Pentagon Policy Official Says Authoritarian Regimes Like Russia At Distinct Disadvantage


By David Vergun

Authoritarian regimes create incentives for leaders not to tell their boss the truth, including bad news.

This is playing out in Russia, said Celeste Wallander, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, who spoke today at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Authoritarian regimes do not have the sometimes troublesome but always constructive feedback mechanisms of democracies. You can’t make good decisions if you don’t have good information. And, you can’t have good information if you don’t have a variety of views and the ability to question yourself and reassess and course correct,” she said.

Over the last two decades, Russian President Vladimir Putin has created a “rigid, brittle structure in which only the like-minded succeed; in which he is surrounded by people who think the way he does and anyone who was willing to stick their head up and say, ‘maybe that’s not a good idea,’ has found themselves, at best, being fired,” she said.

Wallander said that she values her own role as a female civilian in the Pentagon, where she can provide her viewpoints and assessments and her contributions are given full consideration by leadership.

Of course, those assessments need to be backed up by good research and data, she added.

Sometimes in a meeting, it’s best to let others speak first, she said, addressing group dynamics. “Think about the advantage you have sometimes by letting other people talk a lot first. And then take the moment to marshal your thoughts, to listen to others, to gain from that and then be ready to make your contribution.”

One of the important traits of a good leader, is to be a good listener, she said. Another important trait is to be a good team builder and contribute to the team.

Another benefit the U.S. has vis-a-vis authoritarian regimes, is that the U.S. has been, and is an excellent global team builder and team player, she said.

As a result, dozens of allies and partners have joined in support with the U.S. in aiding Ukraine’s defense against the illegal invasion by Russia of its neighbor, she said.

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