A Blueprint for Donald Trump to Fix Relations with Russia

Graham Allison and Dimitri Simes provide a clearly defined plan, addressed directly to Donald Trump, on how to repair the United States’ diplomatic relationship with Russia.  They claim that the U.S. and Russia’s relationship is at its worst since the height of the Cold War and despite each post-Cold War administration seeking to improve this relationship, none have succeeded.  The argument they are making can be summed up using their own words expressed to Trump, “As part of your American First doctrine, we urge you to prioritize America’s most vital interests and, from that foundation, engage Russia on what matters most to American citizens’ survival and well-being” (Allison & Simes, 1).

Rather than simply providing their recommendations to Trump, Simes and Allison provide a great deal of information on U.S.-Russia relations.  They begin by discussing how improving this relationship can benefit and further important U.S. interests by listing seven points.  First, Russia is the only country that can completely destroy the United States in a short amount of time.  Second, despite Russia’s nuclear capabilities they are essential in preventing nuclear warfare and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  Third, if Russia is willing to share intelligence to the United States, the U.S. can try to prevent terrorist attacks more effectively.  Fourth, the belief that Russia is a regional power is incorrect because Russia has the greatest land area in the world, borders China to the east, Poland to the west, and the U.S. across the arctic. Therefore, claiming that Russia is a regional power, ignores the fact that it borders every important region. Fifth, Russia is second only to the U.S. in terms of technological ability to produce weapons.  Allison and Simes provide the example that the only way American astronauts are able to travel back and forth from the International Space Station is by way of Russian rockets.  Sixth, Russia has proven that it is ready to fight and use force to achieve its goals.  This can be demonstrated by Russia’s backing of Syria’s Bashar al Assad.  Seventh, Russia has the ability to hinder the U.S. from advancing their interests and this is something that cannot be overlooked.  “Russia’s potential as a spoiler is difficult to exaggerate- from selling advance systems like S-300 air defenses to Iran to aligning militarily with China” (Allison & Simes, 1). 

Allison and Simes continue by discussing a few problems the Obama administration faced in Syria which caused the U.S.-Russia relationship to shift.  Like his post-Cold War predecessors, Obama went into his presidency with the goal of improving relations with Russia.  Obama’s main objective with Syria was to get rid of Assad, however he did not want to commit American military forces to this objective.  Instead, it gave Russia the opportunity to interject.  Allison and Simes briefly put this specific situation into the context of grand strategy when they say that the ends, in this case getting rid of Assad, did not justify the means of American military forces potentially losing their lives.

The Obama administrations, inability to complete their main objective, however, resulted in the construction of two narratives regarding Russia.  The first narrative states that Russia is a declining state who is becoming more irrelevant, as the power of the Soviet Union fades further into the past.  Along with a population and economy that are diminishing, Russia is no longer a player in the international relations arena.  The second narrative is explained by Obama himself when he said, “[Putin’s] got to make a decision: Does he continue to wreck his country’s economy and continue Russia’s isolation in pursuit of a wrong-headed desire to recreate the glories of the Soviet empire, or does he recognize that Russia’s greatness does not depend on violating the territorial integrity of other countries?” 

Former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger elaborates on Obama’s point.  Kissinger says that what Obama means when he says Putin has a decision to make is that Putin has to decide if Russia is going to imitate Germany and Japan by accepting its place behind the United States’ unipolar power.  Rather than limiting Russia’s decision to the two options laid out by Obama, Kissinger offers an alternative that Allison and Simes agree with.  Because Russia is too powerful and dedicated to preserving its power to give up and accept its place behind the United States, the better option is to include Russia in the international arena and mitigate Russian interests with the needs of the United States. This is where Allison and Simes circle back to their original point brought up at the beginning of the article where they believe the U.S.-Russia relationship should be improved to help advance the interests of the United States.

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