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Ian Lesser is vice president at The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) and a member of GMF’s executive team, managing programs across the organization. He serves as executive director of the Brussels office of GMF, and leads GMF’s work on the Mediterranean, Turkey, and the wider Atlantic. He also served as interim president of GMF from September-December 2021. 

Prior to joining GMF, Dr. Lesser was a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and vice president and director of studies at the Pacific Council on International Policy. He came to the Pacific Council from the RAND Corporation, where he spent over a decade as a senior analyst and research manager specializing in strategic studies. From 1994-95, he was a member of the Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff at the U.S. Department of State, responsible for Turkey, Southern Europe, North Africa, and the multilateral track of the Middle East peace process.

A frequent commentator for international media, he has written extensively on foreign and security policy issues. Dr. Lesser was educated at the University of Pennsylvania, the London School of Economics, and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and received his doctorate from Oxford University.  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 Delphi Economic Forum, Atlantic Dialogues, the NATO Defense College Foundation, and Turkish Policy Quarterly, and has been a senior fellow of the Onassis Foundation in Athens and the Luso-American Foundation in Lisbon.

Media Mentions

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.