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Russia’s Resurgence: Policy Options for United States

Paper No. 5663                                      Dated 12-Mar-2014

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Russia’s resurgence ever since the turn of the millennium was dismissively ignored by successive United States policy establishments presumably buoyed by delusionary strategic assessments of continued longevity of United States unipolarity.

Russia’s resurgence today stands fully manifested in its rolling-back United States power-play against Russia in the Ukraine and Crimea and the declaration of Russia’s strategic pivot to the Asia Pacific. Further, a resurgent Russia had to be factored-in by the United States as it attempted to salvage its strategic mess in Syria and to bring Iran on the negotiating table.

Russia by its robust moves in the Ukraine and in the Asia Pacific seems to have made clear its strategic intentions of operating as an independent power-centre and a notice to the United States that the time has come for Russia to be treated as a “Strategic Co-equal” of the United States. This fact along with Russia’s resurgence as a strategic reality stands constantly reflected in my Papers of the last decade.

 United States successive  policy establishments and US think-tanks feeding policy papers on Russia to US Administrations have seemingly lapsed into flawed assessments of Russia’s intentions and global impact of Russia’s strategic resurgence and more particularly on United States specifically.

Even where it may have been done marginally or tangentially, there is an air of dismissiveness or worse still condescension, that Russia has no power potential, that it has insurmountable vulnerabilities, and it has massive economic problems. My visit to Russia last year for an international conference did not give me these impressions.

United States condescension towards Russia and its indecisiveness in firmly ‘re-setting its Russia policy buttons’ arises mainly from the above perceptions and also a mistaken belief that in the  global power rivalry and face-off, China could be counted as not standing by Russia in a global face-off.

Russia’s strategic resurgence is an established reality and so is the reality that China in the pursuit of its own aspiration to be an independent power centre, independent of both the United States and Russia, would hardly find it attractive to stand with or behind the United States.

Strong imperatives therefore exist which should impel the United States to re-examine and revise its perspectives on Russia both as a prominent player and stakeholder in European security and as an Asia Pacific power.

The point that the United States needs to factor-in its policy formulations is the over-riding strategic reality is that unlike the United States which is neither a ‘resident power’ in Europe nor in the Asia Pacific, Russia is a ‘resident power’ in both the strategic ends of the globe and this confers on Russia significant strategic leverages in global power-play.

Additionally, the following contextual factors which hover on the Russia-US power tussle need to be stated before United States policy options arising from Russia’s resurgence are examined:

  • United States global power perceptionaly is on the decline whereas Russia’s power is on a resurgent trajectory. Momentum is more attendant on ascendant resurgent trajectories than in arresting descending trajectorie
  • The European Union does not add much strategic weight to the United States in any possible confrontation with Russia on Russia’s Western peripheries. The European Union is critically in a Russian gridlock in the energy security field. This limits its adoption of strong postures against Russia in any power-play.
  • United States earlier moves to create in concert with China a Sino-US G-2 power combination for global power-play could not take-off in face of strong opposition from Japan and India as the other emergent powers. However, both Japan and India would not be uncomfortable with US-Russia G-2 bipolar global power system.

United States consequently is left with three policy options in its approaches to a resurgent Russia, namely:

  • Strive to rekindle,  sustain and add longevity to its status as the unipolar Superpower
  • Strategic and political confrontation with Russia reminiscent of the earlier half-a-century long Cold War and the intense brinkmanship that it entailed.
  • Co-option of Russia as a “Strategic Co-equal” in the management of the global security and stability systems.

Readings of the current global security environment would suggest that the United States unique “Unipolar Moment” has long past. Striving to rekindle, sustain and add continued longevity in this direction is now beyond the resources of the United States.

The United States with its current limitations on defence budgets and an American public weary of fruitless US military interventions and US global forward deployments, can ill-afford to re-ignite a new Cold War. The US Strategic Pivot to Asia Pacific itself is running into rough weather due to US budgetary cuts.

Co-option of Russia as a “Strategic Co-equal” seems to be the best available US policy option to deal with a resurgent Russia. It also appears to be a ‘win-win’ course of action for the United States. Without much strategic costs all that the United States would be expected to concede would be to accord respect to Russia’s strategic sensitivities on Russia’s peripheries and to involve Russia equitably in a joint management of the global power system.

The crucial determinant is whether the United States is willingly ready to take such a call in its policy approaches to deal with a resurgent Russia?