Analysis & Opinions - The National Interest

America and Russia: Back to Basics

| Aug. 14, 2017

However demonic, however destructive, however devious, however deserving of being strangled Russia is, the brute fact is that we cannot kill this bastard without committing suicide.

Note: this article is part of a symposium on U.S.-Russia relations included in the September/October 2017 issue of the National Interest.

President Trump can improve relations with Russia in ways that advance American national interests by going back to Cold War fundamentals. American presidents’ first responsibility is to protect and defend the United States of America. In a world in which Russia’s leader commands a nuclear arsenal that can erase the United States from the map, sufficient (and often politically painful) cooperation to avoid that outcome is indispensable. Just as in the Cold War, Americans and Russians today share a vital national interest in averting a nuclear war.

To many twenty-first-century readers, this will sound decidedly “last century.” Conceptually, when the Cold War ended in 1991, most Americans consigned nuclear weapons, along with the Soviet Union, to the dustbin of history. But that was a dangerous delusion. While the Soviet Union disappeared, its superpower arsenal certainly did not. Indeed, the half-life of plutonium is twenty-four thousand years, so nuclear weapons are likely to be with us for some time.

Current discussions of “punishing” Russia for interference in the 2016 presidential election, or “sanctioning” Russia for destabilizing eastern Ukraine, or “countering” Russian military deployments by stationing additional U.S. and NATO troops in the Baltics, fail to ask an elementary question from strategy 101: and then what? What will Russia do in response? And at the end of the sequence of actions and reactions, will Americans be safer than before? Bismarck warned against playing chess one move at a time.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Allison, Graham.“America and Russia: Back to Basics.” The National Interest, August 14, 2017.