Meeting the Challenges of the 21st Century Authoritarian Powers

By Kenneth Maxwell

This is a fascinating and very timely account of the major shifts and challenges which have transformed post–Cold War Europe and outlines in troubling detail the formidable challenges which lie ahead in the post-COVID-19 pandemic world.

It is essential reading for all those who forget that history must inform the present. It illustrates the need for a hard-headed evaluation of the continuities as well as the ruptures of the recent past which has transformed both the scope of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Community, and which has also created opportunities for enemies of democratic government to thrive in a resurgent Russia under the leadership of Vladimir Putin.

These challenges will not go away any time soon.

The account by Robbin Laird and Murielle Delaporte, both leading thinkers on security and foreign policy questions, each with a long track record of activity in these sectors in both Europe and the United States and beyond, brings a unique insider perspective to all these questions.

They begin their account with a penetrating look at two spy cases, that of the Gordievsky Affair and its role in cementing US–UK clandestine relations and that of the Farewell case and its role in cementing US-French clandestine relations. Their conclusion is that confidence and trust (as well as the personal rapport between leaders) are essential. And that these alliances need to be cherished and never taken for granted, as when they work, as they did in these two emblematic cases, the benefits are incalculable.

A thread to their argument is the role of Putin, from his early years in Saint Petersburg, to his service with the KGB in Dresden during the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, to his rise to power out of the ashes of the Yeltsin regime. Putin was there at the beginning of the end of the Cold War and he is still there at the beginning of the beginning of a second Cold War.

Thus, they see the importance of the expansion of both NATO and the European Union (EU) to the East and Southeast to incorporate the countries formally under the sway of the Soviets. This expansion of the Atlantic alliance and the expansion of the EU was seen at the time throughout the West as a triumph which led to a reunified Germany, as well as reestablished democratic rule in Poland and elsewhere in the old former Soviet satellites throughout Eastern and Central Europe. As indeed it was.

But a Europe “whole and free” as the saying went at the time did have unintended consequences. Actions produce reactions.

The expansion of the EU which consolidated the previous expansion to the south to incorporate the former right-wing dictatorships of Spain and Portugal, explains in part the hidden anger of Putin and his determination to find new ways to fight back and regain and reestablish Russian power, and then Russian influence, over regions he considered part of the traditional sphere of Russian strategic interest.

Above all he moved to annex the Crimea, to stimulate paramilitary operations in Eastern Ukraine, and to engage heavily in support of the Syrian regime by the deployment of Russian combat forces. In the process he made Russian again a major actor in the Middle East. He also developed a strong relationship with Turkey, which had long been a critical partner in NATO, but was the neighboring country most impacted by the massive outflow of people from Syria as a result of the endless civil war there. And Turkey became the major route of migrants into Europe.

Laird and Delaporte then discuss the ways Europe has responded (or not) to these new challenges. They look at how Germany, Britain, and France, as well as the Nordics (Finland, Norway, and Denmark) are responding to the new strategic challenges posed by a resurgent Russia.

And they do so with a dual approach, engaging with the arguments of some of the seminal European and American thinkers on these topics, as well as interviewing many of the key operational military officers and political leaders involved on the ground throughout Europe.

This is in fact the truly original part of their work. They allow those who know to speak. Very few others have had the access over the course of the years since the 1980s to produce a comprehensive overview like this. They end with an insightful overview of the U.S. response during the Trump Administration. But they have done so backed by a detailed knowledge of what has gone before since the time of Ronald Reagan.

The Return of Direct Defense in Europe: Meeting the 21st Century Authoritarian Challenge is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the current state of Europe. And the authors warn of the difficult years ahead for the United States and its allies in a very challenging and dangerous and unstable post-COVID-19 world, and undoubtedly, what is sure to be, a very economically constrained global environment.

Dr. Kenneth Maxwell

Dr. Kenneth Maxwell was the founding Director of the Brazil Studies Program at Harvard University’s David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS) (2006–2008) and a Visiting Professor in Harvard’s Department of History (2004–2008).

From 1989 to 2004, he was Director of the Latin America Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, and in 1995, he became the first holder of the Nelson and David Rockefeller Chair in Inter-American Studies. He served as Vice President and Director of Studies of the Council in 1996. Maxwell previously taught at Yale, Princeton, Columbia, and the University of Kansas. He founded and was the Director of the Camões Center for the Portuguese-speaking World at Columbia and was the Program Director of the Tinker Foundation, Inc.

From 1993 to 2004, he was the Western Hemisphere book reviewer for Foreign Affairs. He has been a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books, and he is a weekly columnist since 2007 for Folha de São Paulo.

Dr. Maxwell was the Herodotus Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and a Guggenheim Fellow. He served on the Board of Directors of The Tinker Foundation, Inc., and the Consultative Council of the Luso-American Foundation. He is also a member of the Advisory Boards of the Brazil Foundation and Human Rights Watch/Americas.

Dr. Maxwell received his B.A. and M.A. from St. John’s College, Cambridge University, and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Princeton University.

This review was written and published earlier at the end of 2020.

The book can be bought through our website in both e-book or paperback format.

The Return of Direct Defense in Europe: Meeting the 21st Century Authoritarian Challenge was published on October 28, 2020 on Amazon in e-book format and is widely available with a number of booksellers in both e-book and paperback.