Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Assessing and Addressing Russian Revanchism

Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Assessing and Addressing Russian Revanchism

Article excerpt

The West has been slow to recognize the dangers posed by Russian President Vladimir Putin's revisionist policies. At the Wales Summit in September of 2014, NATO identified the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as a "grave threat" to its members. While expressing great concern about and condemning Russia's aggressive policy in Ukraine-and noting the various steps taken to deal with the challenges of that policy-the Alliance declined to characterize Russia as even a threat. Indeed, although the Summit statement spoke of the need to provide "assurances" to Allies in Eastern Europe, it did not speak of deterring the Kremlin.

This same reluctance was evident nearly a year later, in the summer of 2015, when General Joseph Dunford testified before Congress as President Barack Obama's nominee to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. General Dunford identified Russia as an existential threat. Later that day, however, Josh Earnest, the Presidential press spokesman, said that Dunford's observation "reflects his own view and doesn't necessarily reflect the view-or the consensus-of the President's national security team."1 The next day Secretary of State John Kerry also stepped in and made clear that he does not view Russia as an existential threat.2

Clarity of vision and thought is essential for successful policymaking. Safeguarding European security requires a well-grounded understanding of the capabilities, intentions, and activities of the continent's most powerful military actor.

Moscow's Military Capability and Revisionist Objectives

Russia is one of the world's two great nuclear powers, and its military capabilities are well understood. According to Global Firepower, which evaluates military power around the world, Russia's conventional forces are the second most powerful in the world, after those of the United States. Moscow maintains over 750,000 troops, 15,000 tanks, 750 fighter/interceptors, 1,300 fixed wing attack aircraft, and 350 naval ships.3 These figures mean that Moscow has the capacity to pose a significant threat to Europe and to American interests. This has been duly noted by military leaders. Admiral Mark Ferguson, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe, notes that the "remilitarization of Russian security policy is evident by the construction of an arc of steel from the Arctic to the Mediterranean."4 He continued, "Starting in their new Arctic bases, to Leningrad in the Baltic and Crimea in the Black Sea, Russia has introduced advanced air defense, cruise missile systems and new platforms."5 General Phillip Breedlove, the former Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, observed in October 2015 that "our force structure in Europe now is not adequate to the larger Russian task that we see."6

Its growing military capacity gives the Kremlin the means to act against U.S. and NATO interests in Europe. But what of its intentions, its policy objectives? Are there reasons for the Kremlin to do so? The Kremlin has not been hiding its national security priorities. Putin has stated on numerous occasions his dissatisfaction with the status quo in Europe and Eurasia established at the end of the Cold War. He has insisted that there must be new rules for the international order, or there will be no rules at all.7

The post-Cold War order that Putin finds objectionable has the following characteristics:

* Countries that were subservient to Moscow in the Warsaw Pact pursued independent internal and foreign policies;

* The Soviet Union was dissolved and all of the USSR's constituent republics became independent states. It is important to note that this decision was taken exclusively by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. The West played no part in it, and then President George H.W. Bush even advised against it;

* It was understood that disputes in Europe would be resolved only by negotiations and other peaceful means;

* The tensions and geopolitical competition that characterized 20th century Europe and made it history's bloodiest were a thing of the past;

* To reduce political tensions and to promote prosperity, European integration would continue, including the countries of the former Soviet bloc; and

* Russia and the West were to become partners, with the West seeking closer relations and sponsoring Moscow's memberships in international organizations such as the G8 and the IMF. …

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