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Research Report

A NEW ERA IN U.S.-RUSSIAN STRATEGIC STABILITY: How Changing Geopolitics and Emerging Technologies are Reshaping Pathways to Crisis and Conflict

James N. Miller
Richard Fontaine
Copyright Date: Sep. 1, 2017
Pages: 48

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. None)
  2. (pp. 1-1)
  3. (pp. 2-5)

    For more than two decades following the end of the Cold War, military conflict between the United States and Russia seemed highly implausible. While relations were sometimes rocky, few if any imagined that any disagreements between Washington and Moscow carried much risk of escalation to a serious crisis, let alone war. Even amid the Kosovo crisis of the late 1990s, only a few Russians – and fewer Americans – took seriously the possibility of bilateral disputes turning into conflict. Indeed, both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, each in their own way, attempted to “reset” relations with Russia...

  4. (pp. 6-14)

    Substantial tension exists between Russia and the United States, along with its European allies, over a range of political, economic, and military issues. These increased tensions have led to a growing sense that conflict is possible.⁸

    Although there were certainly periods of tension between the United States and Russia in the 1990s and early to mid-2000s, such as over the Kosovo intervention of 1999, relations generally were relatively stable. Serious disagreements over issues such as NATO expansion and the U.S. deployment of ballistic missile defenses in Europe strained ties but remained largely below the surface. This began to change in...

  5. (pp. 15-21)

    The United States’ efforts to extend and sustain its conventional military advantages are leading both to the pursuit of new capabilities – through the initiatives associated with the Third Offset Strategy, for instance – and to new approaches to doctrine and planning such as the U.S. Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons, which could intensify pressures on escalation management.53 The United States judges that it needs to maintain this edge to continue to effectively and credibly extend deterrence to Eastern Europe (and the Western Pacific). Yet this effort, as essential as it is, also invariably may...

  6. (pp. 22-34)

    Any conflict, indeed any severe crisis, between the United States and Russia invariably would unfold under the “nuclear shadow” cast by the large nuclear arsenals of the two sides. Because of well-grounded concerns on both sides that a major military conflict could escalate to implicate the nuclear forces of the two sides, for generations policymakers have sought to promote “strategic stability” between the two nations.62

    For the last 60 years, the stability of the U.S.-Russian (previously U.S.-Soviet) nuclear balance has been based on each side’s confidence that it could absorb even an all-out nuclear first strike by the other side...

  7. (pp. 35-36)

    The United States and Russia have reentered a period of serious tensions that shows no sign of abating. Relations between the two sides appear likely to remain tense, if not hostile, at least through the medium term, and may involve considerable turbulence. Bluntly put, serious disagreement and even outright conflict are possible.

    Exacerbating this geopolitical reality, emerging new military capabilities – cyber, space, missile defense, long-range strike, and (cutting through all) autonomous systems – are increasing uncertainties associated with strategic stability and creating potential slippery slopes of escalation. Unless measures are taken to cushion the consequences of these military trends,...

  8. (pp. 37-44)
  9. (pp. 45-46)