Interview with Bradley A. Thayer about a position of the USA in global system, european allies and future eastern threats

Bradley A. Thayer působí v současné době na Katedře politických věd Baylor University v Texasu. Předtím působil jako mimořádný profesor Státní univerzity v Missouri na Katedře Obraných a Bezpečnostních studií, která je trvale umístěna ve Washingtonu, D.C. Jeho profesní záběr je velmi široký a zahrnuje oblasti Mezinárodních vztahů, teorie Grand Strategy, Národní bezpečnostní politiky Spojených Států, jaderného odstrašování, proliferace ZHN, terorismu, ale i vzestupu Číny jako globálního hráče či postavení a funkce NATO a transatlantických spojenců.

Během své kariéry výstřídal několik univerzit (např. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Dartmouth College and the University of Minnesota) a institucí (např. RAND Corporation, National Institute for Public Policy) a rovněž je autorem a spoluautorem mnoha článků a publikací (Darwin and International Relations: On the Evolutionary Origins of War and Ethnic Conflict (University Press of Kentucky, 2004); American Empire: A Debate (Routledge, 2007); America’s Achilles‘ Heel: Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Terrorism and Covert Attack (MIT Press, 1998).

V jarním semestru 2009 vedl na Fakultě sociálních studií Masarykovy Univerzity kurz “Grand Strategy” a v souvislosti se svým pobytem v České Republice se aktivně zúčastnil několika akcí a besed týkjích se americké zahraniční politiky. Kromě Masarykovy Univerzity tak navštívil American Center ambasády Spojených států v Praze a Univerzitu v Hradci Králové (pro podrobnosti: V nadcházejícím semestru Jaro 2010 se Bradley Thayer do ČR opět vrátí, neboť bude na FSS přednášet magisterský kurz “Human Evolution and International Politics”.


For me it was the first experience with the real American teacher, because there are many scholars from different countries here, but they are usually also non-native speakers, so the English is different. And besides that, I want to know the perspectives of America by Americans.
It was very interesting to see the American perspective of European history or the history of the world, it’s really nice, because in the Czech republic there is a problem, because teachers and so on don’t talk about the communist times so we, or maybe the children under our age, have a big problem to identify the key principles of the cold war and key principles of communist and American empire etc. So maybe that’s one of the reasons why there is big anti-American attitude.

How did it actually happen, that you have visited our university?

Well it was arranged by professor Suchý who was very helpful and my friend as well, in seeking to establish a relationship with American universities to help the department of international and European studies. So we have now had a conversation for almost well, not quite a year, but between administrators of our university and this university to bring about the paper relationship so the students can come from our university here and go back and forth.

Do you think it will be possible for our students to go to USA to university?

Yes, it was the Czech side which made this possible. I’m very thankful for that.

How do you like the city?

Very much.



What is you impression about Brno?

Well, the impression I have is that it is a very nice city. I have spent most of my time in noble parts of the city and I have enjoyed it very much.

Have you been in Prague or other cities?

Not yet but around the area, Moravia.

With Mr. Suchý?


Did you taste our wine?

Yes, absolutely, it was very nice.

Is the current approach to urbanization here and in the USA, especially in Virginia, different?

Of course, it’s very different.

What’s your greatest impression of your stay in Brno?

Well, the helpfulness of the faculty, the staff and the students really, and what has been most valuable is interacting with them getting to know the perspectives of the faculty on the certain issues, which are of similar concern. Also I get the sense from the students in the class and also by reading the papers. Today the sense they see the world. That’s something I am very curious about, ideas I’m very curious about how people see the world. My net here is something that is nice; I enjoyed that, so that’s very positive for me.

Have you ever been to other countries in Europe to teach?

No, this is my first time teaching in Europe.

And what’s your perception of our way of studying or the students of Faculty of Social Studies?

The members of faculty are very good in my interaction with them and the interaction I have with students is very positive as well. Recognizing there’s always variations of students. Some students came more often and put more effort into the class. You can have a sense of that immediately as a professor. You’ll discover this tool when you’re teaching some day. Some students are more interested and more engaged than other students.

Maybe that’s the main problem in the Czech Republic, because the students in here are scared to talk about things and ask some questions because other students may be better informed. I think it isn’t a problem in America. But here, when you want to ask something or say what you think about something, you can see other students laughing.

That´s what we call peer pressure. I understand it’s not in Czech; it’s in English so that is also a barrier for expression. But I was very pleased that by the end of the class many people were speaking. If you remember the first day, I think maybe only Jan, I forgot his last name, but he seems to be very courageous. Always asked questions and participated. And that’s something which is valuable for the professor, because then you get the sense of what the students are interested in and what they understand and don’t understand. So I was very pleased by the end of that, there were many people contributing.

There are many universities in Virginia like Hopkins University, Georgetown University, George Washington University and your university. Which work positions the students usually achieve from these universities? Are the students determined to work in certain institutions according to which university they come from?

I don’t think so. I think students graduating from those universities place very well. If they’re good students and they work hard they are able to land positions if they are interested in landing position in Washington D.C. area in strategic studies. But many of those continue in doctoral or in the masters program and then either work in security issues or other issues as well. So placement is very good for universities in those areas. You have to understand, of course, the American national security community is so much larger than in the Czech Republic or in Europe.

Do you think we have some security management in the Czech Republic? Sometimes I really don’t think we have something like that.

Well I don’t know enough about it, but I know the faculty (FSS) interact security issues from time to time. But in the States (US) it is so much larger. It’s a nation of 300+ million, instead of 10 million, with global interests, global problems. It’s the location of international institutions as well as the American intelligence community, defense community, defense contractors or many excellent think tank centers.

You came to our university to lecture the concept of Grand Strategy. Can you briefly introduce the concept of GS?

It’s comprised of three elements. It’s how the state defines its interests, the threats that come against the interests and the means to face those threats.  Every state has a grand strategy, also the Czech Republic has a Conception of its interests, threats the CR faces and the means, or the alliances it creates or joins, to prevent the threats. And that’s the essence what the Grand strategy is in the international politics. Of course countries have options to create their GS. US have options as well and the option, it has selected, of primacy is one which has many advantages and many costs for the world. Many of these issues we have explored in the course. The benefits are many, but I think for a Czech audience the benefits are stability. The fact, that United States provides stability to Europe, which is so important. And the costs are something that US is quiet willing to sustain. For ensuring that Europe is a stable place, that NATO is a healthy institution. We don’t say there aren’t problems, of course, because there are always problems in alliances, but it is fundamentally a healthy institution which is seeking to expand. That’s the heart of those issues. There are many issues related to it, but this is the essence of it.

You said every state has a grand strategy, also European states. Is there any difference in concept of GS according to the strategic culture?

I think that strategic culture forms how the state defines its interests. But the interest is something that is complicated. Obviously it is quite easy to identify fundamental interests; the CR has an interest in defending its sovereignty. That’s something, what every government in Prague will do and all Czechs will agree with. The Czechs have a fundamental interest in economic prosperity, because if there is economic unrest, it leads to problems for the government and for the people of the CR. Beyond that the Czech interest is to support US in Iraq and Afghanistan but lot of Czechs would disagree. Now why would they disagree? Well, because they have different politics, they have a different conception of what is right and what are fundamental interests for the country. Some Czechs would say it is right to support a NATO ally in those circumstances and obviously other Czechs would disagree for political reasons. So it’s a very complicated issue. Certainly the culture would influence that in terms of concept of making alliance partners or being able to identify alliance partners. I think that the share of general background of western culture between the CR and US is something which helps the alliance.

So the Christian culture contributes to it?

Yes, I think it’s certainly an element. Our respect for science, our respect to identify and to defend Western values against those who threaten them. That’s not to say that alliance wouldn’t exist otherwise and that’s not to say, that US doesn’t ally with other non-western countries, but the strategic culture helps the whole process.

What do you think about the Czech strategic approach today, in 2009?

Well, broadly it’s very good. I think it’s excellent in terms of looking at it from the stand-point of how quickly the CR has developed security and military identity has integrated with NATO. It’s just little bit more than decade while having been freed for two decades. That’s very fast. Now you help US and other NATO allies in Afghanistan and in Iraq. And in intelligence, cooperation is something that US appreciates greatly. Of course, there are issues which we don´t agree on, but these are ambiguous and I suppose that the new government that is now in Washington will work at them. Fundamentally the Czechs have done an enormous amount of work and have done it right in short period of time.

There’s no doubt that now the US are global superpower, but how long do you think will this primacy last?

I think it will last for decades. But if we move beyond the period of one generation it becomes very difficult to predict how rapid the rise of China is going to be and how quickly it’s going to force the adjustment in American grand strategy or the GS of other countries. There are so many uknowns that come from the information revolution which will help China and will help US, but in unequal levels, one more rapidly than the other. So for the next generation primacy is secure, but I can’t predict beyond that.

What are the main aspects of current American Grand strategy?

The current interests are the protection of the US, the growth of economy and some other important issues that we indentify. But US is best protected when it is global. The threats are best met overseas and the American interests require being engaged worldwide. Primacy at this time is very valuable but the global character of American interests inevitably means there’s going to be a disappointment. There will be people, who are angry and upset with the US, because it’s not providing the attention. For example the Bush administration was criticized for not paying attention to Latin America while the Chinese penetrated it and while Iranian Hezbollah and other groups came into it. I think it’s a bit unfair because of the great success in Colombia. When Bush came into the office Colombia was a mess, a
huge problem and now it’s stabilized. Venezuela has gotten worse however. There are positive developments and negative developments The Bush administration was criticized for not paying enough attention to it and there is a bit of truth about it. Why didn’t they pay enough attention to it? Well because they can’t simply do so many things. The Afghanistan, the Middle East, the European issues or strategic problems were identified more important to be worked than elections in Bolivia. That’s the problem. You have to do everything all of the time and you have to do it all well. And of course that is not possible. Nobody can do everything all of the time well.

You often mention China as main threat to US Grand Strategy. Is it only conception for economical and political purposes or does it already have real implications in current US policy?

It has real implications, it’s a huge threat. It is almost impossible to understate the threat that China’s going to pose to the US in the future; for the reasons we went over: the economical growth, the ideology or the way Chinese perceive themselves. As Czechs you should be very sensitive to that, although you’re not immediately concerned, but one thing you should expect is, that the relationship between China and US is going to get worse, this is the best it will be. Ever. Both, the threat combination of the unit level problem and the systematic conditions which are driving the security competition between those two states. So the threat that China poses is not something which is done for commercial reasons, or reasons of distraction. It is fundamental threat and something that will affect all countries.

But there is a neutral interdependence between China and United States. Chinese capital, Chinese people and US economy, American factories in China…

Right, but it was the same between France and Germany in 1914. There is often a lot of economic trade interdependence between countries, but that doesn’t stop them from having security competition. And you should expect that coming. Perhaps the countries on the border with China are going to feel it more intensely than the US, but this is something that is going to be key aspect and you as Czechs should be sensitive and thinking about what are the implications of this competition for American allies. This issue is going to be wide and is going to dominate our lives in the US but it is also going to have big impact on the role of other nations. The implications might be positive. The Russians are both very aware of China but sometimes also very scared of the Chinese. As the Chinese threat grows the Russians are going to be more concerned about China. Because of the threat that China is. Russia has to secure its western borders and so it has to have better relationship with the NATO because of problem in China.

What do you think will be the critical point for the American and Chinese relations? Will it be North Korea or some economical issues?

Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe it just gets worse and worse year after year. Take a look at the Britain’s relations with Germany. There weren’t actually that many crises before World War I, but the British saw Germany as a threat because of the growth of the German power. There weren’t that many issues or events that Germany undertook. They really scared the British, beyond some German claims about colonies and the build of navy, but each year the relationship got worse. And that’s what it is. Sometimes there will be crisis and sometimes there won’t be, but again the relationship is getting worse. And you as Czechs should pay particular attention to the annual report of Pentagon on the Chinese military power, which is a very useful report for looking at China’s grand strategy. There are some elements of GS that the Pentagon considers to be the China’s direction in the future.
In some aspects it is a tragedy, because the US and China had very good relations in the past. They were allies many times and this is an unpleasant situation in international politics.

Have you been watching the Olympic Games in Beijing?

No I haven’t. Not because I wouldn’t want to. It’s a question of time.

What is the US perception of the Czech Republic in the times of present global strategic environment, when we add, that for example Barack Obama is going to visit the CR on his trip to Europe next week?

The Americans think of Czechs as very good allies. The most immediate issue is the radar which gets a lot of attention in the press. I think, that when we look at the European allies, the Czechs are the first and for most among the best allies that US has but there are issues we are working at, both strategic and other issues. The Pentagon and the national security community of the US are very grateful to have allies as supportive as the CR so it is something they look very positively at and we hope Czechs look at it the same way. If the Obama administration cancelled the radar, or the Czechs cancelled it themselves that’s not going to have some effect, it will not fundamentally change the Grand Strategy.

Do you think it would be the same as in the selective engagement in grand strategy of USA?

I think it would be. We would be less involved in the third world so you wouldn’t have your troops in Afghanistan. But there will still be very close ties in selective engagement. Not as close as on the primacy, fairly. The American military is also very impressed with the Czech military in the sense of some capabilities in training. The Czech army is small, but it has considerable skills in certain areas. The American military office is very impressed with those skills the Czechs have.

Is that good for you because we have the Russian school?

You have insights into the central and Eastern Europe and you have insights into technologies, that we have too, but just we received less training on chemical weapons capabilities. American military trains in that area still today, but there are many countries here, where chemical weapons were extremely important, as a result of soviet influence. Your attention to it is much greater, your focus on it is much greater and this type of insights brings some benefits to the Americans. Military officers want to learn in terms of „What do you have to teach me about the profession of arms.“ I’m sure the Czechs interact with American military for variety of reasons, both doctrinally and technologically, in terms of whatever lessons of modern warfare today in the various situations but the American military also wants to learn from the Czechs. This is one of the reasons to our hidden success for the American empire. Of course they do some heavy handed things and everybody will call attention to it. It’s kind of conception we want to learn and there are insights that we have and we want to share, but we also want to learn from the people with whom we are interacting, with our allies. I think that makes Americans different from the French or the Germans, Soviets or the Chinese too. There is the right way if you dealing with the Chinese way of doing things and everyone else has to adapt to that. So Americans are not perfect, but, I guess, less bad, than everybody else.

So you say it’s better to have Burger King take away than Fred Locks or Borsch take away here in the Czech Republic?

Yes. I think there are many people seeing the world that way.

There have always been clashes about NSC state department when dealing with our policy and who’s going to set the dynamics of US crime policy in the new administration?

I don’t know the answer to that question. All of those elements you identified. The intelligence community, the Pentagon, the State Department, Department of Energy, Department of Treasury, and Congress has a say, Obama administration has a say, the republicans to some degree, think tanks. All of these individuals are coping with media, interest groups, lobbies that has contributed to this issue. It’s not clear, what’s to be expected from new administration. We have change from republican to democratic administration.

In republican administrative there was big voice from National Security Advisor. What do you think about Obama’s one?

I think he has a large voice as well, that’s to be expected to happen. But it´s complicated in Obama’s administration secretary Gates is kept on , the republican Secretary of Defense. We have many individuals on the Obama administration with very considerable experience, but it’s just not clear. You have Hillary Clinton who is in the opposition to Barack Obama in the campaign and still would be thinking about if the Obama administration fails what her career would be. So it’s a very complicated situation and we don’t really have a conception of how that’s going to play out yet. We haven’t though the big barrels; over China, over missile defense, over Russia and many other issues. In Bush administration was thought that Colin Powell was going to have an enormous influence, but it faded  very quickly. If we go back in March 2001 and Bush’s administration is just coming to power, he (CP) was going to have big influence. So right now if we were back in 2001, let´s say March, Bush administration just came to the power, I would be saying that Powell would be the one to lead, to have really big influence. President Bush as a candidate said, that Colin Powel was going to be in his administration, he was going to be a big figure. But it didn’t happen. We have to keep that in mind. With the new administration it’s not clear at all. Is it Hillary Clinton who is driving this, is it General Jones, secretary Gates, is it the director of National Intelligence Blair. They all have roles and it’s not clear yet. There are going to be tensions and fights in this administration on these areas.

Can you briefly explain the role of Dick Cheney in Bush’s administration?

Dick Cheney was a very important and influential Vice President. After the 9/11 he did have a very significant role, but I just don´t have the insight into the Bushes’ administration to say something beyond it, really, to whom president Bush would listen or how Bush would make his decisions or how the National Security Council would make decisions. Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney had a big impact on Bush administration that is no doubt, perhaps the most significant impact. But we don’t know. One of the very important services historians provide is going back and documenting historical record and I think it would be very interesting in the case of every administration and the Bush administration is no exception to that.

We in Europe still understand Russia as the greatest threat to us and the reconstruction of the economic sector. What would be the probable position of Obama´s USA to modern Russia?

As you know the secretary Clinton tried to set the record straight what was enormous faux pas, because it was not translated correctly to the Russians. The Obama administration is going to have to recognize certain realities with respect to Russia. There are key areas in which we get along and there are key areas were we have significant issues, tensions, on which we have to work with Russians. It’s not enough to say we reset, we don’t get the chance to reset. These issues are inherited from administration to administration and now Obama has to deal with them. So there are very real problems and plenty of   great cooperation. I don’t think that pressing the reset button is an option in relations. There are many countries who are worried about Russia and there are many Russians who are concerned about Russia and its direction as well. But to say, that everything that happened under the Bush administration is bad  is foolish, because a lot of very positive things happened in that relationship. That should be taken into account by the Obama administration. I think the realistic perspective is going to govern the Obama administration with respect to Russia even if they don’t recognize that yet.

One of the most debated issues in the CR and EU as well is the energy security. What is the US perspective of EU’s efforts to secure its energy supplies?

They support the EU’s efforts to security on energy supplies and we see the problems with pipelines and having alternative pipeline, having alternative transit points are very important to get oil or natural gas from the Caucasus area or from Central Asia. Having many different avenues, some of which bypass Russia, some of which the Russians are going to have influence over- what is necessary. But having those alternatives is something which is very positive. So if the Russians continue to use energy as a weapon, well there are alternatives. Having more options is positive when it comes to energy supplies. Supporting EU, the Turks, the Georgians or Azerbaijan in pipeline development is very good thing.

A book has been written about European dream. What do you think about the perspective of European Union?

There is a famous joke. America needs Europe, because the Europeans remind Americans about the importance of cooperation and compassion and Europe needs America, because the Americans remind Europeans that the world is a dangerous place. We are both jealous of each other. We look at each other and think „wouldn’t that be great“. We need each other.

We know Francis Fukuyama who lives in Fairfax. Do you go to pub with him?

No, I think I had the pleasure of meeting him personally only once in my life when he came to Harvard when I was there to give a speech. But I admire his work very much and in my mind he’s one of the most important scholars in the USA today.


Mr. Thayer, let me ask you five questions concerning on your personal profile;)

Ozzy Osbourne or Oprah Winfrey?

How about neither one? J

Country or jazz?

That’s hard. I don’t have a favorite music. I like many types and genres. Alternative rock, classic rock, classical music. It depends on mood. Music has such a depth and many variations, so when it comes to these types of questions my answer always is that I like all of it.

Michael Jordan or Babe from Yankees?

I would have to say the Bambino, Babe Ruth. He is an iconic figure and one of the individuals who helped to save baseball after the very important scandal in the baseball history called the Black Socks scandal. One of my favorite baseball players.

Henry Kissinger or Zbigniew Brzezinski?

Well both. They both had great advantages and made very important contributions to American national security. Not perfect of course but no one is.

Liberal Virginia or conservative Western Virginia?

Uh, I still like to think of it as a one state. Virginia is a great state and I am honored to live there. I don´t know Western Virginia that much as a state. I have enjoyed the times I have been there, but I must say Virginia.

The Statue of Liberty or the statue of unknown soviet liberator?

The Statue of Liberty, absolutely. Thank you for asking that question. J

Rozhovor vedli: Petr Kupka a Tomáš Vlček, studenti Bezpečnostních a strategických studií MU

Zpracovali: Martin Lukeš a Katarina Slezáková, studenti Bezpečnostních a strategických studií MU


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