Bruce Jackson: the man who took NATO east

by | Sep 4, 2014

Bruce-Jackson-DELFI-Photo-by-K.-ČachovskisThis is a piece I wrote 11 years ago for this crappy financial magazine I used to work for. The piece is good though. It’s about Bruce Jackson, an American spy-banker-arms-dealer-policy-wonk, who helped lobby for the eastern expansion of NATO in the 90s and Noughties. I thought I’d post it here considering this week’s NATO conference on further eastern expansion and Russia’s response. The piece was written in 2003, in the middle of the second war in Iraq.

IT WAS THE deal of the year in central and eastern Europe – not a sovereign Eurobond, a corporate high-yield issue or an IPO, but a transaction that emerged from the heart of the military-industry complex. It was the biggest debt financing of the year – a $5.5 billion off-balance-sheet deal arranged by JPMorgan and guaranteed by the US government. You haven’t read about it, because it was to finance Poland’s acquisition of 48 F-16 military aircraft from Lockheed Martin.

That deal was signed in March 2003. The same month it went through, Poland agreed to send about 3,000 troops to Iraq. Euromoney spoke to a banker involved in the syndication of the financing. “We understood what the deal was,” he said. “The US government finances the deal at good rates. In return, Poland supports the US in Iraq.”

Every other eastern European country that has either recently joined or is waiting to join the Nato military alliance also supports the US campaign in Iraq, leading US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld to praise the birth of “new Europe” and French president Jacques Chirac to tell these countries to shut up.

Man of influence

The figure at the centre of all these events is someone you probably haven’t heard of, but who wields extraordinary political influence in the region – Bruce Jackson. He is a Washington neo-conservative, a member of the Project for the New American Century, and friend and colleague of other prominent neo-conservatives such as deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Gary Schmitt, executive director of the Project for the New American Century.

A former investment banker, he’s also president of a private NGO called the US Committee on Nato, one of the most influential in eastern Europe. He has also headed a neo-conservative think-tank called the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. And he’s a former vice-president at Lockheed. Is he the military-industrial complex conspiracy figure par excellence?

Jackson, through his work for the NGO, has done more that anyone else to get eastern European countries into Nato. First, he lobbied hard in Washington to get the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland invited in 1999. He advised the heads of these states on how to reform their military forces and civil societies so as to get the invitation, and testified in their support to the US Senate committee on foreign affairs.

In the past two years, he has been equally active in getting most of the other eastern European countries invited to Nato. He has travelled relentlessly, meeting heads of state and foreign ministers in every eastern European country, advising them on how to reform, and helping, this year, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia to get invitations to join Nato.

None of the accessions was by any means inevitable. It took vision, will and hard work. Jackson recalls: “When we started in 1995, around 70% of editorial boards and 80% of think-tanks were on the record as being opposed to Nato expansion. There was concern Russia would go ballistic if we did expand Nato east. So effectively people were suggesting we do another Yalta, and sacrifice the region to Russia’s interests. So it took us considerable amounts of work. We organized well over 1,000 meetings with senators and Congress. By 1999, we won 89% of the vote. With the second round, almost all the effort came from the countries themselves, trying to accelerate their own reforms and not be left out.”

The fact that in 1995 so many in the west were against Nato expansion makes it all the more remarkable that one man, apparently operating in a private capacity at an NGO he set up, should have had such an influence. As one diplomat in the region says: “All these countries getting into Nato – this was Bruce’s work. He’s a real player in this process.”

It is not the only process where he is a player. He was also, in 2002, head of neo-conservative NGO the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which set up in Washington in November 2002, and was a powerful advocacy group for the US-led invasion.

Jackson managed to bring the work of these two committees together in January this year, when, against the backdrop of French, German and Russian opposition to a new Iraq amendment in the UN security council, he was instrumental in organizing the famous Vilnius letter. In that letter, 10 eastern European countries – Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia – declared their strong support for the US-led campaign against Saddam Hussein. It spoke of the “compelling evidence” presented by US secretary of state Colin Powell to the UN, and added: “Our countries understand the dangers posed by tyranny and the special responsibility of democracies to defend our shared values.”

That letter was responsible for Rumsfeld’s declaration of a “new Europe” separate from the “old Europe” of France and Germany. It was also responsible for Chirac’s remarkable outburst at an Iraq summit in Brussels in February, when he accused the 10 countries of being childish and irresponsible. “They missed a great opportunity to shut up,” he said.

Chirac also warned that Bulgaria and Romania could have jeopardized their accession process to the EU through their “reckless support” of the US. Many wonder if that could have played a role in Romania’s failure to be recognized by the EU as a fully functioning market economy in November 2003. In fact, the letter, particularly the passage quoted above, was drafted by Jackson, before Powell had even presented his evidence to the UN. It was Jackson who wrote the first copy, and who secured the support of Czech president Vaclav Havel for another letter supporting the war – the letter of eight – in one of his last acts before leaving the presidency.

The two letters showed only too clearly that on security matters at least, eastern Europe’s ultimate loyalty was to the US, not the EU. Jackson and the US committee on Nato had stolen a march on Chirac, and left any semblance of a common European security policy in tatters. Jackson himself plays down his role in drafting the letter, and is unhappy about Rumsfeld’s “infelicitous phrase”.

But he is even more unhappy about Chirac’s outburst against the 10 countries. “Chirac really revealed himself there,” he says. “His comments were incredibly patronizing.” Clear support for US The strength of eastern European support for the US is clear from a look at the membership of America’s coalition of the willing in Iraq, where 16 of the 29 countries are either eastern European or CIS states. Poland in particular is very active in the region, and has already sustained casualties.

Was Jackson equally influential in securing eastern European participation in the coalition? He says one man’s influence should not be overestimated, and that there is an obvious reason for eastern Europe’s enthusiastic embrace of Nato and support of the US in the Middle East. It is, he says, because “these countries are deeply suspicious of Russian neo-imperialism”.

His comment is backed up by US ambassador to Poland Christopher Hill, who says: “Poland is in Iraq because it wants a strong US engaged in Europe.” It is fear of Russia that has driven eastern Europe into the arms of Nato.

Jackson, as one would expect of a champion of Nato in eastern Europe, is outspoken in his criticism of Russian president Vladimir Putin. “The situation in Russia is quite bad,” he says. “Khordorkovsky is a friend of mine, and Putin has essentially nationalized Yukos’s assets.” In a recent op-ed piece in the Washington Post, Jackson was even more outspoken, calling the the seizure of Yukos shares “the largest illegal expropriation of Jewish property in Europe since the Nazi seizures during the 1930s”.

He tells us: “Putin and his FSB [state security service] buddies are building a national security state. His foreign minister, Ivanov, recently said Russia had the right to intervene militarily anywhere in the CIS region. Russia is claiming influence in areas well beyond its borders. This is troublesome.”

Jackson admits he has been outspoken on the incident, and says the White House called him to query the tone of his Post article. He says, though: “I don’t like the FSB. You have the FSB seizing power and Jewish businessmen in jail. Who am I going to side with? It’s a pretty easy call to make.”

Who is Bruce Jackson?

So who exactly is Bruce Jackson? Is he a relic of the Cold War, a CIA operative working to extend the influence of the US eastward at the cost of both the EU and Russia? It’s possible – he began his career as a US military intelligence officer and comes from a family with a history of working for the US government. His father, William Harding Jackson, was deputy director of the CIA from 1951 to 1956.

But would a CIA spook be so outspoken in his criticism of Russia that he would be reprimanded by the White House? The evidence from the Iraq war suggests the CIA is actually far more prudent and less gung-ho than Washington’s neo-conservatives.

Is he a roving ambassador for the arms trade? Supporters of this theory point out that, until this year, Jackson was vice-president of strategy for Lockheed Martin. That company, they argue, has done very well out of Nato expansion east. When eastern European countries join Nato, they have to modernize their forces to be able to contribute capabilities that are interoperable with other Nato forces. In practice, this often means buying F-16s from Lockheed, as the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland have done in the past three years. Most recently, the Czech Republic signalled in October that it wanted to buy $650 million-worth of F-16s.

According to this theory, Jackson could be seen as a crucial link between the neo-conservatives, the US arms trade and eastern Europe. He helps get eastern European states into Nato, which helps his former employer sell billions of dollars-worth of arms. It also helps get these states to support his neo-conservative friends such as Wolfowitz in their bold plans for US imperial expansion.

To opponents, this is typical of George W Bush’s regime, as was seen with former Pentagon adviser Richard Perle, Jackson’s former boss at military intelligence, who resigned as chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board after allegations about his ties to two homeland security corporations and to telecom company Global Crossing. Charges of misuse of his position were found to be groundless by the Department of Defense’s inspector general last month.However, in this model it is the US, not Russia, that is building the national security state, while those building it are getting rich through their corporate contacts.

But sources suggest this is a misreading of both Jackson and Nato expansion. Jackson himself says: “To believe that theory you’d have to work for the Guardian. I have no contracts with Lockheed, nor have they funded any of the NGOs I work for. The left argument that this whole Nato process is driven by the desire to sell munitions doesn’t stand up to empirical examination. If you add up all the actual defence spending in eastern Europe, it’s a tiny market compared with the likes of Singapore or Israel. Defence spending is actually down in the region. And modernization of forces for Nato has been much slower than people thought.”

A Nato source also denies that new Nato members come under strong pressure to spend with US companies, as some defence think-tanks suggest. He says: “We’re aware that military equipment is very expensive and these countries aren’t always very rich. We don’t encourage them to go for broke. We say to them: ‘Don’t go buying a load of planes. Rationalize your forces instead.'”

Missionary zeal

So what about $5.5 billion deal with Poland? Jackson says: “Poland had its foreign policy dictated by the USSR for decades. It has a large pent-up ambition to be a serious actor on the world stage. The F-16 deal was part of an eight-year programme of modernization. Poland’s support for the US was not affected by it.” Who, then, does Jackson work for?

One diplomat says: “Bruce doesn’t represent anyone but Bruce. When I first met him, I thought he was some second-tier Lockheed guy. But he’s not. They actually didn’t like him going around supposedly working for them while proselytizing about Nato expansion, so eventually they had a parting of ways. The best way to understand him is as a 19th-century missionary. I don’t know if he believes in God, but he’s like a secular version of that. He’s a very Washington sort of figure.”

Various eastern European politicians and thinkers testify to the experience of having a few beers with Bruce and him telling them that their country needs more people with moral vision. It strikes many Europeans as strange or dubious that such an influential figure could be a self-financing volunteer. Not least, one wonders how a private individual or NGO would be able to get meetings with so many heads of state and have such an apparently large influence on Nato accession.

One diplomat says: “I get rung up by people occasionally saying: – Who is this guy?’, to which I say – Look at what he achieved for Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.’ He can go to see the governments of Armenia or Romania and say – I can help you get into Nato. I did it for Hungary.’ He achieves what he does because he has great contacts in Congress and is just a hyperactive and very dogged guy. You know if you don’t return his call, he’ll call you another eight times.”

When asked what motivates him to do his Nato work, Jackson says: “I grew up in a house with four Hungarian refugees in it. My father taught me you had obligations to other people. More recently, I and others were inspired by the example and the speeches of [former Czech president] Vaclav Havel. The US Committee on Nato was sort of our homage to him. I finance myself, with money I made from investment banking [he was chief strategist on the proprietary trading desk at Lehman Brothers from 1990 to 1993]. It’s not as if it’s some individual project though. A lot of people volunteer their time for the NGO. Volunteer work is much more normal in Washington than in Europe.”

One wonders what official ambassadors at Nato or in the US think of Jackson charging around their patch. One diplomat says: “I’m enough of a realist to know that whatever I think of it, he’ll still do it. So I prefer to work with his energy. He’s like a charged electron.” Some EU ambassadors take a dimmer view. His organization of the Vilnius 10 letter was, according to one report, the low point of EU foreign policy representative Javier Solana’s career so far. The influence the US maintains in the region, partly through his work, may have hurt some countries in their EU accession process, notably Romania.

Blackwell at RUSI says: “Some countries, particularly Romania, seem happy to neglect the medium-term prospect of joining the EU in favour of the short-term prospect of joining Nato.”

But Jackson’s work is in fact probably positive both for eastern Europe as a market and for the EU. He says: “All these pre-accession processes are very valuable. And in almost every country that has joined the EU, Nato accession has come first. Nato accession helps countries handle the process of EU accession.”

He says: “When we started the accession process in the mid-1990s, we thought civil society would be reformed first, and then would come the more difficult process of reforming the military. The reverse has turned out to be true. The military in these countries has changed overnight, while civil society institutions like the judiciary have taken a lot longer. So Nato and military reforms have actually been the flagship to show the rest of the country what can be achieved.”

New targets farther east

Considering how capital flows and EU accession have followed Nato accession, and how Jackson’s NGOs tend to make things happen, it is interesting to note his new project – the Project for Transitional Democracies. It looks at helping countries in the far east of Europe, such as Albania, Georgia, Moldova, Serbia and Ukraine, make the transition into the “shared community of values” of Nato. He is also working with countries in central Asia such as Azerbaijan.

He says: “The whole theory of this project is that these people don’t have any people to tell them the truth. Captive nations tend to have the problems of the closed mind. People in dictatorships tend not to think very well. They’re not supposed to. You survive in such systems by avoiding responsibility. We’re trying to teach them the necessity of taking responsibility and driving reform in these countries. They can’t afford strategic planners, so we do the work for free, which they like.”

Other sources testify to Jackson’s willingness to speak frankly. One source in the US government says: “I met him a first time, and the second time I met him, he told me: -You know, at first, I didn’t think you were too bright’. I’ve seen him tell the president of Macedonia that he didn’t know what he was doing.”

Jackson says such straight talking can be risky in these areas. He says: “In central European countries like Poland, if you went in and said – this guy is corrupt and has to go’, you might be going up against a minister or political group. But in these countries, if you do that, you’re going directly against organized crime. You have to be careful – there are some rotten characters out there. I try to avoid them. For example, I’ll go to [a certain country near Russia] but I’ll never meet [its head of state].”

When Euromoney speaks to Jackson, he is tired from “a late night in Georgia” [this was just after the Rose revolution] – things do tend to happen around him. He says of the political developments there: “I’m all for revolutions, particularly velvet ones. But it doesn’t take out the need for proper democratic elections. They now have to organize presidential and parliamentary elections in days. My hope is Georgia will be the first success story in the Caucusus. With its mountains, it should be the best tourist resort since Davos, but I think there’s one ski lift in the whole of the Caucusus mountains.”

He says investors should look to the Ukraine as the big investment success story in the region. He says: “If that moves, it will be huge. They have elections next year, but they’re not quite ready for prime time yet.”

Speaking to Jackson gives one a fascinating insight into the neo-conservative mentality – indeed, he might be described as Europe’s neo-conservative, bringing regime change (or at least reform) wherever he goes. It is, whatever you think of it, a revolutionary mentality, and one driven by a prodigious energy. He says Europe is now in a “revolutionary period”, as significant a period since the treaty of Westphalia in 1648 and adds: “Where Europe finds itself in five years will be where Europe stands for the next 50 years”.

Like many neo-conservatives inspired by Ronald Reagan’s strong moral rhetoric, morality is very much at the centre of Jackson’s vision. He quotes Pope John Paul II to declare that the revolutions of 1989 were not political but moral. He’s also a highly committed supporter of Israel, like most neo-conservatives, and an opponent of anti-semitism wherever he sees it or thinks he sees it.

And like others in Bush’s government, there is an almost millenarian tinge to some of his language – he says Europe is now entering its “third and final phase”. He is nothing if not grand in his thinking. He says Europe must incorporate its neighbours to the east because “a greater Europe sets the stage for the two great endeavours of 21st-century democracy – the democratization and integration of Russia, and the democratization and liberalization of the Greater Middle East”. What does this mean, though?

At some points talking to him one is reminded of Arden Pyle, the ardent and ultimately dangerous pro-democrat idealist of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. His energy and idealism is impressive, but does he or any of the other neo-conservatives have the patience, planning or technical expertise to see their vision through? He admits he and the other neo-cons wished they had four years to plan how to build democracy in Iraq, rather than four months. It’s to be hoped far east Europe will prove more tractable to the neo-con radical democratic approach.

Despite the concerns over where exactly the neo-conservative energy is going, what its endgame plan is, and who benefits from it, ultimately investors are benefiting from his energy. He says he plans to work on the Project for Transition Economies for another few years, and then “I want to try and get my career back on track”. He’s thinking of getting a job with the government – “not the State Department. I have my standards”. A colleague says that he’s likely to bring the same missionary zeal to whatever he does: “Thirty years from now he’ll probably be trying to bring Burma into Nato.”


  • Avatar

    Jules Evans is a freelance journalist and writer, who covers two main areas: philosophy and psychology (for publications including The Times, Psychologies, New Statesman and his website, Philosophy for Life), and emerging markets (for publications including The Spectator, Economist, Times, Euromoney and Financial News).

More from Global Dashboard

Justice for All and the Economic Crisis

Justice for All and the Economic Crisis

As COVID-19 plunges the world into its most serious economic crisis for a century, a surge in demand for justice is inevitable. Businesses face bankruptcy – and whole industries may be insolvent. Similar pain is being felt in the public and non-profit sectors....

Who Speaks for the Global South Recipients of Aid?

Who Speaks for the Global South Recipients of Aid?

The murder of George Floyd and the resurfacing of the Black Lives Matter movement has led to heightened discussions on race in the international development sector. Aid practitioners in the North have not only condemned the systemic racism that they (suddenly) now see...