that are joining, it also carries very serious responsibility for the nations that are already in NATO, because they are committed to common defense of that country, should it be attacked. I think the two countries that you cited, both of which are in the same basic neighborhood, represent a challenge: Ukraine apparently after one political period in which it wanted to join NATO, is now coming to another political period when it feels more comfortable with Russia and therefore is withdrawing its application for NATO. Georgia still feels very threatened by Russia, and therefore continues to pursue its interest in NATO membership. Question is "Is NATO prepared to accept the military obligations of Georgia's membership?"

Geostrategic Pulse: Yes, that is a very hard question to answer...

US Senator Bob Graham: General, I know this is an interview in which you are asking questions and I'm the answerer, but I'd be interested if you would like to add something about how you think, how does Romania feel about Georgia becoming part of NATO?

Geostrategic Pulse: Well, I think it has to be very carefully analyzed and the decision of course is to be made by the Alliance conforming to the chart. It is a very hard decision...

US Senator Bob Graham: I think our esteemed general is also a very good statesman and maybe even a good politician...

Geostrategic Pulse: Oh, thank you, Sir... How do you see, Senator, the geopolitical role of Turkey? At present, they wish to become a more important regional player. In the same context, how do you see in the USA the future role of Turkey in the Middle East, considering the relation between Turkey and the United States?

US Senator Bob Graham: Turkey is clearly undergoing a reexamination of where it sees its future. Up until recently, it was the common feeling that Turkey was looking west, that it wanted to be part of the European Union. Of course, it is already a part of NATO and had one of, if not the best relationships with Israel of the Muslim countries of the Middle East. In recent past, Turkey seems to be turning more to the east and seeing its future in places like Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, maybe Iraq. This is coming up in a couple of ways: firstly, there was the confrontation which occurred a few weeks ago between a flotilla, which was launched from Turkey carrying supplies to Gaza, Palestine and was then intercepted by Israeli military forces with some loss of life. It seems to send a signal that Turkey was reassessing its relationship with Israel, and I believe they withdrew their ambassador from Israel, I'm not certain about that. Secondly, in the Muslim areas in the Middle East, there is a sense that Turkish policy is to extend its influence in the area that used to be part of the Ottoman Empire. For instance when a country wants to build a power plant and ask Turkey for assistance, one of the conditions is that the power plant can't just serve one country, it got to serve multiple countries. That's been interpreted as a desire for Turkey wanting to reassert its historic influence in the Middle East. Turkey has had a long time commitment to secularism in its politics since the time of the founding leader, Ataturk. Now the government seems to be becoming more Islamic in its orientation. This, in turn, has created a conflict between the military, which it's been sort of a defender of the Ataturk tradition, and the elected political leadership. All that is to say Turkey is a very important country, undergoing transition and how it finally ends up in areas of its relationship with the Middle East, its relationship with Israel, whether it feels is more at home looking west or east - all those will be big decisions with big implications for this region of the world and globally.

Geostrategic Pulse: According to the international media, there are some rumors that another flotilla is under preparation to go to Gaza from Lebanon maybe. What do you think that Israel will do this time?

US Senator Bob Graham: I think they will handle it more discreetly then they did. But in the short run, I think they're going to be reluctant to appear they have given in to external pressure and changed their policies vis-à-vis Gaza. Over the longer run, and I think the longer run may be two or three years, I think Israel is going to change its relationship to Gaza. This situation of denying them, for instance, building materials to reconstruct, is not a policy that is sustainable, and I think that Israelis recognize that. I personally hope that the somewhat stalled effort at a peace agreement built around the principle of a Palestinian state as a peaceful neighbor with the Israeli state, will reassert itself and there will be serious negotiations and a closure on that. To me, that will be beneficial to all of the parties of the negotiation table, and all the nations in the area will be affected by that resolution.

Geostrategic Pulse: A direct and blunt question: if Israel starts the war against Iran, will the US military join Israel? To this date, can the United States support a bigger military effort, besides the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan? Regardless of the capabilities existing now, there would be supplementary measures in the American economy and in the military field, which could further turn into a valid exit from the crisis but could also delay the intervention against Iran on short term.

US Senator Bob Graham: I don't think your opening phrase was intended to say that your previous questions hadn't been very direct so far. I chaired a commission of the United States Congress on the issue of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We spent a lot of time focusing on Iran and North Korea - the two nation states that seem most likely to either expand, as it is the case of North Korea, or start a nuclear weapons program, as it is the case with Iran. In both areas, we said that we thought it was intolerable to have these two nations become serious nuclear threats; not only because what that would mean immediately, but what that would mean to other nations. For instance, if Iran become nuclear, I think it would only be a matter of time before Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia became nuclear states, and an already unstable Middle East would became even more unstable and more violent if that were to occur. So we said that we should use every means of our disposal - disposal of United States and its allies - to try to avoid Iran becoming nuclear, but we should not take off the table the possibility of using military force.

Now, back to your first question, whether the United States would join Israel: Israel has demonstrated as recently as two or three years ago that they needed no American approval when they took out a sight in Syria that was allegedly part of a nuclear effort. The attack on the Syrian base by Israel was without either US approval and certainly without US collaboration, so Israel doesn't depend upon the United States giving it the thumbs-up or thumbs-down to initiate an action, and doesn't depend upon the United States willingness to join in such an action. My hope would be if Israel didn't act precipitately. The United States is going to try by every possible means, diplomatic, but now we're into a new round of economic sanctions against Iran, to cause Iran to reconsider whether the consequences of going nuclear are worth the benefits of that status. I hope Iran will come to this appreciation of its own national interests and stop proceeding with its weapons program, and I hope that would open the way to some very positive and mutually beneficial relations between Iran and the countries and its region, as well as in Europe and the United States.

Geostrategic Pulse: As you know the situation is very complicated, because a lot of analyses, military analyses, are saying that from military point of view the result of Israel strike against Iran, only Israel, will not be quite sufficient if such situation occurs. This is why I asked you if the United States was going to support Israel. Also, I've noticed some unofficial declarations or headlines in the international media saying that Israel would not attack without the approval from the United States.

US Senator Bob Graham: I don't have access to the internal circles of Israeli politics or national security, so I don't know how they are evaluating this. From the perspective of the United States, I think we should keep military action on the table as a possibility, but the last possibility, and should fully exhaust all the other options before we resort to that. We in the United States have seen what it means to go to war with Afghanistan or with Iraq, which is approximately a third the population of Iran, and has about one third of the per capita income of Iran. Iran is a country which has had a deeper defense capability than Iraq. I don't think we're going to precipitately want to get into conflict; the only thing that will force it will be the even worse outcome of a nuclear armed Middle East.

Geostrategic Pulse: In a similar context, what will be the development of the US-Israel relations, considering president Obama's concepts at present, which are somewhat different from those of president Bush Junior?

US Senator Bob Graham: I think president Bush was excessively accepting of Israeli domestic policies as being the effective synonym for US policies. United States has some different interests. We're very close to Israel, we're one of the first, if not the first country in the world to recognize its independence in 1948, and we supported it militarily, domestically. But there are areas in which we are not totally concurrent, and one of those is we're looking at the issue of the war on terrorism as a global phenomenon. We are concerned about what are those factors that are causing so many particularly young people to be willing to sacrifice themselves as suicide bombers to carry out the terror. Right now, we're fighting the symptoms of that, we've got to soon start turning our attention to the underlying causes of the people being so radicalized. I think some of those causes involve settling disputes like the one between Israel and Palestine, so we have a high national interest in resolving that issue. Thus far, Israel has been somewhat reticent to take the steps, such as shutting down its development of the settlements on the West Bank, that are likely to be prerequisites of a serious resolution of the Palestine and Israel conflict. So I think US policy can't ignore our own national interest, while at the same time we are recognizing the special relationship that the United States has with the state of Israel.

Geostrategic Pulse: Finally, Senator, taking into consideration your experience, do you expect some major geopolitical changes in the near future, let's say in the next few years or in the next decade, in Europe or in the Middle East? And which will be these changes that you expect?

US Senator Bob Graham: Well, looking at the whole globe, I'd say that two of the most significant changes that are already on the way and are going to continue to expand will be the emergence of China and India as major world forces. In the Middle East, a resolution of these disputes between Israel and the Palestinians, between Israel and the Syrians, are beginning to develop a greater degree of economic integration in the Middle East. When people see that their own prosperity and the future opportunity of their children are interdependent with their neighbors, they're less likely to be hostile to their neighbors. I think that's an issue in the Middle East, and it's also an issue in South Asia, where there has been animosity between Pakistan and India, and almost no economic counterbalance to that political antagonism. Those will be some of the major issues that I see emergent.

In addition to China and India, there are some other emerging countries. One of those is Brazil, which has enormous resources and capabilities. In the last couple of decades, it seems to have put its political house in order to take advantage of that. I think Brazil is going to be one of the most rapidly emerging countries. I told young people in my state of Florida, which has close ties with Latin America that they ought to study Portuguese, because I think that's going to be very important language in the future.

Now, for this region of the Black Sea... General, you and I have both participated in the Harvard Kennedy School Black Sea Security Conference. That conference started in early 1990s, out of the recognition that there had been this history of conflicts among the Black Sea countries in the 20th century, and in the hope that by getting the political and military leadership of those countries to know each others as human beings, there would be better prospects for the history of the region in the 21st century. I think that is a reflection of how important the Black Sea and its ability to manage its historic relationships are to the overall peace of the world. I've only been here for a few days and it is my first time in the Black Sea. I'm impressed with the degree in which the people that I've talked to recognize the importance of those good relations in the region. As a general rule, things seem to be on a positive track to accomplish a Black Sea that can live together in peace and harmony and provide a prosperous home of opportunity for its people.

Geostrategic Pulse: Senator, thank you again very much for your time and for your answers to our questions.

Daniel Robert "Bob" Graham

Born on 9 November 1963, Daniel Robert "Bob" Graham was the 38th governor of Florida from 1979 to 1987 and a United States Senator from that state from 1987 to 2005.

Graham is a Democrat who never lost an election prior to his bid for the 2004 Presidential nomination. He was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1966 and reelected in 1968. He was elected to the Florida State Senate in 1970 and was reelected in 1974. In 1986 he was elected US Senator, and then he was reelected in 1992 and in 1998. He chose not to seek re-election in 2004, therefore retiring from the Senate in January 2005, after he had served 38 consecutive years in public office and never lost an election.

He is best known for his 10 years on the Senate Intelligence Committee which he chaired from 2001 to 2003.

After teaching at Harvard University for the 2005-2006 academic year, Graham focused on founding two centers to train future political leaders; one of them is the UF Center, known as the Bob Graham Center for Public Service.

In 2009 Bob Graham published a book titled "America, The Owner's Manual: Making Government work for you".

Bob Graham currently serves as the Chairman of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism and member of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, established by Congress to examine the global and domestic causes of the recent financial crisis.

In 2010, Graham was named co-chairman of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.