Russia and the Nuclear Posture Review

Intelligence

Washington is once again gripped by what is rapidly becoming the Third Red Scare. Like the frenzies surrounding the Bolshevik Revolution and the post-war McCarthy era, people see Russian spies behind every lamp post. In their world, Michael Flynn, Carter Page and George Papadopoulos are the digital age’s Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, and Donald Maclean, selling  the West down the river.

They would also have us believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin has a willing accomplice in President Trump.

Policy vs. Personality in russian relations

It is true that President Trump does himself few favors by skirting the Russian sanctions law Congress passed overwhelmingly last year. The administration has declined to name any “oligarchs” who are working with the Putin government, and the impact sanctions would have on them. The State Department instead said that the mere existence of the law “and its implementation are deterring Russian defense sales.”

But we’ve said it before, and it’s worth repeating now: when it comes to official policy, the Trump administration’s approach to Russia bears little resemblance to the president’s words. Neither the National Security Strategy nor the National Defense Strategy mince words when it comes to the threat Russia poses to the free world in general, and the United States in particular.

And for the second time in a month, the release of a major piece of U.S. policy has been overshadowed by flashier events.

In late January, as the clock was ticking towards a government shutdown, the Department of Defense released the National Defense Strategy. This past Friday, as everyone (myself included) was arguing over what the memo from the Republicans on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence did or did not mean for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into “Russian collusion,” the Pentagon released the final version of the much-anticipated 2018 Nuclear Posture Review.

A draft of the document leaked earlier in January, but the official release, another piece of the McMaster Doctrine, contained further examples of the direct language the national security establishment is using to describe the Russian threat.

We don’t want to be adversaries

The document begins its criticism of Russia, and China for that matter, on the first page of the executive summary, pointing out how both continue to rebuild their nuclear stockpiles at a time when the rest of the world is looking for ways to reduce theirs.

Nonetheless, the U.S. “does not wish to regard either Russia or China as an adversary,” the NPR reads on page two, “and seeks stable relations with both.” But it points out that it is Russia, not the U.S., that  threatens this stability. ”

“Russia is not the Soviet Union and the Cold War is long over,” the NPR said in its main body. “However, despite our best efforts to sustain a positive relationship, Russia now perceives the United States and NATO as its principal opponent and impediment to realizing its destabilizing geopolitical goals in Eurasia.”

Far from seeking to soft-peddle Russian transgressions, the document directly accuses Russia of violating a number of important treaties and agreements, including the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty.

For those who think the president is trying to kowtow to Moscow, the NPR issues a blunt warning to Putin and his crew.

“Moscow must understand that the United States will not forever endure Russia’s continuing non-compliance. The status quo, in which the United States continues to comply while Russia continues deployments in violation of the Treaty, is untenable.”

That statement — a real statement of coordinated policy, not a tweet launched in reaction to something said on cable television — doesn’t sound like capitulation to me.

Tom McCuin is a strategic communication consultant and retired Army Reserve Civil Affairs and Public Affairs officer whose career includes serving with the Malaysian Battle Group in Bosnia, two tours in Afghanistan, and three years in the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs in the Pentagon. When he’s not devouring political news, he enjoys sailboat racing and umpiring Little League games (except the ones his son plays in) in Alexandria, Va. Follow him on Twitter at @tommccuin

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