In Defense of a Strategic Approach to Russia.

Author:Handley, John
Position:Critical essay

By Thomas E. Graham, former NSC Russian Director

In this article Thomas E. Graham responds to a series of recent articles by David Kramer, president of Freedom House, and Lilia Shevtsova, a senior fellow at Carnegie's Moscow Center. Both have been sharply critical of the Obama administration's Russia policy and advocates of a strategic approach toward Russia, as opposed to their preferred normative one.

According to Graham, Kramer and Shevtsova miss-characterize the strategist's approach to any deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations claiming strategists wish to avoid subjects that irritate Russia and seek only cooperation on "big" issues. Strategists purportedly call on the United States to change its policies without making similar demands on Russia, implying that the fault for worsening relations lies in Washington. The strategists thereby legitimate Russia's authoritarian regime and erode Russians' support for a more open, democratic order. What Kramer and Shevtsova call for instead is a "normative" approach, not articulated here but generally anchored in principles and values that both avoid the appearance of appeasing authoritarian Russian leaders and allegedly bolster the Russian effort to build a more democratic polity.

Graham devotes the remainder of his article to outlining and defining the strategist's approach to U.S.-Russian relations based on national interests (theirs and ours), the possibilities of creating a balance of cooperation, ways to circumvent obstacles, trade-offs coupled with incentives and disincentives, making adjustments based on current global turbulence, linkage, and a healthy skepticism of shared interests. Quoting George Kennan, Graham notes that the strategist also embraces normative values such as democracy while maintaining an ethics of responsibility and avoiding declarations of moral outrage, such as Congress' ill-advised Magnitsky Act, which actually reduced the space for Russia's democratic reformers.

With no new agenda for U.S.-Russian relations, there is no clear way forward. Graham opines such a way forward could be found in a high-level strategic dialogue focusing on three broad issues: "(1) drivers and trends that will shape the global environment over the next 10-15 years ...; (2) the implications of those trends and scenarios for the national interests of each country; and (3) an examination, based on (1) and (2), of the overlap in strategic challenges...

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