Building a Network with Frontline States

Baker on Ukrainian TV

James Baker is a professor of law at Syracuse Law and the director of the Syracuse University Institute for Security Policy and Law (SPL), as well as a professor of public administration at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He has an extensive resumé in international law and security that includes serving as an infantry officer in the U.S. Marines, as an aide to former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), as legal advisor to the National Security Council, and as a chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.

Since 2020, Baker has been working with groups in Ukraine on issues surrounding cybersecurity and artificial intelligence (AI), but, in fall 2021, his focus shifted to the pending Russian invasion of Ukraine and a series of presentations he collectively called “Everything I Would Want to Know if I Was About to Be Invaded by Russia.” The idea was to share observations from his career that might be helpful to Ukraine in the area of intelligence, intelligence oversight, crisis management, presidential command and control, the law of armed conflict, and war crimes. His presentations were widely attended by academics, lawyers, and officials in the Ukrainian government, including members of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office.

When the opportunity to visit the University of Bialystok through an Erasmus+ grant (a European Union program to support education, training, youth and sport) came about, Andrew Horsfall, assistant dean of International Programs at Syracuse Law asked Baker if he was willing to travel to Poland at a time when that country was concerned about being next in line to be invaded by Russia. Baker didn’t hesitate, as he has a long-held interest in advising and working with the many frontline states that live in the shadow of Russia.

Baker and Charles Szymanski
Baker (left) and Charles Szymanski.

When the University of Bialystok’s Professor Charles Szymanski heard that Baker was coming to visit, he sought him out. “Jamie impressed me, and we gravitated toward one another in our common interest in international law,” says Szymanski. “Jamie believed that the frontline states that had once been occupied by the Soviet Union were behind in their development of democratic and law-based security structures, particularly now that there was a war going on next door. He wanted to help.” “They don’t have national security law as a discipline in many of the frontline states, yet,” Baker explains, which was also noted on a trip to Tbilisi, Georgia, that Horsfall and he made at the invitation of the Georgian Bar Association. “So, we decided to teach and promote the components of national security law and process as a model that frontline countries can adapt to their own laws.”

Szymanski, who is American-born and married to a Polish attorney, has extensive contacts with universities throughout the frontline states. Those connections combined with Baker’s experience created an opportunity to help frontline states with an initiative called Ring Around Russia (RAR).

Ring Around Russia Brings Network of Frontline Scholars, Universities Together Based on Shared Legal Values

Ring Around Russia (RAR): The Partnership for Law and Policy is an interdisciplinary network of scholars and universities from the U.S., Ukraine, and the frontline states committed to a vision of national security based on shared legal values and a desire to rebut Russian aggression and support European and U.S. security. Both Syracuse Law and the University of Bialystok consider RAR a promising long-term project that has only been made more urgent by Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Szymanski has been a lead at the University of Bialystok for RAR, who has helped Baker to network throughout the region and gain support for the initiative. Baker has traveled to Ukraine, Slovakia, Romania, Moldova, Georgia, Finland, and Estonia to build a network of scholars and to meet with government and military officials. Baker and Szymanski have contributed expertise and information on topics including intelligenånational security process, and anti-corruption, always while helping to articulate why Ukraine matters to NATO’s security and U.S. security.

Szymanski also had the opportunity to travel to Syracuse last summer as part of the Erasmus+ grant, where he met with Baker and other colleagues at Syracuse Law and across the University. Recently, Szymanski also joined the faculty of Syracuse Law teaching online in the JDinteractive program (JDi) from Poland.

“We’ve accomplished a lot by sharing expertise and information, or so we hope. However, the most important thing we may have done is show up. At one leading university in a frontline NATO state, my host exclaimed upon my arrival, ‘You are the first American professor we have seen in 10 years!’” says Baker. “That is the national security reason Andrew’s work and projects like this are important. They help to build the academic and cultural bonds premised on shared values that hold alliances together.”

SPL is in the process of applying for relevant grants to fund these efforts going forward.

The Institute for Security Policy and Law’s Scholarship with Ukraine Furthers Syracuse Law Status

Baker working across the table from a woman on a laptop

Baker’s contributions have only heightened the reputation of Syracuse Law and Syracuse University in the frontline states, as he draws on 20 years in academia and his career in the military, government, and policy globally.

A few of his significant contributions from just the past two years include:

  • Attending the International Academic Forum in Kyiv in April 2024, along with SPL Fellow RJ Naperkowski L’23, which was hosted by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and the NGO GlobSec on Military Innovations in Contemporary Warfare. Baker and Naperkowski were the only two Americans in attendance and presented a paper, “Mobilizations and Recruitment in Ukraine: Challenges and ChallenSolutions.” This was one of four recent trips for Baker to Ukraine—two others took place in 2023—where he conducted over 100 meetings with ministers, NGOs and collaborating university counterparts on RAR while representing Syracuse Law.
  • Providing a policy report on caring for Ukrainian veterans to the Ukrainian Ministry of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine in August 2023.
  • Drafting a report, which included a chapter by Assistant Professor Lenny Grant of Syracuse’s College of Arts and Sciences and Naperkowski on treating veterans with PTSD, which was hand delivered to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last fall.
  • Teaching a seminar, Road to Recovery, in fall 2023, as one of seven international experts—including those from Stanford University, Harvard University, and the University of Notre Dame—at Ukrainian Catholic University.
  • Making over 20 other international presentations in the frontline states and at international symposia on the importance of Ukraine to the rule of law to NATO and U.S. national security, including at King’s College London and the University of Helsinki.