Those attending the Spring Luncheon on 18 March heard Dr. Lani Kass give a brilliant and masterful presentation of the historical underpinnings of the current Ukrainian - Crimean crisis. Setting the stage for recent events, Dr. Kass pointed out how Crimea, captured by Russia from the Ottomans, has been Russian since time of Catherine the Great. In 1954, Khrushchev gave Crimea to Ukraine, but its boundary remained within the USSR. The view from Moscow is, and has always been, that Crimea is Russian territory and to this end has maintained an extensive military presence in Crimea with the Black Sea Fleet. The West’s seemingly lukewarm reaction to the Ukrainian - Crimean situation is the result, in part, of continental economic dynamics. For example, during the past 12 years Germany has entered into a robust energy relationship with Russia resulting in natural gas dependency on Berlin’s part. Dr. Kass believes Russia’s aggressive position on Crimea could be the result of a strong ideology similar to the American Manifest Destiny and views Ukraine as a buffer against western encroachment. She noted that Poland has been predicting this type of Russian threat for some time. As a backdrop to the US reaction to the crisis, Kass pointed out that Washington is in midst of the largest de-militarization in recent history. Dr. Kass noted recent US policy focus has been on Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and she questioned whether these countries are really in our strategic interest? Although U.S. foreign policy has begun a pivot to the Far East, ostensively to address the Chinese challenge, she wondered about Russia and opine dare we back to the Cold War? Dr. Kass kindly extended her time with us to briefly address on going Middle East developments. She skillfully provided the historical contest of Islam starting with the fall of the Ottoman Empire and its influence on modern groups such as Al Qaeda and the formation of their goals. One thing that concerns her is the lack of strategic warning of events like the onset of the Arab Summer, and that no one anticipated the violent developments in Syria and Egypt. When asked about the prospects for stability in Egypt, she noted that she thought only a return of military rule would bring stability. Dr. Kass’ extensive knowledge and experience, witty antidotal comments, and occasional “off the record” remarks provided for an entertaining and educational occasion.
BIO: Dr. Kass is the Corporate Strategic Advisor and Senior Vice President for CACI International Inc. Her resume includes serving as the Senior Policy Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force (USAF), and Director of the USAF Cyber Task Force. Dr. Kass was the first women to serve as Professor of Military Strategy and Operations at the National War College. During 20 years at NWC, she developed, directed, and taught graduate level courses on U.S. national security, international relations, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, proliferation, and Russian and European security issues. She is a graduate of the National War College, National Defense University, and holds a PhD from the Kaplan School of Economics and Political Science, and a joint PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs.
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