January 11, 2017

CNAS Releases New Report "The Future of U.S.-Russia Relations"

The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Strategy and Statecraft Progam has released a new report on U.S.-Russia relations and steps the next Administration can take to counter Russian expansionism. In the report, "The Future of U.S.-Russia Relations," CNAS Strategy and Statecraft Program Director Julianne Smith and former Research Intern Adam Twardowski argue that the next Administration must invest in the U.S. ability to counter Russia's capabilities in cyber and information warfare and champion a robust transatlantic approach toward Russia. It must also, however, remain open-minded when opportunities for pragmatic security and economic cooperation with Russia arise.

The report is part of CNAS' Papers for the Next President Series, which is designed to assist the next president and his team in crafting a strong, pragmatic, and principled national security agenda. Julianne Smith and Neal Urwitz also discuss the report in the latest CNAS podcast. The episode is available on iTunes and SoundCloud.

The full report can be found here:

Please find the introduction to the report below: 

The next president will inherit a relationship with Russia fraught with more tension than at any point since the Cold War. Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine sparked fear that its belligerence could threaten the territorial integrity of NATO’s eastern members while raising questions about NATO’s ability to deter Russian aggression in its immediate neighborhood and beyond. In the Middle East, Russia obstructs U.S. policy in Syria by arming the Assad regime and providing diplomatic cover for its assaults on U.S.-backed Syrian rebels. With a blunt anti-western posture, acts of intimidation toward its neighbors, and a rapidly modernizing military, Russia has plunged its relationship with the United States into a crisis that threatens to destabilize the transatlantic community and undermine future opportunities for cooperation.

Given the current state of affairs, it is easy to forget how different U.S.-Russia relations looked when President Obama first entered office in 2009. After years of simmering tensions tied to NATO’s open door policy, Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia, and longstanding disagreements about the West’s actions toward Russia in the wake of the Cold War, both countries expressed mutual interest in a fresh start. The Russian “reset” policy, one of President Obama’s first foreign policy initiatives, enabled the onetime strategic rivals to cooperate on a wide range of issues, from counterterrorism and arms reduction to trade and development. For a few years, under President Dmitry Medvedev’s leadership, Russia appeared to have redirected its focus from power competition to pragmatic cooperation with the United States. Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2012, and its assistance in implementing sanctions against Iran, signaled to many observers that U.S.-Russia relations, while often challenging, offered both sides meaningful opportunities for pragmatic cooperation.

Today, however, these relations can at best be described as bleak, and at worst headed for outright confrontation, given President Vladimir Putin’s desire to reestablish a sphere of influence in his neighborhood. But while the next U.S. president must confront the challenge of Russian revanchism, he must also take care not to overstate it. To be sure, Russia has invested vast resources into growing its military capabilities and appears increasingly willing to deploy those capabilities to further its aims. That said, its power is also constrained by a shrinking population that will not sustain its hollowed-out, oil-dependent economy. Other constraints on Russian power include deepening suspicion toward the country among its traditional partners in Central Asia, a reinvigorated NATO alliance, and long-term uncertainty about the stability of its political and economic system. 

The next president has signaled his intention to pursue closer relations with Russia, which he regards as a partner in counterterrorism and other issues. But Presidents Obama and George W. Bush also entered office believing they could invigorate U.S.-Russia ties until experience showed them that Putin exploits American flexibility while working to undermine American interests at every opportunity. President Trump will find that any honeymoon in U.S.-Russia relations under his watch will force him to confront Russia’s revisionist aims for the post–Cold War security architecture, a vision at odds with long-term American interests.

The broad goal of the next U.S. administration should be to resist and deter Russian efforts to undermine the post–Cold War security order in Europe and elsewhere. To resist Russian expansionism, the next U.S. president must invest in the United States’ ability to counter Russia’s newly honed abilities in cyber and information warfare, in traditional U.S. strengths such as maritime warfare that have lagged since the end of the Cold War, and in new potentially dangerous domains such as outer space. To do this, the next president should champion a robust transatlantic approach toward Russia that leverages the combined economic, military, and political resources of the United States as well as its European allies and partners. Finally, he should remain open-minded about pursuing pragmatic security and economic cooperation with Russia, should such opportunities arise.

Smith is available for interviews. To arrange an interview, please call Neal Urwitz at nurwitz@cnas.org or (202) 457-9409.