By returning to the Georgia Institute of Technology as a distinguished professor at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs last year, Gen. Philip Breedlove completes a full circle in a career that includes his service as NATO‘s Supreme Allied Commander Europe and the commander of U.S. European Command.
A 1977 civil engineering graduate from Georgia Tech, Mr. Breedlove also has earned two master’s degrees, one in national security studies from the National War College, and another in aeronautical technology from Arizona State University, and commanded all U.S. and Allied troops in Afghanistan and Kosovo in addition to all NATO operations across Europe and the Mediterranean.
Before assuming his NATO post, he served as the commander, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa and was responsible for Air Force activities in 105 countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and the Arctic and Atlantic oceans.
When asked by a student publication on a 2015 visit to the campus about how his undergraduate studies prepared him for his career, he replied, “While working toward my civil engineering degree at Tech, I learned how to solve problems in a methodical and deliberate way. Although I never did become a practicing civil engineer, I use those problem-solving skills every day.”
He also said, “Sometimes a problem can seem insurmountable or just too complex, but — nearly always — simple steps can be taken to break that challenge down into bite-sized chunks. Developing the ability to see problems in this way was central to my undergraduate education, and it has served me very well over the years.”
Mr. Breedlove was a keynote speaker at the U.S.-Russia Relations in Global Context Symposium March 17 where he exhibited his academic learning by breaking down today’s particularly difficult relations with Russia into manageable “bite-sized chunks.” Underscoring what he termed as “bridge building” was an evident desire “to see a Russia that becomes a contributing part of the world” in a context agreeable to its neighbors and the U.S.
According to the general, the world “has become a much more turbulent and worrisome place” since the days of the Cold War when all the U.S. and allied military’s entire attention could be focused on the actions of the Soviet Union. Today the military’s attention must keep track of what he termed the “four plus one” – Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and what he said he prefers to call “Daesh” – threats from radicalized Islamic terrorists.
In an interview with Global Atlanta following the address delivered at Georgia Tech’s Wardlaw Center, he pointed out that the size of the U.S. military far exceeds that of Russia. Nevertheless, he added, the U.S. military is stretched because it has to cope with so many crises unlike during the Cold War. He also pointed to the need of increasing support for the U.S. Air Force and Navy, which he said needs new ships and planes.
In his address, he said that the U.S.’s opponents “are more emboldened, more than they have ever been,” while politically the U.S. was divided and needed to become more unified in its understanding of the values it upholds and its politics. “To reestablish our national position in the world, we can’t do that with two voices out of Washington D.C.,” he added.
He also said that he was concerned by Russia’s role in the U.S. elections, but somewhat downplayed his concern saying that the challenges Russia presents to the U.S. “are far bigger and impactful than what has happened in any election.”
“I think that Mr. Putin is incredibly happy with what has happened,” he added. “He has challenged the legitimacy of democracy.”
As with other speakers during the symposium held both at Kennesaw State University and Georgia Tech, Mr. Breedlove cited Mr Putin’s state-of-the-nation address in April 2005 during which he called the break-up of the U.S.S.R. In 1991 as a “real drama” and the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” During his speech Mr. Putin also referred to the “tens of millions of Russians abandoned outside of the Russian Federation.”
But more recently, according to the general, Mr. Putin could look with satisfaction at what Mr. Putin would term “foolish and uncalled for wars” such as the U.S. experienced in Iraq, and would consider NATO “a failed endeavor” in view of Russia’s undeterred seizure of Crimea, the current devastation of Libya and the failure of its efforts to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria.
“Mr. Putin is not interested in just breaking international rules,” Mr. Breedlove said. “He wants to rewrite international rules.”
He also placed Russia’s actions in a historical context. “There’s nothing new that Russia is doing,” he said, adding that the difference is that it is “much more brazen” than in the immediate past.
He referred to the comments of Russia’s military leader Valery Garasimov about new “indirect means” of conducting wars, what he prefers to call “war below the lines.” The Russians have “formalized information warfare,” he added, pointing to its establishment of a new portion of the Russian army now devoted to information warfare.
“We’re on a bad vector,” he said using a term he said that he learned while obtaining his engineering degree. “We’re headed in a wrong direction and we need to build a bridge, establish something, but what is that something?”
Whether it would be “a partnership, cooperation or collaboration” is not as consequential as having “a target of where we are trying to go,” he said.
He also warned that these initiatives – resembling the “bite-sized chunks” to which he referred in the Georgia Tech interview, should proceed carefully and slowly. “We need to be careful to get to that bridge and cross it. We’re at zero miles an hour, maybe even less, but from zero to 120 miles per hour in some ‘grand agreement’ would be doomed. That takes trust and trust has to be earned over time.”
Like many of the other participants in the symposium, he had suggestions of where to start: counterterrorism, cracking down on drug trafficking, and working with Georgia’s former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn’s Nuclear Threat Initiative.
“Our efforts need to be measured and visible and somewhat objective,” he said. “We need to find those things that can provide small steps.”
Meanwhile, he said that NATO’s role would be critical in counteracting Russia’s moves. He also said that he felt that all members of NATO should be willing to commit 2 percent of their gross national products to supporting the organization, though he realized that there were different ways of assessing the 2 percent.
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