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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  May 13, 2021 12:30am-1:00am BST

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towards israeli cities as israel destroyed another high—rise tower in gaza city and killed top commanders in the military wing of hamas. one of the rockets fired from gaza hit an apartment building in the city of sderot — seriously wounding a young child. liz cheney — newly sacked from the third highest position in the republican party for her opposition to donald trump — has vowed to do everything to ensure he never gets back into the white house. she said republicans couldn t embrace mr trump s continuing false claims of election fraud. france has opened up coronavirus vaccine appointments to anyone over the age of eighteen — as it tries to boost its vaccination rates. adults of any age can now get next—day appointments when slots and doses are available. france has more than two million unused doses of the astrazeneca vaccine. now on bbc news, it's hardtalk with stephen sackur.
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miriam will be here at the top of the hour with all—news international and national. now on bbc news, it's hardtalk with stephen sackur. hello there. the weather is in a very unsettled mood, notjust welcome to hardtalk, i'm stephen sackur. the 20th century was, in many ways, shaped by america's unrivalled power. two decades into the new century, and it's clear the story arc is shifting. china is projecting its power across the globe. russia is out to reassert its regional supremacy, and the limits of american power have been exposed from iraq to afghanistan. my guest is retired us general ben hodges, former commander of the us army in europe. is america in danger of losing the race to define the 21st century?
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ben hodges in frankfurt, germany, welcome to hardtalk. thank you, stephen. general hodges, it's great to have you on the show. i want to begin not by talking about geopolitics or military balance, but about covid and whether you believe for governments around the world, the global pandemic has led to some sort of shift in priorities, a belief perhaps that some of the military threats they thought they perceived aren't actually necessarily the number one priority right now? well, stephen, i certainly think that some governments have done that, but clearly the chinese government and the russian government have been undeterred from their objectives by covid.
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same for iran. so, covid is terrible. i've had it myself. i mean, it's no fun and no doubt, people are suffering. but that doesn't change the fact that we still have to deal with the threats of the real world. no, it doesn't change what you call the threats in the real world, but it does also change in a pragmatic sense, the way governments see their priorities, because i'm just thinking about the cost to the global economy of covid—i9, what it's done to western economies, the us and europe. we've seen recession, we've seen stagnation. and, going forward, we see that governments are perhaps less inclined to spend what they projected to spend on defence, particularly that's true in europe. does that worry you? well, it does worry me a little bit, but i'm not without hope. i mean, sweden recently announced a 40% increase in its own defence budget because of the threat that they see coming from the russian federation. so it's not automatic
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or mandated that governments won't defend... ..invest in their own defence to protect their people from external threats as well as disease. i think we've learned a lot, actually, from this past year and a half about the importance of overall societal resilience as a part of security. and, certainly in my country, in the united states, we've been exposed in terms of gaps in our health care system and an overall unhealthy society. so all of these things contribute to security. and our leaders, our elected officials, have to be able to take them all on. before we get to the specifics of what is happening in europe today, particularly in terms of defence and relations with russia, let'sjust talk a little bit about american leadership. you were the us army's top general in europe for about four years. you were at the sharp end of nato�*s response to what vladimir putin was doing in russia. and yet right now, the headline
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coming out of the united states is about retrenchment, is about looking inward rather than outward. and i most obviously see that in the symbolic commitment ofjoe biden to make good on trump's promise to pull all us forces out of afghanistan. and biden says it will happen by september 11th. in terms of us leadership, do you think that's a problem? so, first of all, let's talk about us leadership, how important it is. we saw the last four years, the price we pay when the united states withdraws, looks totally inward. and, of course, america has always had a strong isolationist streak, since our founding. but i'm happy that the new administration has stepped up, and from day one has talked about the importance of american leadership and participation in nato and the importance of allies.
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we, clearly, even with the biggest defence budget in history do not have the capacity to do everything around the globe that needs to be done to protect our interests and to protect our allies. afghanistan? president biden�*s not making good on president trump's promise — this is something that president obama also wanted to do. well, personally, for me, i'm relieved. there's a high degree of melancholy about it. i spent 15 months there, under the command of general sir nick carter, when he was commander, regional commander, south in kandahar. that was the hardest year i had in the army. we invested a lot. but i think... but i think after 20 years, it is time to go. we all did our best to help afghanistan. we accomplished the original purpose. and then we stayed about 19 years too long after that. well, i'm not sure you really did accomplish that original purpose, because i'm just looking at what hillary clinton said the other day. she said that, actually, one had to be honest and say that when the us forces do pull
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out by september, one possible outcome could be that the afghan government will be toppled and the taliban will take over. she said that there could be a resumption of civil war across the country and, at some point, a largely taliban—run government could take over. so i'm not quite sure what the $2 trillion the us has spent in afghanistan has really achieved. well, keep in mind, the original purpose was to make sure that afghanistan could not be the launching pad for terrorist attacks on the united states or the uk or other allies. that was accomplished, in the first year... well, with respect, we know that one branch of isis, the so—called islamic state, is still active, with perhaps up to 2,000 personnel inside afghanistan. we believe al-qaida still has some remnants inside afghanistan, so i'm not even sure how you can say that you're certain attacks won't be launched from afghanistan in the future? well, of course... of course, i can't. my point is, stephen,
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that after the first year, that initial... the main reason for going in there had been accomplished. and we should have left. we didn't. we did our best to help improve afghanistan, to help improve their own security capabilities, because we also realised that once you do leave, the possibility of a return by al-qaida, or now isis, was always a possibility. and so there is a decision that nations have to make. what is... do you maintain guards there, basically? i live here in frankfurt, in hessen, and the old roman limes germanicus runs along the hills near here. for over 200 years, the romans had soldiers up there protecting the roman empire. i don't think that's necessarily the approach for us. having said that, we were not willing to do what was necessary. we, the coalition, were not willing to do what was necessary with regards to pakistan to make sure that pakistan could not be a safe haven for the taliban
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or other extremist organisations. and if we're not willing to do that, then in 1,000 years, we're never going to completely eliminate the enemy from afghanistan. and so i think it was time to...time for us to leave. i mentioned afghanistan early in our conversation cos ijust think, in some ways, it's become a symbol of europe seeing in the united states a weariness with a... ..with a form of interventionism, which has been long established from washington, dc. a sense of weariness, a retrenchment, perhaps a looking inward rather than outward, and, if we are honest, during the trump years in washington, europeans decided that they could no longer trust the united states to be the stable, permanent ally, which is why people like president macron in france talked about nato being, in some ways, defunct and how europe needed to seek its own form
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of strategic autonomy. that's the reality today, isn't it? and europe and the united states, never mind joe biden�*s presidency, europe and the united states are not in lockstep as they used to be. certainly, i'm worried, but i would challenge your assertion that all of europe no longer trusts the united states. germany, france, maybe some other western european countries, that might be the case, but i think the uk and the united states certainly still retain great trust and confidence in each other. and our allies in central and eastern europe still have great confidence in the united states and, frankly, high expectations. but the burden is on us. the burden is on the united states to regain the trust and confidence of our german allies, of our french allies, recognising that throughout the history of the alliance, there has always been friction. i mean, i was a lieutenant in germany when there were hundreds of thousands
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of german protesters out on the street because of the deployment of pershing ii and the french kicked nato out of france, back in the �*60s. so this is... it's never been a bed of roses, but it has been shared values. and so the burden is on the united states to regain that confidence we need... yeah, but it's not happening. i last spoke to you on a... in a field in poland where you were wearing your general�*s uniform in 2016 as the us army commander in europe. you were telling me how countries like italy, spain, germany had to spend much more of their overall gdp on defence to be regarded as credible in washington. well, they're still not doing it. spain is barely over i% of gdp spent on defence. now, donald trump's gone, joe biden�*s in office. but the message surely is still the same, that the us cannot convince europe to spend what the us thinks europe should spend on its own defence. well, you're right. it is unacceptable that some of our allies are nowhere near where they should be
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in terms of contributions to collective security, even though everybody benefits from this collective security, to include our great german allies, right here where i live. i think that the last four years was a step back, in many cases, because the previous administration's approach was to publicly berate and to cast doubt on whether or not the united states was committed to nato. i don't think that had a very positive effect overall. certainly, it did not have an effect on germany in a positive way. so, president biden has an opportunity coming up here onjune 14th at the next nato summit in brussels in person to lay out his expectations. and i think that even though the style and the approach will be different, the pressure will be, at least, the same, that the president is going to tell our allies that we have got to work together and not make it about 2%, but make it about capability, about readiness, about carrying the load.
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but, again, ijust think back to that conversation we had and you discussing with me how vladimir putin would look at nato today. let's update it to just a couple of months ago, putin masses more than 100,000 military personnel on the border with ukraine. how does nato respond to that? frankly, not with any great speed, alacrity or assertiveness at all. if vladimir putin wanted to send those troops all the way to kyiv, he knows he could, before nato could get any sort of credible response together. it's not even clear nato would feel a duty to respond cos they don't want ukraine to be a full member of nato. this alliance that you think is so key to the future security of the us and europe, it's dysfunctional. no, come on, stephen. that's not true at all. it's one of the most successful alliances in the history of the world. but, of course, the problems
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that are there have always been there. it's the nature of a coalition. ukraine is not a member of nato. i wish it would... ..wish it was and i hope it will be one day, same for georgia. but until the united states and ukraine have worked out the bilateral relationship between us and our ukrainian friends, and also once we have figured out what our strategy with. .. ..our strategy for dealing with the kremlin is, we can't have any expectation that very reluctant nations like germany and france would be willing to take on ukraine as a member of the alliance. this is the first thing, we have got to get our own strategy straight. how are we going to deal with russia? how do we figure out how to deal with them while maintaining a position of strength that holds them accountable? forsure, berlin and paris, and london, should be doing a lot more to hold the kremlin accountable for its routine violations of international law, the killing of ukrainian
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soldiers during a ceasefire that was put into place by berlin and paris and moscow. i mean, this is the part that's so disheartening is that our german, french and even our british allies have done so little to hold the kremlin accountable. isn't. .. president biden... yeah... president biden laid out a policy statement in his first week saying that the sovereignty of ukraine is a priority for the united states. so president putin is going to test. 0k, well, let's see how much of a priority it is. and so the burden is on us to develop the strategy for that. well, you keep saying the burden�*s on us. i'm not sure that you can bear the burden, because surely one other truth that president putin sees is that right now in washington, dc, there is a conviction that the real, the important strategic long—term threat, the rivalry that matters, the potential enemy of the future isn't russia. at least, that's not the number one priority.
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their number one priority is china. and the truth is, the us no longer has the capacity to take on two geopolitical super rivals at the same time. and if they are now preoccupied with china, that means they have to, a certain extent, let go of their preoccupation with europe. i would put it a different way. you're right. we don't have the capacity to do it alone, to deal, to deter the kremlin, to contain the chinese communist party and also, by the way, contain iran, worry about north korea and protect the global commons. you're right. and that's why the president correctly stated the importance of alliances in his speech at his inauguration back in january. if we ever needed a strong european pillar, it's now. and so i think the administration is going to work very hard, is working very hard, with our allies, particularly in london, berlin, paris, but also in others. you saw just yesterday he was participating in the so—called b9 conference with all the heads of state from the bucharest nine, central and eastern europe, because we need europe
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to be able to deter the kremlin without a lot of us participation, but... but if i may say so, europe shows no sign of following america's lead in key ways. i'm thinking, for example, of economics. for example, the german government is not, it seems, willing to abandon its nord stream 2 shared pipeline project with russia. mrs merkel has been committed to that and won't let go of it. at the same time, if one switches to beijing, italy, for example, is already signed up to play a role as a partner in the belt and road project. you know, that is china's hugely important strategic effort to project power through economics. so europe isn't buying into america's assessment of these threats.
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well, again, i would disagree with your characterisation or generalisation of putting all of europe in the same box. you're right about germany. i'm very disappointed that berlin has put commercial ideas, or priorities, particularly with russia, but also with the chinese communist party, ahead of everything else. germany right now, of course, has elections coming up in september. they're looking almost completely inward. it's going to be a very interesting next several months to see what the next german government looks like. the biden administration obviously will work closely with our german ally. the eu is the largest trading partner for the united states. so even if not one country paid one pound, euro, krona, or whatever, for its own defence, it's to america's economic interests that europe is strong, prosperous
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and secure. so we're never going to turn our back on europe. and also, frankly, all of our best and most reliable allies come from europe as well as canada and australia. so this is part of great power competition. the united states and our allies have got to figure out how to compete in the diplomatic sphere and the economic sphere, not just in the military sphere. yeah, i mean, you'vejust co—authored this book, future war and the defence of europe, and you're making a case for europe and the us working evermore closely together to face looming strategic threats. but in the course of this conversation, i'm thinking to myself that the us and europe are simply not on the same page in so many different ways, when it comes to the assessment, both of what's going on in russia, and perhaps more importantly, what's going on in beijing. i think you're probably partially right there, and that's why, you know, we have a new president, the last president caused a lot of damage, i think, with relationships with our most important allies. and so the new administration
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recognises this — that even though the domestic focus and priorities are significant, naturally, as they are in most countries, and we do have a long—term challenge from the chinese communist party, the administration knows that all of our best and most reliable allies are in europe. and so we're going to have to figure out how to work with the european union, for example, as a partner, not as the enemy, as the previous administration described them, working with our british allies, working with other countries in europe that are so important to holding the kremlin accountable and competing. i think the administration has to compete, not threaten sanctions against all of our most important allies. we have to come up with a better source of energy, better 5g network, notjust threatening our friends. we're running close to time. so ijust specifically now want to talk about china, because you have said,
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not so long ago, that you thought there was a very strong likelihood that the us would be at war with china within 15 years. do you feel that right now? stephen, i have to tell you, i was wrong. i think it's more like five years, not 15, and i base that on a couple of things. number one, the chinese communist party, the language that comes from beijing, very, very harsh, militaristic about taiwan. they see that the west, including uk, did almost zero in response to hong kong protesters being smashed and shut down. they continue their efforts in the south china sea. so i think that the possibility of a kinetic conflict i'm talking about planes, submarines, missiles, ships, the actual kinetic conflict happening between the united states and china in the next five years is very real. obviously, i hope i'm wrong. but the united states is working closely with allies
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in the indo—pacific region such as australia, south korea, japan, but also with india increasingly important. and then, of course, the royal navy and the french navy helping in the pacific, and this is very important. in a sense, you know, i associate you with, you know, tank warfare and running the us army in europe and all of that. but actually, what you seem to be saying in the book and elsewhere is that when it comes to assessing the risk, the threat coming from china, you have to think about cyber warfare. you have to think about economics as warfare. artificial intelligence. my question to you is, you're a veteran of the army over a0 years, but do you think the us military today has the strength to withstand those sorts of 21st century threats coming from, notjust china,
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but russia as well? well, we were reminded in america yesterday, over the last two days, of our vulnerability to cyber attack when one of the largest gas pipelines in america was shut down by a criminal gang, darkside. so that vulnerability is right in ourface. and, of course, we've got to prepare for that. and if we ever do get in a conflict with china and, or, russia, this will be a part of it. but also, we can't be too quick to say, "hey, look, tanks are over. it's all about cyber now." i mean, what was it that had everybody all nervous over the last month? it was the sight of hundreds of russian armoured vehicles and russian ships, very conventional capabilities that were part of it, part of their demonstration of power and their attempts to get leverage over the government of president zelensky. it's conventional power, as well as the use of disinformation, cyber, and all the other tools that they use. so we have to be able to
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operate in that full spectrum. do you think the united states today has the capacity and the will to win the wars that you appear to believe it is going to have to fight if it's to shape the 21st century as it did the 20th? only if we have allies. and this conversation suggests to me you're very worried that the allies are not as staunch as they need to be. i would say that there are some that are completely reliable and can be counted on. there are some that are falling well short. and if they continue to fall short, you are then surely by implication saying the united states�* position in the world is vulnerable. of course, we're being challenged all the time. this is about great power competition. now, i do believe great power competition prevents great power conflict. so if we can compete with allies against the chinese communist party,
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against the kremlin in terms of diplomacy, information and economy, notjust military, then i think we have a chance to prevent that conflict from ever happening. we have to end there. general ben hodges, it's been a pleasure to have you on hardtalk. thank you very much indeed. thanks for the privilege, stephen. hello there. the weather is in a very unsettled mood, notjust for the next few days, even as we head on into the weekend and into next week. that's because we've got low—pressure nearby. for the next few days, it looks like it will stay showery, some heavy downpour in places with some hail and thunder, but also some warm sunshine around too. now, low—pressure sitting on top of the country on thursday. this weather front bringing some wet weather to start
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the day for wales, up to the midlands, into the south and southwest of england. but it will tend to clear away through the day. away from the north and east of scotland, which will be rather grey through the day today, northern ireland, southern scotland and the rest of northern and eastern england will see some sunshine. but then the showers will get going again into the afternoon. and like the last few days, some will be heavy with a mix of hail and thunder in places. temperatures reaching 111—15 celsius for most, but rather cool again across the far northeast of scotland. now, as we head through thursday night, it looks like the showers will tend to fade away from most areas, and that weather front will clear away completely. so, many places will be turning dry, but we will start to see some cloud rolling into northern and eastern areas, so that should stop temperatures from falling much below 6—7 celsius, so another frost—free night for most. as we head on into friday, we are in between weather systems, low—pressure to the east, a new area of low pressure slowly encroaching in off the atlantic. and you will also notice
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the blue colours across the north of the uk. this colder air tries to get into the northeast of the country but doesn't get too far, but it will bring enough chill to the north and east of scotland, and in northeast england it will be quite noticeable there. but a rather grey, cloudy day for most, away from northern ireland, wales, the west midlands and the southwest where we will see some sunny spells. and that will set off a few showers again here, again, some of them will be on the heavy side. temperatures in the sunny spells 111—15 celsius, but noticeably cooler, like i mentioned, across the northeast. then as we move into the weekend, we see this weather front sweep across the country to bring a band of rain, and then our new area of low pressure starts to push across the uk for the rest of saturday and into sunday. so it's back to square one with sunshine and showers once again. now, some of the showers again over the weekend will be heavy, there will be the risk of hail and thunder, and there will be some sunshine in between these showers. and the sun, of course, this time of year is strong, so it will feel fairly warm. low—pressure, though, wants to hold on into next week too, so unfortunately, it's looking pretty unsettled for much of the country, further showers at times. those temperatures below
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the seasonal average.
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this is bbc news. i'm maryam moshiri with the latest headlines for viewers in the uk and around the world. for a second straight day — a tower block in gaza is destroyed. israel's prime minister says this isjust the beginning as hamas confirm some of its senior leaders have been killed. from the other side, palestinian militants fire rockets into israel — hitting an apartment building and seriously wounding a young child. colombia is rocked by weeks of deadly protests. we report from the city that's seen the worst of the violence. can new zealand make tourism more environmentally reponsible as it re—opens its travel bubble with australia? and after nearly twenty years on the air,
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ellen degeneres says her long—running talk—show is to end.


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