I wanted to react to this piece by Matthew Sussex at RealClearDefense on crafting a better U. S. policy with respect to Russia:
An open letter signed by 103 experts recently called for the U.S. to re-embrace its Cold War strategy for dealing with Russia. It argued that competition should be balanced with diplomacy and identified arenas for U.S.–Russia cooperation: countering nuclear proliferation, protecting the environment and stabilising regional flashpoints. Above all, it advocated combining deterrence with détente.
That’s a laudable goal, but it’s also deeply flawed.
First, Russia has shown no signs whatsoever of being deterred by U.S. policy. The opposite is true, as demonstrated by its adventurism in Crimea, Ukraine and Syria and its disinformation operations against the West.
Second, the Kremlin has no real interest in long-term détente with the U.S., mainly because Moscow’s price to assure its security—a privileged zone of influence in the former Soviet space—isn’t something that the U.S. will agree to or be supported by Washington’s NATO allies.
Third, the rules that helped underpin Cold War stability no longer apply. Even if the international system becomes bifurcated again, China, not Russia, will occupy a major pole. Globally, nuclear politics is no longer dominated by the U.S.–Soviet dyad. Nuclear multipolarity is shaping strategic interactions in far more complex ways than Cold War–style deterrence could mitigate. And the technological revolution has been a bonanza for hostile actors seeking to weaponise information, exacerbate divisions and degrade trust in democratic institutions.
The reality is that U.S.–Russia competition is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. That means that another tepid ‘reset’, paying lip-service to Russian insecurities while not actually addressing them, is similarly doomed to failure. But so, too, is symbolic posturing, such as stationing a few thousand troops in Poland and the Baltic states to mask a net drawdown of U.S. forces in Europe. Equally unhelpful are suggestions about recreating the Sino-Soviet split in reverse to prompt Russia to balance against China. Such signals are read in Moscow as proof of Western weakness.
Instead of advocating a Russia policy based on old solutions or half-measures, the U.S. needs a more comprehensive Russia strategy that responds to new strategic, economic and transnational realities.
Before leaping ahead to a more aggressive strategy with respect to Russia, I think some soul-searching is in order. I have a pretty good notion what Russia’s interest is in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Georgia. What are our interests in those countries? We went ahead willy-nilly and advocated the admission of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia to NATO which gave us interests which I would submit we did not previously have. That die is cast. But what are our interests in Ukraine, Georgia, and now Belarus?
Why have we been interfering in Russian elections? That we did is beyond dispute—the Clinton Administration bragged about it. I see a potential for negative reciprocity in this matter. That is mentioned nowhere in Dr. Sussex’s piece.
Why do we have Poles and Ukrainians guiding our policy with respect to Russia? Do they really have no conflict of interest?
I doubt there’s anyone who would relish a “clear-eyed U. S. strategy on Russia” more than I. A good place to start would be with clear eyes. There’s a passage from the New Testament that comes to mind:
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?