Simon Saradzhyan: Response to to Dr. Mark Galeotti’s article on Russia Strategy (JRL#152. August 7)

Russian Mobile ICBM Parade File Photo

Subject: Response to to Dr. Mark Galeotti’s article on Russia Strategy (JRL#152. August 7)
Date: Tue, 18 Aug 2015 23:14:07 +0000
From: Simon Saradzhyan <>

Simon Saradzhyan’s Response to Dr. Mark Galeotti’s article on Russia Strategy in Foreign Affairs.

[Simon Saradzhyan is assistant director of the U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism and a fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center.]

It’s with great interest that I have read Dr. Mark Galeotti’s article, which is entitled “Time for a New Strategy in Russia. The Current Sanctions Regime Has Failed-Here’s What to Do Next” and which Foreign Affairs published on August 4th. After all, there has been quite a heated debate underway on what strategy U.S. and its allies should pursue vis-a-vis Russia in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis, given that return to the return to pre-Crimea status quo ante is highly improbable, if not impossible. While some of Dr. Galeotti’s proposals for such a strategy are quite reasonable, others I cannot agree with because they will lead to a dangerous escalation of the military stand-off between NATO and Russia, rather than achieve the outcome, which the author of the Foreign Affairs article desires and which he has formulated as ending Russia’s interference in Ukraine in the short-term, and forcing the Kremlin to accept and abide by the accepted norms of international behavior in the longer-term. Let me begin by reviewing some of the sticks in the sticks and carrots approach – which Dr. Galeotti suggests.

Having US/NATO’s Ballistic Missile Defense Target Russian ICBMs is Like Aiming Unloaded Gun at Fully Armed Gunslinger

The one recommendation that I find most counterproductive is the author’s suggestion that “Washington’s current plan to create a Europe-wide missile defense system by 2018 could be oriented away from a notional focus on Iran… to explicitly include Russia.” It is worth recalling that throughout the administration of President Barack Obama and his Republican predecessor, a number of top U.S. defense officials and diplomats have repeatedly emphasized that U.S. has neither intent nor capability to intercept Russian ICBMs with any of the planned components of the U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems. And even some of Russia’s own generals – who tend to inflate the U.S. BMD threat – acknowledge that America’s European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) will acquire some limited capability to chase Russian ICBMs only when SM-3 Block IIA interceptors are commissioned.

So what would proclaiming the intent in the absence of capability (which is what Dr. Galeotti essentially recommending) accomplish? Clearly, it won’t protect Western Europe or United States from a Russian ICBM attack. In fact, Dr. Galeotti f acknowledges that himself. It is more difficult, but not very difficult to gauge how Russia would respond to such a retargeting of EPAA. Military stratefists have to plan for worst-case scenario and planners at the Russian General Staff are no exception. Therefore, while knowing that EPAA cannot pose a threat to Russia’s second strike capability for now, they still have to plan for the times, when EPAA’s capability to target Russian ICBMs may match the intent to do so. The retargeting of EPAA would give them a solid excuse to ramp up preemptive measures, including, possibly putting nuclear warheads on Iskanders in western Russia to target EPAA assets and withdrawing from the INF treaty to officially extend the range of these missiles. Russia could also adopt a more aggressive first-use nuclear posture in what would increase probability of an accidental nuclear exchangecaused by a false alarm, especially given that Russia currently has no early warning satellites in orbit. The more your opponent beefs his ballistic missile defenses, the more you become concerned that he may first stage a surprise nuclear attack and then shoot down whatever is left of your nuclear arsenal when you try to retaliate. It is one thing for NATO to beef up conventional defenses and rattle the sabre, as much as Russian military does or more, to prevent repetition of the Crimean scenario in the Baltics (though I would argue that granting citizenship to all members of the Russian diaspora in these countries and ensuring they are no discriminated against would achieve more in that respect). But targeting Russian ICBMs with a system that is not made to do so is quite another. Dr. Galeotti’s proposal to have EPAA targeting Russian ICBMs with a system that is not designed to shoot such advanced missiles is another. I would be tantamount to pointing an unloaded gun at a fully-armed gunslinger in an open stand-off.

Imposing Sanctions Before Minsk-2 Deadline Would Backfire

Another recommendation of Dr. Galeotti’s is to expand sanctions against Russia. Specifically, he calls for adding “many more names” including “names of spouses and children to the lists” of sanctioned individuals. It should be noted that the U.S. has already started to do so by adding Boris Rotenberg’s son Roman and some of Gennady Timchenko associates to the list of sanctioned individuals. Western countries can, of course, add many more to that list, but such individual sanctions could hardly change Putin’s stance anytime soon. In the meantime, such sanctions could also make more common Russians dislike West rather than Putin as the sanctioned individuals will inevitably pass on at least some of the costs incurred by the sanctions to people that their companies employ. Even in the case of Iran, the West has spent over a decade, escalating individual and sectoral sanctions those before they began to significantly impact Tehran’s willingness to negotiate in earnest. But even in the longer-term Iran-style sanctions won’t have same impact on Russia as they did on Iran, given the greater size, resilience and diversity of the Russian economy and its economic ties. As economists Clifford Gaddy and Barry Ickes rightly note in their treatise of futility of Western efforts to coerce Putin through sanctions: “The only kind of sanctions that might have a deep enough impact to force Russia to abandon its strategic objectives are ones that we would never implement.” Clearly, expanding lists of sanctioned individuals, which Dr. Galeotti recommends, falls short of such ‘impossible sanctions,’ while those punitive measures that can somewhat alter Russia’s behavior, such as exclusion of Russia from SWIFT payment system, can cause Russia to retaliate in other areas, where Western nations’ vital interests hinge to a certain extent on productive relations with Russia (such as combating international proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism).

What Elements of Comprehensive Strategy toward Russia Could Look Like

But if neither of these two ‘stick’ measures – that Dr. Galeotti has proposed and I reviewed above — will achieve the outcome, which he desires, then what about the carrots that he offers? I very much agree with the author’s idea to “restart the U.S.-Russian Bilateral Presidential Commission, a bid to reengage Russia in a multi-track negotiation process that emphasizes key areas, from the fight against the Islamic State to nuclear security, in which the two countries share real common interests.” But though it is in Russia’s interest to revive the work of that commission, Russian leaders would still reject that offer if it is accompanied by such measures recommended by Dr. Galeotti, as having U.S. BMD target Russian ICBMs. I believe U.S. and its European allies should find a way to ensure that competition between them and Russia in areas, where their vital national interests diverge, is civilized, while cooperation in areas, where these interests converge, is revived and sustained.

One instant measure – that I would recommend – is for all sides to push for implementation of all provisions of Minsk-2 ad verbatim rather than take half-hearted measures that fall short of their committments while blaming the other side. Until this conflict, in which more than 6,500 people have died and which has no military solution, is resolved, efforts to reverse the dangerous slide into a New Cold War will continue to feel. Once (and if) Minsk-2 is implemented, it could become possible to start unfreezing military-to-military contacts between NATO and Russia, so that the sides can work together to prevent further escalation in general and to limit possibility for dangerous incidents, such as collisions of warplanes and submarines during patrols. When doing so, U.S. and its NATO allies should also consider heeding a recent call by Fiona Hill and Steven Pifer to negotiate with Russia transformation of U.S.-Russian Dangerous Military Activities Agreement and Prevention of Incidents at Sea Agreement into NATO-Russian agreements so that they “cover all NATO and Russian military forces operating in Europe and the North Atlantic area.” This issue could be discussed by arms control and military cooperation working groups of the bilateral presidential commission as well as by the NATO-Russia Council if work of either is unfrozen. U.S. and its allies should also continue to engage Russia on DPRK’s nuclear programs, cooperate with Moscow to prevent other nations from acquiring nuclear arms and long-range delivery system; secure nuclear weapons and materials. The sides could also revive nuclear scientific exchanges and continue implementation of remaining nuclear security cooperation agreements in and with Russia. In the short-term Western countries and Russia can also pave way for strengthening of their cooperation against the Islamic State (IS) by negotiating a transition of power in Syria.

Further down the road, U.S. and Russia could work to strengthen the economic foundation of the bilateral relations so that it could mitigate impact of political differences on the overall relationship (and that would require mostly steps on Russia’s side to improve investment climate). More important, Western countries and Russia should also make a serious effort to rebuild Europe’s collective security system, failure of which lies at the root of the latest conflict. Neither America nor Europe nor Russia could be content with the current state of this system. If it didn’t become clear after the Balkan wars and Russian-Georgian war of 2008 that this system looks broken and in great need of major repairs, then surely the conflict in Ukraine had driven that point home in the European capitals as well as across the Atlantic Ocean. But if both West and Russia believe that the European collective security architecture is indeed broken, then how do we go about rebuilding it?

One way to proceed would be for OSCE members to negotiate a new security treaty, which would give all of them a say in whether and where military-political alliances can or cannot expand.If such a provision applies to not only NATO, but also to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (with the exception of official candidate nations), then, perhaps, non-aligned nations of Central Europe and South Caucasus would not perceive it as lop-sided in favor of Russia. Russia would welcome such a provision if only because it would give a say in whether NATO expands. In fact such a provision would echo a provision,which Vladimir Putin’s then successor Dmitry Medvedev included in the European Security Treaty that he proposed in 2009. Back then I was among those urging Western countries to give the idea a serious consideration, warning that otherwise the existing European collective security system could generate another massive failure, but such calls went unheeded. Perhaps, this idea could be given more attention now. Such a constraint on expansion of NATO’s would give Russia a stake in honoring the treaty, which should also, of course, unequivocally reaffirm all signatories’ respect for each other’s territorial integrity and commit them to refrain from covert or over use of force and to resolve all of the existing disputes peacefully. The treaty could also reintroduce at least some of the conventional arms control measures that were enshrined in the adapted CFE, which Russia has suspended participation in. The provisions of the treaty would help to ensure that the brightest of the red lines, which West and Russia have drawn vis-à-vis each other – repetition of Crimea scenarios in NATO countries and unconditional expansion of this alliance respectively – would have greater chance of being respected. Such an agreement would, therefore, help to treat at least some of the underlying causes and contributing factors behind the ailment of Europe’s collective security organism, rather than selectively deal with some of the symptoms.