AMBASSADOR SENATOR KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON
The first half of 2022 had a profound effect on the global security order, revealing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s empirical ambitions, galvanizing unity among freedom-loving nations and affecting China’s next steps. It set the stage for the discussions of foreign policy thinkers and practitioners at the Aspen Security Forum and the Aspen Strategy Group Summer Workshop last summer. The Aspen Security Forum is one of North America's most preeminent foreign policy conferences.
In February, Russia invaded Ukraine, the largest hostile land invasion of a sovereign nation in Europe since World War II. In June, NATO adopted its once-in-a-decade Strategic Concept that recognized major power competition and a potential for conflict that must be addressed.
For the near term, the U.S. and our European allies must contain Putin’s ambitions to expand Russia’s borders through hostile land grabs.
What did Putin expect when he invaded the sovereign nation of Ukraine, and what did he get? His stated goal when his forces advanced on the capital, Kyiv, was to take over the city and topple the government. He called President Volodymyr Zelensky a “Nazi” and said he must be taken out. He has long professed that the breakup of the Soviet Union was the worst event in the history of Russia. He blamed Mikhail Gorbachev for this dismantling of the country and set about trying to “right this wrong.” He intended to recreate the Russian domination of now-democratic republics. This started in 2008 with the invasion of Georgia, where Russians have cracked down on two provinces, hardening the border separating Georgia from its sovereign territories, Ossetia and Abkhazia. It continued in 2014 with the takeover and now militarization of Crimea in Ukraine. Putin set up Russian separatists in Ukraine’s Donbas region, escalating the use of guerilla tactics for several years. Last September, the world saw Putin double down on this region, calling sham elections for residents to vote to become part of Russia. He declared “victory,” with no transparency that would be taken seriously by any credible international organization.
After each of these transgressions, there have been sanctions, and NATO allies and partners have denounced the actions. But the sanctions did not deter Putin’s march. He has continued to build on his ill-gotten gains. He has maintained a steady stream of rhetoric, misinformation and cyberattacks on NATO allies, attempting to weaken countries through their own populations.
It is presumed that Putin thought NATO would be divided over his further invasion of Ukraine—a side benefit of taking Ukraine’s territory based on his stated premise that it had never left Russia, ignoring the democratically elected government of over 30 years.
So what did Putin get? His tanks rolling toward Kyiv ran out of fuel; his troops hastily retreated back to the Donbas region, even leaving their dead comrades behind and he magnified a leader, Zelensky, who has inspired his people and the world by fighting to keep his nation whole and free. Rather than divide NATO, Putin significantly strengthened the alliance and prompted its expansion with the application of two new allies, Finland and Sweden, partners that add proven military capabilities and resilient democracies.
But Putin’s miscalculation has, more importantly, had a long-term impact on the reset of global security. The expansion of NATO now has become a strategic message to Chinese President Xi Jinping, and the unity isn’t limited to European partnerships.
At NATO’s heads-of-state summit in June 2022 in Madrid, Spain, four major Asian partners were invited: Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan. NATO is becoming the convener for like-minded nations that prioritize human rights, free press and rules-based competition for trade. The purpose is to expand the security umbrella for self-governing countries. NATO allies are transatlantic countries, but NATO has long included strong Pacific democracies as valued partners. In the NATO mission in Afghanistan, 40 countries participated, including the 30 NATO allies. Because of the current malignant activities of both Russia and China, those partnerships will grow in interoperability.
The Strategic Concept adopted at the Madrid summit is a bold plan to build defenses against further Russian aggression and deterrence for China’s pressure on its Asian neighbors. President Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative, an aggressive effort to establish land and water infrastructure throughout Europe, Africa and South America, is a signal to the rest of the world about his intentions to gain greater control over global navigation.
NATO is now increasing its military presence in Europe from 40,000 to 300,000. The plan would prioritize interoperability of these forces through more joint training exercises.
The acceptance of Finland and Sweden into the alliance will add economic and military strength as joint security measures increase to deal with Russian aggression and focus turns to relations with China.
In my view, economic trade is the distinguishing factor in relations with China compared to Russia and is the most potent leverage against their aggressive tactics. China’s economy depends on manufacturing exports. Trade fuels their military buildup and domestic stability.
A united coalition of North American, European and Asian democracies, adding like-minded Middle Eastern oil-rich countries, could cripple the Chinese economy if China goes too far outside the rules-based order of free and fair trade and overuses economic leverage as a tool to retaliate against countries that stand up to it. The most stark, recent example is China’s trade embargo on Australia based on its perceived discrimination against allowing government-owned Huawei into the Australian secure communications networks.
President Xi’s strategy has been affected by President Putin’s missteps. The unity of the world’s most competitive economies could raise a dilemma for China. If President Xi tries to double-down on Taiwan, as he has on Hong Kong, violating agreements on “One Country, Two Systems,” he risks losing vital trade requirements for China’s domestic viability.
The U.S. and its NATO allies face choices, too. How do we deal with tensions in the South China Sea, with Taiwan and along the coast of Japan without jeopardizing trade and its importance to us? What would deter Chinese aggression without starting a costly confrontation?
Any strategy starts with unity of purpose and commitment by the world’s largest economies. While we must continue to build modern defense capabilities, the best leverage for our common security may be economic interdependence.
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AMBASSADOR KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON stepped down from her term as U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO in Brussels, Belgium in 2021. During 3.5 years, she focused on the importance of U.S. leadership in the alliance and strengthening the trans-Atlantic bond that provides the security umbrella for Europe and North America. In 1993-2013, she was the U.S. Senator representing Texas. There, she was elected by her peers to serve as Chair of the Republican Policy Committee, the fourth-highest leadership position. She was Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce Committee and Chairman of the Military Construction Committee on Appropriations. She served two terms as Chairman of the Board of Visitors of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Significant legislation included reauthorization and reform of NASA with Senator Bill Nelson and the Hutchison-Mikulski legislation establishing a new retirement vehicle, the Kay Bailey Hutchison Spousal IRA. As Texas State Treasurer, in 1991-1993, she proposed limits on state debt that the state legislature adopted and led the successful defeat of a state income tax. Ambassador Hutchison is the author of three books, including the bestseller American Heroines. The Dallas City Council named the city’s convention center in her honor in 2013. She earned a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin and a J.D. from the UT law school. She is a Senior Advisor at CSIS and a member of the Aspen Strategy Group.