Former NATO Leader Talks about the Evolving Alliance

Elliott School Alumna Rose Gottemoeller said that relations between the United States and European allies have taken a turn in the post-Cold War era.

Rose Gottemoeller
Elliott School alumna and former NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller described the how the treaty alliance has evolved. (Harrison Jones/GW Today)
March 13, 2020

By B.L. Wilson

The turnout was understandably low for a conversation with former NATO Deputy Secretary General and George Washington University alumna Rose Gottemoeller, M.A. ’81, at the Elliott School for International Affairs Wednesday evening as the campus came to grips with the coronavirus threat.

NATO itself, Ms. Gottemoeller pointed out, had the same day called off the active combat phase of an exercise in Norway aimed to test NATO troops ability to fight in cold weather.

“Just like GW, just like our government and many institutions including my new home at Stanford University, steps are being taken on a rapid fire basis,” she said.

She is now the Payne Distinguished Lecturer at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford.

Elliott School students, Ms. Gottemoeller’s former colleagues and viewers watching online, joined Erwan Lagadec, associate research professor of international affairs of the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies International at GW, for a lively discussion on “The State of the Transatlantic Alliance” undertaken in partnership with NATO’s Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, Va.

Ms. Gottemoeller was the first woman and second American to hold the position of deputy general of NATO. Dr. Lagadec asked how her studies at GW led to that appointment and another as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security during the Obama Administration.

“By accident,” she said to laughter and described a childhood during the Cold War era when the United States was engaged in an outer space race with the Soviet Union that developed her interest in science and technology.

“We really had some space cooperation going on in the famous docking between the Soyuz and Apollo spacecraft,” she said. “It didn’t last very long.”

Though not a scientist, she said, she knows how to talk to scientists, and the GW master’s degree in public policy and science and technology policy “helped [me] bridge the gap between scientists and policy makers.”

Dr. Lagadec asked about the debate in Europe over whether the United States has disengaged from Europe and the call by France and Germany for strategic autonomy and sovereignty. Ms. Gottemoeller said the evidence doesn’t support the hypothesis. “U.S. investment in NATO and Europe has done nothing but go up,” she said, despite President Donald Trump’s unrelenting complaints about allies not sharing the financial burden.

On the other hand, she said, the “pivot” toward Asia in U.S. strategy, which actually started under President Barack Obama, has led to concerns among allies but that doesn’t mean that the United States is leaving Europe militarily. The invasion of Ukraine, the seizure of Crimea and the rise of ISIS have in fact highlighted the need for a renewed focus on deterrence and defense initiatives.

“The United States is making hard investments in European security,” she said, “but also importantly the [supreme allied commander for Europe] is always an American, and I think that is not going to change.”

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, there was a greater focus by NATO on defense capability in areas other than Europe, like North Africa and the Middle East, she acknowledged. With Russia’s renewed activity in the Baltics, however, resources are constrained, requiring a “smarter” approach by NATO, she said.

“There are different challenges to military mobility than were there during the Cold War years,” she said, for example, requiring a greater reliance on northern alliances with the capability to deal with cold weather. “The way of war has also changed,” Ms. Gottemoeller explained, “with lots of cyber attacks going on, disinformation campaigns and very regular attempts to get at our soldiers on the ground.”

Ms. Gottemoeller played a key role as a State Department undersecretary in negotiating a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that expires in 2021. “I am perturbed that there isn’t a more active dialogue going on,” she said, but an extension is in the interest of Russia as well as the United States.

“It really helps us to make the case to the rest of the world that “keeping a lid on the arms race” is continuing to be an important goal and objective of the United States and the Russian Federation,” she said.


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