Ask This General

Brigadier General Peter B. Zwack {Ret.}

peter b zwack




Russia Affairs
Eurasia Affairs
Joint Presentation
Keynote Address

Defense Attaché to Moscow 2012 – 2014

Global Fellow at The Kennan Institute
Woodrow Wilson International Center

University of Pennsylvania – Adjunct Fellow

Senior Russia-Eurasia Research Fellow
National Defense University 2015 – 2019

Huff post pic

With Paris, ISIS Has Declared War on Us. Here’s How We Should Respond.

Huff post pic

Posted: 11/19/2015 7:40 pm EST Updated: 11/19/2015 8:59 pm EST

The ISIS attack in Paris was an attack on our global community. This will not end. We have to face this fact. The target of these attackers was non-combatant innocents. They will attack again. As much as we abhor the idea of more ground action in the Middle East, this is going to take concerted, long-term international military and civil action. It will involve major forces committed long-term in the nexus area encompassing ISIS root areas predominately in Iraq and Syria.

This will not end. We have to face this fact.

If asked to give advice as a recently retired military officer, this is what I’d suggest:

1. Back France. Fully support France if it invokes NATO Article 5 (an attack on one member is an attack on all). Though unlikely, if it were to do as such, it would pull the considerable military and moral power of NATO’s 28 nations together to focus indivisibly on this emergent existential threat. Article 5 was last invoked on behalf of the U.S. after 9/11.

2. Build a global force. If NATO Article 5 is not invoked, then under a U.N. Security Council Resolution (but unilaterally as a coalition of the willing if vetoed or blocked), build an international expeditionary force, including the U.S., Russia, France and a coalition of the willing including separate NATO allies, Arab, regional, some G-20 and other supporting partner nations. Asian and African nations with ISIS-linked challenges should also participate. This force would move into ISIS-dominated areas and crush the obvious ISIS fighters. Always with Arab entities in the lead, it then would remain in the region with strong civilian-military presence (U.N., NGOs etc.) for as long as it takes to create the conditions for credible governance that include providing security, stability, justice, education and jobs, all seeding the ground for religious and social moderation. This would surely be a difficult, initially nasty, expensive and unpopular decade-long endeavor. As one who has deployed, I can tell you that our military is tired, and ideally would not want to return to this region in force, but current events make it imperative as long as it is with allies and partners.

3. Work with Moscow. Make Russia an integral part of the coalition despite its support for Assad and aggression in Ukraine. Despite our complete disapproval of its initial targeting focus against non-ISIS rebels, Russia is squarely and aggressively in the region and also suffered a major tragedy with the destruction of its civilian Metrojet over the Sinai. Here, despite Assad, we have core concerns that converge. This could bridge us toward much needed, better cooperation in the future.

4. ISIS and the hate it spawns is the #1 threat emanating from this region. It also is a huge driver for the major refugee/migrant flow engulfing Europe that must be staunched. While never condoning the Assad regime’s ruthless actions against its own population, eradicating ISIS, and drying up its violent, exported hate-filled swamp should be our #1 priority. Finding a way to moderate the Baathist regime and easing Assad out should be a dual track. Killing the Syrian regime would create even more chaos in the region — what, who would fill the vacuum? The anti-Assad rebel factions have to understand this fact despite the terrible combatant and civilian losses they have taken. ISIS, and any other faction that joins in its deranged actions, is now our #1 priority.

5. Unambiguously tell the several Sunni nations playing the conflict both ways that simply, ISIS is our #1 threat. The same goes for Iran — with its support for Hezbollah — that is also fighting ISIS and engaged in a proxy Sunni-Shiite sectarian conflict with Sunni nations, with Iraq, Syria and Yemen as its focal points. This all is devilishly complex and defies clean, easy solutions, however, the transnational aspect of this crisis warrants decisive international action. It can’t be solved regionally.

6. Support Kurdish statehood. Even with their competing factions, the Kurds have repeatedly proven that they deserve their own state that should be carved out of broken, obsolete Iraqi and Syrian borders. Our important allies, the Turks, also attacked by ISIS and caught in this regional horror, have to understand this and would need international border security guarantees, including from any new Kurdish state, to even remotely consider such an option. Iran also would have a major stake in this.

7. Remain moderate and inclusive. Finally, and crucially, while firmly protecting borders and maintaining internal security, our nations must strive to remain domestically moderate and inclusive.

ISIS has declared war on all of us. We have to take decisive collective action now.

‪Bottom line: To do any of this will require a fresh, “realpolitik” look at the region. We wanted out of the region. The region has come to us, as shown by the ghastly attack in Paris, and recent others, including Ankara and Beirut. ISIS has declared war on all of us. We have to take decisive collective action now with the global mechanisms available to us and aggressively meet this existential challenge to our core belief systems and way of life.

Recently retired Brigadier General Peter Zwack‬ is a visiting scholar at Georgetown University and served as the U.S. Defense Attache to the Russian Federation from 2012-2014.


By Peter B. Zwack – – Thursday, April 2, 2015

Seventy years ago this April 25, American and Soviet military met as wartime allies against Nazi Germany in the closing days of World War II in an obscure and now long-forgotten place on the Elbe River called Torgau.

This was a truly special embrace of men in arms in a terribly costly but just war against the most hideous existential threat the modern world had ever known. It brought about a bond between wartime allies that shortly thereafter was lost and abandoned in the Cold War.

It looks increasingly likely that we will not mutually commemorate the 70th anniversary of that symbolic event, which is now less than month away. If we pull back and reflect for a moment, is this what both sides really want? Clearly today’s sour political environment makes it hard to imagine the current active duty military leaders of the United States and the Russian Federation standing together in commemoration with the few remaining veterans of that heady 1945 moment.

Failure to do anything, however, at least with low-key delegations, would be more than a disservice to the memory of the defeat of Nazi Germany. It would also mean missing out in a seriously needed opportunity for the U.S. and Russian militaries to publicly meet in a timely, positive occasion and begin to ameliorate the increasingly sharp and dangerous edges that have emerged in our relations. As significant as the Second World War is in our national consciousness, it looms even larger in the Russian consciousness.

This is not based on naive nostalgia or sentimentality. I personally continue to be appalled by the Vladimir Putin regime’s reckless, predatory behavior. Regardless, there is a pressing need to develop and rebuild direct confidence-building venues between our nuclear-tipped militaries across different strategic and operational levels. Reminiscent of the Cold War, warplanes and ships are increasingly challenging territorial boundaries, risking serious accidents or incidents. The laws of probability dictate that things may go badly wrong, even if that is not the explicit intention of either side. In this warp-speed, cyber-enabled world, inadvertent brinksmanship could lead to a horrific 1914 style “how did we get here” scenario. Near-zero contact between our active militaries, especially now, is just plain dangerous. Even frustrating, unsatisfactory discussions in content and message are better than none at all.

I frankly don’t know if either side politically could countenance even a modest initiative, such as having former World War II comrades-in-arms meet April 25 on the Elbe. I know it certainly won’t be possible during the highly politicized and exceedingly martial and triumphal May 9 VE Day celebrations in Moscow. My instinct is that most European nations, including potential host country Germany, would support such a Torgau proposal. especially if focused on introspectively commemorating and not triumphantly celebrating. Some allies and partners with World War II links could also be invited, as well as some of the former Soviet states. The main emphasis, however, should be Russia and the United States, whose soldiers shook hands together on that fateful, promising day 70 years ago.

Some will surely say that proposing any joint Russia-U.S. commemoration such as Torgau during this geopolitically contentious period would cast the United States and the West as appeasing supplicants and imply acquiescence to Russia’s continuing malign actions in Ukraine. I respectfully disagree. Participating in such a symbolic, commemorative event would not infer any easing of sanctions on Russia, or if the political decision is made, delay increased defensive support to hard-pressed and outgunned Ukraine. Reassurance for nervous, deserving regional allies must continue with defense-oriented exercises, such as Atlantic Resolve.

There will be almost no World War II veterans left from any side to meet for a 75th or 80th commemoration. Even with so little time left to organize, we should modestly commemorate the U.S.-Soviet link-up at Torgau for them and the memory of their peers. Ideally, military leaders from Russia and the United States should be present. However, as a minimum, our nations should provide the funding, travel and medics to help volunteering veterans, some barely ambulatory, to attend such a defining event in Germany. Time is short.

We should also do this to assure future generations that we did all we could to ease the world back from a deceptively dangerous spiral that potentially poses an existential threat to us all.

• Peter B. Zwack, a retired U.S. Army brigadier general, served in Moscow from 2012 to 2014 as the U.S. senior defense official and attache to the Russian Federation.

All rights reserved © Peter B Zwack