States pursue different grand strategies at different times with varying degrees of success. They specifically select one grand strategy over another. They don’t deal with all threats in the same manner. And while, once selected, some strategies succeed and provide security, others fail.
For instance, more than a century ago, the United States had a different vision and a strategy about Europe. President George Washington was strongly against tying American peace and prosperity to the fate of Europe. While the U.S encouraged commerce with Europe, political ties and permanent alliances were avoided. The essential logic and vision of this doctrine was called – “isolationism”- and served as the foundation of American national security policy for more than a century.
The subsequent strategy of “containment” proposed by the Truman Administration, however, involved a fundamentally different approach to security. Instead of avoiding threats and hiding from Russia, the United States sought to meet the threat and balance Russian power during the cold war.
In 90’s Clinton administration, the formally articulated doctrine of “engagement and enlargement” advocated integrating potential threats like Russia and China in an effort to deepen and broaden “the world’s free community of market economies”. It was simply called peacekeeping. After 9/11, the main focus of the U.S leadership became terrorism. President Bush espoused his strategy as the Greater Middle East Initiative, which aimed to promote democracy in the Middle East and North Africa. Turkey emerged as a role model country in that strategy and aimed to indicate that Islam and Democracy could coexist. Obama Administration has pursued the same strategy after the Arab Spring supporting the regime changes in the region. This strategy failed in Syria and Turkey has turned into a dictatorship under the leadership or Erdogan.
In sum, United States has practiced different approaches to security over the preceding two centuries, which means that the same domestic culture and structure, operating in the same basic international structure, would pursue various security strategies toward other great powers that possess essentially equivalent capabilities.
More specifically, it can be said that with a given international distribution of capabilities, different grand strategies would lead to different outcomes.
President elect Donald Trump has given significant signals that he would pursue a different approach dealing with the Russian Federation. As Mr Trump put it recently: “Wouldn’t it be great if we actually got along with Russia?”
According to Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times, “The US will end its opposition to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Although America may not agree to the formal legal incorporation of Crimea into Russia, it would accept it as a fait accompli. Following that, the US will lift economic sanctions. The Americans will also drop any suggestion that Ukraine or Georgia will join NATO. The build-up of NATO troops in the Baltic states will also be slowed or stopped.”
“In return for these large concessions, Russia will be expected to wind down its aggression in eastern Ukraine and not attempt to make further territorial gains there. Russian pressure and implicit threats towards the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania will be dropped. Military tensions on the front line between NATO and Russia will be dialed down. With their conflict in eastern Europe eased, the US and Russia will make common cause in the Middle East. The US will drop its commitment to the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and will join the Russians in an attack on the Isis militant group.” Rachman concludes.
However, the weakness of this policy is that it relies upon success in several intricate diplomatic maneuvers. If Mr. Trump makes mistakes, or if Russia succeeds to manipulate the balance of power in their favor, the U.S leadership may find itself isolated and faced with multiple attacks. If this strategy fails, no doubt that it would be more fragile and less fault tolerant for the U.S.
Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times notes that “it would be a huge gamble for the new US president to place his faith in his wily, experienced Russian counterpart. If Mr. Putin were to renege on his promises, Mr. Trump would look like a chump, and he hates that.”
“In the end, a lot may depend on how Mr. Trump and his advisers assess Russian motives. Most of the foreign policy establishment in Washington will warn Mr. Trump to be deeply suspicious of Mr. Putin and will argue that any American concessions will be seen as weakness and encourage further Russian aggression.”
In an interview with Foreign Affairs last month, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, reminded that Russia is clearly trying to reestablish a sphere of influence in the gray states that sit between the Russian Federation and NATO.
“They are looking to reestablish a group of nations who can be their satellites, who can help them bolster their economy and their security, because as they look into the period beyond 2020, most of their trend lines are declining. China’s not looking to make allies; it’s looking to make economic trading partners to make sure it has the resources it needs to fuel its economy and manage its 1.5-billion-plus population. In contrast to both Russia and China, our future security is based on our alliance structure, which goes back to World War II and its aftermath. So here is where it becomes something to be wary of: Russia’s buffer zone is going to rub uncomfortably at points against our alliance structure in Europe. China’s efforts to establish supply chains and garner resources are going to rub uncomfortably at points against our alliance structure in the Pacific. That causes me concern.”
“Russia can affect the NATO alliance in two ways. One is by threatening it physically on its eastern flank, and the other is by threatening to sever the transatlantic link. There are capabilities that the Russians are pursuing that are clearly intended to allow them to threaten our ability to reinforce Europe, and if they could do that, then NATO would lose credibility pretty quickly.” says General Dempsey.
In a stage where three competitive actors are in a struggle, generally two cooperate against the one that is more powerful. The Russia-China alliance against the U.S was simply an example. Can this equilibrium change and be replaced by a Russia-U. S alliance against China?
What is hidden in the real motivation of President Putin? Does he want to ally with the U.S or does he want to see the fall of the United States?