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US Retired General: At the Meeting With Trump, Putin Will Have the Advantage

| July 09, 2018

On 16 July in Helsinki, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin will meet his American colleague Donald Trump. The leaders will discuss a number of complicated questions, but the summit will be a success, even if the government leaders cannot reach agreement - so thinks retired Brigadier General and Associate Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, Kevin Ryan. Ryan talked to "Eurasia Expert" about the significance of the meeting between the American and Russian leaders for relations between the two countries, the future of NATO, and explained how American space forces will differ from Russian or Chinese space forces.

Mr. Ryan, What kinds of issues will be discussed at the meeting between the Russian and American presidents? What are your expectations from this event?

The upcoming summit between Presidents Putin and Trump has great potential for positive outcomes, but it also has great potential for negative outcomes. The reason is because most of our bilateral relationship is currently concentrated in the relationship between our presidents, not between the broader administrations. When Obama and Putin were the two leaders, the relationship became terrible and therefore very little positive was done below their level. Essentially since Russia’s actions in Crimes, US and Russian committees and groups did not meet at the government level. Like every president before him though, President Trump has signaled to Russia that he is ready to craft a new relationship. That gives him some leverage in this first meeting – because President Trump has the initiative. However, there remain deep and troublesome strategic differences between our two countries regardless who the presidents are.

President Putin, with his greater experience in power, understands those differences better than President Trump. In this regard, President Putin has an advantage during the summit. President Putin knows better what he wants from America than President Trump knows what he wants from Russia.

It is difficult to predict how discussions will go at the meeting between the two leaders, or how they will respond to each other’s points during their conversations. However, there have been numerous public comments by both leaders about issues that they think require the cooperation of our two countries. I believe these will be part of the agenda: extending the New START nuclear arms treaty, combating Islamic extremism, defeating ISIS (ISIL), preventing nuclear proliferation and terrorism, expanding open (and frank) military to military relations, and dialogue over cyber threats. I think President Trump will raise the issues of Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, and Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, but I do not expect any positive outcomes on those issues.

This summit is overdue and necessary to begin to resolve the many difficult issues between our two countries. It will be a success even if we do not agree on anything, because it will renew the opportunity to discuss and ultimately resolve problems which, if left to fester, could cause an open conflict between us.

Trump ordered the Pentagon to form a military space force. Why did Trump suddenly make this decision and what American structures will become part of this new Pentagon command?

President Trump announced his decision to establish a Space Force “suddenly” but he did not make the decision “suddenly.” He has been exploring the idea for some time and has mentioned his interest in such a force for a while. It remains the responsibility of Congress, however, to actually authorize such a new force and to provide money for it. Congress will decide what the structure will be, with advice from the Pentagon. I expect the new force will take some personnel and money from each of the existing services (Army, Navy, Air Force) but it will impact the Air Force most of all because the Air Force has the most space functions now.

Russia and China already have Military Space Forces. Do you think that Trump's new idea looks like borrowing from Russia and China?

Actually, Russia has a force called the “Aero-Space Forces”, which are a combination of air forces and space forces. That is what the United States has now as well, except that we don’t call them by that name.

What President Trump has announced is something different than what Russia or China have. It is a force separate from the Air Force. The Space Forces will focus entirely on operations in space and not on operations in the domain of the Air Force.

Poland is ready to pay $2 billion for the deployment of a US military base. In your opinion, will official Washington approve the creation of a permanent American base in Poland?

So far, the United States has refrained from establishing permanent military bases on the territory of Poland and other former Warsaw Pact states in an effort to support the goals of the NATO-Russia Founding Act. However, several of these countries have asked the US to increase its military presence there, and the US may do so, if the tensions with Russia remain high.

NATO plans to create an additional 30,000-strong rapid reaction force in Europe against the possibility of an "attack by the Russian Federation". How do you assess this idea?

As I understand the plan, NATO’s new Rapid Reaction Force does not add 30,000 additional troops as you suggest. There are no new troops. The current troops are reorganized so that a force of 30,000 are available on a much more rapid deployment basis. This will increase confidence within NATO that it can react to a sudden Russian deployment.

Should we expect NATO expansion in the near future?

Regarding NATO admitting new members, I think that question must be evaluated separately for each new candidate. I think the “future” NATO will remain a largely “self defense” organization which is focused on preventing war with potential adversaries – like Russia.

For more information on this publication: Please contact Intelligence Project
For Academic Citation: Ryan, Kevin. “US Retired General: At the Meeting With Trump, Putin Will Have the Advantage.” News, , July 9, 2018.