A Roadmap for U.S.-Russia Relations
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The CSIS and the Russian International Affairs Council are pleased to present the findings from their forthcoming report, "A Roadmap for U.S.-Russia Relations." The analyses that follow examine prospects for Russia-U.S. cooperation in several crucial regions and fields: economics, energy, the Arctic, Euro-Atlantic security, the Middle East, strategic stability, cybersecurity, and countering terrorism and extremism. They offer concrete, actionable recommendations in each area.
Executive Summary of the CSIS and RIAC Report
Olga Oliker, Andrey Kortunov.
Heather Conley, William Courtney, Kim Cragin, Lynn Davis, James Dobbins, Andrey Korneyev, Sarah Ladislaw, James Lewis, Sergey Rogov, Pavel Sharikov, Sharon Squassoni, Ekaterina Stepanova, Viktor Supyan, Mikhail Troitskiy, Andrei Zagorski, Irina Zvyagelskaya.
Big is big, but small is also big. That is the common thread running through the papers that this august group of experts have put together on the future of U.S.-Russia relations. In an atmosphere of geopolitical tension and mutual distrust, not only must the United States and Russia work together in the many areas where their coordination is directly critical to global security, but a broader agenda of cooperation on specific, attainable measures across different issues areas is also important for another reason: to help stabilize the relationship and buffer against conflict in the future.
The analyses that follow examine prospects for Russia-U.S. cooperation in several crucial regions and fields: economics, energy, the Arctic, Euro-Atlantic security, the Middle East, strategic stability, cybersecurity, and countering terrorism and extremism. They offer concrete, actionable recommendations in each area.
U.S.-Russia economic cooperation has a long history, although it remains moderate relative to each country’s trade with, for example, China and the European Union. Since 2014, economic cooperation has dropped dramatically due to sanctions, risks and uncertainty associated with geopolitical tensions, and the shrinking of Russia’s economy. While economic considerations have not prevented Russia from pursuing its geopolitical agenda, Russia continues to see economic success as vital to its overall strength, and opportunities for trade and investment between Russia and the United States can further that goal. Russia, particularly, has a great deal to gain from a revitalized relationship: it has a much smaller economy than the United States, and it depends on access to U.S. financing and specialized technology, such as for Arctic oil drilling. This said, for the United States, improved economic relations with Russia also serve geostrategic ends. Since both countries want to strengthen the foundation for a productive political relationship, economic ties can be used to broaden the stakeholders in each country advocating better overall relations. This is not to say that economic cooperation can reverse or reshape the course of the relationship: at best, trade between the two can rise to moderate levels. However, a deeper and broader economic relationship can act as a stabilizing force.
The authors present near-term and long-term recommendations for improving economic relations.
In the near term (assuming sanctions continue):
- The United States and Russia should encourage private business dialogue and regularconsultation between the Russian government and the American Chamber ofCommerce (AmCham), the U.S.-Russia Business Council, and U.S. businesses in Russia;
- Russia should take full advantage of World Trade Organization (WTO) membership to improve trade relations with the United States and ratify the bilateral investment treaty (BIT) signed in 1992;
- The U.S. Department of Commerce should consult regularly with Russia on trade policy issues.
In the long term (assuming sanctions are lifted):
- The United States and Russia should create a Strategic Economic Commission to address broad policy matters and advance economic and commercial opportunity, lead trade and investments missions to one another’s countries, and develop economic ties between Russian and U.S. cities;
- The United States and the European Union should support resumption of Russian membership accession negotiations with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and should keep Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union abreast of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) developments and urge that Russia be given observer status.
Both Russia and the United States face a common need to provide affordable, secure, and environmentally sound energy to their people, and the two nations have a history of cooperating on energy issues. But events of the past five years have presented a series of challenges to U.S.-Russia energy cooperation. The development of the natural gas industry in the United States has created a perception in both capitals that the two countries are energy competitors. Moreover, President Donald Trump has stepped back from former president Barack Obama’s focus on climate change, effectively removing one area where the United States and Russia have cooperated extensively in the past. Not least, U.S. sanctions have specifically targeted Russia’s oil and gas sectors, critical to the Russian economy; as a result, energy cooperation was one of the first victims of an overall decline in relations. Ongoing geopolitical tensions are likely to prohibit strategic, high-level engagement on energy, but cooperation remains possible—and crucial to both countries and the world—on the scientific and methodological level. The authors therefore recommend:
- The two parties should refocus this relationship on more technical issues, in order to help depoliticize the energy sphere and bring added value to energy efficiency, fuel diversity, and sustainability.
Cooperation in the Arctic has been somewhat insulated from the overall decline in the relationship. Both countries’ Arctic agendas are mostly uncontroversial despite a difference in emphasis: Russia remains focused on economic development, while the United States has emphasized climate change and environmental protection (although the Trump administration’s Arctic policy remains unclear). Despite some legal ambiguities over the precise territorial demarcations of continental ice shelves, the United States and Russia have no substantive boundary disputes in the Arctic. Recent cooperation on an international fisheries agreement, maritime safety, and the creation of an Arctic Coast Guard Forum suggest the Arctic is an area for constructive engagement. Nevertheless, challenges do exist. Western sanctions imposed against Russia over Ukraine have slowed bilateral cooperation on less controversial issues in the Arctic. Moreover, Russia’s increased military presence in the region threatens to provoke responsive postures from NATO, a dynamic that could spiral into a militarization of the region. The danger of this increases against a background of overall distrust. The Arctic remains a relatively low priority on the U.S. national agenda, in contrast to Russia, which has a strong Arctic identity, which suggests that Arctic cooperation is unlikely to repair a badly damaged bilateral relationship. However, the Arctic has been—and can continue to be—an area of constructive engagement despite an overall adversarial relationship. Cooperative experiences in the Arctic can be a building block for better relations.
Perhaps most importantly, U.S.-Russia cooperation is critical for the Arctic. It is paramount that peace and stability be maintained in the region.
In the near term:
- All Arctic states should exercise restraint in developing their Arctic defense postures;
- The United States and Russia should consider appropriate measures to ensure compliance by all states with the Polar Code.
In the mid-term, the authors recommend:
- Enhanced communication between Arctic states (both to improve collective domain awareness and to streamline search and rescue and disaster response operations);
- New voluntary vessel traffic rules in the Bering Strait;
- Finalization of a new fisheries agreement covering the northern part of the Bering Sea;
- Formation of a multilateral body to regulate illegal fishing; and
- Support to scientific cooperation beyond national fisheries jurisdictions of coastal states.
Though Crimea and Ukraine are at the crux of U.S.-Russia animosity over the past three years, the underlying disagreements are not new: The United States and Russia have long held conflicting visions of a post–Cold War Euro-Atlantic security order. Broadly, two tensions define the relationship in the Euro-Atlantic arena. First, at the core of the Ukraine crisis lies a contradiction in Moscow and Washington’s understanding of Russia’s legitimate sphere of influence. While Moscow feels it is entitled to play a role in its immediate neighbors’ politics, Washington insists Russia should not have any more say in regional affairs than any other post-Soviet countries. Second, Russia has long been opposed to what it sees as unending NATO expansion, and it views the February 2014 events in Ukraine as a first step in Ukraine’s eventual drift into NATO. By contrast, the United States sees collective security on par with economic integration—as a force for stability in Europe. From the U.S. perspective, Russia’s actions in Crimea threaten the very idea of a peaceful and integrated Europe, since it marks the first militarized acquisition of another state’s territory in Europe since World War II. Economic sanctions aim both to punish Russia for its aggressive actions and to deter it from future coercion. However, while fundamental differences over the shape of the European security order will not be easily resolved, the economic cost of conflict to both sides may incentivize some forms of cooperation.
The political deadlock in eastern Ukraine, as well as increased NATO and Russian military activities in the Baltics and the Black Sea region, threaten a peaceful resolution to the Ukraine conflict. Recommendations to avoid renewed conflict are fivefold:
- First, steps should be taken to improve communication and prevent any accidents (for example, a mid-air collision between a NATO and a Russian aircraft) that could escalate conflict;
- Second, to preserve hope for a political settlement, all sides should commit to negotiations in all possible formats, including the Normandy format, bilateral U.S.-Russia talks, and direct engagement between Ukraine and Russia;
- Third, the United States and Russia should publicly communicate that the Ukraine conflict is not the sole determinant of the U.S.-Russia relationship;
- Fourth, the United States and Russia should signal their explicit intention to improve relations;
- Fifth, the United States and Russia should clarify their approaches to relations with post-Soviet countries—even if these remain at odds, clear statements of goals and interests will be useful to all.
The Middle East
The United States and Russia have both overlapping and conflicting interests in the Middle East. Russia, for its part, is primarily concerned with security in the region and does not want destabilization in the Middle East to reach its own borders (for instance, in the form of extremist terrorists). Though Russia sees itself as a serious player in the Middle East, it has neither the resources nor the intent to reestablish the status that the Soviet Union once held in the region. U.S. interest in the Middle East is multifaceted. History and ideology drive the United States’ commitment to Israel’s security, which in turn helps shape U.S. policy toward Iran. Energy and commerce drive U.S. foreign policy toward the Gulf states. Moreover, the United States has a longstanding commitment to combatting terrorism in the Middle East. Despite the Obama administration’s desire to end the United States’ involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has forced the United States to maintain a troop presence and strategic focus on the region. Both the United States and Russia see ISIS and jihadist extremism as threats to political stability in the region. Combatting terrorism in the Middle East remains an opportunity for deep cooperation between the United States and Russia. However, the war in Syria has brought to light major policy differences: Russian intervention is driven by its strong opposition to perceived U.S.-backed regime change, which it views in the same light as the “color revolutions” in the post-Soviet space and which it sees as a source of further chaos in the Middle East. Russia believes that only elections in Syria should decide the future of the Bashar al-Assad government. The United States, for its part, believes that Russia has propped up the Assad regime by bombing moderate opposition forces and that Syria will not be unified in peace until Assad steps down from power. The political future of Syria offers both challenges and opportunities for further cooperation. Both Russia and the United States support a negotiated settlement to the Syrian civil war.
- A focus on identifying areas where interests overlap and cooperation is crucial, including jointly developing plans for the physical reconstruction of Syria and coordinating policies toward the Kurdish parties;
- Preventing cycles of revenge in post–civil war Syria;
- Working now to define the possible international guarantees that could be offered in Syria;
- Updating previous proposals or beginning a new joint initiative to make progress on the Arab-Israeli conflict;
- Pursuing collaboration on Libya, Afghanistan, and regional security structures.
Although by far the countries with the biggest nuclear arsenals, the United States and Russia have long not been the only actors on the global stage with strategic weapons. Meanwhile, the rise of high-efficacy conventional and cyber weapons (whose strategic potential in some ways parallels that of nuclear weapons) means that any conversation on strategic stability is broader than just the nuclear realm. Both of these factors create an imperative for the United States and Russia to rethink strategic stability. This presents challenges. First, the United States and Russia have different notions of strategic stability: for the United States, “strategic stability” refers to nuclear “arms race stability,” while for Russia, strategic stability has focused more on parity in overall military capabilities. Second and relatedly, the line between strategic and conventional weapons is a thin one, and the weapons that Russia sees as “strategic” the United States may interpret as tactical or conventional. These include missile defensive systems, high-precision conventional weapons, cyber capabilities, and space weapons. Transitioning to a new paradigm in strategic stability will require a mix of old and new approaches. These include:
- Treaty obligations to limit and/or reduce armaments;
- Unilateral, parallel steps to signal the absence of threat (taken in the absence of legally binding treaties); and
- Confidence-building and transparency measures (such as providing baseline data on nuclear arsenals without revealing their locations).
U.S. government findings that Russia sought to influence the U.S. elections in part through the use of material obtained by cyber espionage have cast a substantial shadow over other aspects of the cybersecurity relationship between the two countries. In fact, the United States and Russia have been engaged in a dialogue on cybersecurity since 1998. The two countries disagree on norms of cyber warfare. Russian experts categorize cyber weapons on par with weapons of mass destruction and believe their use should be stigmatized. The United States believes that the use of cyber warfare is legitimate if guided by existing laws governing the norms of armed conflict. Cybersecurity has thus entered—and complicated—an older conversation between the United States and Russia on strategic stability (until recently a reliable channel for dialogue). A second point of tension exists at the intersection of terrorism and freedom of expression: Russia subordinates the latter to combat the former. The United States, meanwhile, remains concerned with censorship of political expression. This tension points to a larger debate about sovereignty and universal rights and a debate over what body should regulate the Internet. Confidence-building measures (CBMs) within the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have been partially successful at advancing cooperation, but they are complicated by each country’s ties to third parties (the United States to NATO, and Russia to China). Generally, the current level of cooperation on cybersecurity is reflective of the overall relationship. But here, as elsewhere, finding a way forward will be critical. Our authors urge that the two countries:
- Continue diplomatic and Track II discussions of cybersecurity to improve mutual understanding and attain greater clarity of concepts and approaches;
- Work together to combat cyber crime and the use of the Internet by terrorists; this could build momentum for the next step;
- Work toward the harder conversation on the strategic application of cyber weapons and norms for responsible state behavior.
Counterterrorism and countering violent extremism (CVE) cooperation between the United States and Russia have persisted through low points in the relationship. This, and the importance both states attach to these questions in their national security visions, suggests that this field is an avenue for further cooperation. However, the United States and Russia have different—and at times conflicting—approaches to counterterrorism and CVE. The United States has moved away from the “global war on terrorism” paradigm and refocused its CVE strategy on combatting homegrown extremism at the community level. Combined with this CVE strategy, the United States continues to conduct the majority of its counterterrorism activities abroad, using drones and special operations forces to carry out prophylactic strikes against designated terrorists. By contrast, Russia’s counterterrorism policy has largely centered around the domestic threat of terrorism from an Islamist insurgency in the northern Caucasus. Moreover, Russia does not emphasize CVE to the extent that the United States does. Starting in 2014, institutionalized platforms for U.S.-Russia cooperation on counterterrorism/extremism have been suspended and in some cases canceled. Despite these challenges, the United States and Russia’s approach to counterterrorism has begun to overlap in important ways. With the rise of ISIS, Russia has shifted its lens toward transnational terrorism. There continues to be major disagreement over who constitutes a “terrorist” group, but Russia’s shift in attitude toward fighting terrorism opens avenues for cooperation with the United States in the Middle East and Central Asia.
Practical recommendations for increasing cooperation include:
- Establishing a U.S.-Russia bilateral working group focused on reducing both homegrown radicalization and the recruitment and flows of foreign fighters;
- Exchanging information on illicit financial flows that fuel terrorism, particularly as they relate to the illicit drug trade from Afghanistan; and
- Facilitating bilateral Track II events related to CVE, such as community-level (district/city) exchanges on programs to counter radicalization among youths.
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