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Faculty Lead Partnerships to Support Ukrainian Veterans, Strengthen European and US Security

September 19, 2023

James Baker and Robert Murrett are leading academic partners in the newly formed US-Ukraine Veterans Bridge—Baker additionally leads a network of frontline state scholars.

Since the 2022 Russian invasion, Ukraine’s veteran population has increased from roughly 500,000 to over 1.2 million and counting, yet the country’s ability to support its servicemembers has declined due to the war’s impact on the economy and infrastructure.

Ukrainian Fulbright visit group photo.
Nataliia Kalmykova, a Fulbright scholar who became executive director of the Ukrainian Veterans Foundation weeks before the Russian invasion, is shown (center) with Syracuse University faculty during a recent visit. Third and second from right are the Maxwell School professors, the Hon. James Baker and Robert Murrett.

Two Maxwell School scholars say this dichotomy threatens the national security of Ukraine and other states on the frontlines of Russia.

The Hon. James E. Baker and Vice Admiral Robert Murrett (U.S. Navy, retired), the director and deputy director of the Syracuse University Institute for Security Policy and Law, respectively, are leading academic partners representing the University in a coalition that seeks to address the crisis by forging connections between U.S. and Ukraine veterans’ organizations.

Called the US-Ukraine Veterans Bridge, the coalition is comprised of U.S. veterans' organizations and human rights advocates united in supporting Ukraine's emerging veteran community. In partnership with the Ukrainian Veterans Foundation (UVF), the Bridge connects American and Ukrainian veterans, leaders and experts in areas such as health care, benefits administration, education, employment, reintegration and family.

“In Ukraine, the treatment of veterans is an immediate national security concern as well as a humanitarian one,” says Baker, who additionally leads an interdisciplinary network of scholars from the U.S., Ukraine and Russia’s frontline states called “Ring Around Russia: Partnership for Law and Policy.”

Baker outlined the connection between the care of veterans and national security in a position paper he recently shared with the U.S. government and Ukraine’s Ministry of Veterans Affairs. He wrote, “A society of demobilized veterans can be a force for good, as the World War II G.I. Bill boom demonstrated in the United States. It can also result in instability if those veterans are alienated from society or government and subsequently mobilized as a political movement or military force.”

“Our involvement is important because the Ukrainians deserve whatever support they can have from us at Syracuse University to ensure a better future and to restore the territorial integrity of their country.”

Robert Murrett

professor of practice of public administration and international affairs and deputy director, Institute for Security Policy and Law

Baker and Murrett are connecting Bridge organizers with resources at Syracuse University and offering their expertise in the pipeline, sharing best practices and guidance gleaned from their own experiences. A highly regarded national security lawyer, policy advisor and former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, Baker is professor of law in the College of Law and professor of public administration and international affairs by courtesy appointment at Maxwell. Former director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, Murrett is professor of practice of public administration and international affairs and is principal investigator of the Intelligence Community Center for Academic Excellence.

In addition to the Institute for Security Policy and Law, Veterans’ Bridge is supported at Syracuse University by the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs at Maxwell and the D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF).The University’s involvement with Veterans Bridge follows campus visits this past spring by Nataliia Kalmykova, a Ukrainian Fulbright scholar at the University of Buffalo who became executive director of the UVF weeks before Russia’s invasion.

Kalmykova met with Baker, Murrett, Maxwell Dean David M. Van Slyke and numerous other University representatives and Ukrainian students. She has since convened weekly Zoom meetings to coordinate resources from the University in support of Ukrainian veterans.

Says Murrett, “Our involvement is important because the Ukrainians deserve whatever support they can have from us at Syracuse University to ensure a better future and to restore the territorial integrity of their country.”

The connections are mutually beneficial to students. Murrett points out that a group he teaches in Maxwell’s master of public administration program, for instance, is exploring Ukraine’s challenges related to security and governance in a fall semester workshop inspired by Veterans Bridge.

The Hon. James Baker appears on a Ukrainian news station.
The Hon. James Baker is shown during an appearance on a Ukrainian news station during a recent visit to the embattled country. During the interview, he advocated for the care of the growing population of Ukrainian veterans as a means to bolster national security. Seated on the right is Nataliia Kalmykova, a Fulbright scholar who became executive director of the Ukrainian Veterans Foundation weeks before the Russian invasion.

Similarly, Baker says the related Ring Around Russia initiative he leads provides faculty and students with opportunities to collaborate with scholars and students in the frontline states on pressing global issues.

For Ring Around Russia, he has coordinated scholars from 11 universities in the U.S., Ukraine, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Latvia, Norway, Poland, Romania and Slovakia who are committed to using national security law and values to enhance European security. The goal is to develop national competencies and capacities in intelligence oversight, national security decision-making, the regulation and use of emerging technologies, and responding to Russian disinformation.

Baker was inspired to develop Ring Around Russia following a series of remote lectures he provided in February 2022, two weeks before the full-scale Russian invasion. His audience included academics, lawyers and government officials in Ukraine. “During each question-and-answer period, the question participants returned to was: ‘Does law matter when a nation faces an existential threat?’ Baker says. “I had heard the question before, in the U.S. government. When I left the sessions, it occurred to me that these were messages that warranted emphasis throughout the frontline states.”

He has since traveled throughout frontline states to meet with university scholars, government officials and civil society groups. “Many of these countries are evolving from post-Soviet systems,” he says. “Our network of scholars is trying to spread the word. Good process leads to better results and the good faith application of law protects democracy and enhances our physical security by making our security services more professional and effective. My vision is to have this network of professionals to offer best practice guidance on how to build a national security architecture, committed to democracy and law as well as security.”

Baker’s travels this past year have included two trips to Ukraine, the most recent of which was in June and included 16 meetings and a television appearance during which he advocated for the care of Ukrainian veterans.

In the crisis, he sees hope.

“The scope of the destruction Russia has wrought is criminal and tragic,” he says, “but I feel hope and optimism observing this generation of civil society leaders in Ukraine, as well as the resolve of Ukraine’s leaders. The people of Ukraine are resilient. It is hard to describe how resilient until you hear person after person declare ‘We are Ukraine’ and ‘We will win this war.’”

By Jessica Youngman

Published in the Fall 2023 issue of the Maxwell Perspective


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