US-Russia Relations: The Struggle For Security

US Russia flagsBy: Maria Paula Chaparro Olaya

The articles Russias Use of Military Force as a Foreign Policy Tool: Is There a Logic? “, The Need To Massage Egos: Status Politics as a Crucial Element of US-Russia Relations, Americas Russia Policy Has Failedand Russia and America: Destined for Conflict?, attempt to explain the logic behind Russia´s behavior and its implications for the relations with the United States. According to Samuel Charap, Russia deployed is military in order to achieve a political goal. For Mikhail Troitskiy, that political goal is the pursuit of a status upgrade that the United States is not willing to grant, producing, as a result, a status dilemma in which both actors fear for an attack of the counterpart. As evidence of this struggle, it is possible to mention the rivalry between those two actors concerning who is going to shape Europe´s security environment, as presented by Thomas Graham and Matthew Rojansky in their article. Finally, as a solution for this status dilemma, Dimitri K. Simes affirms that it would be possible to achieve the reducing geopolitical tension in US-Russia relations, at the moment they realize the interdependence of their economies and the necessity of cooperation between both in order to achieve economic growth. Nevertheless, I disagree with the hypothesis of Mikhail Troitskiy; what explains the tension in US-Russia relations is the struggle of security, as the pursuit of status is not an end in itself, but a means to increase the state´s security.

Firstly, I strongly support Charap´s statement concerning the political goal that Russia pursuits with its military interventions. According to this author, Russia´s use of force is happening with unprecedented frequency since the invasion of Crimea in Feb 2014, but has always remained a limited force, because it is employed either to achieve a minimum necessary level of deterrence, a change of behavior, or compellence from the adversary, all related to political and not military objectives. Additionally, Charap characterizes the use of such force as a last resort, employed only after other non-kinetic means have been tried and are seen to have failed. Finally, Charap argues, Moscows objective has been to prevent or reverse geopolitical loss, not to make new gains.

However, I do not agree that the tension between the United States and Russia is best to explained by the status dilemma, as Troitskiy affirms. This author defends the idea that what causes tense relations between these major countries is the unwillingness of both to confer authority or honor on each other, in which the former derives from symbolic recognition of a given states place in a certain hierarchy, while the latter is the commonly accepted right of that state to use its power. Based on that, in order to break out of their status dilemma, the United States and Russia would be advised to look for ways of such accommodating each other short of compromising their security. Instead, I consider the classical security dilemma to be the theory that best explain the tension in US-Russia relations, due to the fact that the ultimate goal for states is not the achievement of an international status, but a high level of security that can guarantee the state´s survival. According to John H. Herz, what both states are looking for is to increase their security, and the actions they perform to increase that security is likely to cause a sensation of insecurity to the other part, which as a consequence decides to adopt measures to increase its security as well, setting in motion a never ending cycle whereby neither state necessarily become safer.  

To prove my thesis, it is possible to mention a portion of the article written by Graham and Rojansky, in which they talk about the battle between U.S and Russia regarding which of the two is going to lead and shape the security framework of Europe. The authors propose seven things the next U.S President should do to put Washington back in the driver´s seatrecommending honest talk about Europe, where Moscow retains sufficient power to shape the security environment in the region and because of that, the next administration should focus on maintaining NATO as the guarder of European security. One can argue that this struggle constitutes a status dilemma because both actors are seeking the first position in the hierarchy of states. Yet, even though this might be the case, primacy is not their final goal. What both states are truly searching for is to be the ones that shape the security framework in Europe, so that the countries of this region will not pose a risk to their own security and survival. This is why the article proposed as well that U.S should push for more arms control, because Russia is still the only country that can destroy the United States. Therefore, an increase of Russia´s military capability, even though constitutes primarily an increase of its security, it represents also a reduction of the U.S security.

In addition to the above, it is important to highlight that it is not possible to put and end to this security dilemma because it is based on the uncertainty that characterizes the anarchical international system, a situation where such uncertainty can be diminished by cooperation but it can never disappear. This is in sharp contrast with Troitsky´s claim that it is possible to break out of the “insecurity trap”, and that the United States and Russia would be advised to look for ways of such accommodation short of compromising their security in order to do so. However, honor symbols between great powers are not an insurance of behavior, meaning that even when they receive these signs reciprocally, the actors will never be certain about the real intentions of the other.

Linked with this discussion is the final article I am going to bring to this discussion, namely that of Simes, who affirms that it is possible to avoid a sense of inevitable confrontation between U.S and Russia, among other things, Moscows truculence is primarily a function of what America does rather than who it is. This statement confirms my thesis in which the rivalry is not based on a status, an honor or authority that characterize or possess a State, but instead, is based on actions, such as the ones performed by states in order to increase their security, diminishing the perception of security of the counterpart. One example of this is the desire of the West to expand NATO and growth of interventionism, constitutes actions that further accentuated Russias alienation from the West, not because it is loosing a status, but because it feels its security is being threatened.

In conclusion, the authors whose articles are reviewed in this essay seek to understand Russia´s behavior and its impact on the relations it has with the United States. Mikhail Troitskiy interprets the tension in US-Russia relations as the manifestation of a status dilemma. However, as I have shown, the actual source of the tension is the insecurity felt by each side in relation to the other.

Works Cited:

America’s Russia Policy Has Failed

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