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Diplomatic Give-and-Take Is Not a Sign of Weakness

Recently Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Paul Selva accused Russia of violating a nuclear agreement. Russia had made operational a new intermediate-range nuclear-capable cruise missile, he said, and this was prohibited by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).

The news spawned anger and outrage on Capitol Hill, and many demanded a firm and robust response. Last Friday, Defense Secretary James Mattis signaled that the administration would decide on a course of action “very soon.” [1]

Russian officials, of course, see things differently. Following General Selva’s comments, a spokesman for Vladimir Putin said the Kremlin “disagree[s] with and reject[s] any such accusations” and claimed that “Russia has adhered to and will adhere to all its international obligations, including those under the INF Treaty.”

But whatever the truth is about the missile, the Russians have indeed taken a number of provocative actions in recent months. A few of the more troubling:

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What should the United States do in response to these provocations, not to mention the alleged violation of the INF Treaty?

Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced legislation [6] calling for the U.S. to, among a host of actions, establish “a program of record for a dual-capable road-mobile ground-launched cruise missile system with a maximum range of 5,500 kilometers.” In other words, build a new treaty-violating missile of our own. The bill also says the U.S. should aggressively seek “additional missile defense assets in the European theater to protect United States and NATO forces.”

Both sides claim they are only responding to the provocative actions of the other, and they are taking progressively stronger steps with each move. There are many defense hawks in both the White House and the Kremlin who believe only strength will show the other side the error of their ways. It doesn’t take much thinking, however, to realize how unrealistic such beliefs are.

The idea that Vladimir Putin is going to be cowed into submission by shows of U.S. military strength or abandon defending what he believes are Russian security interests is naïve. Likewise, if anyone in Moscow thinks President Trump is going to back down because of militarily provocative “messages,” they are dangerously ill-informed about our new commander-in-chief.

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Unfortunately, the prevailing attitudes of both countries, even among diplomatic officials, are such that any “giving in” to the other side would be viewed as weakness to be exploited. Such attitudes have often helped spawn wars.

Where interests intersect, we should cooperate. Where there are genuine areas of dispute, we should hold firm on defending our national-security interests. To buttress these ideals, it is necessary to maintain a strong national defense that leaves no doubt in any potential adversary’s mind that if the American sword must come unsheathed, it will be devastating in its application.

But as the most secure, dominant nation in the world, only Washington can lower tensions with Moscow. Diplomatic give-and-take is not a sign of weakness. It is evidence of power and wisdom. Both Washington and Moscow must dial back the harsh rhetoric aimed at one another, lower military tensions, and discover a new willingness to cooperate for the common good. If such attitudes are put into effect, the people of America, Europe, and Russia will all reap the benefits of increased trade and a stable security environment.

Maintain the current course, and in the worst-case scenario, a major war could erupt. In that event, all parties would suffer egregiously and the citizens of all nations would lose.

Daniel L. Davis is a senior fellow for Defense Priorities and a former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army who retired in 2015 after 21 years, including four combat deployments.

6 Comments (Open | Close)

6 Comments To "Diplomatic Give-and-Take Is Not a Sign of Weakness"

#1 Comment By Gazza On April 3, 2017 @ 9:30 am

Provocative actions by the Russians?

In 2016, allied aircraft scrambled around 800 times in response to Russian aircraft – while flying in INTERNATIONAL AIRSPACE….

In one instance, American and Russian planes nearly collided over Syria – because the US pointedly refused to co-ordinate its activities with Russia…

Russia accidentally bombed American allies in Syria while U.S. troops were just three miles away – “allies” or Wahabbi jihadist terrorists? Anyhow, why are US troops in Syria, without permission from the legal Syrian authorities???

A Russian spy ship was spotted near a Navy submarine base – while cruising in INTERNATIONAL WATERS…

If these are the most flagrant examples of Russian “provocations” then its 100% clear that its not the Russians that are contributing to any cooling of relations…

#2 Comment By Kurt Gayle On April 3, 2017 @ 11:30 am

“’In 2016, allied aircraft scrambled around 800 times in response to Russian aircraft,’ a NATO official wrote in a statement to CNN earlier this year.”

This February 16th CNN report by Ivan Watson and Sebastian Shukla did not identify the so-called “NATO official.” To this day the source of this alleged report has not been identified, nor the content of the alleged report verified. But this has not stopped mainstream US media from repeating this report over and over again.

What criteria caused the allied aircraft to scramble? The same CNN report said “there has been a surge of NATO aircraft that have ‘scrambled’ to intercept Russian warplanes approaching NATO airspace.”

“APPROACHING NATO airspace.” [my caps] It should be remembered that since NATO expanded to include Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – in violation of a US guarantee to Russia that NATO would not expand to the borders of Russia – there is now an 800-mile NATO border with Russia. In other words Russian jets flying in a westerly direction INSIDE RUSSIA could be said to be “approaching NATO airspace” and be used as a NATO justification for NATO aircraft “scrambling.”

Also, in a Reuters post (Adrian Croft, April 8, 2014) reporting the tripling of the number of NATO planes flying inside the three Baltic countries (the three Baltic countries fly no military jets of their own), a Lithuanian spokesperson referred to “the number of Russian jets FLYING CLOSE ENOUGH TO Baltic airspace this year to prompt NATO jets being scrambled.” [my caps]

So, in addition to Russian planes “approaching NATO airspace,” Russian planes “flying close enough to Baltic airspace” can also set NATO jets scrambling.

Thus, we are left with an unverified total of 800 NATO planes allegedly scrambling to meet “Russian aircraft” in 2016 – information given by an unnamed “NATO official” – with no hard, verified information as to what the actual circumstances were that led to the alleged 800 scrambles.

#3 Comment By Paul On April 3, 2017 @ 11:54 am

I agree with Gazza that this analysis is not very enlightening. Sadly, given the extremely narrow range of ideas deemed acceptable in Washington today, the author may have felt he had no choice but to put most of the blame on Russia (or else be dismissed as a radical or a Putin troll).

To his credit, Davis makes at least some effort to take into consideration the other sides’ perspective. But not enough.

Let’s consider: the INF treaty was signed in 1987, before today’s Russia had lost to NATO E. Germany, the rest of Eastern Europe, plus the former Soviet states Estonia, Latvia and Estonia, as well as about a third of the territory of the Soviet Union. And before, from their perspective, the US helped foment a coup in Ukraine led by unfriendlies.

Of course, from the American perspective, the more damage we can do to a potential adversary the better: what’s not to like? Keep pushing our advantage! Why should we care about the losers of the Cold War!? Sadly, that is precisely the perspective which Davis is tip-toeing around in order to stay in the ‘considered a serious person in Washington, DC’ camp. It is also the perspective that is going to cause a needless, catastrophic war.

#4 Comment By Paul On April 3, 2017 @ 11:58 am

Correction: bad syntax in the above makes my statement ambiguous. Of course it is only the Baltic states of the former USSR republics that are now in NATO.

#5 Comment By EliteCommInc. On April 3, 2017 @ 2:56 pm

“Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced legislation calling for the U.S. to, among a host of actions, establish “a program of record for a dual-capable road-mobile ground-launched cruise missile system with a maximum range of 5,500 kilometers.”

It’s distressing to see members of Congress, one a former military officer have so little faith in the US military and the current advantage that the US has in nearly every area of strategic defense in response to what are examples of none threatening activities.

Including US and Russian subs patrol off each others coasts in international waters.

#6 Comment By Cornel Lencar On April 3, 2017 @ 4:20 pm

I would like to add to the other commenters here on the spurious nature of the Russian provocations:

A few of the more troubling:

“In one instance, American and Russian planes nearly collided over Syria.
Russia accidentally bombed American allies in Syria while U.S. troops were just three miles away.
A Russian spy ship was spotted near a Navy submarine base.”

The Russian actions in Syria cannot be considered provocations. Russia is in Syria at the request of the internationally recognized government, Th U.S. is an invading country that is supporting certain factions in this long drawn civil war. Now they have deployed boots on the ground, uninvited.

There is no information on how many times the Russians had to scramble due to NATO’s violation of the Russian airspace, or for that matter attempts to spy on other assets in Russia that probably the National Geospatial Agency is focusing its lenses on…

For TAC, this is verging on bias reporting…