On Atlantic Alliances and Autocrats: An Interview with Jeanne Shaheen

On Atlantic Alliances and Autocrats: An Interview with Jeanne Shaheen

. 4 min read

Jeanne Shaheen is a United States Senator from New Hampshire. Senator Shaheen is a member of the Armed Services Committee as well as the Committee on Foreign Relations.

Amidst President Trump’s approach to NATO, some Europeans have argued for a collective European military to lessen reliance on the United States. What are your thoughts on the creation of an “EU army?"

I welcome European efforts to contribute to our collective security, which has centered successfully around NATO for more than 70 years. As the co-chair of the bipartisan Senate NATO Observer Group, I have, however, expressed concern over security efforts that might divert resources from contributing to our shared security. Continuing to face these security challenges together through NATO is the right approach, in my view.

As a member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, what are your primary priorities relating to maintaining the relationship between the US and the Baltic states?

The United States has long-standing ties to the Baltics; we never recognized the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, Latvia, or Estonia, and we maintained their embassies in Washington throughout the Cold War. We were passionate advocates for their entry into NATO. We continue to take their security concerns seriously, and I support NATO’s efforts to rotate troops through the Baltics and maintain the readiness of NATO forces.

From Belarus to China, autocrats are attempting to consolidate power and repress citizen protests. How should the United States go about standing for democracy and human rights in a meaningful way?

The Magnitsky Act authorizes federal efforts to sanction, seize assets and bar travel for those who have committed human rights violations. It’s one of our best tools for defending human rights around the globe. I will continue to encourage the administration–and any future administration–to use the Magnitsky Act tools to defend human rights. Congress also requires all of our embassies around the world to report annually on the human rights situation in each of those countries. These reports are a global gold standard, and many human rights organizations and other NGOs use them for their work.  The United States has stood–sometimes imperfectly–as a beacon of hope for democracy and human rights for nearly 250 years, and I will fight to ensure that it continues to uphold these high standards at home and abroad.

Along those same lines, since the recent poisoning of Alexei Navalny, attention has been brought back to the Magnitsky Act that allows for targeted sanctions of Russian officials. How should Congress respond to Navalny's poisoning?

First, President Trump needs to condemn the Kremlin and stop seeding doubt about the reliable intelligence that shows that Russian authorities are responsible for this heinous attack. It’s really despicable that, once again, President Trump is publicly playing defense for authoritarian figures who order the deaths of their political opponents. He stood by Mohammad Bin Salman after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and is once again defending Putin. The administration should use all of the tools provided by the Magnitsky Act, CAATSA, the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act and other legislation to sanction all of those involved. The barbaric behavior of Kremlin officials must not be allowed to go unaccounted for. And, we should ensure that other like-minded countries also sanction this sort of barbarism.

In recent years, there have been troop surges in and out of the Middle East. What do you think the US ground presence in the MENA region should look like in the coming years?

The United States can and will remain engaged around the world as appropriate.  Any US administration needs to carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of particular deployments. The presence of US forces needs to be commensurate with the threats faced, the ability to affect change and sustain peace. This is why I have spoken out against withdrawing US troops from Syria and moving US troops out of Germany. The President’s decision to withdraw from Syria unraveled five years of hard-fought stability in the northeast region of the country, ceded US leadership in our fight against ISIS and created a vacuum for our adversaries, like Russia, Iran and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to move in. The United States’ military presence in Germany is mutually beneficial to both nations and bolsters the transatlantic alliance. It’s also an invaluable hub for US military operations.

How has your experience as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee shaped your worldview? From your time on the committee, do you believe there any areas of American foreign policy that deserve more attention?

Historically, I don’t think the United States has appreciated enough the enormous advantages that empowering women—50 percent of the world’s population—can bring. There is ample evidence showing that investing more in the education and health of girls and women in the developing world brings a wealth of benefits, including to our own security. As the only woman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I can tell you that our own country also has a long way to go. Luckily, I have found partners on both sides of the aisle, men and women, to support and advance signature pieces of legislation that I lead. These bills include the International Violence Against Women’s Act, the Women, Peace and Security Act, the Keeping Girls in School Act and the Global HER Act that raise the prioritization of global women’s issues in our foreign policy.