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Former NSA McMaster proposes climate policy to pressure Russia


President Biden and his administration say if Russia invades Ukraine, there will be serious consequences for Moscow, meaning mainly economic sanctions. But instead of backing off, the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to mass troops near Ukraine, even as diplomatic efforts to end the standoff continue. So if possible new sanctions don't deter Russia, what, short of a military response, would?

We're going to start today with a look at another idea - to use climate and trade policies to put pressure on Russia's financial interests in Europe. That proposal was put forth in a recent piece for foreign policy written by Senator Kevin Cramer, Republican from North Dakota, and Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, who served in the Trump administration as national security adviser from March of 2017 until his resignation in March of 2018. And General McMaster is with us now to tell us more. Welcome. Thank you so much for talking with us.

H R MCMASTER: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: So first of all, we should say that Russia makes a lot of money from exporting natural gas through a number of pipelines to Europe, and European governments are eager to not have that supply disrupted or shut off, especially in the middle of winter. So that being said, can you describe this idea of using climate and trade policy to put pressure on Russia? What exactly are you proposing?

MCMASTER: It's really important to recognize that economic security is national security, and energy security is national security. And we can't really compartmentalize these aspects of policy. They ought to be consistent with one another. We ought to reward economically those who produce energy sources in a way that reduces carbon emissions, and this is, in particular, natural gas production and shipment. Russia - the way that Russia produces natural gas is dirty itself. The United States, the way we produce and export natural gas with LNG and others is relatively clean, and this is a way to align economic incentives with using, in this case, natural gas as a bridge to renewables and zero-emissions energy sources. We know we can't do it really any other way, Michel. I mean, this is why, you know, Europe can't keep the lights on. And the fact that they are dependent on Russian gas has given Vladimir Putin tremendous coercive power over Europe's economies.

MARTIN: What role should the United States be playing in this?

MCMASTER: The United States should play a leading role in ensuring that energy supplies are resilient and the supply chains associated with energy are resilient and don't give authoritarian rival powers coercive power over our democracies.

MARTIN: In the United States, the fossil fuel industry, including the natural gas industry, is very powerful. There are many in the United States, including many Republicans, who are very critical of carbon fees on imports and other interventions in the production and supply of fossil fuels because they say that these are bad for consumers and that free trade is the best way to keep prices low for consumers. So what do you say to those critics?

MCMASTER: Well, I say they have a point - right? - because what we also have to recognize is, as we all know, carbon emissions and the problem set associated with global warming and climate change and carbon emissions doesn't respect borders. So of course, if you don't have solutions that are economically viable in developing economies, they are, in effect, not solutions. So it's important that the market incentivize these solutions. But I think there are ways to incentivize clean production and cleaner sources of gas as a bridge into renewables. So what we need is we need to align our national security policy, our foreign policy with our energy policy. Michel, I could not understand, for example, why the Biden administration canceled a Canadian pipeline and greenlighted the Russian pipeline Nord Stream 2.

MARTIN: It's a deep conversation, and, obviously, this - we're not going to sort of resolve all this here. But before we let you go, putting on your former national security adviser hat for a minute, how worried are you about Russia's actions in Ukraine? Do you think there could be an invasion and a military conflict?

MCMASTER: I'm worried. I'm very worried about it, Michel, because as I write in "Battlegrounds," what Putin is driven by is a desire - an obsession, really - with restoring Russia to national greatness. And to do that, he's been engaged in a sustained campaign of disruption, disinformation and denial - the three Ds. And because of what we're talking about, I would add a fourth D of dependency - right? - energy dependence. And I think that the Biden administration is doing a great job diplomatically. They're doing a great job with the potential imposition of economic costs.

But I think what we're undervaluing is the military dimension of deterrence. I would like to see us do what the U.K. has done and accelerate defensive capabilities to the Ukrainians so they could defend themselves. And I think that Putin understands power, and it's important to understand that he's driven by this desire to overcome his sense of honor lost after the breakup of the Soviet Union and the associated desire to restore Russia to national greatness.

MARTIN: That was lieutenant general and former national security adviser H.R. McMaster. He's now a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. General McMaster, thanks so much for talking with us about this.

MCMASTER: Michel, thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.