Reducing the Risk of Russian-American Standoff

Editor’s Note: Dr. Martin Hellman, Adjunct Fellow for Nuclear Risk, professor at Stanford, and an expert on crisis risk reduction, asks that FAS members and others who read this post to consider contacting their elected representatives about the crisis in Ukraine. Dr. Hellman sent the following letter to President Obama and his Congressional representatives. 

I am writing to encourage you to resist the push for sanctioning Russia over its actions in the Ukraine. While the situation in the Ukraine is deplorable and Russia has made its share of mistakes, it is not solely to blame.

Henry Kissinger recognized this: “We should seek reconciliation, not the domination of a faction. Russia and the West, and least of all the various factions in Ukraine, have not acted on this principle.”

So did Pres. Nixon’s Soviet Adviser, Dmitri Simes. When asked, “how do you assess the Obama administration’s performance so far?” he replied, “I think it has contributed to the crisis.”

So did Ronald Reagan’s former ambassador to Moscow, Jack Matlock: ” I believe it has been a very big strategic mistake – by Russia, by the EU and most of all by the U.S. – to convert Ukrainian political and economic reform into an East-West struggle.”

It is also ancient wisdom: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” If we are going to sanction Russian officials for their actions in Ukraine, what about Pres. Bush, VP Cheney, and others for their actions in Iraq?

Instead of sanctioning perceived evil doers, it would be much more effective to clean up our own act first. That also has the advantage that it would not push Russia to retaliate in some way, for example by selling anti-aircraft missiles to Iran or stopping us from using their territory for our withdrawal from Afghanistan. Most importantly, it would reduce the risk of a Russian-American standoff which could lead to nuclear threats, or even nuclear use.

5 thoughts on “Reducing the Risk of Russian-American Standoff

  1. This is a briliant letter, very much to the point.

    I am in the process of putting together a somewhat similar missive to both Putin and Obama, calling for restraint and an end to finger-pointing.

    John Hallam

  2. With the likes of those offering opinions in Hellman’s letter, the exact opposite action by We The People is most likely, more prudent. There is not a single cast of these cold war advisors that is of value in today’s reality, let alone when they were advising on policy. This is a potentially good article gone very bad by referencing these buffoons.

    1. It is disappointing that Randy’s criticism of Hellman’s letter includes no constructive or contrary advice. It is no more than critical and does not even provide justification for such criticism.

  3. That’s all well and good, but if you take a hard look at it, there are two ways to acheive anything in international politics. One way is to offer to give a faction something they want, the other is to threaten to take something that they have. “Leadership by example” might work among entities that are closely aligned in ideology, but I don’t believe, for one instant, that Russia’s actions in the Ukraine have been, or will be, influenced by anything other than their analysis of the cost/benefit ratio associated with the annexation of Crimea. Clearly, the Russians (correctly) determined that the west’s resolve on this matter was quite lacking or even non-existent.

    Failure to take action is very much tantamount to a modern iteration of Neville Chamberlain and the Munich Agreement. If Russia sees no cost and much benefit to their annexation of Crimea, why would they not purusue similar actions in the future?

  4. The Monroe Doctrine defined our sphere of influence because our forefathers recognized that wise foreign policy started with an understanding of our national interest. That meant not having menacing powers at our borders. We should also remember that we have often used superior power to enlarge our borders.Putin sees the slavic nations as within his sphere of interest. This is especially true of Russian speakers who share a close and ancient language and religious tradition with Russia. The Europe Union is crumbling with autonomous regions demanding their language and culture be protected by an “Esperanto” Brussels bureacracy. The best way for this country to spread our precious freedom is to practice it at home and to be “a beacon on the hill” and not to revive the Cold War.

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