Ian Lesser is vice president of GMF and a member of its executive team. He also serves as executive director of the Brussels office and leads the organization’s work on transatlantic relations involving the Mediterranean and Turkey. His expertise includes US foreign policy and European and Middle Eastern security affairs. 

Prior to joining GMF, Lesser was a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, vice president and director of studies at the Pacific Council on International Policy, and, for more than a decade, a senior analyst and research manager specializing in strategic studies at the RAND Corporation. From 1994-1995, he was a member of the US Secretary of State’s policy planning staff, responsible for Turkey, Southern Europe, North Africa, and the multilateral track of the Middle East peace process. 

A frequent commentator for international media, Lesser has written extensively on foreign and security policy issues. He was educated at the University of Pennsylvania, the London School of Economics, and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and received his PhD from the University of Oxford. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and the Pacific Council on International Policy. He serves on the advisory boards of the International Spectator, Turkish Policy Quarterly, and the NATO Defense College Foundation, and has been a senior fellow of the Onassis Foundation in Athens and the Luso-American Foundation in Lisbon. 

Media Mentions

It's really a lot of backroom diplomacy across the Atlantic. Everything from paperclips to nuclear strategy is done by consensus, so this is part of that process.
Cyprus, by virtue of its geography, has a critical role to play. If the EU is serious about becoming a more significant geopolitical actor, the major test will be here in the eastern Mediterranean.
It's clearly showed there's a reservoir of deep ill-will and anti-Semitism in Russia, especially in those regions that are majority Muslim, though not just, and maybe right now Russia finds it convenient to allow a bit of that.
Geopolitical conflicts are distracting from the trade, climate and technology agenda that the leaders must deal with. Given what's going on in the world and also given the EU's ambitions to play a larger geopolitical role — that's especially important to Commission President von der Leyen, it's not surprising that geopolitics will be at the top.
If France is a leader in driving Europe to spend more and do more, that is fully in line with what successive administrations have wanted to see.
Poland is very much on the front line and will remain so whatever the course of the war in Ukraine. The country occupies a critical position in allied deterrence and defense and is the key logistical hub for assistance headed to Ukraine. The fact that the president’s speech takes place in the Cold War birthplace of the Warsaw Pact will not be lost on observers, not least Russians.
From the perspective of a society, security is not just about the defense of borders, but it’s also about the kind of security people seek in the face of disasters. The response cannot be unilateral: even quite capable countries like Turkey need the support of allies, even adversaries, to tackle them
The failure for Germany to be in the mainstream risked triggering a wider debate about NATO cohesion and strategy. But, while it is easy to say it didn’t look good and they eventually took the right decision.
It’s been transformative in so many ways — and in areas in which it’s difficult for the European Union to act quickly
Any war brings with it increasing risk of accident and escalation. The sheer number of forces in close proximity and the length of the conflict, with no sign of abating, accumulates risk in the entire region.
If Austin’s goal of weakening Russia is confirmed it would mean that Washington and NATO are contemplating a lasting period of confrontation and risk in connection with Russia.
Incorporating Finland into NATO would bring important capabilities and "strategic depth" to the "particularly exposed" Baltic region.
This is very uncomfortable conversation for Western allies. They assumed a more or less rational actor and they didn’t price in the kind of ruthlessness that we’re seeing from President Putin, and this of course upsets the traditional calculus in ways NATO has not fully thought out.
The big visits to Brussels over the last days really illustrate the very stressful gap that exists between what Ukraine would like to see allied NATO allies providing and what many in the West would like to see the West doing, without provoking an overwhelming response from Russia. I think, in a sense, we have yet to come to grips with the utter ruthlessness of Russian policy.
It is a very meaningful step. They are being trained for it all the time, but it is very unusual that the task force is actually being activated. It suggests that NATO is taking this very seriously.
Much of the support to Ukraine that has been delivered so far is really being delivered among a coalition of nation states — a coalition of the willing within NATO — but not necessarily as NATO's action, per se. As time goes on, there's an open question as to whether Russia will continue to tolerate the supply lines of arms transfers and fuel deliveries to Ukraine being organized from NATO territory.
There is a high degree of coordination and an extraordinary degree of success in producing a roster of quite stark sanctions. But that brings its own challenge, which is to sustain that momentum through what is likely to be a long, protracted period of confrontation with Russia.
The most fundamental deliverable is for the U.S. president to show up at the time of the greatest crisis in European security since the end of the Second World War. There’s an opportunity for American leadership, there’s an expectation for American leadership. That symbolism is actually highly important.
At this critical juncture, every significant weapons shipment [Zelenskyy] receives, every word of support he receives and every action NATO takes helps him and help Ukraine and he’s trying to keep that squarely in the political view.
The net result of all this will be a lot more NATO capability facing Russia in the years ahead. I’m not sure that’s what Putin anticipated.
With Russian troops fighting in Ukraine and deployed in nearby Belarus, the risk for NATO has increased enormously. The situation could make it harder for the alliance to defend its eastern edge.
The level of risk for NATO has simply and suddenly increased enormously. The possibility of conflict with Russian forces in Europe or elsewhere, like the Black Sea, the Sahel, Libya or Syria, could be dangerous and will be an issue for years to come.
Without US-European cohesion, Moscow will have — or at least will feel it has — a blank check. For Russia's strategy, driving a wedge between trans-Atlantic partners is likely at least as important as Ukraine itself.
NATO is at a turning point in its history. The crisis with Ukraine illustrates the importance of its role, but also the very difficult equation it faces,.
Translated from French
[Behind the scenes] there’s very little enthusiasm [within NATO for bringing in Ukraine. There is, however,] a consensus on the need to support [Ukraine] politically, economically, and, to the extent they can, in security terms.
I do still think that the president enjoys a tremendous amount of fundamental good will in Europe. Just because Biden is not Trump doesn’t make all of the policy issues easy to address.
[If the Greens particpate in government, one can expect] concerns about domestic developments in Turkey, media freedom and other areas can be expected to receive more attention.