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Ambassador Kurt Volker

Airdate: April 19, 2017
With the international scene reaching a boiling point, we’ll hear from former NATO Ambassador and McCain Institute executive director Kurt Volker, who’ll share his expertise on issues such as relations with Syria and North Korea.

Guests:
  • Kurt Volker - Former NATO Ambassador
Category: Foreign Affairs

Keywords: NATO, North Korea, Syria,

View Transcript
TED: NORTH KOREA WARNS THAT NUCLEAR WAR WITH THE U.S. COULD BREAK OUT AT ANY MOMENT, THIS AS CIVILIAN CASUALTIES MOUNT IN THE SYRIAN CIVIL WAR. HERE TO TALK ABOUT WHAT CERTAINLY APPEARS TO BE AN INCREASINGLY DANGEROUS WORLD IS FORMER NATO AMBASSADOR AND MCCAIN INSTITUTE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR KURT VOLKER. GOOD TO SEE YOU AGAIN. WE HAVE A LOT TO TALK ABOUT.

KURT VOLKER: A LOT'S GOING ON.

TED: NORTH KOREA SABER RATTLING. WHAT'S GOING ON?

KURT VOLKER: NORTH KOREA NOT ONLY HAVING NUCLEAR WEAPONS THEY DIDN'T HAVE, THEY CAN MINIATURIZE THEM. WE WANT TO GET NORTH KOREA OFF THOSE TRACKS. ONE IS TO SHOW MORE U.S. RESOLVE, INCLUDING MILITARY RESOLVE AND BY DOING THAT, IN PARTICULAR CHINA PUTTING PRESSURE ON THEM TO GET THEM TO STAND DOWN.

TED: THE MILITARY EXERCISES UNDER NORTH KOREA'S SKIN, HOW USUAL ARE THOSE?

KURT VOLKER: THEY ARE NOT. WHAT IS USUAL IS THE RESOLVE BY THE ADMINISTRATION WE TALK ABOUT. THE PHYSICAL EXERCISES WE DO WITH SOUTH KOREA EVERY YEAR. NORTH KOREA ALWAYS COMPLAINS ABOUT IT, BUT IT'S IMPORTANT BECAUSE YOU CAN'T JUST LISTEN TO RHETORIC. YOU HAVE TO SHOW THE FACTS ON THE GROUND TO CHANGE THEIR CALCULATIONS.

TED: VICE PRESIDENT PENCE IS IN TOKYO. HOW CONCERNED IS JAPAN OVER ALL OF THIS?

KURT VOLKER: VERY CONCERNED. THEY ARE IN THE LINE OF FIRE. NORTH KOREA HAS TESTED NEAR JAPAN AND COULD HIT JAPAN. THEY ARE VERY CONCERNED. THEY HAVE MISSILE DEFENSES AND THEY ARE WELCOMING THE U.S. PRESSURE STEPPING UP BECAUSE THIS CAN'T GO UNCHECKED AND HAVE JAPAN REMAIN SAFE.

TED: WHAT IS CHINA DOING ABOUT ALL OF THIS?

KURT VOLKER: CHINA WANTS TO KEEP A DIVIDED KOREAN PENINSULA. THEY LIKE THE FACT THAT NORTH KOREA NEEDLES THE UNITED STATES. THEY WANT THAT TO BE A FESTERING PROBLEM, BUT WHEN IT'S OUT OF HAND AND THE U.S. IS GOING IN MORE SERIOUSLY, CHINA DOESN'T WANT THAT. THEY WANT US TO HANDLE THIS, BUT IF IT GETS BEYOND A CERTAIN LEVEL THEY HAVE AN INTEREST TOO. THAT'S THE POINT WE ARE TRYING TO GET TO.

TED: FOR MOST OF US, WE BELIEVE CHINA CONTROLS THE SITUATION. THEY PUT THEIR FINGER DOWN, NORTH KOREA FOLLOWS. DO THEY HAVE THAT MUCH CONTROL?

KURT VOLKER: NO. THIS IS A CRAZY LEADER. HE'S MURDERED MEMBERS OF HIS FAMILY PART OF THE LEADERSHIP. THEY KILLED THIS UNCLE. THEY KILLED A GUY IN MALAYSIA WITH AN AIRPORT ATTACK WE SAW. HE HAS THREATENED OVER AND OVER TO USE NUCLEAR FORCES. HE FEELS INSECURE IN HIS REGIME AND LEADERSHIP. HE USES VIOLENCE AND AUTHORITARIANISM TO ENFORCE IT. HE COULD USE NUCLEAR WEAPONS.

TED: IT SOUNDS LIKE SOMEONE THAT DOESN'T LIKE TO BE HUMILIATED. THE MISSILE LAUNCH A COMPLETE FAILURE. IS THAT A GOOD THING?

KURT VOLKER: IF WE PUT INTO THEM A FEAR -- MAYBE IT HAPPENED ON ITS OWN, BUT IF THEY BELIEVE THEIR TEST AND CAPABILITIES ARE LESS THAN THEY WOULD LIKE THEM TO BE THAT CAUSES REAL WORLD CAUTION IF THEY THREATEN THESE THINGS.

TED: THIS GUY HAVE ANY SENSE OF CAUTION?

KURT VOLKER: THE ONLY THING HE CARES ABOUT IS REGIME SURVIVAL. IF HE DOESN'T FEEL HE GETS THE RESPONSE, THAT COULD END HIS REGIME.

TED: ARE THERE PEOPLE READY TO STEP IN WHEN THE CRAZY MAN GOES AWAY?

KURT VOLKER: HE HAS BEEN SO BRUTAL THAT THERE ARE PROBABLY NOT PEOPLE PREPARED TO MAKE THAT HAPPEN NOW. IN THE EVENT OF SOME KIND OF REMOVAL OR HE'S KILLED OR CHINA DOES SOMETHING TO REMOVE HIM, PUTS HIM INTO A HOSPITAL FOR NEEDED MEDICAL TREATMENT, SOMETHING LIKE THAT HAPPENS, I THINK THERE ARE GENERALS BEST ORGANIZED ABLE TO LEAD IN A MORE RESPONSIBLE WAY.

TED: IT'S UNLIKELY IF HE GETS OUT OF THE WAY, A CRAZIER PERSON FOLLOWS.

KURT VOLKER: I THINK HE'S TRYING TO GET RID OF EVERYBODY. I THINK THE CAUTIOUS GENERALS SURVIVE.

TED: IN JAPAN THE ARMADA WAS GOING THE WRONG WAY.

KURT VOLKER: THE EXERCISE IS OFF OF AUSTRALIA THOUSANDS OF MILES AWAY. HAVING FORCES IN ASIA IS WHAT HE WAS BRIEFED ON. HE PROBABLY CONFLATED EVERYTHING TOGETHER. THAT BEING SAID, THE U.S. HAS CAPABILITIES IN KOREA AND NEAR KOREA WE MOVE THINGS CLOSER TO KOREA NOW AFTER THE MISSTATEMENTS. WE'LL HAVE MORE CAPABILITY IN THE REGION.

TED: THE PRESIDENT IS SAYING CHINA IS NOT A CURRENCY MANIPULATOR AFTER SAYING THEY WERE. WHAT DO FOREIGN COUNTRIES IN THE VOLATILE PART OF THE WORLD THINK WHEN ONE POINT CHINA IS DOING SOMETHING, AND THEN NOTHING.

KURT VOLKER: THE WHITE HOUSE IS TRYING TO PORTRAY THIS AS USEFUL UNPREDICTABILITY. YOU HAVE THINGS THAT ARE PART OF YOUR ATTITUDE, WHAT IS YOUR JUDGMENT ABOUT WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THE WORLD AND HOW DO WE FEEL ABOUT IT? WHEN YOU GET TO CONCRETE ISSUES, THERE ARE A LOT OF INTERESTS AND COMPLEXITIES. YOU PULL ON THIS THREAD THIS UNRAVELS, PULL ON THAT THREAD THAT UNRAVELS. THAT'S DRIVEN US BACK TO PROFESSIONAL POLICIES. WE HAVE A DICHOTOMY OF RHETORIC GOING ON, ON ONE LEVEL.

TED: WE SAW THAT IN SYRIA. BOMBING SYRIA IS CRAZY TALK.

KURT VOLKER: WE HAVE SEEN IT WITH SYRIA, NATO, NORTH KOREA AND CHINA. ALL IN ALL, IT'S A GOOD THING.

TED: IT'S A GOOD THING THAT NO ONE'S IN CONTROL?

KURT VOLKER: NO, THAT WE HAVE A STRONG NATIONAL SECURITY CABINET CONFRONTED WITH POLICY ISSUES HAS STEERED TOWARD THE RIGHT ONE.

TED: ANOTHER FLIP-FLOP WAS NATO. THEY WERE OBSOLETE. NOT ANYMORE. WHAT HAPPENED?

KURT VOLKER: FIRST OFF, YOU START TO REALIZE THAT RUSSIA IS NOT AS FRIENDLY A COUNTRY TOWARD THE UNITED STATES AS WE WOULD WANT IT TO BE. THOUGH WE WOULD LIKE TO WORK WITH THEM, DOESN'T MEAN THEY WANT TO WORK WITH US. NATO IS USEFUL FOR A NUMBER OF THINGS, THOUGH IT COSTS US SOME THINGS. EVERYONE IS INCREASING DEFENSE SPENDING AND NATO DOES COUNTER TOURISM. THOSE ARE THINGS THE ADMINISTRATION HAS DONE.

TED: ARE THEY STILL CONCERNED?

KURT VOLKER: I THINK AFTER THE MEETING OF PRESIDENT TRUMP AND THE SECRETARY GENERAL LAST WEEK, IT WAS THE FINAL PIECE. MADISON AND PENCE HAD GOOD MEETINGS TO REASSURE PEOPLE BUT EVERYONE WAS WAITING TO HEAR FROM THE PRESIDENT HIMSELF.

TED: TALKING ABOUT NATO, A FRENCH ELECTION COMING UP THIS WEEKEND, WE HAVE ANOTHER CRAZY PERSON OVER THERE.

KURT VOLKER: WE HAVE MORE THAN ONE. WE HAVE THE FAR RIGHT CANDIDATE WHO LEADS PLURALITY ON HER OWN SHE WILL GET THE MOST VOTES, WOULD PUT UP FRANCE ON A REFERENDUM TO STAY IN THE E.U., SKEPTICAL ABOUT THE E.U., PRO RUSSIAN. BRAGGED ABOUT GETTING MONEY FROM RUSSIA. ON THE OTHER SIDE, THEY STRUGGLE TO PUT FORWARD A CANDIDATE THAT WOULD WIN. THEY HAVE HAD A COUPLE OF GOOD CANDIDATES THAT THEY THOUGHT WOULD WIN AND NOW THEY HAVE ANOTHER ONE, VIRTUALLY COMMUNIST, PRO RUSSIAN, ANTI-EU, ANTI-NATO OR MCCALL, NEITHER A COMMUNIST OR SOCIALIST. ARE PEOPLE GOING TO VOTE FOR HIM?

TED: HE HAS NO CHANCE, DOES HE?

KURT VOLKER: IT'S HARD TO KNOW WHO HAS A CHANCE. TWO OR THREE CANDIDATES WILL DIVIDE UP THE VOTE.

TED: CRAZY PERSON ON THE LEFT AND RIGHT. THEY ARE BOTH PRO RUSSIA.

KURT VOLKER: HE'S HAPPY. A SITUATION HAS EMERGED IT DOESN'T MATTER HOW IT PLAYS OUT, IF THEY EMERGE SUNDAY INTO THE FINAL ROUND, HE HAS A WINNER ON EITHER SIDE.

TED: IT FEELS FROM A DISTANCE THAT THE WORLD IS ITCHING FOR A FIGHT. IT FEELS LIKE THINGS ARE OUT OF CONTROL AND THINGS ARE BEING TAKEN UP BY BULLIES.

KURT VOLKER: I FEEL IT. THE GOVERNING ELITES WE HAVE HAD ARE DEER FROZEN IN THE HEADLIGHTS. YOU SEE THIS IN FRANCE RIGHT NOW. PEOPLE FEEL THEIR IDENTITY OF BEING FRENCH IS UNDER ATTACK FROM IMMIGRANTS, CHANGE OF RELIGION, TERRORISM, LOSS OF JOBS, SUPERNATIONALISM IN THE E.U. THE ELITES KEEP TELLING THEM EVERYTHING IS FINE. THAT HAS GIVEN AN OPENING TO THE POPULACE POLITICIANS TO SAY, NO, WE ARE TEARING THINGS UP. WE NEED BOLDER, SENSIBLE GROUNDED VIEWS.

TED: THE FORUM THIS WEEK, WHAT IS THAT?

KURT VOLKER: THE MCCAIN UNIVERSITY HAS ONE GATHERING A YEAR, INVITATIONAL ONLY. IT'S MEANT TO BRING TOGETHER CIVIL SIGHTY, HUMAN RIGHTS, TO STRATEGIZE THE CHALLENGES WE FACE AS A COUNTRY AND OUR OPTIONS FOR DEALING WITH THEM. WE ARE EXCITED TO DO IT THIS YEAR.

TED: SOUNDS LIKE YOU HAVE A LOT TO TALK ABOUT.

KURT VOLKER: WE WILL.