Russia as a Threat to the US

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6th Feb 2019 International Relations Reference this

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This essay will examine Russia as the most significant security threat/security challenge confronting the U.S. The grand strategy to address that threat is retaking the offensive. Additionally, the international theory of realism that aligns with the grand strategy will be examined. Next, the essay will explore the historical precedent of the Truman Doctrine in order to support the grand strategy as an example of that evidence.  Last, the essay will discuss the risks, as well as the international relations theory of liberalism, to illustrate this grand strategy.

The most significant security threat/security challenge that faces the U.S. today is Russia.[i] “Russia’s nuclear weapon stockpile and aggressive, unpredictable actions are reasons that country presents the most serious near-term threat to world wide stability.”[ii] One rationale for this security challenge of the threat is that Russia partners with other weaker states, such as Syria, to instigate and supply these states in order to accomplish its own strategic objectives, by “looking to leverage its military support to the Asad regime…and use its military intervention in Syria, in conjunction with efforts to capitalize on fears of a growing ISIS and extremist threat to expand its role in the Middle East.”[iii] With Russia’s weapons capability, and action to create alliances with other weaker states, it offers these partnered states a stronger opportunity to use nuclear proliferation,[iv] or chemical weapons as a strategic rationale against the U.S. to prevent the U.S. from acting against them, as well as an offensive strategy to use to attack the U.S.[v]  These weaker states, like Syria, can present as great a danger as strong states to the U.S.’ national interests.[vi]  For example, weapons of mass destruction could be nuclear or biological.  Biological weapons can be easily accessible; nuclear weapons are more difficult to obtain on its own, but a transnational terrorist organization can secure weapons from a state.[vii]    

Another example of Russia’s threat against the U.S., is its defiance of non-state organizations, that Russia–in its post-Soviet role–is “re-surging with authoritarianism and is aggressively contesting liberal norms, by seeking to weaken and divide non-state organizations, such as, NATO and the EU.”[viii] To illustrate this point, Russia created a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) that the U.S. claimed Russia violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. That breach enables Russia to continue to produce GLCMs,[ix] thereby perpetuating the nuclear proliferation threat to the U.S.

Yet another example is Russia’s cyber threat.  Russia is consistently seeking to use cyberspace to bolster its own status, while attempting to threaten the U.S.’s interests in the areas of: government, military commercial, social and infrastructure.  Recently, Russia used its aggression of cyber to influence the U.S.’s 2016 elections. Further, Russia’s actors conducted disruptive cyber attacks outside the U.S., and has “leveraged cyber space to seek to influence public opinion across Europe and Eurasia.”[x]  This is another security challenge for the U.S., as Russia continues to seek out weaknesses in the U.S.’s systems as well as partner with other states to build aggression against the U.S.

The above discussed Russia security challenges raises the intensity of interest to a level of vital, because of the seriousness of its threats against the U.S. “Protecting its physical existence when in jeopardy, due to attack or threat of attack is the most important.”[xi] Further, a vital interest is one in which interest is so crucial to a state, it will not compromise. An example of this is to “prevent the regional proliferation of WMD…prevent the emergence of a regional hegemon in regions, promote the well-being of allies and friends and protect them from external aggression.”[xii] The vital level corresponds to the basic interest of defense of the homeland due to those threats and therefore causes the U.S. to employ a strategy that aligns with its national interest of survival.[xiii] The example for this is to“prevent, deter and reduce the threat of nuclear, biological and chemical weapon attacks…prevent the emergence of hostile major powers or failed states…”[xiv] The evidence discussed above illustrates that Russia rises to the intensity level of vital for the greatest significant security challenge the U.S. faces.   

In light of the security threat posed by Russia, the U.S. should pursue the grand strategy of re-taking the offensive. Using this approach for the advancement of the liberal order, serves the U.S.’s global interests. That the “spread of democracy and market economics, prominence of liberal ideas as the guiding norms of international affairs, preservation of global stability and balance of power”[xv] is the accurate and appropriate direction for the U.S. to take regarding the grand strategy. The re-taking the offensive is important because it must continue sustain the liberal order—to pursue efforts to sustain and invigorate the momentum. To accomplish this, the implications are to provide the U.S. with safety, security and prosperity (U.S. citizens), retain and improve its diplomatic and economic ties with its allies (Germany, France, UK, Japan, India and Australia), reinvest in liberal democratic programs with non-governmental agencies (NATO, UN, EU), but most importantly, to aggressively combat nuclear proliferation (Russia, Syria), as well as other threats (chemical attack, terrorism) to the international order.[xvi] An example of this re-take the offensive approach is the relationship between the U.S. and Ukraine, through coalition with each other, cooperate together in order to thwart regional hegemony expansion by Russia. It shows evidence that illustrates how the grand strategy of retaking the offensive addresses the security threat to the U.S. by Russia.  

The IR theory that aligns with the grand strategy is realism. Realists view world politics as a power struggle that is conducted with conditions characterized by anarchy, and define a state’s interest in terms of levels of power over other states as a self-help mechanism.[xvii] For example, using hard power as a means by which states advance their national interests to force an enemy or reluctant ally to adhere to a state’s national objectives is the main objective in order to maintain domination over the other states, thereby allowing the stronger state an opportunity to act upon its own agenda. Further, peace is defined as the absence of war, occurs when states adhere to their own singularly defined national interests. Once in place, it becomes an intensive driving force, that states can no longer control its momentum, but becomes engulfed in its movement, and then controlled by it.[xviii] Therefore, as an example, by the US pushing back on China’s significantly growing political, military and economic power, this demonstrates how the U.S. seeks to dominate another state. China’s strategy of its own position of increasing improvement, will motivate China into expanding its regional and global influence, thereby propelling China into the competitive sphere of other major superpowers—the U.S. This endangers the U.S.’s national interests, which must then exert its own power in order to retain its superior position.[xix]

Further illustrating domination by using hard power to dominate others, by incorporating soft power thereafter, a state can replace domination by cooperation where diplomatic, military and economic relationships of coalitions can flourish in order to assert against other nations states from becoming important international actors.[xx] The IR theory of realism supports the U.S. grand strategy of retaking the offensive by using levels of power in a self-help method in which to control other states in order to achieve its objectives.      

The historical precedent of the Truman Doctrine is an important document for U.S. foreign policy that is considered the start of the Cold War. The doctrine articulated that the United States would provide military, political, and economic aid to threatened states that were under subjugation from outside authoritarian forces.”[xxi] Additionally, the Truman Doctrine created a policy for containment and deterrence to thwart further expansion of Russia and its sphere of influence[xxii]. To further illustrate the historical significance of the threat from Russia, the doctrine was created in response to assist Greece and Turkey–democratic nations which were in danger of becoming overthrown by the Russian regime. This doctrine supports the grand strategy of retaking the offensive, as the U.S. must intervene and maintain its strategic interests in order to safeguard the world against authoritarian/communist attempts to threaten and politically overturn U.S. democratic spheres of influence throughout the world.   

The risks, as viewed through the lens of the IR theory of liberalism, and the reliance on intelligence organizations and other actors that play an increasingly important role regarding global affairs. Specifically, the U.S.’s reliance upon its alliances with these states and non-governmental organizations to thwart Russia, illustrates that risk–NATO, UN, and WTO–in order to follow their liberal mandate for Russia to be thwarted. The question is whether or not these partners “possess the vigor need to sustain or advance that order.”[xxiii] The risk is the reliance on the influence to shape the environment for the success of the U.S.; it is placing its fate in other organizations’ hands, and therefore relying upon its unknown ability to assist in exercising the U.S.’s strategic objectives. This risk demonstrates the justification of retaking the offensive as the grand strategy regarding Russia’s threat to the U.S. 

This essay analyzed Russia as the most significant threat to the U.S. today. In light of this threat, the grand strategy of retaking the offensive is appropriate for the U.S. The IR theory of realism is the foundation for retaking the offensive, as illustrated by the historical precedent of the Truman Doctrine, whereas liberalism increases the risk to this grand strategy of retaking the offensive.

ENDNOTES


[i] Missy Ryan, “Pentagon unveils budget priority for next year: Countering Russia and China,” New York Times, February 2, 2016.

[ii] Leon Shane, III, “Incoming Joint Chiefs chairman calls Russia, China top threats, Military Times, July 9, 2015.

[iii] Daniel R. Coats, “World-wide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community”, Senate Select Committee on National Intelligence, May 11, 2017: 1.

[iv] Glenn P. Hastedt, “Military Instruments:  Big Wars,” in American Foreign Policy: Past, Present and Future”, (Rowman and Littlefield, 2015), 334.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Liana Sun Wyler, “Weak and Failing States: Evolving Security Threats and U.S. Policy”, (Washington, D.C.: Congressional research Service, April 18, 2008): 1-8.

[vii] Stephen D. Krasner, “Failed States and American National Security”, Hoover Institution Journal, Hoover Institute, April 16, 2015. 

[viii] Hal Brands, “American Grand Strategy and the Liberal Order: Continuity, Change, and Options for the Future”, Building a Sustainable International Order, A RAND Project to Further Explore U.S. Strategy in a Changing World, Perspective Expert Insights on a Timely Policy Issue, The Rand Corporation, 2016: 11.

[ix] Daniel R. Coats, “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community”, Senate Select Committee on National Intelligence, May 11, 2017: 6.

[x] Daniel R. Coats, “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community”, Senate Select Committee on National Intelligence, May 11, 2017: 1.

[xi] Dennis M. Drew and Donald M. Snow, “Making Twenty-First-Century Strategy: An Introduction to Modern National Security Processes and Problems”, Air University Press, (November 2006): 33

[xii] Alan G. Stolberg, “Crafting National Interests in the 21st Century in U.S. Army War College Guide to National Security Issues, 5th ed. Vol. II, ed. J. Boone Bartholomees, Jr; 13-21.  Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College, June 2012.  

[xiii] Dennis M. Drew and Donald M. Snow, “Making Twenty-First-Century Strategy: An Introduction to Modern National Security Processes and Problems”, Air University Press, (November 2006): 33

[xiv] Alan G. Stolberg, “Crafting National Interests in the 21st Century in U.S. Army War College Guide to National Security Issues, 5th ed. Vol. II, ed. J. Boone Bartholomees, Jr; 13-21.  Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College, June 2012.  

[xv] Hal Brands, “American Grand Strategy and the Liberal Order: Continuity, Change, and Options for the Future”, Building a Sustainable International Order, A RAND Project to Further Explore U.S. Strategy in a Changing World, Perspective Expert Insights on a Timely Policy Issue, The Rand Corporation, 2016: 13.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Dr. Chris Bolan, “Realism”, lecture, U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, PA, cited with permission of Dr. Bolan.

[xviii] Glenn. P Hastedt, “Defining American Foreign Policy Problems,” in American Foreign Policy: Past, Present and Future, (Rowman and Littlefield, 2015), 33.

[xix] Hal Brands, “American Grand Strategy and the Liberal Order: Continuity, Change, and Options for the Future”, Building a Sustainable International Order, A RAND Project to Further Explore U.S. Strategy in a Changing World, Perspective Expert Insights on a Timely Policy Issue, The Rand Corporation, 2016: 11.

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] Hal Brands, “American Grand Strategy and the Liberal Order: Continuity, Change, and Options for the Future”, Building a Sustainable International Order, A RAND Project to Further Explore U.S. Strategy in a Changing World, Perspective Expert Insights on a Timely Policy Issue, The Rand Corporation, 2016: 11.

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