The Costs Of Ignoring Russia

Authored by Dmitri Simes via The Strategic Culture Foundation,

Current mutual hostility threatens an explosive confrontation

Improving the dangerously unstable U.S.-Russia relationship will be very difficult, but it is important for U.S. national security. Current mutual hostility threatens an explosive confrontation that could destroy American (and Russian) civilization as we know it. Short of that, Russia can do much more than it is today to damage U.S. interests and values without taking extreme risks. Accordingly, the United States should explore normalizing its interaction with Russia. Washington should do so without illusions, and from a position of strength.

Today, America and Russia are adversaries with different approaches to key international issues, different systems of government and, in many respects, different values. Each confronts domestic obstacles to efforts to establish better relations. These obstacles are particularly challenging in the United States, where Congress, the mainstream media and much of the American public view Vladimir Putin’s Russia as a vicious enemy akin to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, if not Hitler’s Germany. Unlike China, Russia has only limited economic interaction with America—and therefore few Americans see a practical positive side to contacts with Russia.

President Putin has much greater latitude in shaping his country’s foreign policy, including exploring a new beginning with Washington. Yet in a period of economic difficulty before Russia’s 2018 presidential election, Putin is loath to appear weak under foreign pressure.

At the same time, Washington and Moscow continually calculate how their relationship affects their close partners. Thus, for example, Russia cannot disregard how China and Iran might react if they perceive Russia as accommodating the United States on North Korea, Syria or other issues—especially if Moscow’s flexibility compromises their interests.

Yet failing to arrest the downward spiral in U.S.-Russia relations poses real dangers. The most dramatic, if least likely, is a direct military confrontation leading to uncontrollable escalation and potentially a global catastrophe. Many dismiss this risk, arguing that neither the United States nor Russia wants to commit suicide and would show restraint; however, the same assumption that the other side would pull back at the last moment contributed to World War I. The truth is that no one knows what might happen if U.S. and Russian warplanes started shooting at each another or if American cruise missiles hit Russian bases in Syria. Russia could retaliate asymmetrically, perhaps in eastern Ukraine, and fighting could escalate and spread in ways that trigger NATO’s Article Five guarantees. While the Obama administration may have considered nuclear weapons so terrible as to have little practical utility, Russian military doctrine explicitly describes tactical nuclear weapons as a viable option if Russia is under serious attack. Where would that lead?

Setting aside nuclear apocalypse, forswearing diplomacy with Moscow because it legitimizes an unsavory government and rewards bad behavior could prompt Russian officials to conclude that they have little left to lose and must weaken and confront what they would view as an unremittingly hostile America. Interfering in the 2016 election could pale by comparison to serious and sustained attacks on infrastructure, financial systems and other foundations of American society, all of which are highly vulnerable to cyberattack. Devastating U.S. retaliation would do little to help millions of affected Americans or to reassure those who escaped harm the first time. There is, likewise, a difference between failing to help the United States prevent proliferation in North Korea or elsewhere, as is the case today, and working actively to assist Pyongyang and other American foes to develop these capabilities. Moscow could arm and support Hezbollah, Hamas and the Taliban too. If Russian leaders feel pushed into a corner, they could even consider a deal with ISIS or others whom they oppose today.

Finally, Russia could double down on its emerging alignment with China. Russia and China maintain strong mutual suspicions, and China is a much stronger country by most measures. Although both are interested in normal relations with the United States, and would be reluctant to go too far in ways that could lead to a serious conflict, they are fearful of and, indeed, irritated with Washington. They are drawing closer economically and militarily, and are increasingly coordinating their foreign policies. Moscow and Beijing are concerned over American-led encirclement and, specifically, expanding U.S. antimissile systems that threaten their retaliatory capabilities. At a minimum, the worse the U.S.-Russia relationship, the more a rising China can count on Russian support in any disagreement with the United States. Emboldening China in this fashion cannot be in the U.S. national interest.

To avoid these costs, any responsible U.S. government should want to normalize the relationship with Moscow. The objective should not be to become allies or friends, neither of which is possible or advisable. Instead, Washington should seek a narrow dialogue to avoid an unintended military confrontation, manage differences more effectively and, at times, work together where interests and priorities overlap.

Pursuing such an approach requires a clear explanation of the U.S. national interests at stake that Congress and the public can understand. It will also require sustained and disciplined attention from the president and a concerted effort to appoint and retain officials both committed to this approach and capable of executing it. Good chemistry between the two presidents is important, but it should be a tool, rather than a basis, of American policy.

The obstacles to seeking a new approach to Russia are so numerous and momentous that many may feel that even trying is not a good use of President Trump’s time, energy and limited political capital. Yet if it goes badly wrong, the U.S.-Russia relationship could end in nuclear conflict. It would be a travesty for America to do so much to avoid an imaginary mushroom cloud in Iraq and then to ignore far greater looming dangers in a collapsing relationship with Russia.

The first and most important task for any U.S. administration is to protect the survival and security of the American people. That is why no responsible administration could refuse to pursue a more stable relationship with Russia. It is why every new administration since the end of the Cold War has tried to do just that. No matter how futile these efforts may seem, the United States cannot afford to dismiss diplomacy with Moscow out of hand. Failing to try risks fueling a highly destructive self-fulfilling prophecy that could undermine U.S. national security, as well as America’s foreign-policy objectives around the globe.

Comments

Ignatius We Are The Priests Wed, 08/16/2017 - 23:50 Permalink

That's because some of us understand that the prospect of a nuclear winter far outweigh the exagerated claims of the climate change fanatics.  Normalized relations with Russia is one of the prime reasons I voted for Trump, who now has his hands tied by the nexus of the ANTIFA/Hillary's a poor loser/Neocon faction that your shit-for-brains thinking encourages.

In reply to by We Are The Priests

political_proxy (not verified) Ignatius Thu, 08/17/2017 - 00:15 Permalink

Your point is spot on but the reason sucks.Only two things hinder Trump: the 'Deep State' and Trump.Granted soros is part of the cabal, underwriter of the "anti" fascist groups that incite conflict and violence (by intent) wherever they go.

In reply to by Ignatius

RevIdahoSpud3 political_proxy (not verified) Thu, 08/17/2017 - 02:18 Permalink

What happened to good old assassinations? There are sooo many truly evil fucks running amok, everyone agrees they are evil fucks but they all just keep marching on.Something on the line of Duterte's drug war only corrupt media, politicians and banksters instead of drug dealers. Well hell, include the drug dealers to. Imagine a daily headline, "32 media moguls, pols and money grubbing banksters killed today! Stay tuned for the news hour at 6".

In reply to by political_proxy (not verified)

political_proxy (not verified) Ignatius Thu, 08/17/2017 - 00:15 Permalink

Your point is spot on but the reason sucks.Only two things hinder Trump: the 'Deep State' and Trump.Granted soros is part of the cabal, underwriter of the "anti" fascist groups that incite conflict and violence (by intent) wherever they go.

In reply to by Ignatius

Itinerant Ignatius Thu, 08/17/2017 - 10:08 Permalink

The author has bought into the 2016 election narrative. That kind of puts a dent into his ability to reason and to reach conclusions from facts. Although it sounds like some middle of the road wisdom, it misses the mark completely.Americans are delusional. They have never understood for two centuries straight that foreign peoples will not welcome bombs being dropped on their heads to liberate them from some tyrant inimical to American capitalist designs. They have never understood that military drills, bases, and posturing are experienced by others as threatening and intimidating, exactly as they themsleves experience any moves by other nations as a threat. The cannot understand it because they think it's just defensive on the part of really good guys (themselves) that want nothing other than truth and freedom. You can hardly be more delusional than that.

In reply to by Ignatius

Pliskin Wed, 08/16/2017 - 23:46 Permalink

'That is why no responsible administration could refuse to pursue a more stable relationship with Russia. It is why every new administration since the end of the Cold War has tried to do just that.'This guy's a fucking idiot!

Jim in MN Wed, 08/16/2017 - 23:48 Permalink

Demitri Simes is kind of a dolt who has a faux sophisticated writing style.  This article doesn't really analyze anything and just boils down to 'better relationships are....better....than worse relationships'.  I mean, pip pip and all that, I think anyone with two neurons is probably ahead of Simes on the geopolitics of Russia.  I mean, no mention of any specific issue or hotspot? Also, Simes slips in 'interfering in the 2016 election' like it's just background info.  Hillbot much? 

francis scott … Jim in MN Thu, 08/17/2017 - 02:42 Permalink

Don't worry mini Jim.  We all get it wrong once in a while.  Like you here and now. Mr Simes isn't just a janitor at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. For all your smallbrain knows, he may be delivering the word from the 'deep state' that theirattitude about Russia has shifted. So when Simes says "better relations are better than worse relations"it means a lot more than when mini Jim says "This mop is all wore out." If you expected Emile Zola, go to library and read J'accuse.Oh, wait ...  he was Dreyfusbot     

In reply to by Jim in MN

JuliaS order66 Thu, 08/17/2017 - 00:06 Permalink

Corrupt? Definitely. However they don't have 800 military bases in 127 coutnries. They don't engage in regime changes. They aren't keen on spreading "Russian values" to the rest of the planet and they don't fight, unless attacked first. Russian corruption hurts Russians and that is their own issue to resolve. US corruption huts every country on the planet. Our crimes are marketed as liberaton and exported to nations who don't want to be a part of the Western Empire. Russian crimes are internal.

In reply to by order66

BadNagel JuliaS Thu, 08/17/2017 - 03:07 Permalink

They don't fight unless attacked first? Wow. What an imbecile comment without historical backing. Another one of Putin's bad english grammar bloggers. I guess you think that Putin has no troops in Ukraine, never intervened in Georgia, has no troops in Syria, and never interfered in US elections. 

In reply to by JuliaS

JuliaS BadNagel Thu, 08/17/2017 - 13:33 Permalink

Crimea voted for secession. Russia went in to defend its people. Tie-eating Sakhashvili (who later became Governor of Odessa... this Odessa http://scd.observers.france24.com/files/rfi_multimedia_element_image/od…) attacked Russians and was betting on US intevention. Instead he got Putins boot up his ass. Syria has asked Russia for help and Russia did help. Else it would have met the same destiny as Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen etc. US elections? There is zero proof of Russian involvement.None of your arguments hold water. Go back to watching television.

In reply to by BadNagel

Arkadin BadNagel Fri, 08/18/2017 - 10:23 Permalink

I hope you realize that Georgia attacked South Ossetia.  Russia, as the sole UN-designated peacekeeper in the Caucusus, intervened and drove the Georgians out.  Russia could have gone on to Tbliisi to arrest Saakashvili, but refrained and withdrew.  It did not remain as an occupying force (when will the US withdraw from Afghanistan, South Korea, Germany, Yugoslavia, etc, etc.?  Seems we have no intention of ever leaving those and other places).  As for Syria, Russia did not invade. The Syrian government invited Moscow to intervene against US-backed jihadists. The Russian presence in Syria is entirely consistent with international law.  As for Ukraine, there is no evidence whatsoever that a Russian invasion took place.  In Crimea, the Russian military was permitted a surge capacity pursuant to the Russo-Ukrainian agreement governing Russia's Black Sea naval base.  Russian forces never exceeeded the permited surge limits.  In any case, there is no doubting the will of the Crimean people to get out from under Ukrainian misrule.  As for Donbas, no evidence of an invasion.  The infilatration of "little green men"?  Not clear that that contitutes an invasion. In any case, the legitimately elected government of Ukraine invited Russia in as the Maidan coup d'etat was underway.  So Russia would have had every right to enter the country on a large scale, but chose not to for a variety of reasons.  But invitation or no invitation, supreme national interests were at stake, and Russia acted rightfully and moderately.

In reply to by BadNagel

JuliaS FoggyWorld Thu, 08/17/2017 - 00:35 Permalink

Worth mentioning Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Supposedly our attacks were justified in order to save American lives that would've been lost if a land invasion took place. Let's pretend I buy into the premise they weren't going to surrender. Let's take it at face value. The conclusion then is that any other nation in possession of nuclear weapons definitely has the right to nuke us to save lives that matter to them, if provoked. I'm more than sure, no one here is going to surrender, when the whole country is armed to the teeth and stands ready to defend its territory to the last breath. We ourselves have stated that the use of nukes can be justified and outlined the conditions that are present right here this very moment. Japan didn't nuke us, yet got nuked back. So, by the same token, if we destroy as much as a harbor full of ships anywhere on the planet, that nation has every right to hit their shiny red button (provided they have one). We've already given many countries the reason to strike back, with the only thing holding them back is the lack of capability.You think if Iraq actually possessed WMD's they would've hesitated to use them? Of course not! A comedian even jokes that their WMD's might've been so powerful and horrific, millions of their people were willing to take the secret to their grave, instead of using such weapons for self-defense.I'm also quite sure we wouldn't have been so eager to invade if our intelligence indeed had the proof of weapons' existence. We went in like they had nothing, and indeed, they had exactly that. A golden toilet in the presidential palace maybe, but that hardly qualifies as a WMD.

In reply to by FoggyWorld

RevIdahoSpud3 JuliaS Thu, 08/17/2017 - 01:58 Permalink

Japan made several attempts at surrendering including the terms that were eventually settled on post surrender. All they wanted was to keep the figurehead of their emperor in place culturally. Their nation was already destitute due to the fire bombing that preceded the atomic bombing. Truman and his war mongers were more interested in 'testing' the atomic bomb.http://apjjf.org/2016/23/Selden.htmlAn irony is Japan was played into attacking Pearl Harbor due to sanctions (sound familiar) that began the war and they were played as the recipients of atomic bombing to end the war for nothing more than presenting an opportunity without US public dissent to unnecessary destruction for the purpose of a real time atomic test.The myth that the bomb saved hundreds of thousand of lives is pure Victors Write History crap. Japan was trying to surrender.

In reply to by JuliaS

JuliaS RevIdahoSpud3 Thu, 08/17/2017 - 13:25 Permalink

That's why I started with "let's pretend". In actuality I support your position fully. I find the claims of Japanese willing to commit harakiri rather than surrender strange. Supposedly, that's what they did when they were cornered on remote islands, yet somehow when confronted on dry land in Asia they instead retreated and surrendered (when non-American witnesses were present). Could it be that we murdered them and called it a suicide when no one was watching? We'll never know, since we got to write all the history books.Sanctions leading to war? I hear you! Exact same thing happened to Germany. Sanctions, economic and industrial sabotage have lead to WW1 and all those things compounded with reparations lead up to WW2. All wars have an economic foundation. Germany was pursuing peaceful trade - technology for oil. They were laying railroad tracks to the Middle East and were met with severe resistance from their technologically inferior but much more numerous rivals. Germany was provoked just like Japan.Nobody is bothering to ask question how come 2 nations, all of the sudden, not even connected by land mass, ended up being on the same side in WW2. The most basic research would reveal all the reasons. Italy is a different case though. For them alliance was a matter of convenience and bet on a side that ended up losing. There are many fun facts about Italy, such as the fact that they even had fascist Jews. That's right! Anyone who doesn't understand the difference between Fascists and Nazi's won't be able to appreciate the irony.

In reply to by RevIdahoSpud3

Arrest Hillary Wed, 08/16/2017 - 23:59 Permalink

Buy Czarist Russian Bonds .... for the building of the Trans Siberian Railroad .... the cheapest colonial land grab in history .... Racist Russians aren't very good friends for white people .... nor Muslims .... nor Ukrainians .... who do they get along with .... world class pariahs .... and just like stupid niggers .... they can't even build cars ?

erk Thu, 08/17/2017 - 01:15 Permalink

Russian Americans represent about 10% of the population, the second largest ethnic group to Mexican Americans which are 28% of the population.Trash talk either of those groups and you are going to loose a lot of votes at the next election.The Democrats are fools, costing themselves Russian American votes.Trump is a fool costing himself Mexican American votes.