U.S.-Russian Relations with Ambassador Linton Brooks

By: Olga Novitsky, Reporter

Photo: Vladimir Putin, Wikimedia Commons

The first Center for Security Studies (CSS) Lunch Series event of the Fall 2015 semester was held on Thursday, September 3 with guest speaker Ambassador Linton Brooks. At the event named “US-Russia Relations In a Time of Confrontation,” Ambassador Brooks discussed challenges to strategic stability and possible long-term solutions. Among his many accomplishments, Ambassador Brooks served as an administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) under President Bush and was a key advisor during the START I and START II Treaties. He is currently a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).*

Before creating a partnership with Russia, Ambassador Brooks states that we must focus on “managing a relationship that has become increasingly adversarial and confrontational.” Using the Cold War term once defined as crisis management and arms race stability, Ambassador Brooks provided the definition of “strategic stability” as a condition in which war of any kind is unlikely between major powers and rule-based behavior is the norm. He noted two main challenges to strategic stability with regard to U.S.-Russian Relations.

  1. Russia’s Current Military Thinking

Both within Putin’s small circle and the new Russian generation at large, there is a growing stated belief that the U.S. has been “out to get them” since the end of World War II. This belief includes accusations that the democratic revolutions in Central Europe were constructed by the U.S. government, partly as a rehearsal for eventually destabilizing the Russian Federation. Secondly, there is the belief that the U.S. continues to seek a nuclear first strike capability against Russia. Any attempts to assure Russia that we are not seeking additional nuclear advantage would have to be legally binding – which, for both objective strategic and domestic political reasons, would not likely pass through Congress. The U.S. government cannot dissuade Russians from these beliefs through official statements alone because a lens of mistrust clouds them.

2.  Crisis Management

The United States and Russia have had a history of miscommunication and misjudgment during conflict, and steps that the U.S. takes to show resolve and restraint could be misread and seen as escalatory. The Ukrainian crisis is turning into a frozen conflict, and the annexation of Crimea is seen as a triumph for Russia. Although it would be inappropriate to react to the situation in Ukraine with military action, the United States must not allow Putin to believe that the U.S. will react similarly to provocation of a NATO member country. If Putin misjudges the Unites States’ NATO commitment, the invocation of Article V would lead to armed conflict between great powers. If the U.S. does not act on Article V if called upon, it would undermine its reputation as a reliable partner and the basis of the post-WWII international alliances.

Current U.S.-Russian relations are not a result of Putin’s personality or a result of the Ukrainian crisis. Rather, they are a result of the Russian system, nicknamed by Brooks’ colleague, “a system of Putinism”. In order to reengage with Russia, the system will have to change. In the meantime, in order to show President Putin that the U.S. has both the capabilities and the resolve to move forward, Brooks had three recommendations:

  1. Settle In for the Long Haul

The system is not changing anytime soon. Even when Putin is no longer in power, we can assume that the transition to the next Russian President will most likely be a calculated one. To prove to both our allies and Russian leaders that the U.S. remains committed, we must keep some institutional focus on Russia and Central Europe, at all levels of government.

  1. Ensure NATO’s Abilities and Resolve Aren’t in Doubt

NATO’s conventional training and doctrine is focused on repelling and reacting to an external attack on a member country. Russia’s involvement in Ukraine is an example of “hybrid warfare,” an overlap between formal state warfare and nonstate actors, an external threat combined with internal subversion. The U.S. and its NATO allies must increase intellectual investment into combatting internal threats, which have historically been a solely national responsibility.

  1. Encourage Non-Governmental Discussions

With mutual mistrust limiting the opportunities for official dialogue, the U.S. should increase engagement through private individuals and organizations. These conversations should focus on three areas: escalation management, a dialogue with a broad spectrum of experts on increasing stability, and increasing engagement the rising generation of nationalistic Russians.

Ambassador Brooks ended the discussion with a positive parting thought: “It’s important not to become too discouraged!” He remembers the 1980s and the tense atmosphere in U.S.-Russian relations. If we found ways to work together then, we can do it now.

*Any comments by Ambassador Brooks are solely his own ideas and should not be assumed to be the views of any other person or organization with which he is affiliated.

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