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tv   Fmr. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Russia- Ukraine Conflict  CSPAN  April 13, 2022 1:31pm-2:19pm EDT

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have to get energy in production, which they can't do if the policies of the administration say that there's going to be no use of these fuel sources in five or 10 years. if there's no use >> you can watch the rest of this on this he spent now video at. we go live to a discussion with former defense secretary robert gates about the russian invasion of ukraine. >> today, i am pleased, honored to welcome former secretary of defense, robert m gates who needs no introduction but he deserves one. dr. gaetz served as the 22nd u.s. secretary of defense 2006-2011. dr. gaetz served eight years as
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president across both parties and that caa and the national security council and his last day in office, former president barack obama awarded him the presidential medal of freedom. dr. gaetz, welcome to carnegie connects. >> thanks and please to be here. >> maybe it's my bias as a former research analyst that we could start the conversation by talking about your analysis of the current crisis before we get to lenin's famous question about what needs to be done but you focused on analysis with russia. you don't actually assess the way things are, you would like them to bend in the way you want them to go.
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intelligence analysis is more difficult but more germane as far as vladimir putin. you write in your memoir that when you first met putin, you saw the eyes of the stone cold killer. he certainly lived up to that reputation. as uss, we are now five or six weeks into this savage and brutal russian operation in ukraine, what do you think initially putin wanted to do. what did he want? >> i think we have a pretty clear picture of what he wanted and the demands he made many weeks before the war actually started. he put forward the proposed agreement and essentially called for a change of government in ukraine and for ukraine abjure
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ever to become of member of nato. he also wanted to put the boards back to 1987 and those were his positions. i think he has clearly failed in those aspirations. ultimately, but he is about as i've written is not about reestablishing the soviet union but initially going back to what was called the russian world which is essentially the slavic core of the old soviet union. russia, ukraine and belarus and i think he wants a more integrated, cohesive state comprising of those three entities. the rest, the other former
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soviet states or republics in central asia and the baltic states, i think in that he would like to have a predominant influence and have them essentially bend a knee to russia's aspirations of russian policies. beginning with his essay he wrote, if you want to call it that a year ago last summer. about ukraine not being a country going through the history of his birth is pretty clear that he thinks that ukraine has to be part of russia and i think that continues to be his aspiration. >> you wrote in the financial times and you argue now that he's seeking incorporation of
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the former soviet union subservient to russia and subservient to have national influence over two issues. one was democratization or ukraine and other warsaw pact countries drifting west and the other was a security dimension, nato. after six weeks of what we have witnessed, it's clear to much of the world, maybe we are wrong but it's clear to much of the world that he's not going to be able to adjust ukraine. is it clear to vladimir putin that that is in fact not possible? >> i think that question remains open. i think it's pretty mature to say he has even up on his aspiration of taking ukraine entirely. clearly, his initial approach
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failed miserably. a lot of military mistakes were made, and incredible number. that does not preclude act two. we see that in preparation in the east where it seems clear that his intent is to seize alldonbas it only comprises 40% of the whole donbas so he would like to take all of it in this land bridge between russia and the ukraine that involves taking much of the rest of the black seacoast. mariupol -- that includes and that may include odessa. is -- if he is successful and
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the terrain in eastern ukraine is more compatible with the use of armored tanks and so on, then it seems that once he has established himself firmly in those areas, i wouldn't rule out that he then begins again to move to the west. until he can at least bring about or force a change of government just because of the destruction of the country and the paralysis of the country so that the real issue is the will of the ukrainian people. i think this will go on for quite some time. >> success breeds success, in other words? >> that would be his hope and ukrainians can fight him to a stalemate in the east. that would think -- that would be a more significant military achievement and what they have
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already accomplished. the russians are much closer to their supply depots. the russian army is probably the most railroad dependent army of any major country. once they get beyond their own real depots, they begin to have significant logistical issues. they had in the west as they got for out in front of their supply depots. how successful can he be in the east and does he move on to odessa and continue to try to move to the west? i think that will be the real challenge. >> in your reading of putin, would you argue this is an existential situation not in terms of russian security and
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the survival of his regime and power but is that the perception of proven is that he is involved in a fight for his political life and success, even if it's somewhat less than he initially intimated? is it absolutely critical? >> historical records of russian leaders that lose wars would not be encouraging. i think he is obsessed with ukraine. i think he is not going to let this go. kind of gotten into this orthodox mysticism, the people he allows around him are incredibly limited, basically his security buddies or people from that world.
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there is a photograph of him sitting at one at the end of the 40 foot table in his defense minister and chief sitting at the other end. i think he is obsessed with ukraine and will not let this thing go. >> former national security advisor, without ukraine there is no russian empire. that would drive home the notion that in fact he must win. we will get to the issue of winning in a minute. i think we live on the edge here and the risks of the use of chemical/biological and arguments made about deployment of tactical nuclear weapons has now become, not that it's likely but it's now within the realm of
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conversation. what is your thinking on his deployment? there were reports yesterday of chemical agents being used in mari and we will see if thoseupol on his potential use of chemical/biological weapons? >> the reason it's become a subject of conversation is that he himself raised it stop he talked about the possibility of using nuclear weapons. he announced he had increased the alert status of russia's nuclear forces. as far as i can tell, from what i'm reading and hearing, we haven't seen submarines leaving ports or strategic bombers and we haven't seen mobile missiles
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being taken out of their shed and so on. i think it's largely for public relations. it may be a warning to nato to stay out of ukraine. this is one of those forecasts where it inevitably comes up and bites you. i think the odds of him using chemical or nuclear weapons is, at this point, pretty low. first of all, biological weapons are essentially uncontrollable. that is kind of not in the cards. a chemical weapon is possible. we have seen the russians use them before. we seen them use them in syria and elsewhere.
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with the sole exception of one area in ukraine, there is not much of a mass of ukrainian soldiers so it's hard to see what the military target of a chemical weapon would be that would have strategic consequence and significance that would outweigh the potential international consequence of using those weapons. >> if there is a value of a chemical weapon, it's really as a terror weapon, as a means of trying to rake the will of ukrainian people. i think what we seen so far as we are past that moment. the ukrainians past that test and you definitely use of chemical weapons would add more fuel to their spine. i think crossing that threshold is a huge step for the first
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time since 1945. what is the military value of it? it's more of a terror weapon at this point. the consequences of cost -- crossing that threshold i think are pretty consequential. the wind there blows from the west so radiation from the use of a tactical nuclear weapon in eastern ukraine is going to end up in russia. i think the odds are pretty low. they are not zero. >> given the competency of russian military, these are complicated weapons that need to be combined but got only knows what the consequences would be for the russians themselves. i asked the question about existential conflict. in my own mind, the west needs
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to prepare contingencies in the event that putin becomes desperate. maybe that -- maybe we are reaching that point now but if chemical weapons were to be used , what options does nato and the united states have deco what would we do in the event beyond the whole obama 2012 redline issue in syria, what would we do if such a weapon was deployed against civilian populations? >> i think the united states would not respondent kind.
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i think nato would not respond in kind. i think it would bubbly change the level of restrictions that nato and the u.s. have placed on themselves in terms of the level of their assistance to the ukrainians. the use of a chemical weapon and much more so eight tactical nuclear weapon, i think with reopened the conversation about no-fly zones, providing heavier equipment to the ukrainians and so on. i think there would be some concrete strategic decisions made that would be more punitive to the russians and frankly have much more consequence than simply responding in kind with a chemical weapon. i think it's completely out of
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the question that the u.s. would use chemical weapons in response. >> while we're on the subject of contingencies, the way ukraine is being perceived and talked about in the west is the perception of a country that literally has become a fulcrum of western civilization. it's a huge point now in a historic battle between the force of democracy on the one hand and authoritarianism on the other. we now have a killing of civilians which the resident has talked about and is characterized as genocide. there will be major efforts to document these were crimes. if you had to, would you say ukraine is a vital american
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national interests? i'm going. somewhere with many people believe we are not being tough enough in our responses to risk-averse. when we talk and not necessarily the way we are acting, ukraine seems to be of vital national issue and if it is, the president is obligated to protect it or ensure that the consequences do not develop which leads me to the issue of how risk ready should we be? >> i think that's really the central question. i think the real heart of the issue is cut to the chase and how prepared are we to directly
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and militarily confront the russians. if you define ukraine as a vital, united states interest, then you have to be willing to confront the soviet union and as the present has said, at that point, you are contemplating the possibility of world war iii. while the outcome in ukraine i think is really important to the united states, i think we have to be careful about the rhetoric we use unless we trap ourselves in a situation that moves us in a direction that is not in the interest of the united states which is a war with russia. you cannot be deterred by prudence threats to use weapons of mass destruction. otherwise, iran or north korea or china needs to achieve their
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objectives and if you don't back off, we will use nuclear weapons and if you back off, you've lost the game. you cannot be deterred by the russian threat but you also have to be mindful of the risk of an escalation once you get into an actual conflict. people talk about a no-fly zone like a videogame. the way we impose a no-fly zone is to destroy the air defense systems of the other side. that's fundamentally an attack on russia. are we ready for that? this is a very tough line that the administration has had to walk. members of congress can talk about being tougher and doing tougher things but one of the benefits of being a member of congress is that you bear no consequences for what you say
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and have no responsibility for what happens afterwards. you have lots of authority in a big microphone and no responsibility. the president has to figure out how to walk this line and give the ukrainians as much as you can to help them fight the russians without dramatically increasing the risk of a war with russia. my view is that the administration was late in coming to eight of the ukrainians and was too cautious about the kinds of weapons we were prepared to provide the ukrainians. in many cases, what we have seen over the last couple of weeks is that the administration has been pushed to the next level of sanctions in no small part because of sentiment coming out of the congress. i like to point out that jeezy and ping and vladimir putin have done something no other living human being has done and that's
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bringing republicans and democrats together on capitol hill. the president is conducting a bipartisan sentiment in the congress for both russia and china that pushes him in a harder direction. i think he has walked that line pretty carefully. since it became clear last fall what putin intended to do, the administration has done pretty well. the assembly of the coalition of the alliance and mobilization of nato in both what they've done militarily and in terms of sanctions is a huge achievement. there is no understating how important that is and frankly, putin was counting on just the opposite stop he was counting on
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a paralyzed west with the week government and divided countries. all of that is to say i think walking this line of how much we can do, while still avoiding the likelihood of a war with russia is an important one and i think they have walked that line pretty well but as russia becomes more aggressive in casualties mount, if they were to use a weapon of mass destruction, i think that calculus changes. >> let me ask you to play secretary of defense austin. what is it you think they need that we are not either contemplating or directly providing them? >> one thing i think we should aggressively pursue because of
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urgency is we don't really have time to get a lot of heavy american armor into ukraine and there isn't time to train the ukrainian military but there is a lot of former soviet military equipment still in the arsenal of east europeans. the checks have agreed to provide equipment with soviet tanks the slovaks are preparing to transfer s-300 to the ukrainians. that equipment is what many of the ukrainians have trained on and there is more of it in the former members of the warsaw pact. i think the united states should be acting 24/7 to mobilize that equipment and get it into ukraine and into the hands of
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the ukrainians with a promise from the united states over time to back them up with our equipment for our nato allies. getting this armor and getting more sophisticated antiaircraft defenses into place are critically important and critically urgent and we ought to be ransacking the arsenals of those states and i think they would be cooperative particularly if they were going to get an american backfill a better equipment and that would naturally go to our nato allies. >> four we moved off at least the immediate situation in ukraine, it's a matter of strategy and commitment. genocide is not necessarily a matter of scale, but intent. i suspect a compelling case can
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be made that the russians are practicing genocide against ukraine. i say this to the west in general. we have a responsibility to protect or intervention to protect from mass killing. the message is very uplifting but if you look at the record of the west on humanitarian intervention to stop mass killing, it's not never again at all, it's never, ever again from the holocaust to cambodia to syria to myanmar, the uighurs. we have a situation -- you are right, as the fighting in the donba intensifies, the mass killings of civilians will
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continue so how do you process that issue? there are war crimes and yet we could help the ukrainians win the war to stop the genocide and provide more advanced military equipment, presumably aircraft and missile systems to stop the delivery of maybe artillery but how do you process responsibility respect to this? >> i have always believed that while responsibility to protect his a laudable objective, that it has to be seen in real-world terms. i think it has to be seen in terms of american governance.
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are the american people paired to send american young men and women to war to stop it? you just read off the list of places where genocides have taken place and that all have one thing in common, the united states did not send military forces to stop them. i think what we are trying to do to help the ukrainians beat back the russians and the punitive measures we are taking against russia, the gathering of the alliance to resist the russians and provide ukrainians with the wherewithal to do it is probably the most effective thing we can do at this point to stop the killing and especially in eastern ukraine. that's short of going to war ourselves. i think that's just a
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fundamental fact of life. >> let's move to a broader strategy question about china and post ukraine. how this conflict ends will obviously be critically ---- people were persuaded that the u.s. would never lead again. our adversaries would exploit the chaos of the withdrawal. our allies were beside themselves. a leader without followers is just somebody out for a walk. yet the administration, by your own standards, has done pretty well in reversing the notion that america couldn't leap. -- lead. you wrote in the post, let me just quote here --
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you say put in's and patient has been a cold shower to awaken the democracies of the world. to meet the challenges we face. we cannot pretend to continue any longer that a focus on china will protect our political, economic, and security interests. your calling for a -- you are calling for a recalibration, a larger role involving not just military force, but cyber, information, economics, diplomacy. to reassert american leadership in the world. i just wondered if you could, limited by time and space, as
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these pieces are, what are the objectives the u.s. needs to achieve vis-a-vis russia and china? is it global primacy, containment? is it a role back? i'm assuming it is not regime change. what is our major objective? our own self image of our role in these countries? >> i think the fundamental responsibility of every american government is to protect the national security of the united states and its vital interests. . -- period. i think ideology and all the other instruments of power, that you just described, and that i write about in my book, all required for that.
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i think this is the one place where we have a lesson to learn from the cold war. that contest with the soviet union took place against the backdrop of the greatest arms race in the history of the world. but there was never a direct confrontation. there was never a military war between the u.s. and the soviet union. but it was thought out, over the world -- thought out all over the world. through ideology, economics, technology, science, strategic communication, nationalism, and a whole host of different instruments. most of which we walked away from after the end of the cold war. the u.s. information agency was dismantled by congress in 1998. usaid was downsized dramatically and moved into a part of the state department. all you have to do is look at where we are, in terms of our
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economic assistance programs, compared with the chinese proposals. the problem with the phrase pivot to asia is it makes it seem like we are going to focus all of our efforts in all of these arenas just in asia or just on china, in asia, the same with our military forces. we face a situation today where china's the largest trading partner of virtually every country in latin america. china and russia -- china is a trading partner of most of the countries in africa. the russians are putting military forces, mercenaries into probably half a dozen or 10 african countries. the middle east. . still matters -- the middle east still matters. , all of a sudden, for the first time since henry kissinger got the soviets out of egypt in 197
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3, the egyptians are now buying arms from the russians again. this is a global contest that we are in. and our interests are global. for a variety of reasons. that is an issue that i think our politicians in both parties have failed in making the case to the american people why our interests are global. i think that you have to have a strategy that understands that first of all, this is going to be a long contest in front of us. and second, it is a global contest. you can't just say we are going to pivot to asia and think that that takes care of your interests, because the chinese activities are global. the russians are becoming more aggressive globally. and then obviously, you've got other powers like iran and north korea that you can't forget about. i think we have to back up and say, ok, this is a global contest, may be the ideological
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umbrella over it all ultimately is democracy versus authoritarianism. but the reality is -- in dealing with the very concrete challenges that russia and china pose, we are going to have to take a page out of the playbook from the cold war and have to do business and work with countries that are not necessarily democracies. can that is just a fact of life -- and that is just a fact of life. >> you seem to be calling for, took what one of my former bosses, a phrase she borrowed from bill clinton, that the u.s. needs to be a sort of an spendable power -- sort of indispensable power. the notion that we can return -- let me ask the question. can we return to a position
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where the u.s. emerged as a -- as the primary power in the world today? do our interests demand that we do that on a global scale? that is at least the sort of self image we need, to to adopt for ourselves. >> i think the danger of framing it that way is that it leads to the perception of the u.s. as world policemen. that we are going to take response ability for dealing with every instability, every civil war, every genocide, every
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thing that goes wrong, we are going to be there to fix it. that is a level of ambition that the american people are not ready to tolerate at this point. we have to frame it in terms of, how do we protect our national interests? which are global. i think what we do have is a unique convening power. no other country -- no other country could put together the nato alliance and put together the global coalition against russia that the u.s. has put together -- just a fact of life. nobody else could do that. that is where we have a capacity to b leader. e a -- to be a leader. rather than saying we are going to be a preeminent power,, i would say we have a responsibility to lead democratic countries -- undmo cratic countries.
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we have benefited in a perverse sort of way from the behavior of letting important and xi jinping -- vladimir putin and xi jinping, because it's got the attention of other countries around the world, not just our nato allies, but australia, japan, vietnam and others, that these two powers are a risk to them, that these two powers are bullies and that they want to take over and be the preeminent power. in russia's case, and europe, and china's case, in asia, and even more globally, their ambitions. if you look at the bolton road, strategic and munication -- strategic communications. the question is, how do our political leaders explain to the american people the kind of role we ought to have, that is not overly ambition in terms of -- ambitious in terms of trying to fix problems or on the world, but we have the ability
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and the will to bring together alliances of others, with others, to protect our interests and theirs as well. >> that is a very hard mind to navigate. >> that's what leaders get paid for. >> i would agree. i'm showing my bias here, but i would argue that frankly, again, the last time we found the right balance between means and ends, the right amount of risk aversion and risk readiness, the amount of political smarts, molding of a domestic political consensus, which is actually critical to sustain any policy, we have to go back a long way -- it was the first bush ministration. -- the first bush administration. >> [laughter] >> it is the exception.
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it is not the rule, for american foreign policy. i worry greatly, which brings me to a question -- we live in a glass house now, we really do, doesn't mean we can't promote democratic values, we can't lead the rest of the world, ukraine has shown that. but the greatest challenges we confront now, even in the midst of this terrible, savage war in ukraine, are the ones that we confront here -- -- our dysfunction -- our own dysfunction. >> what's the greatest national security threat to the u.s.? my consistent response is, it is found within the first two square miles around the white house and the capitol
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building. we have always had polarized politics. what is different is paralysis. and the inability to tackle big issues, like education, immigration, so on. if we can get that -- cannot get that right, if we can't get past that paralysis and that level of polarization, there's no foreign threat that is as consequential for our future. but i would say this -- i think president biden has an opportunity here, going back to what i was saying earlier, you really have a bipartisan -- face significant bipartisan support in the congress for dealing directly with russia and china for adopting policies that are designed to put us in a better
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position to meet those challenges. and i think that it is a building block. it is something -- and there will be differences. there were huge differences on tactics during the cold war. but there is the opportunity to put in place the kind of bipartisan, long-term consensus on the need to deal with those challenges. and even the broad parameters of how you deal with those problems. for example, the defense department, some of these other capabilities we talked about. there's an opportunity here. and i think it would be a mistake to miss it. >> you have served eight presidents. your service was performed during a period, despite disagreements, it functioned between two sets of parameters
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-- ours, the basic institutions would constitute a peaceful transition of power and the institutions of this republic were respected and protected. i worry, and you write about a fleeting moment of bipartisanship, courtesy of vladimir putin. but as we approach the midterms, as we go through the next two years, anticipation of the general in 2024 -- that, frankly, is my major concern. we have seen the enemy, frankly, and the enemy is us. i am a believer in the republic. i think we will get through it. but it's going to be externally difficult. one final question for you -- you write with great eloquence about the impact when you were secretary of defense, of having
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to sign letters of condolence, laying in bed, weeping, you say, almost every night, as you meditated on the dead and the wounded. can you conclude the book -- and you conclude the book, it is powerful, i get chills when i think about it, you conclude by revealing that you requested to be buried in section 60 of arlington national cemetery -- the resting place of many of those we lost in iraq and afghanistan. my question is this, of all the reasons to send american men and women into harm's way, what in your view was the essential thing which we cannot do without? in sending american men and women into battle?
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what needs to be present, above everything else? >> i think the president has to believe himself or herself, and has to be able to persuade the american people that risking those lives matters. that this isn't some unrealistic objective. that the president is giving them emission they actually can perform and carry out. and -- and that the president can look the pararents -- a parent in the eyes and say, what your child did mattered, it mattered for our country. >> thank you. let me thank you again for your
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service on the behalf of the republic, the fact that you have been so honest and shared so much with us at carnegie. >> thanks. i enjoyed it. >> take care. bye-bye. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2022] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] announcer: c-span has unfiltered coverage of the u.s. response to russia's invasion of ukraine. bringing you the latest from the president and other white house officials, the pentagon, and the state department, as well as congress. we also have international perspectives on the u.n. and statements from foreign leaders all on the c-span networks, the c-span now free mobile app, and you can watch the latest videos on demand and follow tweets from journalists on the ground. photo -- go to >> a lack of recognition that
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these issues are health conditions requiring evidence-based treatment in the same way that we treat diabetes or hypertension. without necessary mental health treatment and supports, americans that face seville -- americans face severe illness, in equities, and deaths. we must find like take on these issues in a serious, holistic matter. it will take all of us working together to address this invisible suffering, involving many communities. announcer: addiction specialists and others testified on drug use, suicide risk and solutions for mental health treatment before the house ways and means committee. other topics include the impact of the covid-19 pandemic on mental health and stigmas associated with mental health treatment. watch tonight at 9 p.m. eastern on c-span, online at, or four coverage on c-span


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