By Tyler Cross
On March 5, 2018 the Michael V. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy, and International Security hosted a lecture and discussion with former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General (ret.) Wesley Clark. The conversation, titled “Russia: Cold War 2.0?” began with an opening speech courtesy of General Clark. Following these solo remarks, Clark was joined on stage by General (ret.) Michael Hayden. After their conversation, the panelists answered questions from the audience.
General Clark retired from his NATO post in 2000. In his opinion, it was at the apex of America’s dominant role as the world’s superpower. During his tenure at NATO (1997-2000), Russian resurgence was not central to American security discussions. But even then he witnessed aggressions from Moscow reminiscent of the Cold War. Based on his own experiences and recent, overt Russian aggression, Clark highlighted three key lessons.
- The old struggle never ended.
- Challenges posed by Russia are more complex than those posed by the Soviet Union
- America is in a geopolitical struggle with Russia, highlighted by challenges of hybrid nature
Hayden and Clark concluded that Moscow sees the world as a global chessboard with the United States as the opposite key player. The Kremlin was largely ignored after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and was not again globally recognized until almost a decade and a half after the collapse of the communist regime. But Clark experienced it first hand as NATO commander. For example, one Russian general officer, speaking to Clark, referred to the port of Riga as “our port.” Riga is, of course, the capital of Latvia. His anecdotes of interactions with Russian generals illustrated how Moscow perceived Eastern Europe as part of their sphere of influence even in the 1990s. Likewise, the 1999 expansion of NATO to include former Warsaw Pact members Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland was not greeted with approval in the Kremlin. General Clark remarked that he was hesitant to include the aforementioned nations in the alliance.
Current challenges posed by Vladimir Putin’s Russia are different than those from the Soviet era because they are more complex. Modern Russia has extended its influence beyond the military, creating economic and cyber networks the Soviet Union never possessed. Clark noted that in addition to hacking attempts, the Russian ruble is a currency entrenched in the global market. The Soviet ruble was effectively a non-player in the global market.
The most vibrant event of Clark’s tenure in NATO was the Kosovo War in which NATO intervened militarily in 1999. As the most senior allied commander of European operations, Clark organized the air war against Yugoslavia. Operations commenced in response to Yugoslav/Serbian killing of ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo. In striking detail, Clark described the build up to intervention and war operations. After 78 days of air strikes escalating in intensity, Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic capitulated. NATO forces inflicted a heavy toll on the enemy while taking no combat losses. Clark was challenged with balancing the demands of his home government and those of NATO, all while organizing a successful air campaign. Russian intervention was an ever-present threat.
General Hayden illustrated that Russian involvement was spurred by their historical Slavic alliance with Serbia. Clark noted that Russian support was visible, particularly in holding the airfield in Kosovo’s largest city, Pristina. General Clark narrowly avoided confrontation with the Russians at Pristina Airfield, and was deeply concerned by the Russian threat to move the Black Sea Fleet to the Kosovo theater of operations. To Clark’s relief, the Russian Navy stood down and the conflict remained only in the Balkans.
The panelists concluded that Russian geopolitical maneuvers have been a consistent threat and will continue to bring new challenges. They must be met with clear American strategic aims.
The author is Tyler Cross, an International Security master’s student at the Schar School of Policy and Government.