Would Tillerson Defend the Baltics if Putin Invaded?

Vladimir Putin and former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, August 30, 2011. Alexsey Druginyn/RIA Novosti/reuters

This article first appeared on the Just Security site.

Confirmation hearings for President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet picks continue Wednesday. Secretary of state nominee, Rex Tillerson, who until recently was the CEO of Exxon Mobil, will face the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at 9:15 a.m.

Related: Will secretary of state pick Tillerson defend American values?

To keep up with the chaotic schedule, and to help prepare for the hearings, Just Security put together brief bios, and collected questions from our contributing editors, plus some retired intelligence community officials, for Tillerson, who if confirmed will help shape the Trump administration's foreign and national security policy.

Rex Tillerson Biography

Tillerson earned a degree in civil engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, and then began his career at Exxon in 1975. He has spent the entirety of his career at the company, working his way through various management roles until becoming CEO and chairman of the board in 2006.

Along the way, he served as the president of Exxon Neftegas Limited, which, according to his bio on the Trump transition site, means he "was responsible for Exxon's holdings in Russia and the Caspian Sea."

The Washington Post reports that Tillerson's lack of experience in the public sector is a "first in modern history for a potential secretary of state." However, as Trump and others see it, his business dealings all over the world, plus his management of a multibillion-dollar company, served as ample training to lead the State Department.

There are many aspects of Tillerson's time at Exxon that raise an eyebrow or two. For example, Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded Tillerson with the Order of Friendship in 2013.

Since 2001, Exxon Mobil has been the defendant in a series of lawsuits for alleged human rights abuses committed by its security forces in Indonesia from 1999 to 2001.

And USA Today reported Monday that Exxon "did business with Iran, Syria and Sudan through a European subsidiary" while Tillerson was a top executive. All three countries were under U.S. sanctions for being state sponsors of terrorism.

While the company maintains the sales were legal because the subsidiary was based in Europe, they are sure to raise questions on Capitol Hill. It is also worth noting that on the campaign trail, Trump said he'd bomb the "shit out of ISIS," then "invite Exxon" in to help him "take the oil."

Tillerson is a lifelong boy scout, and as the leader of the organization, pushed it to include gays.

Sixteen Key Questions for Tillerson

  1. If the new CEO of Exxon Mobil asks you to help negotiate with a foreign government, how will you respond? What if a foreign government asks you to help negotiate with ExxonMobil?
  2. While you were CEO, Exxon Mobil concluded an oil deal with the Kurdish regional government over the strong objections of the Iraqi national government. As Secretary of State, would you encourage oil and gas and other companies to negotiate with the Iraqi national government or with the Kurdish regional government?
  3. Should the United States "take the oil" from countries in which it conducts military operations, such as Iraq or Syria (despite the fact that pillage is considered a war crime)?
  4. Should the United States recognize Crimea as part of the Russian Federation?
  5. If Russia sends its armed forces (or armed irregulars) into Estonia, how should the United States respond?
  6. Would lifting current sanctions on Russia benefit ExxonMobil? Would you recommend lifting those sanctions?
  7. What are Russia's core strategic interests and objectives?
  8. What are China's core strategic interests and objectives?
  9. What are Iran's core strategic interests and objectives?
  10. Does the construction or expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank violate international law? Should the United States publicly oppose the construction or expansion of such settlements?
  11. Is the Paris Agreement on climate change good or bad for the United States?
  12. In 2015, the Department of Defense identified climate change as an international security risk. Do you share that assessment? How should the United States act to mitigate the instability created by climate change?
  13. Should the United States abide by the terms of the Iran Nuclear Deal (aka the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) so long as Iran does the same?
  14. Under what circumstances, if any, should the United States use military force to prevent mass atrocities such as genocide?
  15. Will you retain the Department of State Office of Global Women's Issues? Will you provide that Office with more or fewer personnel and resources?
  16. With more than 65 million people fleeing their countries to escape war and persecution, what are your thoughts on the president-elect's proposed refugee policies, including the plan to prohibit refugees from places like Syria?

Kate Brannen is a national security reporter and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council.

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