Make Peace, Not War with Russia

Make Peace, Not War With Russia
(Dr. Peter Pry, January 18, 2022)

Transcript available below

About the speaker

Dr. Peter Vincent Pry is the Executive Director of Task Force on National and Homeland Security, a Congressional Advisory Board dedicated to achieving protection of the United States from electromagnetic pulse (EMP), cyber-attack, mass destruction terrorism and other threats to civilian critical infrastructures on an accelerated basis.  Dr. Pry is also the Director of the United States Nuclear Strategy Forum, a Congressional Advisory Board dedicated to developing policies to counter Weapons of Mass Destruction.  In 2015, Dr. Pry testified in Denver on Colorado’s first attempt to pass EMP/GMD legislation.  Dr. Pry also continues to serve on the Congressional EMP Commission, like his fellow commissioners, despite the current lack of Congressional funding.

Dr. Pry often appears on TV and radio as an expert on national security issues.  The BBC made his book War Scare into a two-hour TV documentary titled Soviet War Scare 1983.  His book Electric Armageddon was the basis for another TV documentary by National Geographic titled Electronic Armageddon.  He also holds a certification in nuclear weapons design.

Dr. Pry has served as contributing editor on several articles for Family Security Matters and has written numerous articles regarding current events and their impact on America.

Dr. Pry served on the staffs of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States (2008-2009); the Commission on the New Strategic Posture of the United States (2006-2008); and the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack (2001-2008).  He served as Professional Staff on the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) of the U.S. Congress, with portfolios in nuclear strategy, WMD, Russia, China, NATO, the Middle East, Intelligence, and Terrorism (1995-2001).

While serving on the HASC, Dr. Pry was chief advisor to the Vice Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and the Vice Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and to the Chairman of the Terrorism Panel.  Dr. Pry played a key role in running hearings in Congress that warned terrorists and rogue states could pose an EMP threat; establishing the Congressional EMP Commission; helping the Commission develop plans to protect the United States from EMP; and working closely with senior scientists who first discovered the nuclear EMP phenomenon.

Dr. Pry was an Intelligence Officer with the Central Intelligence Agency responsible for analyzing Soviet and Russian nuclear strategy, operational plans, military doctrine, threat perceptions, and developing U.S. paradigms for strategic warning (1985-1995).  He also served as a Verification Analyst at the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency responsible for assessing Soviet compliance with strategic and military arms control treaties (1984-1985).


Robert R. Reilly:


Hello and welcome to the Westminster Institute. I am Robert Reilly, its director. Today, we are welcoming Dr. Peter Vincent Pry to the program. He is the Executive Director of Task Force on National and Homeland Security. Dr. Pry served as chief of staff of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) attacks, as Director of the United States Nuclear Strategy Forum, and on the staffs of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States (2008-2009), the Commission on the New Strategic Posture of the United States (2006-2008), and the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), with portfolios in nuclear strategy, WMD, Russia, China, NATO, the Middle East, Intelligence, and Terrorism (1995-2001).

Dr. Pry was an Intelligence Officer with the Central Intelligence Agency responsible for analyzing Soviet and Russian nuclear strategy, operational plans, military doctrine, threat perceptions, and developing U.S. paradigms for strategic warning (1985-1995). He also served as a Verification Analyst at the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency responsible for assessing Soviet compliance with strategic and military arms control treaties (1984-1985).

He is the author of many books on national security issues, including Blackout Warfare, The Power And The Light, Will America be protected?, and Russia and America on the Nuclear Brink. He joins us today to discuss why the United States should make peace, not war with Russia. Welcome, Dr. Pry.

Dr. Peter Pry:

The Ukraine Crisis is a Strategic Opportunity

Well, thank you so much for having me. I know I am very much in a minority when it comes to thinking we should be making peace, not war with Russia. Most of the views in NATO and Washington is that we should be making it as difficult as possible for Russia to invade Ukraine, that we should be prepared to arm the Ukrainians, that we should impose massive sanctions and do whatever we can militarily to counter Russian aggression against Ukraine, and I think that that is really a fundamental strategic mistake because the Ukrainian crisis should be turned by the United States into a grand strategic opportunity to split the Russian-Chinese alliance, what I call the Sino-Russia axis, that many in Washington are finally waking up to the fact is real.

The Sino-Russian Alliance is Real

Up until this crisis, Washington has been whistling past the graveyard of the idea of Russia and China becoming allies. A lot of the mainstream view in Washington has been, oh, Russia and China could never become allies, they have too many differences, including geostrategic differences, and so we have comforted ourselves with the security blanket that because of these differences they cannot form an alliance even though our own NATO alliance is riven with cultural, and strategic, and all kinds of political differences.

Why do we imagine that Russia and China cannot resolve those differences just as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union resolved their differences at the beginning of World War II to be allies? The enemy of my enemy is my friend is usually all that is necessary to form a workable military alliance, and that is what we are facing now in Russia, with Russia and China, which is the most formidable military economic bloc the free world has ever faced.

It is more dangerous to us than the Soviet Union was.

China has the vast population. It has an extremely powerful economic engine. It is a military superpower now, made one by Russia. I mean one of the most astonishing things to me about the long denial by Washington and experts in Western European NATO about the idea that China and Russia are allies is the fact that China’s military power, about which we are so fearful these days, is basically built on Russian technology.

Russia spent the post-Cold War period providing China with advanced technologies for fighter aircraft, for ballistic missiles, for tanks, for command control communications, and intelligence, and satellites in combination with what Russia and China were able to steal from the United States. This is why, in a relatively short period of time, China’s military has been transformed, all of its services, including its nuclear forces, from a really backward kind of a military establishment that we did not have much fear of to the formidable military that it has today.

The U.S. Strategic Deterrent Holiday

And on top of that, what Russia brings to this alliance is its nuclear arsenal. Russia is the greatest nuclear superpower in the world. We like to think of ourselves as on a par with Russia when it comes to [being a] nuclear superpower because of things like the New START Treaty, but the fact of the matter is that Russia is way ahead of us. Partly, that is our own fault because of our neglect of our nuclear triad. All of our nuclear deterrent, our bombers, our ICBMs, and the ballistic missile submarines are 30 years behind Russia. That is because we neglected. Call it a strategic deterrent holiday that we took in the aftermath of the Cold War.

The ballistic missile submarines are the submarines that Ronald Reagan built. The bombers, the B-52 bombers, go back to the 50s and 60s. The Minuteman, our ICBM force, was deployed in 1972, and the warheads that are going to be delivered on those forces are not modern warheads either. They were designed during the Cold War and built during the Cold War, mostly during the period of Ronald Reagan, or before. [They are] 30 years old.

Russia’s Third-Generation Nuclear Weapons

This is not true for Russia and China. They have actually got modern, brand new delivery systems. Their warheads are brand new, but we have recently learned, I think it was last year that the State Department admitted, finally admitted, that Russia and China have been cheating on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and for 30 years have been conducting low yield nuclear tests, so that means that the technology in the warheads of Russia and China, especially Russia, are 30 years more advanced than the United States.

The Russians write openly about their third-generation nuclear weapons, which include things like super EMP weapons. These are weapons that create extraordinarily powerful EMP fields. [This third generation includes] weapons that are specialized for neutron radiation, for x radiation, ultra-low yield weapons that can be as low as a kiloton and can be used on a battlefield or for demolishing a bridge or a single building and create no fallout, clean nuclear weapons, tactical nuclear weapons that are designed [to have] a very low yield that can be used by all their services, jet fighters equipped with nuclear air-to-air missiles, ships that can carry tactical nuclear missiles to do battle with our navy, and nuclear weapons so small that they can be fired by tanks in tank to tank battles. We have nothing like this in our nuclear arsenal, in our nuclear inventory. And of course, when we are talking about tanks and airplanes and ships, that brings us to tactical nuclear weapons, which are not constrained by the New START treaty.

There was an agreement at the end of the Cold War called the Presidential Nuclear Initiative where the sides were supposed to dismantle their tactical nuclear weapons. The United States did that. We went from 15,000 tactical nuclear weapons to 180 tactical nuclear weapons today that are mostly obsolete gravity bombs that are deployed in various European countries and bunkers, bunkered in various European countries, mostly the Benelux countries, Italy, and Turkey. Russia has at least 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons of modern design. Some of the estimates are as high as 8,000. We do not really know how many they have, but we know they have at least 10 times as many as the United States, and Russia is in [a] partnership between China and Russia.

The other valuable thing that Russia brings to this alliance is that it is a desperate character. Much is usually made of the idea that the Russian economy is so low as compared to Venezuela, for example. Some people actually laugh at Russia as a ‘nuclear-armed trailer park,’ is how one wit has described it, that, oh, they are not that much of a threat because their economy is so small. I cannot understand that kind of thinking. People like that do not think strategically. The fact that Russia has a weak economy, and an incredibly strong conventional and nuclear military does not make them less dangerous, it makes them more dangerous.

The small economy means that Putin has a short window of opportunity to use this war machine that he has built at great cost, perhaps a decade to use it, and so Russia being a desperate character, he can sort of be for China the equivalent of the bad guy sidekick. If you have seen the Western movies, you know the person who can pick a fight with other people and is extremely aggressive, which is what Russia is, and the other guy can posture China as the more moderate character, the person who can restrain this bad actor, so this is a very dangerous combination.

And the combination is even wider than the Russia-China alliance to which Washington is just waking up [to] now because I and a minority of my other colleagues believe that this new axis includes not just Russia and China but also North Korea and Iran, and the reason for this is because North Korea is the nuclear threat that it is today because its nuclear deterrent is based on Russian and Chinese technology.

North Korea could never have gotten to where it is [without Russian and Chinese assistance]. I mean if just think about how rapid North Korea has acquired intercontinental ballistic missiles, gone from liquid fuel to solid fuel, it has gone from atomic weapons to hydrogen bomb. It has a hydrogen bomb now. It even has a super EMP weapon, which we do not have. There are only three countries in the world that have mobile ICBMs, mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles, missiles that can reach the United States: Russia, China, and North Korea. How did they get mobile ICBMs? The United States does not have mobile ICBMs. They got them from Russia and China. In fact, in one parade the North Koreans forgot to take off the logo from the transporter or erector launcher that showed it was made in China.

Iran is another thing. China and Russia are both in there, and so was North Korea, helping Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. Iran would not have advanced as far as it has without the help of Russia and China, so the relevance of this is [that] this is the most formidable block that we have ever faced. To put it in a better context so people can understand it, just taking one of these actors, one of the lesser actors, North Korea is more dangerous to the United States today than Nazi Germany was to the United States in World War II. Nazi Germany did not have the ability to reach out with intercontinental ballistic missiles and destroy American cities or American forces. North Korea does, so this is an extremely dangerous circumstance that we have. And how do we deal with it when our own military has been neglected frankly for decades, fighting the War on Terrorism?

People think, oh, if Russia invades Ukraine, we will send our forces over there, and combined with NATO [forces] that it is a real option, that possibly we could fight with the Russians and prevail in Ukraine. Most people do not think that. Most people are realistic not to think that, but I am afraid the average American and Biden supporter, for example, and even many Republicans, the average American who has not looked at the facts might think that we can do that, that we can go in there and prevail in a conflict with Russia over Ukraine, and therefore we should stand strong for Ukrainian independence.

Our military, despite the Trump administration’s claims that we have the strongest conventional military in the world and all the damage of the Obama years, has been overcome. Well, the President of the United States always has to say that, that our country is the strongest country in the world when it comes to the military. What is he supposed to do? Go out there in front of the television cameras and say, you know, our military is still weak, and it has not been recovered from the years of neglect under Obama?

And another problem is that we have been fighting war against terrorists. We are not prepared to fight against a peer competitor, a World War II type war. Our people have not been trained that way. We do not fight that way. We have got a lot to relearn, and we do not have the capabilities to fight peer competitors. That is the truth, but no president can say that. People like me and people who do the analysis and argue with each other, we can say that, and that is the reality.

The Pentagon’s own war games show that if Russia invaded Ukraine, not only could it invade Ukraine, but it could also overrun the front-line NATO states in Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic in 72 hours, and there is nothing we could do to stop [them], not in a conventional war. The only thing that possibly could stop them and the only thing that may be stopping them is nuclear deterrence. We only have 5,500 troops deployed in Poland, 5,500 troops. Russia has got an army of over a million men. It has got twenty thousand tanks, a thousand aircraft.

5,500 U.S. troops is not a significant conventional force, it is a nuclear trip wire, that is what it is. Our presence in the Baltic states is even smaller. It comes to less than a thousand troops. These troops would simply become prisoners if Russia decided to invade. The reason they are there is to serve as a nuclear deterrent because Russia knows that if it rolls over these states and kills Americans, it risks getting a nuclear war with the United States. And our nuclear deterrent as I have explained is way behind. It is not what it was during the Cold War. We are 30 years behind Russia and even China in terms of our nuclear capabilities. Can we win? And I do not think we have got the political will to win either.

One should never promise to fight a nuclear war for a country that most Americans cannot even find on a map. I cannot imagine an American president seriously willing to go to nuclear war for the sovereignty of Latvia or Lithuania, who are actually NATO member states and theoretically we are obliged to go to nuclear war for them, let alone for Ukraine. So what I am getting at here is that war is not an option for us.

Oh, another reason it is not an option for us because of the Russo-Chinese alliance is we are not prepared to fight a two-theater war. Even the Pentagon admits that we have so shrunk our military forces and our military capabilities that if we have any chance to prevail against a peer competitor, it has got to be a one theater war. That is another reason the Russians and Chinese have allied, because if Russia invades Ukraine, it is almost a certainty that China would annex Taiwan and the South China Sea. Certainly, we cannot even prevail against one of these powers in a one theater war.

Our war games also show that in a contest over Taiwan, we have had 18 Pentagon war games playing that scenario, and we have lost every single one of them against China for Taiwan, so this, the hawkish neocon – and I am a hawk myself, okay. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a Reagan conservative. I just do not want us getting into a World War III that we are going to lose, and the Biden administration is really playing with fire.

We have been talking about nuclear forces, conventional forces. One more thing I have to add in terms of the balance of power, the balance of military power between the sides. We are almost completely unable [to fight and] unprepared for the new way of warfare that Russia and China would probably use against us.

Most of the calculations and analysis people are looking at again is conventional firepower [and] nuclear firepower, but Russia and China both in their military doctrines – I have actually written a book on this, a new book on this called Blackout Warfare. [It is] the use of cyber weapons, the use of EMP weapons to black out and attack on adversaries’ critical infrastructures. For example, taking out the electric grid. You can do that with a cyber-attack. You could shut down the national electric grid, and if you did that, the United States would be helpless to even prosecute a war. 99 percent of the electricity goes to CONUS military bases, all of them. 99 percent of that comes from the civilian electric power grid. If you black that out, we cannot project military power overseas.

Does that sound like science fiction?

I would remind you that in April of last year when we had the first Ukrainian crisis, when Russia had massed troops on [Ukraine’s] border, we got a message from the Kremlin about this via television via a woman, a lady named Margarita Simonyan. She is a friend of Putin. She is the director of RT and Sputnik, the Russian media giants. She is basically an unofficial spokesman for the Kremlin, and in the midst of that crisis, she basically came on and said there is a war for Ukraine, it is going to be a cyber war, and we will win it. We could do something like demonstrate to the United States how vulnerable you are by blacking out just Harlem or we could inflict more pain by blacking out the state of Florida.

She specifically mentioned blacking out the State of Florida, [so] I hope Governor DeSantis listens to this, or we could win the war hands down by blacking out the whole United States. And in my book, Blackout Warfare, and not just in my book but numerous official U.S. government studies that were done, including by the Congressional EMP Commission, warned that the Russians and Chinese have this capability to shut down our critical infrastructures.

Almost every year Russia demonstrates it can black out Ukraine. Around Christmas every year they do a cyber-attack in the Ukrainian electric grid to black it out, so there is an enormous imbalance because we have neglected our conventional, our nuclear, and our cyber warfare capabilities. Even a nuclear EMP attack, by the way, is part of cyber warfare, and their doctrine is considered part of cyber warfare because the weapon does not go off. It is not a Hiroshima type attack where you end up detonating a weapon in a city. It is done in outer space. If the weapon went off and you were standing directly beneath it, it is going off 300 kilometers over your head.

You would not even hear it go off. You might not even see it, and it would not kill anybody, not immediately. There is no fallout, no radioactivity, just an electromagnetic pulse which fries the electronics across an area the size of a continent, so it is considered part of electromagnetic warfare or electronic warfare, and the initial part of any future war with Russia and China is going to be fought in the electromagnetic spectrum, initially, and maybe that would be all that would need to be done. They could win the war that way, so when you are facing the possibility of losing World War III, I think the smart thing to do is diplomacy and to try to find your way out of this confrontation, try to talk your way out of this confrontation. This country needs time to rebuild its military power, to rebuild its nuclear forces, [to] catch up with these guys, to learn about cyber warfare and EMP, to at least protect our critical infrastructure so we are not so vulnerable to it. We are unilaterally vulnerable to this.

Something that just happened last week on Thursday when the initial discussions between NATO and Russia failed, and they were not able to come up with a peace, almost immediately after that, Russia launched a cyber provocation and on to the Ukrainian government websites that said basically, be warned, if war comes, the worst is going to happen to you, the worst will happen to you. And in reaction to that, and this is appalling, but the Biden administration and NATO both publicly announced that they were sending cyber warriors into Ukraine to help them. And this was in the context of the United States saying that one of the things we would do to Russia is make cyber-attacks on Russia to punish it for attacking Ukraine.

By saying that, the West still does not get that cyber warfare is an existential threat. It is not gray zone aggression. It is not something that you do before the real war happens, [which] is how the Pentagon and too many of people in the West think of it. It is real war. For Russia and China, sending Western cyber warriors into Ukraine is equivalent to sending nuclear weapons into Ukraine to support Ukrainian activities. The Russians can misread that. They are a culture of strategic paranoia after all. They tend to overreact to things that the West does, and not just for diplomatic reasons but because they have a much darker worldview of what can happen in the world, having been the victim of invasions throughout their history.

So the bottom line for me here is we really do not have a military option. We do not have good military options. We do not have good non-military options for dealing with Russia. Look what happened with Crimea. Has Russia given back Crimea because of all of our sanctions and all of the screaming in the West? No, they have not. In fact, now they might take Ukraine. Now they might even be willing to go into the frontline NATO states and take back former territories of the USSR, which is part of Putin’s dream.

How do we stop that?

Well, I am not saying that this is a solution that is highly likely to work because it is always difficult. The worst time to negotiate is to negotiate from a position of weakness, but I think we have no choice. I think we should use the crisis to try to make Russia at least neutral, and if not, start the process of turning them into a strategic partner of the West again. I can go down the list of Russia’s proposed peace treaty. During this crisis, Russia offered a peace treaty to all the NATO nations, including the United States, that has six provisions. The so-called peace treaty has been rejected by NATO and the United States as just something the Russians would not honor, that it is just a pretext for invading Ukraine, and that we cannot possibly ourselves meet any of the conditions without losing credibility.

And I disagree with that. I think I think we could negotiate on the basis of the six provisions in the peace treaty, and if we were to do that, if we were to lift all economic sanctions against Russia during this crisis, I think we would have a good shot [at] achieving their neutrality, if not a strategic partnership, the beginning of a strategic partnership with Russia, not mainly because they trust us or even because we would be making these concessions, but I think Putin and the elites in Moscow are smart enough to understand that in the long run China is a greater threat to Russia than the Western powers.

China is eyeing hungrily Siberia. If I was Vladimir Putin and I was thinking of a future world dominated by Russia and China when they win World War III, and then I look at the balance of power, economic power between Russia and China, the only thing Russia will have going for it is its nuclear superiority, and that is going to be quickly disappearing. We have discovered 350 new ICBM silos that China is building in the desert. Those are probably for the DF-41 ICBM. That means in a few years China will probably go to the level of about 4,000 nuclear warheads, which is well on the way to starting to challenge not only the United States but Russia as the dominant nuclear superpower.

In terms of economic help, Russia has had the bitter experience in this partnership with China, that it is pretty much a one-way street. I mean China has not really done a lot to help Russia economically. Part of the reason for Russia providing this technology to China was to get hard currency. It has had to sell its military secrets to China and its military technologies to China to stay alive, to keep its head above water economically, so China has not been a very friendly partner economically.

I think their current experiences with China would provide grounds for them to look to the West if we were willing to provide that opening, to say look, let us do a reset again, let us try the reset again. We will accommodate your strategic security interests and we will provide you with the more economic benefits than China could, and you can trust us you know in the long run a lot more than China. I think Russia would rather be on our side, but unfortunately the history of our relations has been to push them away.

You may recall if we cast our minds back, maybe many people are not even around now, but if you go back to the end of the Cold War when we had wiser heads in Washington, the goal was to make Russia a strategic partner of the West. We wanted to bring Russia into the community of nations in the West. We hoped that Russia would adopt democratic institutions and a free market economy, and the reason we did that was not just out of benign behavior, we did not want a revanchist Russia starting a new Cold War and coming back to haunt us.

We wanted to try to uproot the problems that had caused the Cold War in the first place, and unfortunately during the eight years of the Clinton administration, they completely bungled that. The Clinton administration put Russia on the back burner. It was not our highest priority. Clinton cared a lot more about getting Ukraine to give up its nuclear weapons. By the way, we promised to protect Ukrainian sovereignty if they gave up their nuclear weapons under the under the Bucharest Agreement.

Clinton was much more concerned with American domestic politics than he was with Russia, and the people that he put in charge of Russia policy, people like Strobe Talbot, frankly, were sympathetic to socialism and to a lot of the communists. The hundreds of millions and the billions that we gave to Russia went mostly to the Russian elites from the Soviet period, the nomenklatura who were still in charge of Russian institutions, and then ended up in Swiss bank accounts.

And it convinced the average Russian that, gee, you know, the communists were right about capitalism and democracy and free enterprise. It is really a criminal enterprise. It is really the equivalent of putting the mafia in charge of everything. And you may recall that during the Clinton years, under President Boris Yeltsin the Russian mafia basically was in charge of everything it seemed, and the average Russian lost what little he had from the Soviet period, and that paved the way for the rise of dictator Putin.

And then, under the Bush administration, because this was a bipartisan failure, most of the enlargement of NATO, the expansion of NATO, happened under George W. Bush. You had mentioned in the beginning some of my background. One of the responsibilities I had during this period was I was on the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) staff, and one of my portfolios was NATO enlargement. They sent me to the former Warsaw Pact countries that wanted to come into NATO, and I met with their political and military leaders to try to and came back to advise Congress on should we be enlarging NATO, what do these countries bring to the table in terms of advantaging NATO. And they sent me there so often that I actually ended up having favorite restaurants in countries like Latvia, but my position was (and I was a minority there) that we should not be enlarging NATO, that it would inevitably put us on a collision course with Russia, that Russia was going to come back someday and it would cause a new Cold War, and it would probably push Russia into the arms of China if we did that. Moreover, as sympathetic as I was to these victims of communism, these people who had lived under the communist yoke, I thought it would be unethical to enlarge NATO to countries that we could not defend in any way except by nuclear weapons.

We just could not defend NATO with conventional forces. Let us not forget that during the Cold War, the posture of our military was to try to save Western European NATO by taking the defensive posture. We hoped to stop the Soviet tank armies at the Fulda Gap in Germany. We were not talking about projecting power into Eastern Europe. We did not have the ability to do that. We were facing a five-to-one disadvantage in terms of tanks, enormous disadvantages in terms of aircraft and artillery, and we face those disadvantages today and an even worse advantage in tactical nuclear weapons.

How in the world are we supposed to project power into eastern Europe to rescue those countries when we were hard pressed to just defend Western Europe? It did not make any sense then and it makes even less sense today. During the Cold War, Germany had over a thousand tanks. Today it has about 440 main battle tanks, and if you go across their services, the number of soldiers they have, the jets, they have also shrunken away as they have failed to provide for their defenses.

It was a grand strategic mistake for us to go into Eastern Europe, but I think the reason we did it – and by the way, the late great Floyd Spence was with me. He was the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC). When I came back, I gave him his reports. We had many talks. We had talks with other members and they basically saw the writing on the wall, and they understood that it would be unwise to enlarge NATO, but I remember I had a personal conversation with Chairman Spence about this, and he said I agree with you, Peter, but politically, the momentum behind this is so great that we just cannot stop it anymore. The House Armed Services Committee on its own would not be able to have stopped it, and so it went forward. And I and many members of that Committee thought that it was going to end badly.

Why did they do it?

Well, you might recall also at the end of the Cold War there was a book called The End of History by Francis Fukayama that predicted that the long struggle between tyranny and freedom had been won by the United States at the end of the Cold War, and that in the future all countries, including countries like Russia and China, were eventually going to embrace our values, our systems, so the idea of a resurgent, revanchist, authoritarian Russia was not perceived as credible by a lot of people at the time. They thought, oh, we won the Cold War, we are not going to have to worry about this nightmare that people like Peter Pry are talking about. Well, they ended up being wrong, and I ended up being right about that, and here we are. This is the very thing that we had wanted to avoid and that is where we are.

The best way out of it is to make peace, not war with Russia as my article argues, and I think there are ways. I would like to go over the Russian offers in terms of their peace treaty, their six points, and just to discuss them and see are these really so unacceptable that we cannot do them. The first provision is that NATO must not accept new members, including Ukraine. In other words, let us stop the eastward expansion of NATO, and not let Ukraine into NATO. That is considered outrageous. It has already been rejected. Of course, there is no final word in diplomacy. We can always find ways to reverse that. I think that that is a perfectly reasonable demand. The whole reason we are in this fix now is because of the eastward expansion of NATO.

There is this thing called a Partnership for Peace that a lot of Americans do not know about, and it is sort of an intermediate step toward membership in NATO, and the Russians certainly know about it. If you look at who is in the Partnership for Peace, it includes Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, [and] Tajikistan. All the territories of the former Soviet Union are in the Partnership for Peace, and we have basically said nyet to all of these things. From Russia’s perspective if we were to go forward with incorporating into NATO the Partnership for Peace members, which is the only reason these countries have joined the Partnership for Peace, Russia would in fact be surrounded by NATO member states, and we would be taking on board states that we cannot defend with conventional arms.

The only way we could defend them is by putting U.S. troops or NATO troops forward to serve as a nuclear tripwire. Never promise to go to nuclear war for a country you cannot find on the map. How many Americans know where Kyrgyzstan is? I think it is very much in our interest to not expand NATO and not to bring Ukraine in.

By the way, another reason the Russians are so upset about Ukraine, and one of the things I should mention, and I mentioned this in my article, [is that] the Russians have been warning for years that Ukraine is a nuclear tripwire for them, that they would be willing to go to nuclear war to stop Ukraine from coming into NATO. This is not a new thing they have been saying. When I was on the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) back in 1998, the Russian embassy – even though I was just a congressional staffer with the portfolio on NATO enlargement – the Russian embassy actually sent a representative to meet with me to warn me that if you bring Ukraine into NATO, it could be a nuclear war, so they have warned officials high and low, and you could not get much lower than me, about the possibility of nuclear war over NATO.

Robert R. Reilly:

Peter, if I may because this is such an important point just to ask you to amplify it. I mean the larger question that is raised by this is since when did Ukraine become a vital national security concern of the United States? However, today, Wendy Sherman, Deputy Secretary of State, was in Switzerland, meeting with the Russians, saying nothing will compromise NATO’s open-door policy, which means other candidates are welcome to apply, including Ukraine.

President Putin said quite clearly that Moscow has nowhere further to retreat to in the sense that were Ukraine to join NATO, the distance between that border, which would now be a border of a foreign military alliance, which is what NATO is, would cut the distance to Moscow to less than 300 miles, so they lose their strategic depth.

On the other hand, Poland is saying if such an agreement were reached with Russia to not bring Ukraine in, Poland would lose its strategic depth. Here are two immiscible positions. It is hard to see, when they have been set forth with such determination by both sides, how a compromise is going to be reached on no further NATO expansion on the one hand, and the determined open-door policy on the other.

Well, this is a desperate strategy to rescue the United States. What I am proposing is a desperate last-ditch strategy to rescue the United States from losing World War III because if we press forward in this direction, I believe there is a very high possibility of a nuclear World War III or a cyber–World War III or a conventional World War III or all of the above, and we will lose all of them however it unfolds. And the outcome will be a new world order dominated by Russia and China, and us, the defeated. And I do not have high expectations the Biden administration or anybody is going to listen to me. I am standing athwart the railroad tracks of history with the locomotive rushing on, crying stop, hoping, but you are right with us taking an intractable position like this, it is guaranteeing a conflict.

And one of the things that happened just over the weekend after the revelation, the public acknowledgement, in fact the announcement that we were sending cyber warriors into Ukraine, over the weekend, a member of the Russian Duma said that in order to demonstrate Russia’s resolve and sincerity that Ukrainian admission into NATO would result in a nuclear war, he proposed that they launch a hypersonic warhead and detonate it in the Nevada test area, that they give us warning, but that they actually do that. Now that is an example of how close we are to the to the cliff.

To reinforce the point that you made about how if Ukraine were to enter NATO, how dangerous that would be from Russia’s perspective, I think people should look at [a documentary]. I do not know if this is available on HBO [or] on the internet. It is on my television. There is a Russian multiple part documentary on the history of the Great Fatherland War. It is called Soviet Storm: World War II. I think it would be worth watching the first episode or two about Operation Barbarossa and what the situation of Russia was in World War II when Nazi Germany had taken Kiev and reached the borders of Ukraine.

That was the last spring. I mean most people thought that when the Nazi armies had gotten that far, that the fall of Russia was almost inevitable, and it would have probably been inevitable if the winter had not come early and if the Russians had not had T-34s and some brilliant generalship on their side to launch a winter offensive against the Germans. The Germans had not prepared for that. From the Russian perspective, we must remember that in World War II, Russia lost 20 to 30 million people fighting the Nazis, and in these very areas what are called the bloodlands for good reason because they were saturated with blood as a consequence, Russian blood, as a consequence of almost losing World War II because the adversaries, Nazi Germany, had been able to advance that far, so of course this is unacceptable to them.

But most Americans, and Washington itself, do not seem to understand that. [They] do not seem to be capable of standing in Russia’s shoes and objectively looking at the strategic situation. I think they are blinded by a fundamental difference in strategic cultures. While the Russian history has made them let us call it strategic paranoia, alright, they see threats behind every tree because of their dark history, we are just the opposite.

Our strategic culture is what I would call a strategic culture of dysfunctional optimism because throughout most of our history, we have been protected, isolated from the rest of the world by the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. And even in the worst wars if you compare the casualties [that] we took in World War I compared to those that Russia suffered or the casualties that the United States suffered in World War II, a few hundred thousand deaths and casualties compared to the millions that Russia lost in World War II, we have been very fortunate and that is reflected in our attitude.

And we have this naive belief that the rest of the world, including real hard cases like Russia and China who have had very bloody histories and are there are cultures of strategic paranoia, that they will understand that America does not do pearl harbors, America does not do nuclear pearl harbors, and why do not they trust us, that everything that we do is going to be perceived by the other side as basically perfectly innocent, in the interests of larger mankind, and is not intended to put them at risk? Well, they do not see us that way, and we never seem to grasp that the other side has a legitimate [security concern]. Even when it has illegitimate security concerns, we put ourselves in danger when we ignore those concerns, whether they are legitimate or illegitimate. And we are now even facing threats of a nuclear strike on Nevada over Ukraine. And God knows why because as you pointed out, what is America’s interest?

How is the security of the American people advanced if we did bring Ukraine into NATO?

Our security is actually being endangered by allowing this ambiguity to exist. In the article I wrote that I think another part of the problem, and the problem is on us, is that since 1945 the United States has tried to create a new world order based on international law and international norms, okay, but fundamentally governed by international law. I mean partly its physical manifestation is the United Nations and the Hague Court, alright, and that will be normalized for everybody to obey international law.

That situation has never existed in history, and it appeared to be realistic in 1945, perhaps, and through much of the Cold War, because the United States was the dominant power economically and militarily throughout that period, but that situation does not exist anymore. We have lost our military dominance for sure, and our nuclear dominance and even our economic dominance has been lost, so we do not have the material wherewithal to continue to sustain this concept of this Camelot-like concept of a world that is going to be governed by international law. I think that is a lot of what is motivating Washington elites to yell at Russia, you have got to respect Ukrainian sovereignty, we are going to punish you if you do not. And I think we need to go back to a more realistic vision of how the world was managed that existed before 1945.

I refer to Metternich in the article I wrote, the great Austrian statesman who in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars organized the Concert of Europe by saying that look, we do not all have the same values, but we can recognize that other various nations have spheres of influence, alright, and everybody will respect the balance of power. We did not have this concept of a world order based on global international law at the time of Metternich.

Metternich has gotten a lot of bad press in history because subsequently he was blamed for World War I, but when you think about it, he did a lot better than we did. The Metternich model for organizing world affairs [is] respecting balances of power, because you have actually invested in armies and navies to maintain the balance of power and respecting spheres of influence, while at the same time the spheres of influence are based on the idea that the sovereignty of the nations within those spheres is going to be respected, alright. It was a century before we went from the Napoleonic wars to World War I.

The idea of an international law/international order sort of came up after World War I with the League of Nations, and it was not a century before we had World War II, and this paradigm has not been working out very well, so I think we need to go back to a more classical approach to managing our foreign policy and that would be, even though we do not like Russia, even though they are an authoritarian state, it is in our interests to try to split the Sino-Russian alliance. And we should be willing to make many concessions to Russia to draw them in our direction, and I think their natural direction is in our direction. They are part of the West. We are not as much of a threat to them as China is. I think if we start opening that door, we might be surprised at how quickly we could turn this around.

And if we could break the Sino-Russian alliance, China is a very conservative actor, they would in effect be isolated. Instead of threatening military aggression to advance their aims, I think they would be drawn into the diplomatic political balance of power game, and so we would be getting away from the edge of a nuclear World War III, and into a period of negotiating and maneuvering as was the case between the Napoleonic wars and World War I.

Robert R. Reilly:

If I could just say, Peter, two quick points. One, that no one that I know of [who is of] a military perspective doubts that should Russia move, it can take Ukraine, especially in light of the fact that the United States and NATO have made clear they will not deploy military forces in response to that, so Putin is holding the cards here.

Dr. Peter Pry:


Robert R. Reilly:

I mean what he is facing is the retaliation that Biden has darkly alluded to as well as other NATO member states have, and which Putin responded to by saying that would completely break our relations should that happen. Whatever Putin wants now, he seems to have the cards in his hand to get. Now in the largest picture that you just presented, the Congress of Vienna and what came out of it was made possible by the defeat of Napoleon. Napoleon made France a non-status quo power. Today, we have two non-status quo powers, Russia and China, both of which are fueled by a terrible sense of grievance.

Dr. Peter Pry:


Robert R. Reilly:

China [is motivated] by its century of humiliation, Russia by its loss of empire, and whereas Putin has not suggested reconstituting the Soviet Union, he has repeatedly made the case that there is a larger Russia that he has in mind, that was traditional, and that Russia should obtain. At the heart of that of course is Ukraine.

Now, both China and Russia as non-status quo powers have developed the military power to solve, or to from a perspective of military superiority, address their grievances or get us to address their grievances. Your point is that we ought to do that because we are not in a military position to face them down. The concert of nations to which you elude that accepts these great differences between these various political systems is only possible if you have status quo powers, and these are not status quo powers.

Dr. Peter Pry:

Well, the analogy is imperfect because as you noted the non-status quo power, France, was defeated and prostrated, alright, and we are not in a position to create the circumstances, the geostrategic circumstances, that existed at the end of the Napoleonic War by defeating Russia and China. I am hoping that we can avoid a World War III that we are going to lose by splitting the Sino-Russo axis, by turning lemons into lemonade as it were, and utilizing this crisis as a way of trying to accommodate Russia’s strategic interests. That is what I think we should be doing.

And a lot of my conservative friends have called me Neville Chamberlain and I am an appeaser for doing that. However they may be, I would remind them that most of them who hate Neville Chamberlain are great admirers of Churchill, and Churchill was willing to make common cause with Stalin in order to defeat Nazi Germany, and I think that is how we should be thinking about this situation that we have. We are not in World War III, not as a shooting war, yet we are on the verge of it becoming that. If it does become that and we have to face the alliance of Russia and China, we are going to lose.

The only way we can possibly win, the only way we can prevent it I think is by changing Russia’s mind about its relationship with the West, at least getting them into neutrality, ideally building a strategic partnership with them, and I think Putin is smart enough to see that he is better off with the West than he is with China because in the long run, Russia is not going to be an equal partner with China. Russia will be eaten by China if there is a World War III and there is a new world order that is dominated by Russia and China.

All of these things make me hopeful that there is some possibility, okay, I do not say that it is a great possibility, maybe it is a 50-50 kind of a thing, but trying to find a diplomatic solution is a lot better than staying the course that we are on now, that is going to, I think, drive us over the cliff and put us into a losing war.

Robert R. Reilly:

If we could just address one other of the items in Russia’s so-called treaty. You mentioned no further expansion of NATO, therefore no prospect of Ukraine entering NATO, but it also says no NATO forces in any of the new NATO countries who were given membership since 1997, which means, of course, not in the Baltic countries but also not in Poland. That seems to be a non-starter.

Dr. Peter Pry:

It is a non-starter for the United States.

Robert R. Reilly:

They would basically be agreeing to their own dissolution of that security pact.

Dr. Peter Pry:

That is what NATO says, okay, and that is what Washington says, and that is why it is considered a non-starter. I think that is in our interests. The forces that we have deployed to these countries [are recent deployments]. It is only relatively recently that because of the emerging threat from Russia that we started putting Western forces, U.S. forces, into these countries. They are very small. We only have 5,500 troops in Poland. From a military perspective, they are not a credible deterrent for a conventional war. They are basically nuclear tripwires.

I think it was a mistake in the first place for us to enlarge NATO, and I think America’s first obligation is to the security of the American people. I think if it were put to a vote by the American people about do we want to get in a nuclear war with Russia over the sovereignty of Slovakia, they would say hell no, and that is my view as well. It was a mistake to have enlarged this in the first place, and it is making the matters worse by our by forward deploying our forces into these areas, so the Russian request for us to pull our forces back I think is reasonable from a Russian security perspective. And I think it is even more in our own interests to do that because we are dealing with a paranoid strategic culture there, and anything that reduces the possibility of miscalculation that results in a nuclear war is a good thing in my view.

I do not think it would result in a dissolution of NATO. That is the argument that people make. It would certainly diminish the credibility of NATO, but these countries were eager to join NATO before we had troops in their territory, and they were in NATO for some years before a single American soldier appeared on their territory. They will still be NATO members and we will still have the legal obligation to defend them. It may have the positive effect of also encouraging them to invest more in their own defense, and not rely so heavily on the U.S. nuclear guarantee for their defense, which is I think one of the mistakes we have made with the Western European NATO.

And they have under-invested because in effect the West Europeans have envisioned a future World War III as being fought over their heads between the homelands of what was then the Soviet Union during the Cold War and the United States. I think we owe the American people a better deal than that when it comes to providing further for their security, so I agree with you that the Biden administration was saying that that is a non-starter, but I disagree. I think it is in our own interests to do that.

Robert R. Reilly:

Since you alluded to Neville Chamberlain, of course his name has been mud for a long time, but there is a growing acknowledgement that Chamberlain saw the threat to the extent that he was the one who started the rearmament of Great Britain. And there is a general admission that had Great Britain gone to war with Nazi Germany beforehand, it would have lost. It was only getting that extra time in which to build the Spitfires and the other military forces that it was able to enter the war when Nazi Germany invaded Poland.

Here is the question. Let us say the United States did as you suggest, but does it have a sufficient sense of alarm that it would use this opportunity, this pause, to undertake the serious military modernization that is required for us to defend ourselves?

Dr. Peter Pry:

Well, I think that that is even likely to happen. Oh, but responding to what you said about Neville Chamberlain first, I agree with you, and I agree with the revisionists who are trying to remove the mud from Neville Chamberlain’s name. Nonetheless, when my colleagues have compared me to Neville Chamberlain, I do not think it was meant as a compliment. But moving on, yeah, I think that is a real risk that we will not do that. I am not saying that this what I am proposing is some kind of a silver bullet that is going to solve all our problems. In fact, my deep fear here is that the American Empire, if you want to call it that, is in its dying stages and that we have lost the political will to defend our own interests.

It is sort of like the end of the Roman Empire. There was one time when they were not even able to maintain Hadrian’s Wall anymore, and you saw the rise of walled cities in Western Europe, which a lot of archaeologists point to that as the end of Roman Empire because prior to that the people could count on the legions to defend them, but the rise of walled cities happened. Most cities during the classical period under the Roman Empire did not have walls, did not have defensive walls.

We may be reaching that point where we have to build a wall around the United States and go into a fortress America posture because our political leadership does not have the will to maintain the commitments that we have made overseas. My proposal is trying to buy us time. If we think NATO is important and we want to defend NATO and we want to continue to have a world order that has got some chance of our values and freedoms, maybe the vision that Francis Fukuyama had coming true someday, so that it will spread, then we need time to build the military and economic wherewithal to do that, but given current trends and given the kind of leadership that we have had in recent years, I am not convinced at all that we will be able to make the right decisions.

We may well continue to be [led poorly], especially with our country divided as it is over internal [issues]. We have got a cold civil war that is getting more and more intense, which is also dangerous to our national security by the way. China and Russia and North Korea and Iran all see that, and it affects their decisions on war or peace to see us so divided. You may well be correct, but what is the alternative? If we decide to leave those leave those troops there so they become prison captured and members of a prisoner of POW camp in Russia, how would that be for us?

The worst outcome is for the United States to get in a major war that it is going to lose. We cannot afford that, so that is the outcome I am trying to avoid. I am not hopeful that we are going to end up doing the right thing and rebuilding our military, but following the path of diplomacy with Russia, and trying to break up the Russian-Chinese alliance is the best bet we have got for keeping NATO relevant and keeping the United States engaged in the world.

Robert R. Reilly:

Well, I am afraid that we have run out of time. I would like to thank Dr. Peter Pry for discussing with us today why the United States should make peace, not war with Russia. I also invite our audience to go to the Westminster institute website where you will find a number of programs and lectures on this subject of Russia, also on China, Islam, and other things that I hope will be of interest to you. Thank you for joining us today. I am Robert Reilly.