Army War College to Washington: Stop Provoking Moscow
May 31, 2015
John Batchelor / Al Jazeera America
The US Army War College recently issued a report exploring different scenarios of how US-Russian tensions over Ukraine may play out and -- because of the growing risk of open warfare between the two nuclear rivals -- suggests that Washington and its NATO allies should adopt a more conciliatory approach to Moscow. Instead, Washington and the US-backed regime in Kiev have continued to express hostility towards Moscow. Let us hope the War College's warnings are widely heard and wisely heeded.
Army War College Recommends New Détente
US-Russian tensions over Ukraine can be resolved if the US softens its stance
John Batchelor / Al Jazeera America
The US and Russia should move away
from a competition of arms and toward
a competition of ideas for influence in Europe.
(May 30, 2015) -- The unexpected May 12 meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US Secretary of State John Kerry at Sochi, Russia, suggested the beginning of a new direction for the Ukraine crisis. Suddenly, it seemed possible that the US would join last winter's Minsk 2 agreement drawn up to resolve Ukraine's civil war.
It is therefore disappointing to see that developments since the parley have been uniformly negative. But a surprising source, the US Army War College, sees a possibly promising outcome. It recently issued a report exploring different scenarios of how US-Russian tensions may play out over Ukraine and suggesting that Washington and its NATO allies adopt a more conciliatory and accommodationist approach to Moscow. Let us hope it receives the attention it deserves.
The Kremlin continues to show its displeasure with even the minimal current US support of the Kiev regime. On May 18, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree that abruptly cut the air bridge over Russian territory used by the US for resupplying its combat units in Afghanistan.
Washington, for its part, has continued its hostility toward Moscow since the Sochi meeting. On May 17, the US assistant secretary of state for European affairs, Victoria Nuland, traveled to Moscow to meet with her peer in Russia's Foreign Ministry to discuss US involvement in Minsk 2. Immediately afterward, she accused the pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine's Donbass region of violating the cease-fire "on a daily basis."
Kiev has stepped up its provocative decisions since the Sochi meeting. On May 21, the Ukrainian parliament voted to end several military agreements with Russia, including its permission for Russian troops to transit through Ukraine to the breakaway Moldova region of Transnistria.
NATO chimed in. On May 19, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov "to withdraw all its troops and support for the separatists."
Finally, on May 28, after US Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced criminal action against seven senior officials of FIFA -- soccer's international governing body, which picked Russia to host the 2018 World Cup -- Putin blasted the US, saying, "This is yet another blatant attempt to extend its jurisdiction to other states."
With this deterioration in relations since mid-May, it is striking to find a promising recommendation at the close of a study out this month from the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, titled "From Cooperation to Competition: The Future of US-Russian Relations." [See Executive Summary and Introduction below -- EAW.]
The document is the product of an interdisciplinary war game conducted by the Army War College, employing faculty members, think tank scholars, Kremlinologists, students and NATO officers, divided into US and Russian teams plus a "white team" as arbiters.
The study's half-dozen hypotheticals seem at first glance to be rehearsals for an imminent disaster. Collectively, however, they demonstrate that there is no stable solution without accommodation with Russia -- what is likely to be disdained by more hawkish members of the US national security establishment as appeasement.
Two of the scenarios imagine continuation of the Ukrainian civil war as a frozen conflict that favors Russia. Three of the scenarios imagine violence -- in Ukraine, in the Baltic states and in Russia.
The scenario indicated as most probable is a resumption of the fighting along the Minsk cease-fire line, leading the US to designate Ukraine and the fragmented Georgia as major non-NATO allies as a prelude to large-scale NATO support for Kiev.
The most dangerous scenario imagines a coup d'état in Moscow that removes Putin in favor of an accommodating leader such as Medvedev. This possibility acknowledges that a strongman from the military or state security is possible.
Only the sixth scenario conceives of a peaceful Ukraine. Washington continues to be frustrated by Russian aggression, however, and accepts Moscow's demands for a transition to a decentralized country and a Crimea that remains under Russian authority.
Time to Stand Down
The study concludes that the US has fallen into a "reactive posture" that creates a risk of "misunderstanding" and threat of serious violent confrontation. By shaping the present stand-off in Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe into scenarios that largely favor Moscow's options, the study makes a strong case that Washington and its NATO allies would be wise to stand down.
A promising alternative to the present course is for the US and Russia to move away from a competition of arms and toward a competition of ideas for influence in Europe. There is also the possibility of cooperation in areas of self-interest, such as managing Syria's civil war, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant's violence and resulting refugee crisis in Middle East.
The Army War College study, designed to speculate on possible escalations of the crisis, instead provides a bright path away from the New Cold War to what can be called the New Detente.
John Batchelor is a novelist and host of a national radio news show based in New York City. The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America's editorial policy.
The Future of US-Russian Relations
The US Army War College
Russian aggression in 2014 caught US policy and strategy off guard, forcing reactive measures and reevaluation of the US approach toward Russia. Moscow employed nonlinear methodologies and operated just beneath traditional thresholds of conflict to take full advantage of US and NATO policy and process limitations.
In light of this strategic problem, the US Army War College (US-AWC), conducted a wargame that revealed four key considerations for future policy and strategy.
• The US must shift from a mostly cooperative approach towards Russia to one that recognizes the competitive nature of Moscow
Moscow consistently pursues the development of frozen conflicts, exclusionary bi-lateral relationships, "sweetheart" and opaque economic deals, and proxy forces willing to promote Russian interests, all in an effort to ‘win’ against the West.
Meanwhile, current US policy describes Russia as both a competitor and a cooperative partner. In reality it is clear that the US and Russian systems are inherently competitive, especially regarding Russia’s "near abroad," NATO, Asia, and the Arctic. A clear US policy that illuminates the competitive nature of the two systems is a necessary step towards regaining the strategic initiative.
• US policy must clearly articulate its position toward Russia, Eastern Europe, and Ukraine
US lack of clarity and prioritization toward Russia, Eastern Europe, and Ukraine creates hesitancy and risk aversion, and limits innovation on both sides of the Atlantic. The United States must develop a coherent, unified policy toward Russia, one that avoids creating disunity within the transatlantic community.
Differences in how the United States and Europe view the incorporation of Russia into a European security architecture are fundamental and will continue to create wedges in the transatlantic community that Moscow will seek to exploit.
To strengthen deterrence and reassurance, the United States should consistently reiterate its Article 5 obligations. Meanwhile, Washington must also clarify US interests in the Ukraine crisis, otherwise it is likely to continue causing confusion among European allies.
• US policy must challenge Russia in the competition of ideas and influence
Russia emphasizes information operations as central to its strategy. The United States advocates the power and influence of a truthful message, but approaches the issue more defensively and incoherently. The United States must undertake a more robust information campaign.
• US policy must account for the two national election cycles in 2016 and 2018
President Putin needs a political "win" before 2017 to ensure success in the 2018 Russian elections. What is unknown is what actions he will take to achieve that "win" and how he may use the US election cycle as an opportunity. The United States must be pro-active in shaping the environment prior to Putin taking the initiative.
The reemergence of Russian aggression in 2014 forced an immediate review and evaluation of US policy and strategy toward Europe and Russia. Russian nonlinear approaches, often operating just beneath traditional thresholds of conflict, exploited weaknesses of longstanding US and NATO policy constructs, exposing gaps and seams that now require reexamination.
Trends within the strategic environment indicate that the nature of the US-Russian relationship is likely to remain competitive, thus requiring a critical look at current assumptions and a comprehensive reexamination of Western thinking about Russia.
In support of that reexamination, in October 2014, a team of six students from the CSP at the USAWC began a six-month project to assess the driving factors behind Russian foreign and security policy, in order to better anticipate future behavior. The project was grounded in systems thinking and aimed at building a strategic-level system design of Russia as a point of departure for research, analysis, collaboration, and experimentation.
The CSP team created a visualization and formal paper describing what it came to term "the Russian System," culminating in a strategic-level wargame to test key hypotheses and expand collaborative learning. This report provides some insights into the broader project, but is more focused on the results of the wargame and how those results can inform future thinking about US-Russian relations.
Systems thinking is a subcategory of critical thinking and an appropriate tool for addressing complex, strategic-level problems. This project attempted to see Russia holistically, properly arranging Russian actors and relationships and defining the environmental, historical, and cultural forces behind observed system behavior and patterns.
The overarching idea behind this method, is that once one can fully visualize a system and begin to understand that system’s logic, one can better anticipate future behavior, identify second and third order effects, accurately conceptualize risk, and potentially influence strategic outcomes. Here is a synopsis of the system design method to learning that produced the team’s understanding of the Russian System:
1) Initial Research
– The team conducted intensive research into Russian history, economy, politics, and military reform. Additionally, the team reviewed current news reports, field reports, and commentary by Russia experts across multiple disciplines. This created the foundation to begin initial system design.
2) Brainstorming and Synthesis
– The team identified the array of actors, relationships, and forces that contribute to Russian behavior. This established the framework for the Russian System, but fell short in fully explaining causal relationships. Assumptions and hypotheses generated from these sessions drove additional research and review.
3) Follow-on Research
– The team conducted another research effort dedicated to accumulating more data to support, or disprove, ideas discussed during initial system synthesis.
4) Visualization of the Russian System
– As additional data and analytical refinement strengthened the team’s understanding of the array of actors and forces, the next step was to create a visualization of the system to guide further analysis.
5) Collaborative Learning and System Reframe
– Over the next three months, the team engaged think tanks, Department of Defense entities, academic institutions, and international organizations to discuss and critique the conceptualization of the Russian System. These discussions resulted in further refinement of the system model and the causal relationships that underpin it.
6) Wargame and System Testing
– On 15 and 16 April 2015, the US Army War College hosted a strategic level wargame designed to test the ideas behind the Russia System and act as a venue for thought experimentation, synthesis of perspectives, and competitive heuristics related to the nature of US-Russian relations. The overarching objective of the effort was to assess the implications for the US military of various potential future scenarios
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