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Insider threats to American national security pose a potent and growing danger. In the past five years, trusted US military and intelligence insiders have been responsible for the Wikileaks publication of thousands of classified reports, the worst intelligence breach in National Security Agency history, the deaths of a dozen Navy civilians and contractors at the Washington Navy Yard, and two attacks at Fort Hood that together killed sixteen people and injured more than fifty.

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For many people, nuclear weapons feel like something out of a history book rather than a news headline, a remnant left over from the era of go-go boots and rotary phones rather than the age of social media and quantum computing.

But Vladimir Putin’s veiled threats of a possible tactical strike against Ukraine are a stark reminder that nuclear weapons are still a major factor in strategic defense and deterrence policies.

In a geopolitical landscape like this, the perspective of scholars like Rose Gottemoeller, formerly the Deputy Secretary General of NATO and currently the Steven C. Házy Lecturer at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, is more important than ever.

Currently, she is acting as an advisor to the Strategic Posture Commission of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee and to the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Strategy Administration (NNSA), but this is far from the first time she has been called on from Capitol Hill or the executive branch.

From her start as a Russian language major at Georgetown University, Gottemoeller’s expertise in arms control, nuclear nonproliferation, and political-military affairs has made her an invaluable resource to fellow academics and policymakers alike as they work to tackle the nuanced diplomatic challenges of our times.

A Missed Phone Call and a New Career

Gottemoeller’s most recent government service came with a few hiccups. In December of 2008, she was living in a small, bare-bones rental unit in Moscow while she finished the last few weeks of her tenure as the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. Just a few weeks earlier, Barack Obama had been elected to the presidency of the United States, and the interim period of administration-building between Election Day and Inauguration Day was fully under way.

5,000 miles away from Washington D.C., Gottemoeller’s American cell phone rang. Racing across the apartment to try and answer it, the call ended before she could answer. Due to technological constraints at the time, there was no way to listen back to the voicemail on the Russian network.

Recounting the experience on “The Negotiators” podcast, Gottemoeller explained, “All I was thinking was, ‘Oh man, what is that, was the White House calling, or the Obama campaign? What if I’ve just lost my chance?’”

As soon as she landed back at the Washington Dulles airport, she got her answer. A return call to the number put her in touch with Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton’s office, where an offer to discuss the position of assistant secretary responsible for arms control issues was still on the table.

Rose Gottemoeller [left] stands with Hillary Clinton [right] in the Treaty Room at the U.S. Department of State in Washington D.C.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, along with Rose Gottemoeller (left) delivers remarks on the ratification of the new START treaty in the Treaty Room at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on August 11, 2010. U.S. Department of State (Flickr)

“Before I had even collected my luggage, I was on the phone letting them know I would be very glad to come interview with her,” said Gottemoeller.

That initial interview was nerve-wracking, to say the least. Walking into a borrowed New York apartment above Central Park where Clinton had set up her temporary office, Gottemoeller was grilled on nuclear deterrence, U.S. strategic policies, and strategic arms reductions by the future secretary and her two deputies for several hours.

“I thought it was going terribly. It was an exhausting hour and a half,” admits Gottemoeller. “I was convinced I hadn’t done very well.”

But a call the next day proved otherwise. Not only did Secretary Clinton offer her the job of assistant secretary responsible for arms control matters, but also put Gottemoeller’s name forward to the incoming White House to be the chief negotiator for the next strategic arms reduction treaty, what would eventually become the New START Treaty.

The New START Treaty, Then and Now

Formalized in 2010, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, builds on prior agreements put in place between the United State and Russia through the 1970s and 80s to actively reduce and limit the number of strategic nuclear weapons.

As the lead (and first female) negotiator of the treaty for the U.S. side, Gottemoeller knows its strengths and holes better than almost anyone. Building on the progress made by the START I Treaty in 1994, the New START Treaty has successfully reduced the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons Russia to 1,550, a 30 percent reduction from the approximately 6,000 deployed warheads that existed in 2000, and an astonishing 87 percent reduction from the estimated 12,000 deployed nuclear warheads available to the USSR and United States at the end of the Cold War.

Rose Gottemoeller listens during a press conference on Capitol Hill about the New START Treaty.
Rose Gottemoeller led the U.S. side of negotiations with the Russian Federation for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). Getty

New START continues to limit the number of strategic nuclear warheads that Russia and the United States are permitted to deploy, and it sets extensive protocols for monitoring and controlling such warheads in both countries. However, it has proven much more difficult to count and verify Russian warheads once they have been removed from their delivery vehicles and sent into storage.

“One of the major developments moving forward needs to be this more direct kind of constraint and oversight of warheads,” says Gottemoeller. “We’ve made some baby steps in that direction, but there’s certainly more we could and should be pushing for.”

Similarly, while New START has clear protocols for managing strategic nuclear warheads, there are gaps in constraining Russia’s stockpile of non-strategic nuclear warheads. Strategic nuclear weapons, as defined by NATO, constitute “weapons to whose use or threat of use only the highest authority of the State can resort, conceptually and structurally.” In the popular imagination, these are the weapons of M.A.D, or “mutually assured destruction,” which rests on the idea that the United States and Russian hold each other at constant risk of nuclear annihilation. A legitimate strategic calculation, this also serves as the basis for the "nuclear Armageddon" trope of Hollywood.

By contrast, non-strategic nuclear weapons, also referred to as “tactical nuclear weapons,” often carry smaller explosive yields, are carried on shorter-range delivery vehicles, and are designed to be used on the battlefield in combination with conventional forces. It is this type of weapon — not strategic missiles — which has caused concerns in the course of Putin’s invasion and ongoing bombardment of Ukraine.

The Invasion of Ukraine and Nuclear Sabre-rattling

Gottemoeller is clear on the repercussions that Vladimir Putin’s veiled threats of a possible tactical nuclear strike against Ukraine are having.

“Putin and his coterie have been extremely irresponsible in their rattling of the nuclear sabre,” she says. “There's absolutely no reason to be threatening nuclear use in Ukraine. This is a war of choice and invasion that Putin decided to undertake, not something he was provoked into by Ukraine, or NATO, or anyone else for that matter.”

Having watched and worked in Putin’s orbit on-and-off for decades, Gottemoeller believes that Putin and those in his inner circle understand that a strategic nuclear exchange of any kind would be “suicide.” But the escalatory risks inherent in a single tactical nuclear strike are still high.

“Threatening nuclear use, even if it’s a single, non-strategic use, is playing with fire,” warns Gottemoeller. “It’s dangerous. There is still far too much potential for escalation in that scenario.”

Intended or not, Putin’s nuclear posturing has also brought the discussion of nuclear weapons and the policies governing their use back to the forefront for people both in and out of government.

“In some ways, that’s not a bad thing,” Gottemoeller acknowledges. “Younger people in particular don’t pay as much attention to nuclear weapons. They’re much more gripped by environmental threats and the threat of climate change.”

The two existential threats are not unrelated, however. Citing an MIT study, Gottemoeller points out that a nuclear exchange would have a profound effect on the climate, potentially even leading to an extinction event for large portions of the global population.

“The notion that we could see nuclear escalation in this war in Ukraine is very, very serious,” says Gottemoeller. “It’s brought these issues into much sharper focus than it has been since the Cold War.”

Threatening nuclear use, even if it’s a single, non-strategic use, is playing with fire.
Rose Gottemoeller
Steven C. Házy Lecturer at CISAC

Developing Nuclear Policies for the Future

Meaningful nuclear policy has often been born out of such moments of sharp focus. The first major treaty, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), first came into force in 1970 following the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The treaty created the first binding commitments toward the goal of disarmament for the nuclear powers at the time — the United States, USSR, and United Kingdom — as well as setting policies of nonproliferation for an additional 46 party states. To date, a total of 191 states have joined and upheld the treaty, including the five current nuclear-weapon states of the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China.

The work that Rose Gottemoeller is currently undertaking as an advisor to the Strategic Posture Commission and National Nuclear Strategy Administration aims to provide the necessary legwork and critical expertise needed to prepare policymakers for high-level negotiations on future nuclear treaties. New START, currently the last remaining nuclear arms agreement between the United States and Russia, will expire in 2026, and cannot be renewed again without re-ratification by the U.S. Senate. Given the uncertainty surrounding the Kremlin’s actions regarding tactical nuclear weapon use, the importance of providing this type of in-depth policy expertise cannot be understated.

At the Strategic Posture Commision, Gottemoeller is working alongside other experts on a committee chaired by Madelyn Creedon, an expert in national security and defense and former assistant secretary of defense for global strategic affairs at the Pentagon. Working under bi-partisan leadership from both the House and Senate, this commission is in the process of evaluating the long-term strategic posture of the United States. This includes nuclear weapons, but also conventional weapons, trade agreements, economic progress, arms control diplomacy, and other capabilities of United States national power.

In this realm, Gottemoeller stresses that while nuclear weapons will never cease to be important, new defense strategies need to be focused on emerging technologies rather than the nuclear standoffs of the past. Writing in the August 2022 edition of Foreign Affairs, she stresses that:

“New defense innovations promise not just to transform warfare but also to undermine the logic and utility of nuclear weapons. With advances in sensing technology, states may soon be able to track and target their adversaries’ nuclear missiles, making the weapons easier to eliminate. And with nuclear weapons more vulnerable, innovations such as drone swarms — large numbers of small automated weapons that collectively execute a coordinated attack—will increasingly define war. A fixation on building more nuclear weapons will only distract from this technological revolution, making it harder for the United States to master the advances that will shape the battlefield of the future.”

At the National Nuclear Security Administration, Gottemoeller is similarly applying her expertise to develop better policies to monitor the nuclear warheads already in existence. Launched by Jill Hruby and Frank Rose, the leaders of NNSA, the purpose of this review is to determine how to improve the nonproliferation tools and instruments, one of the Biden administration’s key missions. Working alongside partners at the National Nuclear Laboratories, the NNSA is developing innovative ways to monitor and verify constraints on warheads and their delivery vehicles, including exotic delivery vehicles such as the Russian hypersonic Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missile.

“I do really see that there has been a lot of progress in this area and I feel like we are well prepared for a new negotiation,” says Gottemoeller.

The Power of Academia for the Good of Government

Thinking about her own dual career in government and academia, Gottemoeller is quick to point out the immense value that collaboration between the two brings to the policymaking process.

“Over the years, Stanford has been very active in these kinds of discussions and it's been extremely valuable, I think. The academic community plays a super important role for the policy community in Washington,” she says.

In her own recent experience, that has included a meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, alongside fellow nuclear expert Scott Sagan, also of FSI’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC).

Gottemoeller points out that sometimes academics and their institutions can go where governments can’t. These so-called “track-two” settings create opportunities for experts, academics, and professionals from various states to come together for discussion and discourse even if formal “track-one” government negotiations are stalled or stagnant. Even as the war in Ukraine has intensified the divide between the governments in Washington and Moscow, non-governmental experts from the U.S. and Russia continue to meet to ensure lines of communication and understanding regarding key issues remain open.

The academic community can help in dialogues like this. Places like FSI attract very senior figures with immense amounts of policy experience, and we can be a resource for the government back in Washington.
Rose Gottemoeller
Steven C. Házy Lecturer

Gottemoeller believes institutes like FSI and other academic organizations can play a similarly important role in advancing discussion with China, particularly in the realm of nuclear security and weapons modernization. Some of these discussions, such as collaborations between the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Scientists Group on Arms control (of which Gottemoeller is a participating member), are already underway.

“I think dialogues like this are a way in which the academic community can help develop an environment in which the Chinese will then eventually be willing to come to the table in an official government-to-government way,” she explains.

As for her own academic home at the Freeman Spogli Institute, Gottemoeller is grateful for the work the institute and her fellow scholars allow her to do.

“Organizations like FSI and CISAC are a great home for practitioners as well as academic experts. The Freeman Spogli Institute attracts very senior figures with immense amounts of policy experience to come and work here. It’s clearly a resource for the government back in Washington, and I think these groups will continue to play that role very well for a long time.”

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Rose Gottemoeller listens during a press conference on Capitol Hill about the New START Treaty.
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Negotiating with Russia and the Art of the Nuclear Arms Deal

Rose Gottemoeller discusses “Negotiating the New START Treaty,” her new book detailing how she negotiated a 30 percent reduction in U.S.-Russia strategic nuclear warheads.
Negotiating with Russia and the Art of the Nuclear Arms Deal
A delegation from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly visits the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.
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NATO Parliamentary Delegation Joins FSI Scholars for Discussion on Ukraine and Russia

FSI Director Michael McFaul, Kathryn Stoner, Francis Fukuyama, Scott Sagan, Anna Grzymala-Busse, and Marshall Burke answered questions from the parliamentarians on the conflict and its implications for the future of Ukraine, Russia, and the global community.
NATO Parliamentary Delegation Joins FSI Scholars for Discussion on Ukraine and Russia
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New START: Why An Extension Is In America's National Interest

Failing to renew the New START arms control treaty with Russia “is not a wise direction of travel,” said Rose Gottemoeller, a former Deputy Secretary General of NATO who ranked as one of President Barack Obama’s top nuclear security experts.
New START: Why An Extension Is In America's National Interest
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From a missed phone call in Moscow to becoming the lead U.S. negotiator of the New START Treaty, scholars like Rose Gottemoeller demonstrate the importance of collaboration between scholars in academic institutions and policymakers in government.

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How states join coalitions affects the extent to which they are perceived as blameworthy – or praiseworthy – for the outcome of that coalition. By extension, states’ moral reputations can be a contributing factor that dissuades those states from volunteering to join humanitarian interventions, despite the ethical imperative to do so. To highlight this argument, this article considers the Australian and the United Kingdom (UK) governments’ initial reluctance to join yet another United States-led intervention in Iraq to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Continue reading at tandfonline.com.

Please connect directly with Rhiannon Neilsen if you do not have access.

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How states join coalitions affects the extent to which they are perceived as blameworthy – or praiseworthy – for the outcome of that coalition.

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In October 2022, the Chinese Communist Party elected Xi Jinping for a third term as general secretary, setting Xi on a path to be the longest-serving leader since Mao Zedong’s rule ended in 1976.

The extension of Xi’s rule carries significant implications not only for China, but for the broader Indo-Pacific region and global geopolitical order. No country is more aware of this than Taiwan, which has carefully walked the line between its own autonomy and Beijing’s desire for reunification since the 1940s.

After a summer of rising tensions, many experts believe that Beijing’s timeline for an attempt at reunification is much shorter than conventional thinking has assumed. On the World Class podcast, Michael McFaul, director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, discusses the prognosis for Taiwan with Oriana Skylar Mastro, an expert on the Chinese military and security, and Larry Diamond, a scholar of China’s sharp power and the role of Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific region.

Listen to the full episode and read highlights from their conversation below.

Click the link for a full transcript of “What We Need To Talk About When We Talk About Taiwan.“

The Likelihood of Invasion


In stark terms, Oriana Skylar Mastro, a center fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, believes there’s a 100% chance China will use some sort of force against Taiwan in the next five years. For the last twenty years, China has been making concerted efforts to modernize its military and increase its capabilities not only to assert force against Taiwan, but to deter intervention from the United States.

In the majority of scenarios, the United States wins in a conflict with China over Taiwan. But the United States also carries a distinct geographic disadvantage. The distance across the Taiwan Strait between the island and mainland China is approximately 100 miles, which is roughly the distance between Richmond, Virginia and Washington D.C. If China moves quickly, PRC forces could take Taiwan before U.S. forces have time to move into position.

When considering possible outcomes in Taiwan, it is equally important to consider the motivations driving Beijing’s ambitions. The leadership on the mainland has been planning and thinking about how to retake Taiwan since 1949. With the modernized capabilities coming online, the balance of power has shifted in China’s military favor, and the cost-benefit calculus favors Beijing’s ambitions. The long-term planning stage is now reaching its end, and the prospects of direct action are increasing.

The clock is ticking. The problem is we don’t know how fast it’s ticking. But we need to move faster than we're moving.
Larry Diamond
Mosbacher Senior Fellow in Global Democracy at FSI

The View from Taipei


Political leaders in Taiwan recognize the growing danger they face across the Strait. In Larry Diamond’s assessment, the end of Hong Kong's autonomy and the suppression of the “one country, two systems” model, the rising military incursions into Taiwan's air defense identification zone and coastal waters, and the whole rising pace of Chinese military intimidation has sobered Taiwan and visibly impacted Taiwanese public opinion.

Concerningly though, while the political elite recognize the real and present danger of the situation, polling of the general Taiwan public suggests that the vast majority of citizens still feel like an attack or an invasion by China is unlikely. Similar majorities suggest that they would be willing to fight in Taiwan’s defense, but volunteering for military service remains at a minimum.

To maximize safety, Taiwan needs to find ways to strengthen itself in its ability to defend, resist, and deter China, while still avoiding any appearance of moving toward permanent independence or any other action that could be deemed by Beijing as a provocation, says Diamond.

There are things that can completely change Beijing's calculus, but it takes a lot of work, and I just don't see us doing the work yet.
Oriana Skylar Mastro
FSI Center Fellow

What the United States Can Do


When it comes to the defense of Taiwan, the strategic crutch hobbling the United States is geography. Most of the U.S. Pacific forces are not in Asia. The majority are in Hawaii and California, as well as a few bases and airfields in Japan. To be able to effectively deter China, the U.S. needs far greater forward deployed military capability in order to be able to either stop or stall the movement of Chinese troops into Taiwan, says Mastro.

Taiwan needs greater onshore military deterrence capabilities as well. One such strategy is the “porcupine approach,” which increases the number of smaller mobile lethal weapons. By Larry Diamond’s assessment, increased citizen participation in military training is also crucial, with an emphasis on weapons training and urban defense tactics. The U.S. could support these aims by overhauling the current system for weapons procurement to speed up the production and delivery of weapons systems not just for Taiwan, but to the benefit of U.S. defense and other contingencies as well. Working with leadership to create strategic stockpiles of food, and energy should also be a priority, says Diamond.

The U.S. also needs to put much more effort into its diplomatic efforts on behalf of Taiwan. Many U.S. allies and partners are reluctant to ostracize China because of economic ties and concerns over sparking their own conflict with China in the future. A key ally in all of this is Japan. If Japan fights with the United States on behalf of Taiwan, it is a guaranteed win and enough to effectively deter China. But much more needs to be done much more quickly in order to secure those guarantees and present them in a convincing way to Beijing.

“The clock is ticking,” Larry Diamond says. “And the problem is we don’t know how fast it’s ticking. “Taiwan is moving in the right direction. But we need to move faster than we're moving.”

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Larry Diamond and Oriana Skylar Mastro join Michael McFaul on the World Class podcast to discuss China’s ambitions against Taiwan, and how the U.S. and its allies can deter Beijing.

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Against the backdrop of Ukraine's counteroffensive and the Kremlin's efforts to illegally annex additional territory, a delegation of members from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly arrived at Stanford to meet with experts and weigh considerations about the ongoing conflict. First on their circuit was a panel hosted by the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) chaired by FSI Director Michael McFaul, with Marshall Burke, Francis Fukuyama, Anna Grzymala-Busse, Scott Sagan, and Kathryn Stoner participating.

The delegates represented thirteen of NATO's thirty member nations, including Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. Top of mind were questions about the possibility of nuclear escalation from the Kremlin, and appropriate repsonses from the alliance, as well as questions about the longevity of Putin's regime, the nature of international authoritarian alliances, and the future of Ukraine as a European nation.

Drawing from their expertise on state-building, democracy, security issues, nuclear enterprise, and political transitions, the FSI scholars offered a broad analysis of the many factors currently playing out on the geopolitical stage. Abbreviated versions of their responses are given below.

Kathryn Stoner, Francis Fukuyama, Marshall Burke, Scott Sagan, Anna Grzymala-Busse, and Michael McFaul present at a panel given to memebers of the NATO Parlimentary Assembly.
Kathryn Stoner, Francis Fukuyama, Marshall Burke, Scott Sagan, Anna Grzymala-Busse, and Michael McFaul present at a panel given to memebers of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly on September 26, 2022. Melissa Morgan

The following commentary has been edited for clarity and length, and does not represent the full extent of the panel’s discussion.
 


Rethinking Assumptions about Russia and Putin

Kathryn Stoner

Right now, Putin is the most vulnerable he's ever been in 22 years in power. But I don’t believe he's under so much pressure at this point that he is about to leave office anytime soon. Autocracies do not usually die by popular mobilization, unfortunately. More often they end through an elite coup or turnover. And since the end of WWII, the research has shown that about 75% of the time autocracies are typically replaced by another autocracy, or the perpetuation of the same autocracy, just with a different leader. So, if Putin were replaced, you might get a milder form of autocracy in Russia, but I don't think you are suddenly going to create a liberal democracy.

This means that we in the West, and particularly in the U.S., need to think very hard about our strategies and how we are going to manage our relationships with Putin and his allies. This time last year, the U.S. broadcast that we basically wanted Russia to calm down so we could pivot to China. That’s an invitation to not calm down, and I think it was a mistake to transmit that as policy.

We need to pay attention to what Russia has been doing. They are the second biggest purveyor of weapons globally after the United States. They will sell to anyone. They’ve been forgiving loans throughout Sub Saharan Africa from the Soviet period and using that as a way of bargaining for access to natural resources. They’re marketing oil, selling infrastructure, and building railroads. Wherever there is a vacuum, someone will fill it, and that includes Russia every bit as much as China. We need to realize that we are in competition with both Russia and China, and develop our policies and outreach accordingly.

KStoner

Kathryn Stoner

Mosbacher Director of the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law
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Confronting Autocracy at Home and Abroad

Anna Grzymala-Busse

Why is Putin in Ukraine? Because the fact that there is a democratic country right next door to Russia is an affront to him. Putin doesn’t care that much about NATO. The fact that nothing happened when Sweden joined is some evidence of this. That’s something to keep in mind as people are debating NATO and Ukraine and Ukraine’s possible future as a member.

NATO membership and EU membership are both wonderful things. But more fundamental that that, this war has to be won first. That’s why I think it’s necessary in the next six months to speed up the support for Ukraine by ensuring there’s a steady stream of armaments, training personnel, and providing other military support.

There’s been incredible unity on Ukraine over the last seven months across the EU, NATO, and amongst our allies. But our recent history with President Trump reminds us how fragile these international commitments can be. In foreign policy, it used to be understood that America stands for liberal democracy. But we had a president of the United States who was more than happy to sidle up to some of the worst autocrats in the world. That’s why we can’t afford to leave rising populism around the world unaddressed and fail to engage with voters. When we do that, we allow far right parties to grab those votes and go unopposed. Whatever happens domestically impacts what happens internationally.

Anna Grzymała-Busse

Anna Grzymala-Busse

Director of The Europe Center
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The Consequences of Nuclear Sabre-Rattling

Scott Sagan

We have to very clear-eyed when we’re talking about the threat, however improbable, of the use of a nuclear weapon. When it comes to the deployment of a tactical nuclear weapon, its kinetic effects depend on both the size of the weapon, the yield, and the target. Tactical weapons range in yield from very low — 5-10% of what was in the Hiroshima bomb — to as large as what was used against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If that kind of weapon was used on an urban target, it would produce widescale effects. In a battlefield or rural area, it would have a relatively small impact.

But in the bigger picture, what any use of a weapon like this does is break a 70+ year tradition of non-use. Those seventy years have been dicey and fragile, but they have held so far. A tradition that is broken creates a precedent, and once there’s a precedent, it makes it much easier for someone to transgress the tradition again. So even if a decision was made to use a tactical weapon with little kinetic importance for strategic effect, I think we still need to be worried about it.

Personalistic dictators surround themselves with yes men. They make lonely decisions by themselves, often filled with vengeance and delusion because no one can tell them otherwise. They don't have the checks and balances. But I want to make one point about a potential coup or overthrow. Putin has done a lot to protect himself against that. But improbable events happen all the time, especially when leaders make really, really bad decisions. That’s not something we should be calling for as official U.S. policy, but it should be our hope.

Headshot of Scott Sagan

Scott Sagan

FSI Senior Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation
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Cycles of Conflict, Climate Change, and Food Insecurity

Marshall Burke

The estimates right now project that there are 350 million people around the world facing acute food insecurity. That means 350 million people who literally don’t have enough to eat. That’s roughly double what it was pre-COVID. The factors driving that are things like supply chain disruptions from the pandemic and climate shocks, but also because of ongoing conflict happening around the world, Ukraine included.

There was an early concern that the war in Ukraine would be a huge threat to global food security. That largely has not been the case so far, at least directly. Opening the grain corridors through the Black Sea has been crucial to this, and it’s critical that we keep those open and keep the wheat flowing out. Research shows that unrest increases when food prices spike, so it’s important for security everywhere to keep wheat prices down.

What I’m worried about now is natural gas prices. With high global natural gas prices, that means making fertilizer is also very expensive and prices have increased up to 300% relative to a few years ago. If they stay that high, this is going to be a long-term problem we will have to find a way of reckoning with on top of the other effects from climate change already impacting global crop production and the global economy.

Marshall Burke

Marshall Burke

Deputy Director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment
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Ukraine After the War

Francis Fukuyama

I've been more optimistic about the prospects for Ukraine taking back territory for more of this war, just because of the vast difference in motivation between the two sides and the supply of modern weapons that Ukraine has been getting. But I don’t know what the conditions on the ground will look like when the decision to negotiate comes. Will Russia still be sitting on occupied territory? Are they kicked out entirely? Or are the frontlines close to where they are now?

As I’ve observed, Ukraine's demands have shifted depending on how they perceive the war going on. There was a point earlier this summer where they hinted that a return to the February 23 borderlines would be acceptable. But now with their recent successes, they're saying they want everything back to the 2014 lines. What actually happens will depend on what the military situation looks like next spring, by my guess.

However the war does end, I think Ukraine actually has a big opportunity ahead of them. Putin has unwittingly become the father of a new Ukrainian nation. The stresses of the war have created a very strong sense of national identity in Ukraine that didn’t exist previously. It’s accurate that Ukraine had significant problems with corruption and defective institutions before, but I think there’s going to be a great push to rout that out. Even things like the Azov steel factory being bombed out of existence is probably a good thing in the long run, because Ukraine was far too dependent on 20th-century coal, steel, and heavy industry. Now they have an opportunity to make a break from all of that.

There are going to be challenges, obviously. We’ll have to watch very carefully what Zelenskyy chooses to do with the commanding position he has at the moment, and whether the government will be able to release power back to the people and restore its institutions. But Europe and the West and our allies are going to have a really big role in the reconstruction of Ukraine, and that should be regarded by everyone as a tremendous opportunity.

frank_fukuyama

Francis Fukuyama

Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at FSI
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Victory in Ukraine, Victory for Democracy

Michael McFaul

Nobody likes a loser, and right now, Putin is losing strategically, tactically, and morally. Now, he doesn’t really care about what Biden or NATO or the West think about him. But he does care about what the autocrats think about him, especially Xi Jinping. And with reports coming out of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization that Xi has “concerns” about what’s happening in Ukraine, Putin is feeling that pressure. I think that's why he has decided he needs to double down, not to negotiate, but to try and “win” in some way as defined by him.

In my view, that’s what’s behind the seizure of these four regions. If he feels like he can unequivocally claim them as part of Russia, then maybe he will sue for peace. And that’s exactly what President Zelenskyy fears. Why? Because that’s exactly what happened in 2014. Putin took Crimea, then turned around to the countries of the world and said, “Aren’t we all tired of war? Can’t we just have peace? I’m ready to end the war, as long as you recognize the new borders.” And, let’s be honest, we did.

We keep hearing politicians say we should put pressure for peace negotiations. I challenge any of them to explain their strategy for getting Putin to talk about peace. There is no doubt in my mind that President Zelenskyy would sit down tomorrow to negotiate if there was a real prospect for peace negotiations. But there's also no doubt in my mind right now that Putin has zero interest in peace talks.

Like Dr. Fukuyama, I don’t know how this war will end. But there's nobody inside or outside of Russia that thinks it’s going well. I personally know a lot of people that believe in democracy in Russia. They believe in democracy just as much as you or I. I’ve no doubt of their convictions. But they’re in jail, or in exile today.

If we want to help Russia in the post-Putin world, we have to think about democracy. There’s not a lot we can do to directly help democracy in Russia right now. But we should be doing everything to help democracy in Ukraine.  It didn’t happen in 1991. It didn’t happen in 2004. It didn’t happen in 2014. They had those breakthroughs and those revolutionary moments, but we as the democratic world collectively didn’t get it right. This is our moment to get it right, both as a way of helping Ukraine secure its future, and to give inspiration to “small-d” democrats fighting for rights across the world.

Michael McFaul, FSI Director

Michael McFaul

Director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin
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Putin's Disaster in Ukraine

On Vladimir Putin’s order, the Russian army launched a new invasion of Ukraine in February. That has inflicted tragedy on Ukrainians but, seven months later, has also proved a catastrophe for Russia.
Putin's Disaster in Ukraine
Russian flag and NATO flag
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NATO-Russia: It’s time to suspend the Founding Act

During a period of greater hope for Russia tempered by uncertainties, President Bill Clinton sought both to enlarge NATO and build a strategic partnership between the Alliance and Moscow.
NATO-Russia: It’s time to suspend the Founding Act
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FSI Director Michael McFaul, Kathryn Stoner, Francis Fukuyama, Scott Sagan, Anna Grzymala-Busse, and Marshall Burke answered questions from the parliamentarians on the conflict and its implications for the future of Ukraine, Russia, and the global community.

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Mikhail Gorbachev, the former president of the Soviet Union, passed away on Tuesday, August 30, 2022. The last leader of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev ushered in what many in the West and Russia hoped would be a new era of democracy and development following the dismantling of the Iron Curtain and opening of Russia to Western markets and development.

Gorbachev's death comes in the midst of Vladimir Putin’s war against democratic Ukraine and a strong return to imperialist ideologies within the Kremlin. To help contextualize the impact of Gorbachev’s legacy, scholars from across the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies offer their reflections of his life and leadership.


 

A New Kind of Soviet Leader


Writing in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, former Deputy Secretary General of NATO Rose Gottemoeller shared some of her personal memories of working with Gorbachev and his government.

"As Gorbachev’s presidency unfolded, it became clear that he was not going to be like the dour and geriatric Soviet Politburo members Leonid Brezhnev, Yury Andropov, and Konstantin Chernenko, who had followed each other in quick succession to the Kremlin leadership in the early 1980s. Only 54 when he took office, Gorbachev was easily the most dynamic figure seen in Moscow for nearly 30 years, with the confidence to speak openly on the public stage with foreign leaders such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher."

She continues, "My only personal encounter with Gorbachev came many years later, when I worked in Moscow as director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. A Russian friend who was an associate of Gorbachev asked me if I would like to attend a lunch to celebrate his birthday. 'Of course!' I said. It was an honor for me.

I was pretty much a fly on the wall during the proceedings, since I could keep up with the fast conversation but did not want to display my less-than-perfect Russian to the former president. Nevertheless, he received me kindly. One exchange has always stuck with me. One of his former staffers from his time in the Kremlin asked him, 'Mikhail Sergeevich, when have the security services—the KGB, FSB, GRU—been more of a threat? Now, or during the Soviet era?'

Gorbachev thought about it for a moment and then said, 'During the Soviet era, at least the Communist Party Central Committee kept them under control. Now, they have no one to answer to but themselves. They are more of a threat now.' He was right."

Read Gottemoeller's full essay in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.
 

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Rose Gottemoeller

Steven C. Házy Lecturer at CISAC
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Changing and Humanizing the USSR


Steven Pifer, a former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, shared on Twitter some of the milestone accomplishments in nuclear arms control that came about during Gorbachev's administration. Having worked extensively in the U.S. Foreign Service and State Department for over 25 years in Ukraine, Warsaw, Moscow, and London, Pifer saw firsthand the impacts of Gorbachev's "glasnost’” policy — or the "opening up" of Russian society, government, and media — on the people of Russia and Eastern Europe.

"He gave Central Europeans freedom to make their own choices," Pifer wrote on Twitter. And while acknowledging that the Soviet collapse was not free of violence, Pifer also believes that it was "far more peaceful than it could have been," because of Gorbachev's leadership through such a monumental inflection point in geopolitical history.

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Steven Pifer

Affiliate at CISAC and the Europe Center
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Freedom and Honesty for Russia and Eastern Europe


Similarly, eminent political scientist Francis Fukuyama says that a hallmark of Gorbachev's legacy will be his desire for peace and his willingness to set aside the norms of the Soviet Era in order to allow people greater freedom.

"He wasn't willing to use force to hold the old Soviet Union together," Fukuyama told Radio Free Europe in an interview. "That was really critical in allowing the countries of Eastern Europe to become free of Soviet influence and for Soviet republics like Urkaine, Moldova, and Belarus to become independent nations. That is a contribution to freedom that is really unparallelled by any other leader at that time."

While Gorbachev is not a popular figure in Russia today, Fukuyama believes his time in leadership still made an important difference to the long-term development of the country and its former territories.

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Francis Fukuyama

Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at FSI
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'History Will Be Kind to Him'


Today, Russia's trajectory looks very different from the path Gorbachev tried to set the country on in the 1990s. Speaking to Leila Fadel on NPR's Morning Edition, FSI Director Michael McFaul highlighted the difference between Gorbachev's ambitions and Putin's regime.

"It's definitely a reversal. It is a return to confrontation. And again, it did not have to be that way," he said. "Russia was a democracy in the 1990s, and Gorbachev helped to introduce those political reforms. That has been completely reversed by Vladimir Putin."

McFaul agrees that Gorbachev is a complex figure, both in Russia and in the West. While the collapse of the Soviet Union was largely bloodless, Gorbachev sent special forces to the Baltic republics in 1991, a decision which resulted in military and civilian casualites.

In light of the brutality of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Gorbachev's early confidence in Vladimir Putin feels like a similar miscalculation, as Professor McFaul discussed with Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC. Even still, because of his proactive work to move arms control forward and for choosing not to intervene with force against the collapse of the Soviet Union and break away of Eastern Europe, McFaul considers the former president one of the most important figures of the 21st century. 

"On a personal level, Gorbachev and I didn't always agree. We argued," says McFaul. "But he was a very engaging intellectual, and I always learned from every conversation I had with him. I think history will be kind to him."

Michael McFaul, FSI Director

Michael McFaul

FSI Director
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Russia Tank
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Russia, Ukraine, and the decision to negotiate

Ending the fighting may well require talks, but the decision to negotiate should lie with Kyiv.
Russia, Ukraine, and the decision to negotiate
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Rose Gottemoeller, Steven Pifer, Francis Fukuyama, and Michael McFaul discuss the complex life and legacy of the last leader of the Soviet Union.

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After the end of World War II, more than 45,000 young Japanese women married American GIs and came to the United States to embark upon new lives among strangers. The mother of Kathryn Tolbert, a former long-time journalist with The Washington Post, was one of them.

Kathryn noted, “I knew there was a story in my mother’s journey from war-time Japan to an upstate New York poultry farm. In order to tell it, I teamed up with journalists Lucy Craft and Karen Kasmauski, whose mothers were also Japanese war brides, to make a short documentary film through a mother-daughter lens. Fall Seven Times, Get Up Eight: The Japanese War Brides was released in August 2015 and premiered on BBC World Television. To show the experiences of many more women like our mothers, I spent a year traveling the country to record interviews, funded by a Time Out grant from Vassar College, my alma mater.”

I knew there was a story in my mother’s journey from war-time Japan to an upstate New York poultry farm.
—Kathryn Tolbert, Co-Director, Fall Seven Times, Get Up Eight

The Japanese War Brides Oral History Archive is the result of her interviews. The Oral History Archive documents an important chapter of U.S. immigration history that is largely unknown and usually left out of the broader Japanese American experience. In these oral histories, Japanese immigrant women reflect on their lives in postwar Japan, their journeys across the Pacific, and their experiences living in the United States.

SPICE developed five lessons for the Japanese War Brides Oral History Archive that suggest ways for teachers to engage their students with the broad themes that emerge from the individual experiences of Japanese war brides. The lessons are: (1) Setting the Context; (2) Japanese Immigration to the United States; (3) The Transmission of Culture; (4) Notions of Identity; and (5) Conflict and Its Analysis. SPICE also developed a teacher’s guide for the film, Fall Seven Times, Get Up Eight: The Japanese War Brides, that helps teachers set the context for the film and provides guided viewing activities and debriefing activities. The lessons and teacher’s guide can be found at the webpage below.

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SPICE has developed free lesson plans on an important chapter of U.S. immigration history that is largely unknown.

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When the Department of Homeland Security’s Advisory Council announces it plan next week for overhauling how the agency combats the spread of disinformation online, its focus will be on “how to achieve greater transparency across our disinformation related work” and how to “increase trust with the public,” according to council meeting minutes released Monday.

Read more at Cyberscoop.com

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Herb Lin, a disinformation scholar at Stanford, said DHS will need to tread carefully moving forward. He worries “about any government involvement in this business” and whether “any mechanism that you set up can be made tamper proof.”

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Just days into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Dmitri Medvedev, the former president and prime minister of Russia, took to social media to post a chilling message. He raged against Western sanctions on his country and suggested darkly that Russia could rip up some of its most important agreements with the West. He mentioned the New START treaty, the nuclear arms reduction agreement signed with the United States over a decade ago, but the threat was broader still: the sundering of all diplomatic ties with Western countries. “It’s time to hang huge padlocks on the embassies,” he wrote.

Read the rest at Foreign Affairs

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With Russia Going Rogue, America Must Cooperate With China

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After months of watching hundreds of new nuclear missile silos being dug in the dirt northwest of Beijing, it is welcome news that President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping seemingly agreed at last week’s summit on the need for strategic stability talks. Strategic stability — the idea that nuclear-armed countries should not be able to gain decisive advantage over one another — has taken on new importance as China expands and modernizes its nuclear arsenal.

China is expected to quadruple its number of warheads in the next decade, and is upgrading its nuclear capabilities with new missiles, submarines and bombers. Over the summer, it reportedly fired a missile from a hypersonic glide vehicle while testing its fractional orbital bombardment system (FOBS) — a technical advance that, if true, means the Chinese can attack targets from space with nuclear weapons. Although China insists it will never be the first to use nuclear weapons, this claim has less credence than in the past, when the country’s nuclear force was much smaller.

Read the rest at Politico 

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After months of watching hundreds of new nuclear missile silos being dug in the dirt northwest of Beijing, it is welcome news that President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping seemingly agreed at last week’s summit on the need for strategic stability talks.

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