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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Resurgent Russia - Part III: The US Response in Context

Image 1: M1A2SEP main battle tanks participating in the Combined Resolve II exercises in Germany. Image Credit: US Army, 2014. 

Part I and Part II discussed Russian objectives in Eurasia and the methods it has used to meet its two main objectives: achieving nuclear parity with the United States and establishing Russian hegemony in the near abroad. Upcoming articles will make a series of military, diplomatic, and economic recommendations to the Obama Administration and the Congress with the goal of  safeguarding American interests in Europe. In order to put the recommendations in context, a brief overview of the US grand strategy in foreign policy will be provided.  

The grand strategy of the United States has been to to maintain hegemony in the Western hemisphere by ensuring no great power rivals form within its periphery while simultaneously preventing other powers from attaining hegemony in their own geographic region. 

"The underlying rationale behind this policy is straightforward: As long as Eurasia is divided among many major powers, these states tend to worry most about each other and cannot concentrate their capabilities or their attention on the United States. Nor can they do much to interfere in the Western hemisphere. This situation maximizes U.S. security and makes it possible for the United States to intervene in far-flung regions without having to worry very much about defending its own soil." - Stephen Walt, 2014 

For example, the United States contested the Soviet Union's dominance in Eurasia throughout the Cold War which subsequently forced the Soviet Union to commit the bulk of its forces in Eastern Europe. America's grand strategy is greatly augmented by the unique geopolitical state of North America. Otto von Bismark observed, "The Americans are truly a lucky people. They are bordered to the north and south by weak neighbors and to the east and west by fish". The relative stability of North America is in sharp contrast with the geo-political realities of both Russia and China who are bordered by much more demanding neighbors (from a security perspective). Thus, United States is uncontested in the Western hemisphere and its homeland is secure from nearby state actors which allows the United States to intervene in other regions of the world - namely to contest the hegemony of other powers - by maintaining a robust overseas presence when compared to other states.

The US has been able to maintain hegemony in the Western hemisphere, in part, due to its extensive system of alliances spanning from Europe to the Asia-Pacific. The United States has been largely able to avoid the historical trend of many countries that have ascended to great power status: 

"The fundamental pattern of international relations is that as a country becomes powerful and asserts itself, others gang up to bring it down. That's what happened to the Habsburg Empire, Napoleonic France, Germany and the Soviet Union. There is one great exception to this rule in modern history: the United States. America has risen to global might, and yet it has not produced the kind of opposition that many would have predicted. In fact, today it is in the astonishing position of being the world's dominant power while many of the world's next most powerful nations--Britain, France, Germany, Japan--are all allied with it." - Fareed Zakaria, 2013 

Thus, frequently discussed factors such as the size of the US economy, technological advantages, size and quality of the US military, etc. cannot fully account for American hegemony. The robust network of US alliances has the dual effect of not only increasing the number of countries willing to assist the United States, but also the alliance system significantly decreases the number of states who seek to oppose the United States.

The common critique of the Obama Administration's foreign policy, which asserts the Administration lacks a grand strategy or an underlying organizational principle is largely unfounded. The Obama Administration is clearly continuing to enact the post-World War II US grand strategy of maintaining hegemony through a system of military and diplomatic alliances. The Pivot is among the best examples of the Administration's continuation of the aforementioned policies (Walt, 2014). Applying the US grand strategy within the Russian context will be crucial for protecting US interests in Europe. The following objectives are derived from promoting American hegemony as per the grand strategy within the context of dealing with Russia after the Ukraine crisis: 

(1) Protect existing US allies from both conventional and unconventional military forces from Russia
(2) Contest Russian economic, diplomatic, and military hegemony in Eurasia, principally within the post-Soviet states in the near abroad
(3) Do not facilitate further cooperation between the People's Republic of China and the Russian Federation 
(4) Establish a compartmentalized relationship with Russia such that critical issues to the United States which require Russian assistance (principally the enforcement of Iranian sanctions) can continue
(5) Do not commit to new major unilateral security commitments in Eastern Europe    
(6) Continue existing nuclear modernization programs 

Many of these objectives are inherently contradictory with one another to varying degrees which made formulating an appropriate foreign policy response difficult. However, a response which meets these objectives is possible and will be discussed later in the series; the US has a number of diplomatic, economic, and military tools to accomplish the objectives listed above. Part VI will discuss the role between the US and other NATO countries within the context of meeting US objectives. 

Author's Note: I apologize for the comparatively short article but the complexities of NATO merited an entirely separate article e.g. the disparity in political will to use force between NATO member nations, issues related to the level of aggregate member defense spending, the type of defense spending some NATO countries prioritize to the detriment of the force, etc. 


  1. U.S. Collective Defense Arrangements, Department of State, 2014. 
  2. What Has Asia Done for Uncle Sam Lately?, Stephen Walt, 2014.
  3. America the Isolated?, Fareed Zakaria, 2013.,9171,2143560,00.html 


  1. Why USA should in first place "contain" Russia? How ordinary americans benefit from this politics?

    1. I am not advocating for a total containment policy as practiced by the US against the Soviet Union during the Cold War which involved economic, military, political, and ideological aspects. Rather, it is beneficial for the US to protect its existing commitments to Eastern European countries through military deterrence. The article also explains that the large US presence in Europe limits Russia's ability to contest US influence in other regions of the world given Russia's strategic priorities to counter nearby threats. By challenging US allies, by both bellicose remarks and varying degrees of saber railing, Russia is forcing the US to show its credibility toward its European allies. American credibility to assist its treaty allies in times of need is the foundation for a great deal of stability in the international order.

      As far as the benefits toward Americans, maintaining stability and the international order is of huge benefit towards Americans. This is especially prevalent in the Asia-Pacific where trillions of dollars in trade flow through a handful of sea lanes such as the strait of Malacca. The US' robust overseas presence to protect sea lanes and promote stability is in our own self interest. American foreign policy is guided by self interest, not altruism.

      "...following World War II prompted America’s leaders to employ our extraordinary economic, diplomatic, and military power to establish and support the current rules-based international order that has greatly furthered global peace and prosperity and ushered in an era of post war affluence for the American people. This order is not self-sustaining; it requires active, robust American engagement and sustained contributions
      by our allies. To be sure, other nations have benefited and will continue to benefit. But make no mistake, America provides this international leadership because it greatly enhances America’s own security and prosperity" -

      Of course, Russia will continue to act in what they perceive is their own self interest and it would be foolhardy to believe they aught to be guided by Western standards.

    2. > Rather, it is beneficial for the US to protect its existing commitments to Eastern European countries through military deterrence.

      Do you think people in East Europe benefit from such "protection"?
      Do you think, that they (people in East Europe ) benefit from USA policy , that pushes their countries to confrontation with Russia?
      Do think that ordinary people in Russia and in Eurasia (Belorussia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tadjikistan, Ukraine, Kygyzstan) benefit from such USA policies?
      What majority of people in all these countries want are higher living standards, and this very much depends on Russia stability, economic and human development.

      In current stage of development humanity needs some kind of world government or leading country in order to solve economic, demographic and environmental problems.
      But USA is unfit and never was fit to play such role: it had and has economic and military powers but USA decision makes have not and never had ability to take full account of interests of other people and deal with mentalities different from their own - USA ruling class always had very simplistic and mechanical thinking.
      Meanwhile USA itself has more and more internal problems: some parts of USA (for instance historic city Detroit ) belong to 3rd world, in human development
      (for example public medicine) USA behind some East European countries, the cultural gap within in USA is widening ( English speakers, Spanish speakers; asians, blacks, whites, whites with English ancestry, whites with German ancestry, whites with Irish ancestry ... ). Some of USA problems are described
      in Todd's book "After the Empire: The Breakdown of the American Order".
      By the way, some of his predictions already became true.
      In the same time, due to their geographic location and their technological superiority no country in the world could threat USA. May it would be better for USA and for entire world, that US gradually will more mind their own business and not destroy human lives ( as they do in Syria, in Iraq and in Ukraine ) around the world?

      P.S. I recently read book "The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century".
      What a brave new world US ruling elite prepare to humanity, and to Eurasia in particular : war between Russian, Poland and Turkey, and USA attacks of entire world from the space.