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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
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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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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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About the Event: In the wake of natural disasters, humanitarian aid can make the difference between life and death for people in harm’s way. But despite the suffering of their citizens, leaders sometimes fail to secure international humanitarian aid or conceal the existence of an emergency. Their actions can prevent or delay the delivery of all humanitarian aid. This paper answers the question: under what conditions do recipient governments seek or refuse humanitarian aid after natural disasters?  I argue that leaders act strategically, based on the understanding that their response to natural disasters will influence powerful donor states’ perceptions of the regime’s competence. Donors reward competent leader are rewarded with more advantageous resources while incompetent leaders face greater conditionality. Consequently, state leaders seek humanitarian when doing so will lead powerful donors to perceive the recipient as competent, and they fail to seek aid and conceal the existence of emergencies when doing so would signal incompetence. Seeking aid signals competence when the natural disaster is exogenous to government policy choices and it is implausible that the government could respond adequately alone. When donors can blame event on the government's failure to prevent, even providing emergency relief without donor support makes the government look incompetent, which creates incentives for governments to conceal such events. I use new data on of government policy decisions in response to droughts and floods and a survey of government officials in a poor aid-dependent state to test this argument.

About the Speaker: Allison Grossman is Postdoctoral Fellow at the Immigration Policy Lab at Stanford University and an Affiliated Researcher at Stanford's King Center on Global Development. Her research investigates how so-called "fragile" states cooperate with (0r contest) international efforts to mitigate suffering and improve the welfare of their residents. She investigates these issues of global concern in West African states, including Niger, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, and Burkina Faso. She received her PhD in Political Science from UC Berkeley in 2021. Her research has been published in the Journal of Politics, the Journal of Experimental Political Science, and PS: Political Science & Politics.

 All CISAC events are scheduled using the Pacific Time Zone.

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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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For Fall Quarter 2021, FSI will be hosting hybrid events. Many events will be open to the public online via Zoom, and limited-capacity in-person attendance for Stanford affiliates may be available in accordance with Stanford’s health and safety guidelines.

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                                                           (Open to all)                                                                    (Stanford affiliates only)              


Why is democracy so threatened in America and around the world? And what can we do about it? Join Ben Rhodes to explore the answers to these questions and discuss his recent book, After the Fall.

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Ben Rhodes

In 2017, as Ben Rhodes was helping Barack Obama begin his next chapter, the legacy they had worked to build for eight years was being taken apart. To understand what was happening in America, Rhodes decided to look outward. Over the next three years, he traveled to dozens of countries, meeting with politicians, activists, and dissidents confronting the same nationalism and authoritarianism that was tearing America apart. Part memoir and part reportage, After the Fall investigates how much America’s fingerprints are on a world we helped to shape, through our post–Cold War embrace of unbridled capitalism and our post-9/11 nationalism and militarism; our mania for technology and social media; and the racism that fueled the backlash to America’s first Black president. At the same time, Rhodes learns from stories of a diverse set of characters—from Barack Obama himself to Cuban rebels to a rising generation of international leaders—that looking squarely at where America has gone wrong makes clear how essential it is to fight for what America is supposed to be, for our own country and the entire world.

Ben Rhodes is a writer, political commentator, and national security analyst. He is currently a contributor for NBC News and MSNBC; co-host of Pod Save the World; a senior advisor to former President Barack Obama; and chair of National Security Action, which he co-founded with Jake Sullivan in 2018. From 2009-2017, Ben served as a Deputy National Security Advisor to President Obama. In that capacity, he participated in all of President Obama’s key decisions, and oversaw the President’s national security communications, speechwriting, and public diplomacy.

Writer, political commentator, and national security analyst
Ben Rhodes | Writer, political commentator, and national security analyst
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In 2015, Volodymyr Zelenskyy was at the height of a successful career as an entertainer. Though trained as a lawyer at the Kryvyi Rih Institute of Economics in Eastern Ukraine, the then 37 year old Zelenskyy was a successful comedian and public personality. As the star of the popular TV show, Servant of the People, he played a local history teacher who inadvertently becomes the president of Ukraine following a viral video rant about corruption.

No one watching comedic President Zelenskyy then could have possibly imagined the real-life plot twist that would follow. In an incredible act of life imitating art, in April 2019, Volodymyr Zelenskyy once again stood on stage in front of a cheering crowd, but this time as the actual president of Ukraine.

He won in a landslide election against incumbent president Petro Poroshenko on a platform of systemic change and progress using an almost exclusively virtual campaign. Speaking from his headquarters on election night, he affirmed the exuberance and hope of his supporters: “I can say as a citizen of Ukraine to all countries of the post-Soviet Union: Look at us — everything is possible.”

This same message shaped the theme of President Zelenskyy’s remarks at his historic address from the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) at Stanford University on September 2. The first Ukrainian president to ever visit California, President Zelenskyy, First Lady Olena Zelenska and their delegation joined a group of FSI faculty members led by FSI Director Michael McFaul at an outdoor event held in the Encina Courtyard.

In his remarks, Zelenskyy drew inspiration from Steve Jobs’ famous "How to Live Before You Die" commencement address given at Stanford in 2005.

"This is one of the most famous speeches ever given at Stanford,” he said. “It's about believing in dreams and overcoming the impossible. This is the same as my story. I am just a common guy from a common family from a common industrial town in Eastern Ukraine. Yet here I am today at Stanford, because everything is possible."

He continued, “It is the same for Ukraine. Many people look at us and think that it will be impossible to achieve the goals we hope for. But we know that our critics are wrong. The people of our country love democracy and freedom and will not let threats take those things away. We know that anything is possible."

Looking to the future, Zelenskyy outlined the steps his administration is undertaking to bring increased digitization to Ukraine. These efforts include launching fully electronic passports, moving business and legal services online and expanding the scope of e-goverance. The hope is that this meld of new technology will help curb corruption while simultaneously creating more equitable opportunities and better access to public services for more Ukranians.

Speaking on the ambitious scope of these plans, the president acknowledged, “There will be resistance to the changes and innovations that we are going to make.” Nonetheless, he remains committed to the work ahead of strengthening democratic institutions in Ukraine and building on the progress that has already been made.  “We do not have a ‘Ukrainian Dream,’ yet,” he said. “But we have a ‘Ukrainian Goal’ and a ‘Ukrainian Mission’ to make the future we want for our country.” An edited recording of his remarks is below.

Keeping with Stanford tradition, Zelenskyy took questions from the audience after his prepared remarks. A variety of students and Stanford community members from Russia, Burma, Belarus and beyond had the opportunity to engage the president on a range of issues including U.S.-Ukraine relations, armament sales abroad and concerns over Russian aggression in Crimea and influence Eastern Ukraine. Of particular meaning was Zelensky’s affirmation and support for the democratic movement in Belarus led by Svaitlana Tsikhanouskaya, whom FSI hosted earlier this summer at a faculty roundtable.

Students and faculty alike were appreciative of the president’s candor and good nature in addressing difficult topics.

Following the formal remarks, President Zelenskyy and First Lady Zelenska had an opportunity to meet with Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne in the Memorial Church Courtyard. Prior to leaving, the First Lady also sat down with leaders and students from Stanford's Office of Accessible Education (OAE), an area of interest she would like to support and better develop in Ukraine.

For FSI, the president’s visit was another affirmation of the special connection between Ukraine and the Stanford community. Since 2016, the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law has hosted the Ukrainian Emerging Leaders Program, which provides a 10-month academic training fellowship in support of mid-career practitioners working actively as policy-makers, legal professionals, entrepreneurs and leaders of civil society organizations in Ukraine.

Speaking to this shared history in his opening introductions, FSI Director Michael McFaul emphasized the crucial need for ongoing support and intellectual investment into Ukraine. “The fight for democracy and independence in Ukraine is one of the most important causes in the world today,” he affirmed. “Not just for Ukrainians, but for all who cherish the ideals of democracy, liberty and sovereignty.”

To President Zelenskyy, McFaul extended a future invitation: “You are always welcome back, either as president or in retirement as a professor.”

“With the classes you offer, I will think about it,” Zelenskyy replied with a smile.

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Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya discusses the future of democracy in Belarus with a roundtable of Stanford scholars.
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Belarusian Leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya Meets with Stanford Scholars for Roundtable on Democracy in Belarus

Democratic leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and her delegation joined an interdisciplinary panel of Stanford scholars and members of the Belarusian community to discuss the future of democracy in Belarus.
Belarusian Leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya Meets with Stanford Scholars for Roundtable on Democracy in Belarus
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President Zelenskyy outlined the steps his administration is undertaking to bring increased digitization to Ukraine, curb corruption and create more equitable access to public services for more Ukrainians.

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Nord Stream 2 is an almost-finished natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany. The Biden administration opposes it and has come under congressional pressure to invoke sanctions to prevent its completion, in large part because the pipeline seems a geopolitical project targeted at Ukraine. The German government, however, regards the pipeline as a “commercial project” and appears committed to its completion, perhaps in the next few months. U.S. sanctions applied on Russian entities to date have failed to stop Nord Stream 2, raising the question of whether the U.S. government would sanction German and other European companies for servicing or certifying the pipeline. Such sanctions would provoke controversy with Germany at a time when both Berlin and the Biden administration seek to rebuild good relations. The two sides have work to do if they wish to avoid Nord Stream 2 becoming a major point of U.S.-German contention.

Read the rest at Brookings

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Nord Stream 2 is an almost-finished natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany. The Biden administration opposes it and has come under congressional pressure to invoke sanctions to prevent its completion, in large part because the pipeline seems a geopolitical project targeted at Ukraine.

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Nina Iskandarsjach
Rose Gottemoeller
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Hoover Institution fellow and former NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller made no bones about the challenges of being a woman in foreign policy and national security.

“You have to have a tough hide,” she said at a Monday event commemorating the role of women in national security for International Womens’ Day. “There’s no way around it, because it is often not forgiving and the games that can be played both by foreign counterparts and by your own country can be really extreme.”

Read the rest at The Stanford Daily

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Former NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller made no bones about the challenges of being a woman in foreign policy and national security. “You have to have a tough hide,” she said. “There’s no way around it.”

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There are strong indications that the Biden administration intends to continue strengthening U.S.-Taiwan ties. The Biden team invited Taiwan's representative Bi-khim Hsiao to the presidential inauguration, supporters of Taiwan now hold senior roles in the administration, and officials have pledged "rock-solid" U.S. commitment to Taiwan, warning that PRC military pressure against Taiwan threatens regional peace and stability. But Cross-strait deterrence is arguably weaker today than at any point since the Korean War, according to Chinese military and security expert Oriana Skylar Mastro, FSI Center Fellow at APARC.

On February 18, 2021, Mastro testified to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission at a hearing on Deterring PRC Aggression Toward Taiwan. Her testimony on the political and strategic dynamics underpinning deterrence across the Taiwan Strait is available to watch below.

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Beijing has turned to increasingly hostile and combative rhetoric and actions since the democratic election of Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen. PLA air and water operations around Taiwan, particularly in the Taiwan Strait, have increased significantly in the past year, and concern is growing that the Chinese Communist Party is imminently planning to use force to compel Taiwan to accept unification with mainland China.

Drawing on her expertise in both policy and military security, Mastro explains why deterrence in Taiwan must be based on military capabilities rather than signaling through policy.

Catalysts to Conflict

Foremost, Mastro argues that the basic circumstances of aggression towards Taiwan have changed. In years past, it was accepted that China would launch military operations against Taiwan in response to actions or policy positions taken there or in the United States. However, Mastro believes that China is now primed to force a campaign of reunification regardless of either Taiwan’s or the U.S.’s policies moving forward.

By Mastro’s assessment, China is now in a position where it could prevail in cross-strait military contingencies even if the U.S. intervenes in Taiwan’s defense. The reform overhaul and modernization of China’s military have vastly improved the quality it equipment and confidence in its capability. China now possesses offensive weaponry, including ballistic and cruise missiles, which if deployed, could destroy U.S. bases in the Western Pacific. Sophisticated cyber attacks on domestic infrastructure both in Taiwan and the United States are also a credible threat and viable form of retaliation.

As long as President Xi is confident that the PLA can successfully back a forced unification in Taiwan, Mastro argues that action of some kind against Taiwan is not a matter of if, but of when, and what severity.

Types of Escalation

Failure to reunify Taiwan is too high a political and military cost for the PRC to risk, but there is also growing agitation amongst the mainland Chinese population for a resolution on the half-baked status of the island and its governance. Mastro believes that this pressure will ensure that action will be taken on Taiwan in the next 3 to 5 years.

Since Taiwan cannot withstand a sustained, active assault from China on its own, the deciding factor in when and how China moves against Taiwan is largely dependent on the signals the U.S. sends. And since China is increasingly confident in its own military, the signals the U.S. sends must likewise be ground in military capability, not policy, says Mastro.  

As long as the U.S. does not make significant changes to improve its force posture in the region, China can afford to wait. Until Beijing is ready to take Taiwan by force, its leadership will carefully calibrate responses to U.S. or Taiwan actions so as not to escalate to war.
Oriana Skylar Mastro
FSI Center Fellow

If China believes there will be little or no intervention or support from the U.S., it is likely to follow a graduated plan of attack, using economic blockages and targeted military action to bring about capitulation. If, however, it appears the U.S. will intervene, China is much more likely to move quickly and escalate violence and force rapidly to maximize damage before a full U.S. defense response can be coordinated.

Policy Recommendations

To effectively counter China on Taiwan, Mastro recommends crafting policy that creates doubt over China’s ability to successfully absorb Taiwan through military means. To do this, the United States needs to focus forces and develop operational plans that credibly off-set China’s goals while not triggering a panicked response from Beijing that could escalate into rapid conflict.

Mastro also urges the allocation of more resources toward intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), base development, and firepower in the Asia-Pacific region. Investing in these signals U.S. commitment to determent and the capacity to follow through if need be.

Finally, Mastro urges additional research into U.S. war termination behavior. Any involvement in Taiwan must be as limited and without the possibility for escalating levels of violence and long term unsustainable, unwinnable commitments. In preparing to potentially fight a war, she reminds policymakers that they need to know how to end one as well.

A recording of the full hearing is available courtesy of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

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China’s South China Sea Strategy Prioritizes Deterrence Against the US, Says Stanford Expert

Analysis by FSI Center Fellow Oriana Skylar Mastro reveals that the Chinese military has taken a more active role in China’s South China Sea strategy, but not necessarily a more aggressive one.
China’s South China Sea Strategy Prioritizes Deterrence Against the US, Says Stanford Expert
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China may now be able to prevail in cross-strait contingencies even if the United States intervenes in Taiwan’s defense, Chinese security expert Oriana Skylar Mastro tells the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Changes must be made to U.S. military capabilities, not U.S. policy, she argues.

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Steven Pifer
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Last November, the Trump administration unwisely withdrew the United States from the Open Skies Treaty. Earlier this year, the Russian government said it will take steps to follow suit. Moscow’s withdrawal in addition to Washington’s would almost certainly doom the agreement, which was designed to promote transparency and security by reducing the possibility that military activities might be misunderstood.

President Biden, however, condemned the Trump decision, and his administration may well want to rejoin the agreement. With political will, there is a chance to save it.

The Open Skies Treaty entered into force in 2002 and, following the U.S. withdrawal, has 33 state-parties, all but one (Canada) in Europe. The treaty allows parties to the treaty to make unarmed reconnaissance flights over others. Those flights collect imagery on military activities and forces, which is then shared with all parties to the treaty. Collectively, the parties conducted some 1,500 overflights between 2002 and 2019.

In May 2020, the Trump administration announced its intention to leave the treaty, citing Russian violations. While Moscow has imposed restrictions inconsistent with the treaty on flights over Russia, Washington retaliated by restricting Russian flights over the United States.

Ignoring the views of most NATO allies, who favor the treaty’s continued operation, the Trump administration formally withdrew in November. On January 15, the Russian foreign ministry issued a statement saying that Russia would begin its withdrawal process. Moscow is concerned that U.S. allies will share data they collect from flights over Russia with the United States, even though it is no longer party to the treaty.

The Russian decision is unfortunate. It starts a clock ticking that may run out before the Biden administration can decide its position on the Open Skies Treaty. Candidate Biden is on record supporting it. He criticized the Trump withdrawal decision, noting: “The United States and our allies would benefit from being able to observe — on short notice — what Russia and other countries in Europe were doing with their military forces.” Biden very likely would give greater deference to the views of U.S. allies on this question than did Trump.

The Biden administration, however, is confronted by two challenges on this. First, the new president faces an overflowing inbox and also has to get his team in place. The treaty does not top the priority list. It may take some time before the administration can reach a formal decision on whether to rejoin.

The second challenge is how to rejoin. The obvious path would entail re-signing and then ratifying the treaty. That will not work. Consent to ratification requires 67 votes in the Senate. The Democrats hold 50 seats, but, with a Republican administration just having withdrawn from the treaty, one cannot expect 17 Republican senators now to consent to rejoining. That means some other mechanism would be needed to bring the United States back in.

Clever lawyers should be able to find a way. That also, however, could require time.

Here are four steps that state-parties and Washington can take to open a path to preserving the Open Skies Treaty — with the United States and Russia remaining in the agreement:

  • First, the Biden administration states that it will conduct a review on rejoining the treaty and announce its decision soon.
  • Second, the United States and its NATO allies issue a joint statement saying that, as long as the United States is outside the treaty, the United States will not seek and its allies will not share data collected by NATO member overflights, and that the allies will not veto Russian Open Skies flights over U.S. military installations or activities on their territories.
  • Third, the Russian government states that it will pause its process on withdrawal.
  • Fourth, legal experts from the United States, Russia, and other interested state-parties meet to consider mechanisms by which the United States would rejoin the treaty. Any such mechanism would require that the United States fully carry out its obligations and responsibilities under the treaty, like any other state-party, as well as enjoy its benefits.

At a time when tensions between NATO and Russia are at the highest level since the end of the Cold War, the Open Skies Treaty offers a useful confidence- and security-building measure. It is worth preserving. With political will and some smart lawyers, it could be.

 

Originally for Brookings
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Last November, the Trump administration unwisely withdrew the United States from the Open Skies Treaty. Earlier this year, the Russian government said it will take steps to follow suit.

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