Elissa Slotkin: Shifting sands

April 20, 2022 1:04:54
Kaltura Video

Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin will provide her thoughts on a series of tectonic shifts in the international security landscape. April, 2022.


0:00:00.5 Ann Chih Lin: My name is Ann Chih Lin, I'm an Associate Professor of Public Policy here at the Ford School, and also the director of the university's Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies. And this event is cosponsored by The Lieberthal-Rogel Center, as well as the Weiser Diplomacy Center here in the Ford School. A word on our format today, following representative Slotkin talk, I'll join her in conversation around 6:30 PM. I'll have a question or two of my own to sort of start the ball rolling, and then we'll open up to questions from the audience and questions from those of you on live stream. If you're in the audience, please feel free to just raise your hand, and if you're coming on live stream, please just type your questions into the YouTube chat, two of our fantastic students, Sarah Godick and Dan Russell or Daniel Hays, excuse me, are both here, and they will be asking the YouTube questions on your behalf. So it's now my pleasure to introduce representative Elissa Slotkin. Elissa Slotkin has dedicated her career to national service. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which took place during her first week of graduate school at Columbia, she was recruited by the CIA to become a Middle East analyst, serving three tours in Iraq alongside the military.

0:01:23.3 AL: She went on to serve in Senior National Security roles under both presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and eventually served as acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs at the Pentagon. Since 2018, Slotkin has represented Michigan's 8th district in Congress, which stretches from Rochester Hills to our east and the capital of Michigan to our west. It also includes that other university there in East Lansing. She serves on the House Armed Services Committee, the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and the House committee on Homeland Security, where she is the chair of the subcommittee on intelligence and counter-terrorism. In her talk tonight, Congresswoman Slotkin will share timely insights into the shifting international security landscape, which is fundamentally altering the challenges facing the United States and our allies. With that, please join me in welcoming United States Representative, Elissa Slotkin.


0:02:35.8 Elissa Slotkin: I guess this mic isn't what I'm using. Hello, everybody. Lovely to see you in person. Thank you, Professor Lin for the kind introduction. I'm happy to be here in person. The last time I was here actually was right before COVID, I guess in 2019. It was a Veterans Day, and I remember 'cause we got an unexpected snowstorm, and I was a relatively new member of Congress, and I had this idea that I would go from all our Veterans Days events, and then I would get to the Ford School and I would change into appropriate clothing when I was here and not be wearing my boots and my whole snow suit, and I showed up on a panel with General Clapper and General Nakasone and all four stars in my Michigan boots and my Carhartt, so it's nice to be in professional gear here in front of the Ford School. So more importantly, I'm glad to be here. I know some of you are participating virtually. I know it's a busy time, end of semester, you guys are coming up on the end of the year, and I just thought it was an important moment to have a conversation, particularly with young people about to enter the world of public service or public policy, because I really think things are at a major inflection point on those issues, and it's a good time to have that conversation. As was mentioned, I was literally on my second day of grad school when 9/11 happened, and I think...

0:03:56.7 ES: I very quickly became part of what's called the 9/11 babies, the generation of young people, who from that attack on the United States, joined the military, joined the CIA, got involved in public policy, basically were inspired to change their plans and do something different, and indeed it led me to a life at the CIA and at the Pentagon, and was just extremely formative to me. And I think while that day really birthed the 9/11 generation, we are yet to figure out what your name is for this generation of public policy people, of people who are doing... Who wanna go into national service? 

0:04:37.4 ES: I think we're at such a pivotal moment that you will need a name, but I don't know what the name is, someone should get that out and crowdsource that, but something that captures sort of growing up in the post-9/11 period, the rise of technology as an instrument in Foreign Affairs, and then of course, incorporate just the massive impact of globalization, most notably, and most recently, things like COVID and a global pandemic, there's something really different about the era that we're going into than the one that I came out of graduate school too. So in that spirit, I thought that it would be worthwhile to just go through, from my perspective, at least, how some of those challenges are changing, and then at the end, I'll make my plug that I always make, which is to really seriously consider public service as a career, especially for folks who are going through the training at the Ford School.

0:05:33.3 ES: I think it's one of the most fulfilling things you can do with your time, especially now. You know, I think it's fair to say we have several overlapping and central challenges in this new era, whatever this new generation is gonna be called, that unipolar moment at the end of the Cold War that we entered where we were the winners is decisively over. We now find ourselves with the re-emergence of great power competition, in which authoritarian near-peer adversaries are quite simply looking to re-order the international system. And it's important to understand why this is a challenge. I mean, I think it's clear that the hallmark of the 20th century was the spread of democracy around the world. That's been our greatest export as the United States, it's made American safer and more prosperous. And it really is the reason why we call the 20th century, the American century. It expanded our influence abroad, it brought us new allies and new partners, and it provided us the opportunity to foster cooperation across the globe that lifted billions out of poverty, ended wars and improved people's lives, particularly after World War II.

0:06:46.0 ES: But we have to face facts that the dynamics have really changed, and the landscape is very, very different. For a long time, we took for granted that democracy was gonna continue its march, that it was kind of a trend line that would just keep going and maybe it would spike and maybe it would plateau, but it would just keep going in the same direction, and that the rules-based order would just be something that would be self-reinforcing and become the status quo, and right now we are seriously seeing those challenged in a major way. Slowly but surely, the autocracies are working to chip away at that status quo, and instead of being complacent, I feel it's very important that the United States help maintain that line.

0:07:29.4 ES: Our principal competitors are Putin's Russia and the Chinese Communist Party. I'm sure that's all very familiar to folks in this audience, and we are at obviously a deeply troubling time with Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which is an attempt to erase that country from existence. It's given us a really stark reminder that hard power still matters, it's not just soft power, and Putin is literally trying to redraw the map after fundamentally altering... And in the meantime, he's fundamentally altering geopolitics as we know it. To be honest, Russia was on its way out as being a peer adversary for us, its economy is smaller than a bunch of US states, its demographics are trending negatively, they're getting older and they're not replacing with young people. Besides their seriously sizable nuclear arsenal, its military is much weaker than anticipated, and we're seeing that in real time in Ukraine, but Putin's actions, which I really believe to be a desperate gasp at relevance, has made Russia a much more immediate threat to international security, and it's driven a real sea change in European national security and foreign policy.

0:08:45.5 ES: China, meanwhile, is a real competitor, its economy continues to expand, it's emerged as a real incubator for next generation technologies, it continues to invest very heavily in their military and in military technology. These and other facets of China's national power have enabled it to significantly expand its international influence over the past decade. We were talking just before this event, or before I started speaking, about just how dramatically you can see things change with China over the last 20 years, and this wouldn't necessarily be a problem, but for the Chinese Communist Party intent on molding the international system into one that is more conducive to and accommodating to its authoritarian system of government. It does not always respect individual rights, liberty, and equality under law. But here's the thing, we have to recognize that we face significant challenges at home that will impact our role abroad.

0:09:49.4 ES: A signature challenge is posed by our own internal divisions. This may be the greatest threat to our national security. The wellspring of national power is deep in the United States, but only so long as all of us remain united around some core basic beliefs and aspirations. And additionally, one of the other things I wanna talk about today is acknowledging that a democratic decision-making process, both on national security issues and on domestic issues is really slow and bureaucratic. We simply don't make quick decisions at the national level, so in a moment in time when technology and globalization has sped up world events to a dizzying pace, our ability to react, let alone lead is not keeping pace.

0:10:40.6 ES: So we face a range of serious challenges, and I'll go through them sort of in kind, and then I'm happy to open it up and have a conversation with Professor Lin. So we know you're witnessing and going to school during a major geopolitical event, Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24th, after many months of aggressive posturing, after a deliberate strategy by the Biden administration to release declassified information to shame Russia out of an invasion did not work. This escalation, what comes after, obviously 2014, kind of a longer history of Russia trying to eat away at corners of Ukraine, Putin very clearly thought he could recapture some glory of the Russian empire, the Soviet Union, and he thought that he would be able to exact a decisive blow to European and Trans-Atlantic unity. He thought he could literally wipe Ukraine off the map, and then in the meantime, a sort of a secondary benefit, fracture, the EU, the European Union and NATO, and he was wrong. Russia's actions have led to Europe more unified in opposing Russian aggression than most people can remember, the reinvigoration of NATO, which isn't the most dynamic of organizations, but has sort of woken up to the fact that this threat on their Eastern flank is a real threat.

0:12:09.5 ES: It's driven major European powers to abandon a decades-long approach to foreign and national security policy, which was kind of holding everything at arm's length and thinking that soft power would be the only thing that mattered, and then it's taken previously neutral countries, Finland and Sweden... As someone who worked at the Pentagon, do you know how long we worked on those countries and tried to entice them into coalition with NATO, and now are raising their hands and wanting to join. It's really deepened Russia's diplomatic and economic isolation, it's driven a bunch of European countries. Do you know how often we begged the Europeans, particularly the Germans, to un-entangle their dependency on Russian gas? I mean, a long time. A long time. And it's also revealed in front of the world that the Russian military, particularly their army, their land forces, are not nearly as capable as we thought, in basic things like getting food, fuel and water to their troops, things that we train very new militaries to do. Taken together, Russia is likely to emerge much weaker from this conflict, exactly the opposite of what Putin intended. And to be clear, the war is far from over, and it is devastating to watch on television, on social media, the Ukrainians are performing amazingly, they are learning to use equipment within two or three days and bringing it to bear to really score some points against the Russians.

0:13:40.9 ES: But I think at the end of the day, when we get through this conflict, we'll have a dramatic shift in the balance of power in Europe. And the thing we're worried about now is what happens when Putin sees again and again that he's not succeeding? When you corner an angry dog, do they lay down, or do they bite? And that's the reason why we've been really judicious about thinking... I think on both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans, particularly on the Armed Services Committee where I serve, which is still a very bipartisan committee, we've been very judicious about the approach to Putin because he has a different threshold for using nuclear weapons than the United States. For us, they're like an existential... The End of the World kind of stuff. I'm a Cold War kid, and it was like strategic nukes are for the end of the world when they're destroying us and we're destroying them, tactical nukes that could be pulled into Belarus and used via telemetry in Ukraine and Europe, very different story. And I think that's why you see a real careful-ness or judicious-ness coming out of Washington right now.

0:14:51.5 ES: So I think there is this profound moment in history that we are going through, and it's a real test of democratic unity. And to be clear, we're just in the very early days of those tests, often sort of the democratic nations of the world do really well in the first few months of a test, and then they sort of peter off. When public opinion gets tired or they move on to something else, so I think we have...

0:15:21.7 ES: The test is still ongoing, it is definitely not over, just because we've had a strong robust response to Russian aggression. And look, the United States, we are a compassionate people, if you asked people on January 24th, a month before the war, are you ready to get engaged and potentially send American men and women to fight in Ukraine, the average person would have said no. The minute you start showing real life videos of people who are fighting for their country, who are standing up, who are organizing, you have American sentiment really rally behind them, 'cause we're a compassionate people, and we empathize with people who are protecting their own country. And I think the best thing I can tell you from a Washington perspective is that in my three plus short years in Congress, I have not seen more bipartisanship than on the issue of Russia and Ukraine. And that goes for my national security committees, but it also goes for rank and file, because people I think really understand that it's democracy versus autocracy, and there might be some outliers, frankly, on the left and on the right who are like, let's quit this whole thing for very different reasons.

0:16:36.3 ES: Those people have lost their way. I think the majority, like the vast majority believe that it is important to send a strong united voice, and I think... I was in at the Munich Security Conference in February, just two days, Zelenskyy was there, just two days before the invasion, I went on a what's called the McCain delegation, which is the sort of legacy, John McCain bipartisan group of Senators and Congress people go to Munich together and engage as one delegation, and it was amazing how we would like ping-pong back between each other. I would start something, a Republican Senator would come back on the thought, we kept going and we were engaging foreign leaders with one voice. And in my time in Congress, I have not seen that and experienced that, so I think that it's been a very important moment in Congress. And I think it reminds us, and I hope that it reminds the next generation of policy makers that we are not a perfect country, but we're sure better than the alternatives, and I still believe in a strong, robust American leadership in the world, not because we get everything right, but because the alternatives of a Russian leadership role or a Chinese communist party leadership role are not anywhere near as good as we can do.

0:18:05.8 ES: So China. So beyond the immediate threat that Russia poses to Europe right now, the much more significant long-term challenge is China, and China is a fundamentally different China, a challenge... Excuse me. To be clear, the US does not seek conflict with China, nor do we seek to contain China, the Cold War kids will remember containment of Russia, that is not possible with China because they're purely integrated into every economy that I know in the world. The Chinese people have incredible potential, there's literally no limit to what that country can do, if allowed to be free and allowed to reach that potential, and that's been our approach, or that was our approach for many, many years since Nixon first went to China. It's establishing diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China in order to support China's economic modernization, and the US leaders recognized at that time the power and potential of China, and as it took on sort of domestic reforms and sought to emerge itself as a responsible stakeholder in the international system. That was the play. That was the goal. This is why, for example, the United States supported China's entry into the World Trade Organization.

0:19:31.0 ES: And I think that China is one of the major beneficiaries and greatest success stories of a rules-based international order. Over the last several decades, millions of Chinese citizens have been brought out of poverty, millions... And China has become one of the major manufacturing hubs of the world as we know very well here in Michigan, and in a massive market for everything from Hollywood films to the little widgets we make in the middle of Central Michigan. And we've managed largely our differences in the decades previous to now, whether it's Taiwan or economic espionage or theft, the mistaken bombing of the Chinese Embassy by us, and the EP-3 incident, theft of intellectual property and research at our institutions, we've managed those issues. That is something that we've managed to do, because we have this idea that if China could liberalize and continue that domestic opening and political and economic reforms, then they would be an ever-increasing better partner for the United States. But unfortunately, we've really reached a different type of decade. As China's power has grown, the actions of their communist government have demonstrated that they're much more interested in tightening grip on power through whatever means possible than on opening, and this is a real source of friction between the United States and China.

0:20:57.9 ES: Our disagreement with the Communist Party over denial of basic human rights of its citizens, like the Uyghurs and their reluctance to do anything about corruption and predatory economic policies, theft of intellectual property, as I said, and then particularly, from a military perspective, the Communist parties efforts to coerce its neighbors through the use of gray zone tactics and through overt military intimidation, and these are things that undermine a rules-based international order. So what can we do about it? Like how do we think about it? How does your generation think about it for the next couple of decades? So I said, we're not seeking to contain China, that'd be nearly impossible. Just to ask the auto industry, just go down the street and ask the auto industry, but that does mean... That does not mean that we can't seek to limit our economic exposure to China, and that we shouldn't take steps to curb the flow of US capital to programs that might support research and development into weapons that might one day be used against us, or that we can't mitigate our own vulnerabilities on supply chains. We learned that one in spades during COVID, and the point comes right back home to Michigan. This is where national security policy and foreign policy becomes hyper-local, very important to the average person in a place like Michigan.

0:22:28.9 ES: Last year, I was so impacted by COVID and our inability to get a 78-cent mask for our nurses who were intubating COVID patients, that I started looking at our vulnerabilities of supply chains around our military supply chains, our Pentagon supply chains. And I chaired a task force along with Mike Gallagher, Representative Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, a Republican, that studied the Pentagon supply chains, and when we picked up the rug and looked what was underneath, there were a lot of creepy-crawlies under there that were really disconcerting, so I'll give you an example. We found that while the vast majority of US military equipment is made in the United States, and they're actually by American requirements on a lot of our military equipment, the component parts, the component chemicals, a lot of things that go into our military equipment did indeed get sourced to China. So I don't know if anyone's military or former military, but the things that make ordnance go boom is propellant, a chemical that makes up a propellant, and we learned that about 90% of our propellant was being produced in China. So we'll do the shell casings, we'll do the ammunition, the hardware, but the actual chemical that makes things go boom, and I think it really stopped us in our tracks that if we ever, God forbid, had to go to war with China, they may have a strangle hold on us and our propellant that we may need in said war.

0:24:07.2 ES: I don't think anyone thought that that was a good idea and that we should just allow those vulnerabilities to exist. At the same time, we felt very strongly in that task force that our allies and partners were having the same concerns that we were having, whether it was about micro-chips or rare earth minerals, things that we all depend on that all of you have in your phones right now, that we needed to come up with a strategy among allies and partners to at least diversify where we get some of this stuff so that God forbid, if we weren't at the whim of the Chinese Communist Party, if they decided to shut off our supply to some of these things. So this is costly. There's no doubt about it. There is a reason why we went to China in mass in the '90s and the 2000s, but I think what we came away with was there's certain critical items, not everything, but certain critical items that really we shouldn't allow ourselves to be completely dependent on China on.

0:25:08.2 ES: And it would help correct what I think many in Michigan feel like is that historic mistake of exporting so much of our manufacturing capacity to developing countries and places that resulted in sort of the hollowing out of our manufacturing sector. Michigan is the outlier, we are one of the few places that still has real manufacturing capacity, and it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that in the height of the COVID crisis, when things were really going crazy, the government came to GM, and they came to the auto industry and said, Help us with ventilators, help us produce things. It's still important to make things and grow things in the United States. So I think it's helped us renew our focus, the last couple of years, it's helped us renew our focus domestically and helping to reduce that dependence on China for our collective security.

0:26:05.9 ES: And I think that this issue, like supply chains were not a sexy issue a few years ago, no one was talking about supply chains a few years ago, they were a very niche thing for logisticians to talk about, but I really think that our supply chains... In my district, in and around my district, there's two auto plants that have largely been dormant for the better part of a year, 'cause they can't get a 14-cent Microchip, and like I said, I do not care if they make Rubik's cubes and ladies razors in China, 'cause no one's life depends on those, no one's economic security depends on those, but there's a bunch of key items that we should care about as a way to mitigating risk.

0:26:51.4 ES: I will have to say that China has embarked, for the past two to three decades, on a real military modernization plan to provide it with capabilities to give them more parity with the United States. They've invested billions, particularly in military tech. I think there was an understanding that they weren't gonna maybe be able to go toe-to-toe with the US conventional military, but they've been investing in sophisticated weaponry, advanced naval vessels, aircraft intelligence system and technology that purposely undercuts our advantages should we ever, God forbid, go to war. Very smart. At the same period of time, the United States has been fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and investing in much more traditional hardware and making hardware more resilient so that our American men and women weren't at greater risk, as greater risk in those war zones.

0:27:47.8 ES: So now, Washington is much more focused on the military side of the problem with China. We've been slow to wake up to it, but the combination of their investments plus the tyranny of geography, just being so far away, you see the logistics problems that the Russians are having right on their borders. The idea of conducting a war basically half a world away, do not underestimate the difficulty of that, even for American logisticians. So we need to do a couple of things to maintain our deterrence with China, and if necessary, respond to aggression. It means we need to catch up on our tech investments, period. We need to think or rethink how we acquire new technology into the US military. We are very slow, we take a long time, we are very methodical.

0:28:40.1 ES: We have a very long process for how you acquire new technology into the Pentagon, into the military, and it just does not compete with the timeline that the Chinese are on. And frankly, our systems have become cumbersome and risk-averse, and trying something new means risking that that system fails. So why not just stick with the old stuff, the old contractors, the old guys who know how to do everything like, you know, methodically, instead of trying that new thing out of Silicon Valley that could really make a big difference, there's a real cultural problem at the Pentagon on that. And then secondly, we need to diversify our footprint in Asia. We're never gonna have NATO in Asia, right? That's a big game changer in a place like Europe. We're never gonna have a treaty alliance with Asian nations that have the Chinese Communist government breathing down their back, breathing down their necks right next door while we're so far away, but we do need to diversify who we spend time with, where we have locations, where we engage with folks, where we have training, and make it harder for China to ever envision knocking us out with one punch, right? Because they don't wanna go up against... And have a complicated war, we don't want a complicated war, so they're looking to see if they could take us out with one punch.

0:30:01.1 ES: I will just say, finally that the thing... I've been focusing on the military things that we need to do, but the truth is, if we get to a military conflict with China, we've failed. That's disastrous for us, for them, for the whole world. It's failed. Much more important is to actually do something that the US government has a hard time doing, which is having a whole of government strategy that's really leading with our economic policy, with our cultural policy, with our engagement abroad, with our diplomacy, and then thinking about military only as a last resort, and the US government tends to have silos, we call them silos of excellence. Everyone does their own thing, but we don't have an integrated plan, and the truth is our economic policy with China is gonna be much more important than our military policy, I hope.

0:30:54.4 ES: Lastly, as I mentioned, the internal divisions in the United States deeply worry me as a citizen, as a representative, and as a national security person from my former life. We have this incredibly complex world, and we have decisions to make, but we cannot get at those pressing fundamental issues if we just don't have a unity of decision in our country. And if you think about our leverage abroad after World War II, where we literally remade Europe with the Marshall Plan, and you think about how consistent our foreign policy was since World War II, Democrat, Republican, and then you look at how the pendulum has swung in the last 20 years, if you're a nation abroad, Bush to Obama, to Trump, to Biden, that's like a nauseating amount of swing.

0:31:49.9 ES: That's a lot of change. We get into deals, we get out of deals, we send force abroad, we pull force back, it's very... It's like whiplash for our partners who are used to national security being very stayed and very consistent for many years. And we have to decide what we want our role to be in this next century, and if we don't agree at home, we cannot be that strong leadership role abroad, if that's what we want. So your generation of leaders are gonna have to help us plot our way through that, and part of that is making sure our structures can keep up with the pace. Like I said, right now with the Pentagon, if you take a new idea and you wanna see that actually fielded in the Pentagon and used, three years, minimum, from idea to actually a pilot program, three years. In China, one year.

0:32:45.9 ES: If we wanna move ourselves into the next generation of policy making, we're gonna need help from you all on how we can sort of get a hold of our national decision-making process and get through some of those wickets in our bureaucratic systems. A lot of those wickets were put up for very good reasons, like human rights and making sure there's no corruption and all those good things, but what it ends up doing is it slows us down compared to an autocratic government that can just make decisions, and then you're gonna have to figure out what role we want in the world. I'm biased, I'm a Cold War kid, I believe that an American leadership role is pivotal, not perfect, but important, but I understand and hear from lots of students about how you grew up in the post-9/11 generation, and you saw us involved in messy, complicated wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And so your sense of what we can do is totally different than someone who grew up the way I did.

0:33:47.6 ES: So we're gonna need to have that conversation, but we better have it... We better have it, because not making a decision is also a decision. Lastly, I will just say, or I will just plea that as you go off into a world as people who have studied public policy, I'm begging you to be the person in the arena and not the person in the stands. Like, get in on the action. Don't just comment, don't just write a piece, don't just... Get in it. If you don't like the way our government is being run, get in and do something about it. If you think we can do better, please consider public service, because it is a democracy, it is our government, it is only as good as the people who go in and work it. Your service to your country is the greatest love letter you can send 'cause it's your sweat and your time, and there is nothing more meaningful, and if you're in public policy, if you're at the Ford School already, you've already made the decision that your driving factor is not making kajillions of dollars, right? You've already made the decision that mission is important to you, so I urge you to take that initiative and put it into work for your country, 'cause we need you more than ever. And I'll stop there.


0:35:22.0 AL: So representative Slotkin, thank you so much for that speech. I think it was really interesting, really thought-provoking in a bunch of different ways, and it's really inspired me... I was going to ask you some really policy wonkish types of questions, but it actually inspired me to start with something more existential. When we had the racial justice protests in the summer of 2020, when we had the January 6th insurrection, I think other countries, and in particular China and Russia, looked at that and said, Look, this is horrible. Look at what democracy is producing, that's not getting people to work together, that's not moving ahead, that's not even sort of coming to a unified sense of what the national interest is. And I think Chinese and Russians, people who are not committed necessarily to the particular authoritarian ruler that they have, still look at that and say, that's not the kind of country we want to have. We want to have a unity of purpose, we want to be able to move forward into our place in the world. Democracy is really problematic, and I'm wondering what you would say to them and what you say to us.

0:36:48.1 ES: Well, look, no one is proud of what happened on January 6th. I was in the Capitol, and I never thought that I'd used training from Iraq inside the US Capitol. Look, I don't think there's any way around it. We are just in what I think is probably a decades-long period of instability. If you can't keep up with events, if things are flying at you, and you can't even on a daily basis, keep up with all the crazy things that are going on in the world, that's not just you, that is the world right now, and I can tell you... I don't know... It's the crazy alchemy of globalization and social media, and just the period that we're in in the world, coming out of a pandemic. So I understand the criticism, we deserve criticism, but we also deserved criticism for other things in our history and we came through it. If you were in Russia, and especially if you were prone to wanting to highlight the problems in the United States, and you looked at Michigan in 1967 during the riots, you said... You see, why would I ever want that? We have had terrible moments in our history, we're going through a very difficult moment, but that doesn't mean that there is sort of people who are just naturally going to be better off because they're in an autocratic system, we're messy. Democracies are messy. That's the whole kind of concept.

0:38:26.6 ES: And I happened to be in Taiwan over Thanksgiving, speaking with the President of Taiwan, who's amazing, an inspiring woman. And it took me going to another country and hearing her talk about like, look, obviously, we speak Chinese, we watch their media, and I'm telling you, people want to be free. It may take them a long time to talk about that openly, but don't mistake them kinda keeping quiet for agreeing to live under that system. They want more, and I just reject the idea that legitimate criticism of the United States means that democracy isn't a system that works.

0:39:11.6 AL: Thank you. So I will jump then to a pretty wonkish question, which is, if you... One of the things that really I think made our relationship with China work is that it wasn't a Washington-Beijing relationship, that over the last decades, it's developed into a relationship where at the state level, there's a lot of interaction, the state provincial level, there's a lot of interaction. At the manufacturing level, it's not government-led, it's industry-led. And a lot of that's dropped out because of the pandemic, so how do we get it back, especially now that we're in the period where things look so fraught and so difficult? 

0:39:54.1 ES: I think we used to call that track two conversations. I don't know if it's as formal as track two, but I think the more of that the better, the more that we have human beings talking to human beings separate from the politics of the news, the better. And I think if there's... Like I said, it's not the military policy that's gonna keep us out of war, it's economic policy, it's people to people relationships and diplomacy, so whatever we can do at whatever level, whether it's a professional association or just conversations about investment, that is a good thing that will help mitigate against increasing risk that Washington kinda beats its chest about China, and I think that... Super interesting what's going on right now... It was before COVID, they're building 20 art museums. This is people on the move, and Hollywood now, think about the market that for Hollywood... I think there are lots of ways to communicate about what our culture is here over there, besides the spokesperson at the Pentagon.

0:41:02.4 AL: Let me turn to people in the room now and also people on YouTube, feel free to send your questions over on chat, and Sarah and Daniel will flag them for us, but maybe we'll start with you.

0:41:16.7 Will: Thank you for being here, Representative Slotkin. I'm Will, I'm a junior here, studying National Security, National Relations and Grand Strategy. One question that I have for you, given your experience working at CIA and in particular with the Iraq portfolio, in regards to the Ukraine war as well, that currently Iran is funneling weapons into Ukraine through... Weapon smuggling with the [0:41:41.2] ____ mobilization forces. Thank you. And they have used other means to, for example, recruit mercenaries from Syria in order to achieve their war aims in the conflict. Based on your experience in the Iraq portfolio and in the intelligence community, how can we essentially prevent that from happening? And in a more broader sense, for a strategy within the region, how do we get the Iraqi democracy to be less influenced by Iranian proxies in the region? Thank you.

0:42:15.2 ES: And just to correct the question, I think you said Iran is smuggling weapons into Ukraine, but you meant Iraq in the beginning of your question. I said, I haven't heard that one yet. Breaking news. When I worked in Iraq for eight years, including three tours over there, I am a specialist in militias and terrorist groups, particularly Shia militias, so I led a research team that did some of the original analysis that linked the weapons those militias were using to Iran, and there's no doubt about it. Iran has been fueling and supporting terrorism in Iraq, but other places in the Middle East for a long time, Yemen, Gaza Strip, they have a robust program of exporting their weapons, and to me, this is about making sure that we deal not just... Iran has a nuclear program, they have a ballistic missile program, and they have a terrorism program, those are the three arms of their overt capabilities, and I believe it's important to look at all three of them, not just the nuclear file.

0:43:24.4 ES: And for a long time, we've talked about mitigating their potential of turning nuclear material into nuclear weapon, super important, nuclear weapon is devastating if they got their hands on one, but so is their Ballistic Missile program and their Terrorism Program, so sanctioning them, engaging with them on their terrorist program, I think is particularly important, and it's one of the reasons why there's real questions about what's gonna happen with a potential re-entry into the Iran deal that Obama signed and that Trump pulled us out of. That's a real hot topic right now, because a lot of us believe that any deal should be more robust than just their nuclear issue and that sanctions and going after them on their terrorism and ballistic missile programs is also very important. In terms of Iraq, you take a strong man like Saddam Hussein and you pull him and his family out, and what's left is still forming 20 years later or whatever, 18 years later.

0:44:27.1 ES: It's still forming, and because no one party has dominance of force, you get a mushiness to Iraqi politics and that is... We learned that you cannot just impose a healthy democracy on another country, no matter how much you will it, no matter how much you want it to be for the people there, they have to... You can only give them a few kind of suggestions, and then they have to take it for themselves, and I think the system is getting better, it's getting less corrupt, but it'll take a very long time for it to form into what you and I think of as a healthy democracy.

0:45:13.4 AL: Let's take a question from YouTube.

0:45:15.9 Speaker 4: Thank you so much for being here. Greatly appreciate it. So I have kind of a culmination of questions from the audience from YouTube as well as some pre-submitted questions, so what do you see as the potential end state in the Ukraine-Russian conflict, presuming Putin does not use tactical or strategic nuclear weapons? And to ensure a peaceful outcome should we consider an off-ramp for Putin? And what do you see as our diplomatic and de-escalatory long-term goals? 

0:45:43.2 ES: Let's put aside the devastating change and impact that any use of nuclear weapon or mass use of chemical or biological weapons would have on that conflict, just like Americans are empathetic when they watch what's going on now, if we had a nuclear strike or a massive chemical weapons attack, I think the American consciousness would be deeply impacted by that, so let's hope that cooler heads prevail and Putin does not do that, and we're not in that position. I think the easiest answer to your question is, it's not gonna be up to us, the United States, to decide what that off-ramp is. Every war in history either ends by one side clearly winning militarily or by a negotiated off-ramp, and it just is enough that both sides get enough victory out of it, that they, in their exhaustion say, "Okay." Like Uncle.

0:46:43.5 ES: So it doesn't matter what I think the off-ramp is going to be, President Zelensky, who I think has really risen to the moment of this war, is going to ultimately be the one at the negotiating table with the Russians, making a deal with them, a diplomatic deal to get out of this conflict, and I don't know what that will be because imagine any President of the United States, "Will you just give us Florida? Let's just... We're in war, can we just have Florida?" Who can give up... Even if you're like Florida sometimes causes me problems, what President can give up a part of their country? That's a very difficult thing, so I've heard lots of speculation from American policy makers about Eastern Ukraine and Russian administration of certain parts of Eastern Ukraine. The bottom line is we're not at that table, and when we're not at the... We used to have a phrase at the Pentagon, "You don't talk about them without them." The negotiation is those two parties, and they will have to decide what they're willing to do.

0:48:04.8 AL: Lucas? 

0:48:05.0 Lucas: I was wondering what role you see... Thanks also for coming, what role you see for the German Marshall Fund and NGOs like that in counteracting the pendulum swinging that you talked about, foreign policy, especially as it pertains to our allies? 

0:48:24.7 ES: Yeah. The German Marshall Fund actually is a perfect example of what Professor Lin was talking about, this sort of like below the government level conversations, and the fact that the German Marshall Fund has been around since World War II and has continued to send generations of young professionals between... In the Trans-Atlantic relationship to meet each other, it is part of the reason why we have just continued very strong bonds with Europe, and actually, I don't know what the relevant organization with China is or with Asia, there probably is one, and I just don't know it, but we wanna elevate that organization, whatever it is, or a few organizations. The German Marshall Fund has educated generations of Americans about the problem sets that the Europeans are facing and given us a front row seat to understanding those issues and vice versa, and those organizations like...

0:49:28.2 ES: I hope they're getting stronger, I'm sure they are, because this whole crisis with Putin has reinvigorated the Trans-Atlantic relationship. I have good friends who ran the German Marshall Fund and who are now in the Biden administration, and there's nothing more important than having those conversations before you need them. I always tell my staff like, you never wanna have your introductory call be with someone who you really need to do something, like, "Hi, I'm Elisa and I really need you to help me like so, so bad right now." Bad way to introduce yourself, go have coffee beforehand, 'cause you never know when you're gonna need those relationships, and the German Marshall Fund is like 50 years of coffees, like that.

0:50:10.1 AL: Sarah, do you wanna give us a question from online? 

0:50:14.1 Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you again so much for taking the time to be here with us today. This is a combination of pre-submitted questions, so folks are asking, how can we ensure that rising tensions in US-China relations do not natively affect Asian-Americans today? And in addressing this, can you also comment on the now defunct China Initiative and the continued investigation spiraling out from it? 

0:50:39.6 ES: Does the China investigation mean the... Related to COVID or... I guess I'm not sure what the China investigation is.

0:50:47.5 Sarah: Initially from China Initiative...

0:50:47.8 ES: China Initiative, sorry, not investigation. I'm just not sure what that is.

0:50:50.9 Sarah: Some is the continuing investigations into academics in the United States.

0:50:55.0 ES: I see, I'm sorry. So again, the professor and I were speaking about this beforehand because it would be a deeply, deeply terrible thing if conversations about rising tensions with the Chinese Communist government ended up increasing anti-Asian hate in the United States. And it's a totally different conversation. And that's why I try to talk about the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese government, not China or Chinese people, because I have no beef with the Chinese people. I have issues with the Chinese Communist Party and their policies. And just like... Think about during... Being an American citizen, you have lots of people from abroad who don't like our president, but you don't want them to say all Americans are horrible human beings.

0:51:48.5 ES: And so it's the same thing, just in reverse, and I think we just have to be vigilant about what we're talking about and be very, very clear and then have a very hard line of deterring anyone who actually uses violence or incites violence. And that's across the board for any... Whether it's violence against people of color, Asian Americans, LGBTQ, we have to be very, very clear. You have freedom of speech in this country, and it ends the moment you threaten or use violence. So I think that's an important way to make a distinction. I'm not totally up-to-date on the China Initiative. But I do represent Michigan State, and we're here at a university, and look, I think it's a really challenging part of this new dynamic where we have more competition with China.

0:52:44.3 ES: When we were in competition with the Soviet Union, we did not have huge numbers of Russian students in our universities. In fact, some of them were trying to desperately come out and defect so that they could be students, but there wasn't like an exchange program, and we'd have a very different approach with China because we don't want to be adversaries. And I think that openness is good, but illegal activity is illegal, and if someone's conducting illegal activity, they should be held accountable, and that's if you're an American or a foreigner. And I just think we have to be very clear about that, and that's a struggle to figure out when you're in the gray zone of research, and sort of new things that are coming out of our universities. And I don't envy our university administration trying to figure that out. But if you're stealing, no. [chuckle] So, it's a very simple policy, but...

0:53:45.9 AL: Representative Slotkin, you're gonna have to give me five minutes later to talk to you about the China Initiative. [chuckle] But please go ahead.

0:53:54.8 Olivia: Thank you. Hi, Representative Slotkin, thank you so much for being here to talk to us, I'm Olivia, I'm a sophomore, double majoring in Political Science and History here at the university, and you talked about all the different problems that we're going to be facing and that we are facing right now and in the future, and particularly with China. I'm just curious what your opinion is on diplomacy and the role that that plays, and if you have an opinion on how diplomacy could positively or negatively affect a relationship with China.

0:54:24.9 ES: I think it's only positive. This is what I was saying in my talk, it's like, "I focus on the military, 'cause I have a national security background, and that's the committees that I'm on," but if we're fighting a war with China, our diplomacy has failed, our economic policy has failed, our development policy has failed, so those should really be our front foot with China. And I think what ends up happening is our government doesn't like to use economic policy as a tool, we believe in open markets, and free competition, and so we don't like when we use it. And I think that in this case, that's a mistake, that we need to have a policy that protects our economic security.

0:55:07.7 ES: But diplomacy... I just come from the school like, we went through an entire Cold War where we were constantly talking to the Soviets, we were adversaries, we didn't get along, we had a lot of deep concerns about our security that came from them, and there wasn't a year that went by that we didn't speak to them. So this idea that it's like, "It's my way or the highway, and we're just not gonna talk," not only is it, I think, a bad approach, it just is not effective. So I'm into results, and that means sometimes you talk with people you really don't like. I had to negotiate the flight safety arrangements with the Russians above Syria. They came into Syria, we saw them coming into Syria, first out of area, conflict that they got in since Afghanistan in 1979.

0:56:00.6 ES: And we had American pilots flying 3000 feet from Russian pilots. Do you know how dangerous that is to have nuclear-powered countries? Nuclear powers in that close proximity? You get mistakes, you get accidents, you get cycles of escalation that suddenly you can't control. So we had flight safety arrangements, and I had to negotiate with these Russian generals by secure VTC, and then we met a few times to negotiate it. It was not fun. I didn't have fun. They didn't have fun. They were insulted just by having to negotiate with a younger woman from the Pentagon, and I took that as a slight just by me walking in the door. It was not fun, but you know what? You have to think about the safety of the pilots. That's what mattered. And we got it done. So talking is always better than not talking even when you don't like the leaders of the country.

0:56:55.8 AL: Can we have another question from online? 

0:57:00.3 Speaker 4: Absolutely, absolutely. So, another question that came in here was looking at cyber threats. So we currently deal with myriad cyber threats from adversaries including in China, Russia, Iran and others. Should we consider working with international partners and rivals to create standards of engagement for cyber warfare, or do you believe that this might actually limit our ability to operate from a position of strength? 

0:57:23.9 ES: We 100% need a doctrine on cyber warfare. We have a doctrine on every other type of more conventional warfare, we do not have it on cyber. We don't know the rules of engagement. So I'll give you a perfect example of just how different this is. First of all, raise your hand if you or anyone you know has ever had your identity taken, data taken, gotten some alert from somewhere that you met... Like every single one of us, I'm guessing, right? Yeah, every single one of us, okay. There is no other type of warfare where civilians are on the front lines like this. It's not uniform military that are on the front lines, it's you all getting your data stolen, getting your data ransomed, and I don't think there's an American around today who feels like, "I'm well defended against cyber threats by my government."

0:58:14.0 ES: We have some work to do there across multiple administrations. The other one, the other case where we just... That demonstrates we have zero doctrine. Okay, so it gets cold in Michigan in the winter. And if anyone's... If you have... We have lots of Michiganders in the room, a couple years ago now, we had a fire at one of our gas facilities, and the Governor asked us all to turn our heat down in the middle of winter, down to 65 or below, because we were worried about heat across the State. So if we were the victim of a cyber attack that dismantled or disrupted our gas infrastructure in the state and everybody suddenly had freezing cold homes and 28 elderly people died and froze to death in their homes, what is the appropriate proportional response? 

0:59:09.2 ES: The United States believes in proportionate response. We don't nuke a country if they kill a few of our civilians. We have a doctrine of proportional response. If they kill 25-28 elderly people, what do we do back? Do we do a cyber attack of our own and shut off their heat in Russia? Do we kill their civilians in their homes? That doesn't sound like us. So what is the appropriate response? We don't have that set up right now, and if we don't know and our adversaries don't know, we don't got it now. And that's not to say we don't have amazing tools, I don't wanna leave you... But they're all classified. I can't talk to you about any of them. And I'm constantly saying to our leaders in the cyber realm, I'm like, "Do you know it feels like... People feel like they're not defended, people are worried about their child's data online."

1:00:00.9 ES: When I had all the superintendents from my district come to Washington to engage us, I said, "Raise your hand if your K through 12 school has had a ransomware attack," and every single one raised their hands. So we do not have doctrine. I feel that strongly, and we're gonna need your generation to help us think through that doctrine, 'cause you're digital natives, and this is going to be the battlefield of the next decade, two decades, three decades.

1:00:34.5 AL: We are at 7:03, I see, and we were planning to stop around 7:00, but there are so many questions in the room that I feel like maybe we just let one more, so a question in the room? Alright. Let me take person in back. Thank you. No, just... Yes, you. [chuckle]

1:00:55.8 Tanner Vinton: Okay. Thank you. Thank you for coming, Tanner Vinton, Ross School of Business across the street. My question is based around, you said that you believe that the best thing is to have humans interacting with humans, and in that sense, isn't some of our sanctions against Russia kinda counterproductive, particularly pulling all of our businesses and internet sites out of the country, particularly when Putin stated that one of his biggest threat to his regime is western influences, and we've kind of taken those away from the Russian people for him? I'd like to hear your thoughts on that.

1:01:23.9 ES: Sure. So what's important about your question is the temporal nature of it. You want those human-to-human connections as strong as possible before you need them and before conflict. Well, when a country goes into their sovereign neighbor and invades, now we're in punishment time, I'm sorry. Now you've made a decision, we tried to tell you to stop, we threatened, they put aside money, knowing we'd sanction them, but they can't go unanswered in economic sanction, you either respond militarily or you respond economically, and we responded. But the other interesting thing about what you said, and actually hugely new, hugely new in the history of warfare is, yes, of course, we had a certain suite of sanctions, we've appropriated in Congress a lot of money for weapons, for the Ukrainian, humanitarian assistance, etcetera, but what is really bothering the Russians is private companies making independent decisions without direction from the White House to shut down their operations.

1:02:29.4 ES: We had the head of McDonald's into one of my bipartisan groups. No one told McDonald's to stop working in Russia, no one told American Express, no one told PayPal. That was not ordered. We don't have that kind of system in the United States where we order our private companies to do things. They just felt, frankly, that they'd come under so much scrutiny if they didn't shut down that it was worth it to their brand to shut down. Radical, that's not normal, and it's having pain, it's creating financial pain for the Russians that they are feeling. And I don't like punishing people, that's why we've gone after a lot of oligarchs, a lot of very rich people who are right around Putin, and they sanctioned me and other people right back. I got sanctioned last week. But the...


1:03:20.0 ES: So I can't travel to Russia or deal with any Russian financial institution, so I will survive that one.


1:03:29.7 ES: But the truth is, we're in this new era where the private sector and non-governmental organizations have real sway in national security crisis in a way that is totally different. And I want to... And look, think about the number of times Biden or Zelenskyy or other NATO leaders have spoken directly to the Russian public. Zelenskyy did an amazing press conference that was addressing Russian mothers of conscripts. That man knows what he's doing, 'cause he's not speaking to Putin, he's saying, "I'm gonna go right into your vulnerability," and I hope that the Russian people, particularly those under 45, are still getting access to real news, real information. It's like if I tried to cut off you guys from world news, I couldn't do it if I tried, you'd find another way. And my hope is that the Russian people... I know a large percentage of them do not agree with what their government is doing, and I hope that they're still getting access to real information, but the role of the private sector has been totally groundbreaking in this conflict.

1:04:38.1 AL: Representative Slotkin, I can't tell you how grateful we are and also what an interesting dynamic hour this has been, so thank you very much for coming today.


1:04:49.0 ES: Thank you.