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Research Report

STRATEGY OF “CONSTRAINMENT”: Countering Russia’s Challenge to the Democratic Order

Ash Jain
Damon Wilson
Fen Hampson
Simon Palamar
Camille Grand
Go Myong-Hyun
James Nixey
Michal Makocki
Nathalie Tocci
Copyright Date: Mar. 1, 2017
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 27
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 3-3)

    Throughout the Cold War, containment defined the West’s strategy toward the Soviet Union. The objective was to contain the expansion of communism by deterring Soviet military aggression and countering the Kremlin’s political influence around the world. Despite variations in policy and emphasis, this underlying strategy was sustained in coordination with Western governments across Europe and through nine successive US administrations. Unable to compete with the West’s superior military and economic prowess, the Soviet Union abandoned its commitment to communism, and eventually collapsed.

    With the end of the Cold War, Western strategy toward Moscow shifted toward integration–bringing Russia into an...

  2. (pp. 5-9)

    Since the end of World War II, the United States and its allies across North America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific have supported an international order based upon democratic values, free trade and an open global economy, and respect for a set of rules and norms governing state behavior. Backed by US leadership and power, and a network of alliances, this order has proven highly successful–advancing global prosperity, guaranteeing security, and fostering freedom around the world.

    While Moscow initially seemed prepared to cooperate in support of this order, it has become increasingly clear that it no longer aspires to this...

  3. (pp. 11-11)

    Formulating a strategy involves identifying a set of objectives and articulating the means to achieve them. The starting point for a strategy for Russia is clarity of objectives. The relationship the West has with Moscow today-tense and adversarial-is not the relationship it would desire. What, then, is its strategic vision for a relationship with Russia?

    Ideally, the West should seek to promote a vision wherein Russia would be willing to:

    contribute to a stable and mutually beneficial security environment;

    engage in cooperative economic and trade policies;

    protect human rights, conduct free and fair elections, and respect the rule of law;...

  4. (pp. 13-18)

    Left unchecked, Russia has the capability to damage Western interests in significant ways, while it undermines the international order that has served to preserve peace and enhance global prosperity since the end of World War II. To succeed in countering this challenge, the West needs to demonstrate the resolve to act forcefully, utilizing broad elements of its collective national powers, in accordance with a long-term strategic framework.

    The United States, collectively with its allies in Europe and the Asia-Pacific, should implement a bold and dynamic strategy to constrain Russia’s ability to challenge the security of the West and the legitimacy...

  5. (pp. 19-20)

    While the primary aim of this strategy is to constrain Russia, this is not to suggest that the West should avoid efforts to find ways to cooperate with it. As an influential global power, with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, Russia’s cooperation could be useful to address the many crises and challenges facing the West. Particularly for Europe and Asia, which cannot escape geography, Russia will remain a large neighbor with an intertwined history and strong economic ties.

    The question is not whether to engage, but how. How can the West maintain channels of cooperation with Russia...

  6. (pp. 21-21)

    The strategic framework outlined here relies on the perceived legitimacy of the West as guardian of the rules-based democratic order. Russia can only be expected to comply with the fundamental rules and principles of this order if Western states are willing to base their own actions in accordance with these rules. Some degree of inconsistency is inevitable, of course, and charges of hypocrisy will always follow. Still, as long as the leading Western states continue to advocate in favor of a rules-based order—and act broadly in ways that advance it—they can, and should, expect others across the international...