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Eleven months after Russia launched a massive invasion of Ukraine, Washington and Europe continue to pursue two basic objectives: help Ukraine win and avoid a direct NATO-Russia clash. 

Unfortunately, in balancing these goals, Western governments are exercising overly excessive caution. They thus far have denied Ukraine weapons, such as Leopard tanks and Army Tactical Combat Missile Systems (ATACMS), that could have dramatic effects on the battlefield. This caution stems from fear that the Kremlin would escalate the conflict.

That fear is misplaced.

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Eleven months after Russia launched a massive invasion of Ukraine, Washington and Europe continue to pursue two basic objectives: help Ukraine win and avoid a direct NATO-Russia clash.

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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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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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Writing in The Washington Post on December 2, Robert Wright called on the Biden administration to press Ukraine to negotiate a settlement to the war Russia unleashed on it. That adds to a spate of articles in recent weeks urging Washington to prod Kyiv toward the negotiating table or to set a diplomatic process for settling the conflict.

Negotiations could well become necessary at some point. However, the questions of if — and when — to engage should rest with the Ukrainian government.

In February, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a multi-pronged invasion of Ukraine. It has run into difficult straits. The Russians retreated from Kyiv in March. More recently, Ukrainian counteroffensives drove the Russians out of Kharkiv oblast (region) and liberated Kherson city, pushing the Russians back to the east side of the Dnipro River.

As Kyiv’s military successes grew, commentators began calling for Washington to “bring Russia and Ukraine” to the negotiating table, to “lay the groundwork” for talks, and to “begin discussions” on eventual negotiations. The authors offer various reasons for doing so: that Russia might escalate; that the costs of supporting Kyiv are too high; that Ukrainian victories might make negotiations more difficult; that the Russian military might recover its footing and win; that the war could settle into a drawn-out stalemate; and that, absent a firm settlement, Ukraine would face the threat of reinvasion.

The West cannot casually dismiss the possibility of Putin escalating to use a nuclear weapon, but he has real reasons not to. Doing so would alienate the Global South and China as well as open a Pandora’s box with potentially nasty consequences for Russia. The Kremlin appears to understand that and has de-escalated the nuclear rhetoric.

Russian escalation at the conventional level to strike, for example, the routes in Poland that flow Western arms into Ukraine hardly seems plausible. The Russian General Staff has its hands full with the Ukrainian army; it does not want a fight now with NATO.

The United States and the West are spending significant sums to support Ukraine’s defense. But they are not too high given the size of Western economies and defense budgets and, in particular, in view of what the West has at stake. A Russia that wins in Ukraine could be emboldened to use force elsewhere.

The concern that Ukraine’s liberation of its territory could complicate negotiations is misplaced. That more likely would engender greater realism in the Kremlin and make serious talks more possible. As for the opposite concern, the Russian military has given no basis to believe it can regain the military initiative sufficiently to win the war.

True, the conflict could settle into a stalemate. However, that scenario does not by itself make a strong case for pushing Ukraine into an early negotiation, especially with an adversary who offers no hint of readiness to seek a middle ground in negotiations.

As for the threat of a Russian reinvasion, Ukraine would face that regardless of how the war ends — at least, as long as Putin remains in power. That threat is by no means theoretical. In 2014, the Russian military seized Crimea, and Russian and Russian proxy forces occupied part of Donbas, but the Kremlin was not content just with that.

None of the authors offer reasons to believe Moscow would negotiate in a serious manner. The Kremlin’s demands in February included demilitarization and neutrality for Ukraine plus Kyiv’s recognition of Crimea as Russian. At the end of September, despite a month of losing on the battlefield, Moscow claimed to annex four Ukrainian oblasts. After Ukrainian forces liberated Kherson, the capital of one of these regions, Putin’s spokesperson quixotically called the city “the territory of Russia.” How should Kyiv regard such a prospective bargaining partner?

Some authors, including Wright, urge talks without addressing what outcome they hope or expect to see. Others suggest a “territorial settlement” or Ukrainian “flexibility” and sound all too ready to concede Ukrainian land to Russia. That would entail consigning Ukrainians to Russian authority as well. The atrocities and war crimes committed by Russian forces in BuchaIrpinIzyumMariupol, and many other cities and towns have shown Ukrainians exactly what that would mean. Moreover, prodding the Ukrainians into negotiations in which they would accept either explicitly or de facto Russian seizure of their territory has implications well beyond Ukraine. That would legitimize Moscow’s tactics of using force, and one must wonder whether Putin’s ambitions end just with Ukraine.

The West thus should hope for Ukrainian victory and liberation of all occupied lands. However, that might not prove possible, and instead a prospect of a serious negotiation could at some point develop, offering a hope of a settlement to end the war. Even then, the Ukrainians would have to exercise caution. They would not want to allow the Russians the possibility of “negotiating” simply to buy time to reconstitute their military forces for a new offensive.

If a serious negotiation were to emerge, it would almost certainly require that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his government compromise on some of their conditions for peace, which include the return of all occupied territories, full reparations for the immense damage, and punishment of those responsible for war crimes. Zelensky undoubtedly shares Wright’s desire to avoid further loss of Ukrainian lives, but deciding which issues on which to give in during a negotiation would raise delicate questions. Among other things, he must take account of the attitude of Ukrainians. A late October poll showed that 86% supported continuing the fight and opposed negotiations.

Washington cannot decide these kinds of issues. The Ukrainians — the victims in this war — first have to see that they have a serious Russian bargaining partner. They themselves must conclude that the time has come to make tough decisions on compromises to end the conflict. The questions of if and when to negotiate properly should remain Kyiv’s to decide.

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Negotiations could well become necessary at some point. However, the questions of if — and when — to engage should rest with the Ukrainian government.

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About the Speaker: Dr. Beth Van Schaack was sworn in as the State Department’s sixth Ambassador-at-Large for GlobalCriminal Justice (GCJ) on March 17, 2022. In this role, she advises the Secretary of State and otherDepartment leadership on issues related to the prevention of and response to atrocity crimes, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

Ambassador Van Schaack served as Deputy to the Ambassador-at-Large in GCJ from 2012 to2013. Prior to returning to public service in 2022, Ambassador Van Schaack was the Leah Kaplan Visiting Professor in Human Rights at Stanford Law School, where she taught international criminal law, human rights, human trafficking, and a policy lab on Legal & Policy Tools forPreventing Atrocities. In addition, she directed Stanford’s International Human Rights & ConflictResolution Clinic. Ambassador Van Schaack began her academic career at Santa Clara UniversitySchool of Law, where, in addition to teaching and writing on international human rights issues, she served as the Academic Adviser to the United States interagency delegation to theInternational Criminal Court Review Conference in Kampala, Uganda. Earlier in her career, she was a practicing lawyer at Morrison & Foerster, LLP; the Center for Justice & Accountability, a human rights law firm; and the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

Ambassador Van Schaack has published numerous articles and papers on international human rights and justice issues, including her 2020 thesis, Imagining Justice for Syria (Oxford UniversityPress). From 2014 to 2022, she served as Executive Editor for Just Security, an online forum fort he analysis of national security, foreign policy, and rights. She is a graduate of Stanford (BA), Yale(JD) and Leiden (PhD) Universities.

 All CISAC events are scheduled using the Pacific Time Zone.

 

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As Russia’s war against Ukraine illustrates, civilians often bear the brunt of suffering in conflict — sometimes directly killed or saddled with lifelong injuries, and sometimes from the destruction of critical infrastructure like hospitals, power plants and sanitation systems needed to survive. International laws of war prohibit targeting civilians — but often fail to protect them in practice.

How can this be stopped? Ireland recently organized the development of a multilateral declaration aimed at better protecting civilians from explosive weapons in populated areas. While it’s not a legally binding treaty, this declaration includes new guidelines developed to improve how international humanitarian law gets put into practice. Eighty countries, including the United States, signed this declaration in Dublin on Nov. 18.

Continue reading at washingtonpost.com.

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If it’s not a binding treaty, how can it influence military action? Here’s what research tells us.

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As Russia’s military faltered and lost ground in its conventional war against Ukraine, concern grew in the West that Vladimir Putin might resort to nuclear weapons.  The Kremlin, however, has real reasons not to cross the nuclear threshold, and its hints of nuclear use have not brought Kyiv’s capitulation or an end to Western support for Ukraine any closer.  In recent weeks, Moscow has seemed to deescalate the nuclear rhetoric.

Russia’s military campaign in Donbas stalled over the summer, and Ukrainian counteroffensives in the Kharkiv and Kherson regions subsequently have liberated substantial tracts of territory.  As the Ukrainian army pressed forward, the Kremlin began to grow desperate, with Putin ordering mobilization of 300,000 men.  Many in the West began to fear that the Russian leader, facing an increasingly difficult situation, might play the nuclear card against Ukraine.

Putin set the stage for this early on. In February, just three days after the Russian army invaded Ukraine from the north, south and east, he ordered a “special combat readiness” for Russian nuclear forces.  In September, the situation deteriorated for Russia, and Putin set in motion his desired annexation of four Ukrainian oblasts (regions), none of which his military fully controlled.  His language, and that of other Russian officials, hinted at nuclear use.

Announcing the mobilization on September 21, Putin stated “In the event of a threat to the territorial integrity to our country and to defend Russia and our people, we will certainly make use of all weapon systems available to us.  This is not a bluff.”  Many observers read “all weapons systems” as including nuclear arms.  Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev on September 27 said that it certainly “was not a bluff” and went on to “imagine” a Russian nuclear strike on Ukraine.

In a September 30 speech, Putin proclaimed Ukraine’s Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson oblasts to be part of Russia and asserted “We will defend our land with all the forces and resources we have.”  In case anyone missed the point, he cited the U.S. nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 as having set a “precedent.”

Those remarks got attention.  On October 7, President Joe Biden commented in a private setting that he saw a direct threat of nuclear use for the first time since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.  Shortly thereafter, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley had conversations with their Russian counterparts.

The Kremlin may want Ukraine and the West to believe that Russia is prepared to escalate to the nuclear level, but it does not want a nuclear war.  Moscow has real reasons not to cross the nuclear threshold.

First, Ukraine does not mass its forces in a way that would create a tempting target for nuclear attack.  More importantly, a nuclear strike is unlikely to achieve the political objective of intimidating Kyiv into capitulation.  The Ukrainians understand all too well what Russian occupation means.  For them, this is an existential fight, and nothing suggests that the Russian threats have undercut their resolve.

Second, the same is true for the resolve of Ukraine’s Western supporters.  The flow of arms and other support for Ukraine continues, and Western officials have pushed back on the nuclear question.  Meeting on November 4, G7 foreign ministers stated “Russia’s irresponsible nuclear rhetoric is unacceptable.  Any use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons by Russia would be met with severe consequences.”  That echoed the message following Biden’s October 7 phone conversation with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that consequences would be “extremely serious” and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s October 13 warning that Moscow not cross the “very important [nuclear] line.”  Russian officials—the senior military leadership, in particular—likely understand that, if they open the nuclear Pandora’s Box, no one can tell what would happen.

Third, Russian officials have to consider the reaction of other countries.  Putin’s close friend President Xi Jinping of China has been very clear in recent meetings.  Xi and Scholz on November 4 “rejected” the threat of nuclear weapons, and Xi and Biden on November 14 condemned Moscow’s nuclear threats.  The G20 leaders’ declaration issued on November 16 said “The use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible.”  Given his isolation from the West, Putin can hardly afford to alienate Xi or other countries in the Global South.  Few would like the precedent of Russia, a nuclear state, using nuclear arms against a smaller, non-nuclear neighbor after its conventional aggression had failed.

There are indications the Kremlin understands that it has overplayed its hand and in recent weeks has sought to tone down the nuclear rhetoric.

Speaking to the Valdai Discussion Club on October 27, Putin raised the question “that Russia might theoretically use nuclear weapons,” called “the current fuss” a “very primitive” attempt to turn countries against Moscow, and commented that “we have never said anything proactively about Russia potentially using nuclear weapons.”  While not exactly true, it was very different from the Russian leader’s September pronouncements.  A November 2 Russian Foreign Ministry statement said Russia is guided by the principle that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” reiterated commitment to the January 3, 2022 statement by the U.S., Russian, Chinese, British and French leaders on preventing a nuclear war, and noted that provocations with nuclear weapons could entail “catastrophic consequences.”

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reported that, in their November 16 meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had stated that nuclear use was “impossible and inadmissible.”  Representing Russia at the G20 summit, Lavrov agreed to the leaders’ declaration that included the language about the inadmissibility of the use or threat of use of nuclear arms.

Russian officials have backed away from the nuclear hints and threats of September and sought to tone down the rhetoric.  This does not mean they might not reemerge, but it does suggest that the Kremlin understands that the use of nuclear weapons would have significant consequences for Russia, and that its nuclear threats failed to achieve their desired political objectives while proving counterproductive for Russia’s image abroad.

* * * * *

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As Russia’s military faltered and lost ground in its conventional war against Ukraine, concern grew in the West that Vladimir Putin might resort to nuclear weapons.

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Ukraine is the victim of an unprovoked and unjustified war launched by Vladimir Putin’s Russia more than eight years ago. The latest stage in this war is the ongoing full-scale invasion that began on February 24, 2022. US President Joe Biden has said the United States will support Ukraine “for as long as it takes.”

Some question this commitment in view of other US priorities and argue that Russia, given history and geography, has a greater interest in Ukraine than does the United States. That latter point may be true, but it ignores the Ukrainians, who hold understandably strong views on the future of their country and have shown that they are prepared to fight tenaciously to defend their freedom. With Russia’s full-scale invasion now in its ninth month, it is vital to recognize that continued US support for Ukraine in this war is both the morally correct position and serves key national interests of the United States.

In 1994, Kyiv agreed to give up the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal, comprising some 1900 Soviet-era strategic nuclear warheads designed, built, and deployed to strike cities and other targets in the United States. Eliminating those weapons mattered a great deal to Washington. The Ukrainian government agreed to their elimination in large part because Russia, along with the United States and United Kingdom, committed in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence, and further committed not to use force or threaten to use force against Ukraine.

During the negotiations that preceded the signing of the Budapest Memorandum, Ukrainian officials asked what Washington would do if Russia were to violate its commitments. US officials said the United States would take an interest and support Ukraine.

Beginning with its seizure of Crimea in 2014 and continuing with this year’s invasion, Moscow has grossly violated the commitments it made in 1994. The morally correct response from the United States is to support Ukraine, as it has done with political measures and economic sanctions to punish Russia along with providing economic assistance, arms, and ammunition to Ukraine. Supporting Ukraine until its military drives Russian forces out of Ukrainian territory or, at a minimum, reaches a point where a negotiated settlement becomes possible on terms that Kyiv can accept, is not only morally the right thing to do. It is also very much in the US national interest.

First, the United States has had a vital national interest in a stable and secure Europe going back more than 70 years. This reflects the core security, political, and economic interests that provided the rationale for the formation of NATO in 1949. A Russian victory in the current war with Ukraine would have a major negative impact on stability and security in Europe. The countries of Europe, most of whom also support Ukraine, look to Washington for leadership. An insecure Europe would command more US resources, military power, and senior-level attention than would otherwise be the case.

Second, other countries are watching how Washington responds to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. China poses the largest strategic challenge facing the United States in the coming decades. If Putin succeeds in Ukraine, that could encourage President Xi Jinping to adopt a more hostile stance. Moreover, should Russia prevail, the resulting situation in Europe would mean that Washington has fewer resources, less military power, and less attention to devote to dealing with the China challenge.

Third, the United States has a strong interest in preserving international norms and a rules-based international order. A key norm in Europe, dating back to the UN Charter and the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, is that large states should not use force to take territory from smaller states. That is precisely what Putin is attempting now. If international norms break down, other autocratic states will likewise be emboldened. A “dog-eat-dog” world without such norms will be a much more difficult place in which to pursue a range of US political, security, and economic interests.

Moreover, respect for basic human rights is an important part of international norms. Russia has waged a brutal military campaign, committing wide-scale war crimes and atrocities such as the destruction of Mariupol. Russian occupation of Ukrainian towns and cities has meant torture chambers, mass arrests, summary executions, filtration camps, and deportations, including of children separated from their parents and sent to Russia for adoption by Russian families. The United States has an interest in opposing such grave human rights abuses and in supporting Kyiv’s efforts to hold those responsible to account.

Fourth, it is not clear that Putin’s ambitions end with Ukraine. In a June conversation with young Russian entrepreneurs, the Russian leader asserted that he was not taking Ukrainian territory but “returning” historic Russian lands to Moscow’s control. The Russian Empire once included the Baltic states, Finland, and part of Poland. If Putin were to prevail in Ukraine, would he be tempted to seek the “return” of other “historic Russian lands?”

In the case of Ukraine, the United States is contributing money and weapons. If Putin’s ambitions were to extend to one or more of the Baltic states, which are members of NATO, the United States would have to contribute money, weapons, and the lives of American soldiers. The United States has a strong interest in stopping Putin’s ambitions in Ukraine.

Originally published on Atlantic Council's Ukraine Alert

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Ukraine is the victim of an unprovoked and unjustified war launched by Vladimir Putin’s Russia more than eight years ago.

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On 24 October, 30 members of the House Democratic Progressive Caucus released a letter to President Biden calling for a “proactive diplomatic push” on Kyiv to work toward a ceasefire and “direct [US] engagement” with Moscow to end the Russia-Ukraine war. One week earlier, Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy’s no “blank check” for Ukraine comment raised questions about future congressional support for US assistance to that embattled country.

The letter, even though it has now been withdrawn, and McCarthy’s comment are unfortunate. Vladimir Putin will take encouragement from both as Russia wages its war. The suggestion of cracks in US backing for Ukraine will increase his incentives to continue fighting.

Continue reading at theguardian.com

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Kevin McCarthy’s warning of no ‘blank check’ and progressive Democrats’ premature call for negotiations were unfortunate

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Since Russia launched its most recent invasion of Ukraine in February, Moscow has threatened—sometimes subtly, other times explicitly—nuclear escalation should the war not go its way. Ukraine and the West have to take such threats seriously. But the Kremlin also needs to take their probable responses seriously and would have to weigh the substantial risks and costs of using a nuclear weapon.

Shortly after Russian forces assaulted Ukraine on Feb. 24, Vladimir Putin ordered a “special combat readiness” status for Russian nuclear forces. But it’s unclear what that means since the Pentagon has consistently said it sees no change in Russia’s nuclear posture. The alert may have amounted to little more than additional command post staffing.

Continue reading at time.com

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"The hope is that rationality would prevail, and that senior political and military leaders in Moscow, who may not be so obsessed with Ukraine, would come down on the side of caution."

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Seminar Recording

About the Speakers: H. R. McMaster is the Fouad and Michelle Ajami Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.  He is also the Bernard and Susan Liautaud Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute and lecturer at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.  He was the 26th assistant to the president for National Security Affairs. Upon graduation from the United States Military Academy in 1984, McMaster served as a commissioned officer in the United States Army for thirty-four years before retiring as a Lieutenant General in June 2018. From 2014 to 2017 McMaster designed the future army as the director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center and the deputy commanding general of the US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). As commanding general of the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, he oversaw all training and education for the army’s infantry, armor, and cavalry force. His has extensive experience leading soldiers and organizations in wartime including Commander, Combined Joint Inter-Agency Task Force—Shafafiyat in Kabul, Afghanistan from 2010 to 2012; Commander, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Iraq from 2005 to 2006; and Commander, Eagle Troop, 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Operation Desert Storm from 1990 to 1991. McMaster also served overseas as advisor to the most senior commanders in the Middle East, Iraq, and Afghanistan. McMaster holds a PhD in military history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  He was an assistant professor of history at the United States Military Academy from 1994 to 1996.  He is author of Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World and the award-winning Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Lies that Led to Vietnam.  He was a contributing editor for Survival: Global Politics and Strategy from 2010 to 2017.  His many essays, articles, and book reviews on leadership, history, and the future of warfare have appeared in The AtlanticForeign AffairsSurvival, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times.  

Kathryn Stoner is the Mosbacher Director of the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL), and a Senior Fellow at CDDRL and the Center on International Security and Cooperation at FSI. From 2017 to 2021, she served as FSI's Deputy Director. She is Professor of Political Science (by courtesy) at Stanford and she teaches in the Department of Political Science, and in the Program on International Relations, as well as in the Ford Dorsey Master's in International Policy Program. She is also a Senior Fellow (by courtesy) at the Hoover Institution. Prior to coming to Stanford in 2004, she was on the faculty at Princeton University for nine years, jointly appointed to the Department of Politics and the Princeton School for International and Public Affairs (formerly the Woodrow Wilson School). At Princeton she received the Ralph O. Glendinning Preceptorship awarded to outstanding junior faculty. She also served as a Visiting Associate Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, and an Assistant Professor of Political Science at McGill University. She has held fellowships at Harvard University as well as the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. In addition to many articles and book chapters on contemporary Russia, she is the author or co-editor of six books: "Transitions to Democracy: A Comparative Perspective," written and edited with Michael A. McFaul (Johns Hopkins 2013);  "Autocracy and Democracy in the Post-Communist World," co-edited with Valerie Bunce and Michael A. McFaul (Cambridge, 2010);  "Resisting the State: Reform and Retrenchment in Post-Soviet Russia" (Cambridge, 2006); "After the Collapse of Communism: Comparative Lessons of Transitions" (Cambridge, 2004), coedited with Michael McFaul; and "Local Heroes: The Political Economy of Russian Regional" Governance (Princeton, 1997); and "Russia Resurrected: Its Power and Purpose in a New Global Order" (Oxford University Press, 2021). She received a BA (1988) and MA (1989) in Political Science from the University of Toronto, and a PhD in Government from Harvard University (1995). In 2016 she was awarded an honorary doctorate from Iliad State University, Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia. 

Steven Pifer is an affiliate of the Center for International Security and Cooperation as well as a non-resident senior fellow with the Brookings Institution.  He was a William J. Perry Fellow at the center from 2018-2022 and a fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin from January-May 2021. Pifer’s research focuses on nuclear arms control, Ukraine, Russia and European security. He has offered commentary on these issues on National Public Radio, PBS NewsHour, CNN and BBC, and his articles have been published in a wide variety of outlets. He is the author of The Eagle and the Trident: U.S.-Ukraine Relations in Turbulent Times (Brookings Institution Press, 2017), and co-author of The Opportunity: Next Steps in Reducing Nuclear Arms (Brookings Institution Press, 2012). A retired Foreign Service officer, Pifer’s more than 25 years with the State Department focused on U.S. relations with the former Soviet Union and Europe, as well as arms control and security issues.  He served as deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs with responsibilities for Russia and Ukraine, ambassador to Ukraine, and special assistant to the president and senior director for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia on the National Security Council.  In addition to Ukraine, he served at the U.S. embassies in Warsaw, Moscow and London as well as with the U.S. delegation to the negotiation on intermediate-range nuclear forces in Geneva.  From 2000 to 2001, he was a visiting scholar at Stanford’s Institute for International Studies, and he was a resident scholar at the Brookings Institution from 2008 to 2017. Pifer is a 1976 graduate of Stanford University with a bachelor’s in economics.

 All CISAC events are scheduled using the Pacific Time Zone.

William J. Perry Conference Room

H.R. McMaster
Kathryn Stoner
Steven Pifer
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