By Alex Soroiu and Araitz Peña.
The interaction between the two main superpowers of the 20th century has been object of profound analysis since the very beginning of the Cold War. Today, 28 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and 26 years after the collapse of the Union of Soviet and Socialist Republics, the relationship between the United States of America and the Russian Federation remains an unsolved issue with many highs and lows not only for the political and economic affairs of these countries, but also for the security of the European Union.
After about two decades of relative calm in the international arena among these actors, recent events have triggered great uncertainties in the European society. It first started with the presumed military intervention in Crimea in 2014, and it has continued with the Russian intervention in the Syrian Civil War. The concerns of Western societies reached their highest peak during the presidential elections in the US last autumn, when US media suggested the possibility of connections between the elected Republican candidate, Donald Trump, his team and Russian services. Even after the elections and the announcement of the victory of Donald Trump, these rumours continued spreading, specially, when some governmental agencies opened an investigation on the ties between members of the Trump Administration and Russian authorities as well as their involvement in the electoral process. However, recent events in the course of the Syrian War have shown a clear division between President Trump and President Putin’s views in their common interactions, as well as in regional conflicts. In this way, Trump has followed in a certain way the policy of the Obama Administration towards Syria, clashing with the Russian prospects in the country.
In this context of uncertainty and lack of prevision for the future, we had the opportunity to receive first-hand information from the National Intelligence Council Officer, Spencer Boyer, whose expertise in European Affairs is key to understand the Transatlantic interactions. This Officer, who is also Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs during the first term of the Obama Administration, has offered us an insight to the US-EU security strategies and some clues about their future relations with the Russian Federation.
From the expertise of Mr. Spencer Boyer, the relationship between the US and Russia has been tense over the last 2 years, specially, since the annexation of Crimea and the Russian interventions in many of the electoral campaigns and processes in the US and Europe. Likewise, lots of concerns have been raised among the other NATO members as a general feeling of unrest and insecurity can be sensed in the region when Russian actions in Ukraine are still underway and as investigations in the US show clarity in the presumed cyber attacks of Russian intelligence during the Presidential Election campaign. In regards to these facts, the European countries, recalling the recent electoral processes in the Netherlands, France and the future German campaign, have also felt threatened by the precedent in the US, and this is the reason why this expert calls for close cooperation between the European Union and the US in order to tackle foreign threats to the Transatlantic Alliance, among others.
As for the disinformation strategy of the Russian services as well as the inferences in the governmental affairs, Western countries are not assisting a new phenomenon. Indeed, it seems that the Federation is reviving past Soviet techniques used during the Cold War. All throughout the conflict, the Soviet Union destined a great part of its resources and effort to intelligence missions and informational war. A most notorious and successful case is Operation INFEKTION, a KGB disinformation campaign regarding the AIDS in the early 1980s by which they spread the rumour that the virus was the result of an US military research with the purpose of reducing the credibility of the Government and undermining its authority.
In this sense, the famous senior historian at the US Army Center of Military History, Thomas Boghardt, remembers in a CIA Journal that “the practice of intelligence differed considerably between East and West during the Cold War. Western intelligence services were most commonly tasked with gathering information, but their Soviet bloc counterparts placed much greater emphasis on deception operations to influence opinions or actions of individuals and governments”. Moreover, the Soviet operations or “active measures included manipulation and media control, written and oral disinformation, use of foreign communist parties and front organizations, clandestine radio broadcasting, manipulation of the economy, kidnappings, paramilitary operations, and support of guerrilla groups and terrorist organizations”. Altogether, the current Russian foreign strategy towards the West is reawakening the past Soviet intelligence instruments of the two-bloc conflict in what seems a quite effective manner.
Following this line, the strength of the European Union to face the challenges of its Eastern border has been aggravated and endangered even more by the process exit of the United Kingdom which began in March 29th, 2017. As an issue that concerns both the EU and US, as well as their common relations and specially, the common defence and security policy, Officer Boyer does not venture to predict a clear solution in this matter. It is unclear how things will work after Brexit even though the United Kingdom will probably continue to serve as very active member in NATO and will keep having a leadership role in the Alliance. In regards to security policy of the European Union, Mr. Boyer states that it is for Europeans to decide how to manage the future defence situation though he suggests the need for a better European strategy towards NATO, complementing and coordinating with each other. He affirms that this cooperation should also have an impact on the Southern border of Europe, as the security in the Mediterranean Sea remains an issue almost as important as the security in the Eastern border.
Apart from the security issues that challenge the Transatlantic relations and the underlying conflict between the Russian Federation and the United States, we had the opportunity to share common concerns about the future relationship between the European Union and the US in both commercial and diplomatic spheres, areas of special interest for the EU. Asking about the TTIP, Mr. Boyer was not sure about its success, but did agree that the EU and the US were “top trade partners” of each other and that this trend would continue in the following years, despite the uncertainties that have been raised in recent months about the continuity of the negotiation.
Diplomacy is another field which raises questions for the future. As an example, the European Parliament described the US nominee to be Ambassador to the EU as “hostile and malevolent” and some called the European institutions to declare him as “persona non grata”. Mr. Boyer looked beyond this fact and stated that EU-US diplomatic relations were more important than any person or individual that could be designated. He recalled the many years of cooperation in political, economic, military and cultural matters in order to value the importance of such relationship and forget about the hypothetical diplomatic affair that could have been raised in that case.
All in all, despite the uncertainty that reigned before the US Presidential Elections and during the first moments of the Trump Administration due to the speculations raised by the media in regards to the US relations with its European allies and the possible friendship towards the aggressive Russia, the current flow as well as the encouraging predictions of Mr. Boyer show a normalisation of the situation in that sense. The recent events in Syria and Afghanistan, the ideological clashes between President Trump and President Putin and the current White House speech regarding NATO have taken the path of reassurance for Europe as the perception from the EU institutions is that the United States is still a reliable partner and key ally not only for the security in the region but also in the economic and political cooperation programmes. The future is still uncertain and the Trump Administration still has many aspects of its foreign policy to develop, but the necessary cooperation among nations should prevail in order to face the common challenges together and find peaceful and permanent solutions to the many international conflicts.
- Boghardt, Thomas. “Operation INFEKTION”. Central Intelligence Agency, Studies in Intelligence VOl.53 No. 4. Published January 26, 2010. Accessed April 21, 2017. https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol53no4/soviet-bloc-intelligence-and-its-aids.html