THO Interview with Dr. Barry Posen

Dr. Barry Posen is Ford International Professor Political Science at MIT and the director of MIT’s Security Studies Program.  You can read more about Dr. Posen here.

THO: How do you see the current relations between Russia and the West?

Dr. Posen: Russia is a great power that is struggling to stay as a great power. It doesn’t have many cards to play.  Its population is shrinking, its economy is not growing much. Oil and gas prices are down and Russia is dependent on oil and gas in a great deal. Those ingredients that are needed for being a great power is not really there.  It’s nothing to compare to the US or China or EU economies. If Russia is going to remain as a great power they need some kind of a theory some kind of strategy.

Putin’s strategy seems to be to spend as much as he can afford on military power. Putin tries to convince other countries about Russian interests by showing military might.  He is saying that you have to listen what Russia says! He has had some success with this. But my guess is that it can’t continue like that. I think they are really starting to pay for it. Its domestic economic price of his military adventurism is too high to cover in the long run. They are now talking how to cut military spending.

Putin hasn’t succeeded to open Russian economy and he won’t. It is not a modern middle class economy. If you opened the economy, if you have the rule of law, if you spend effort for foreign direct investment, encourage the high-tech sector…  but that is not the situation in Russia. So, they are stuck with this weird regime. Russia stays as a raw material producer, weapon producer.

The Chinese are going toward a whole advanced technology but Russians don’t seem interested in it. The thing is USSR started out strongly and started out in the Cold War positioned pretty well. They have had great scientist and very educated population. Somehow the IT world is moving ahead of them everywhere else. I think Russia will struggle to stay as a great power.

THO: Do you see the US as pulling back from the Middle East?

Dr. Posen: Why do you think so? Why everyone is saying that, I don’t understand. Is it just because Obama did decide not to go into war in Syria?  Do we believe that any good would come out of war in Syria? We did try in Afghanistan, it didn’t work out. We did try this in Iraq, it didn’t work out well.  Do you believe in this democracy... how many more endless wars, how many more nation-building missions could be tolerated? A War in Syria from a realist point of view would have been a tremendous trap for the US foreign policy. It could have done the greatest damage to the US international position.  The US is not bad with Israel, the US is not bad with the Saudis and the Gulf States, the US is containing and constraining Iran, where does this argument come from, I don’t understand.  Its actually not the argument about American departure, it’s actually about Russia’s revival again as they did during the Cold War.

But nothing Russia has to offer in the Middle East, but weapon and intelligence.  They don’t have too many cards to play. There is no decline of American influence in the Middle East, I wish the Americans would do less in the Middle East. The US doesn’t need any more from oil in the Middle East. The US is subsidizing the global warming with its military power....that is all we are doing.

The US is protecting regimes their ideologies that are inimical to our values that is what the US is currently doing with the Saudis. We support a regime in which its domestic behaviors are inimical to our own values. The Saudis are buying billions of weapons, and they have strong lobbyists in this country.

THO: What would happen if Iran goes nuclear?

Dr. Posen: I am not sure what would happen. It may create a situation that Saudis and others may want to go nuclear.  But, Turkey’s case is different. If Turkey as a NATO member wants to go to nuclear, I don’t think NATO countries will do nothing.  Iran’s nuclear deal is important.

THO: Do you believe that Iranian influence in the region has increased?

Dr. Posen: You are talking about a country that is pretty broke, isn’t it?  They are not in a position to wage an offensive war.  Under the pressure it seems they gave up their nuclear ambitions. It doesn’t mean they gave up forever, but they gave up for now.  The Americans are very concerned about Iran. 

THO: What do you think of the Trump administration’s Middle East strategy?

Dr. Posen: I don’t know what their strategy is.  To the naked eye, they are very anti-Iran, they are very pro-Saudi and Israeli, very tolerant of totalitarian regimes, not interested in promoting democracy. Now oddly enough we are hearing rumors that the Trump administration is willing to offer selling nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia.

THO: Trump is a very pro-Brexit, very anti EU and NATO figure . How do you see that?

Dr. Posen: The US should definitely support an independent, strong EU. My argument is that the US should do less and the other allies should do more. Potentially from this point of view, the EU should be seen as the most reliable ally in the world.  If the Europeans did more then the Americans can divert those sources from those projects and canalize in other and more efficient areas at home. 

THO:  How do you see the situation between the US and China?

Dr. Posen: Asia Pacific is the hardest place to implement Restraint Strategy. Europe is the Easiest one and the Middle East is the second easiest one to implement.  China is the second greatest power. It is not easy to concert action against China. The region is not well organized against the Chinese power. The US needs to play a balancing position there, but I don’t know how the US is going to do so.  There is inclination to re-create the Cold War in Asia-Pacific, I think that could be a mistake. China is a serious matter. In Asia-Pacific it is much more traditional balance of power situation going on.  The US’ greatest concern is whether China has a tenancy to dominate the region or not.