Responding to Russian Cyberattacks, Rebuilding Ukraine, Climate Change: RAND Weekly Recap

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April 22, 2022

This week, we discuss the threat of Russian cyberattacks; what Western leaders should consider if Finland and Sweden join NATO; rebuilding Ukraine after the war; personal stories about the “scars of conflict”; why U.S. workers don't have the power to get what they want from employers; and some reasons to be optimistic about addressing climate change.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia, March 18, 2022, photo by RIA Novosti Host Photo Agency/Alexander Vilf via Reuters

Photo by RIA Novosti Host Photo Agency/Alexander Vilf via Reuters

The U.S. Needs a Playbook to Respond to Russian Cyberattacks

On Wednesday, the cybersecurity agencies of several Western governments, including the United States, warned of the potential for increased cyber operations by Russia. If Moscow were to launch a cyberattack against a U.S. target, how should Washington respond?

According to Dmitri Alperovitch of Silverado Policy Accelerator and RAND's Samuel Charap, the most effective response to an initial wave of Russian cyberattacks would meet two potentially conflicting objectives: deterring further attacks but avoiding a spiral of tit-for-tat escalations that leads to a hot war between the world's two largest nuclear powers.

One way to thread this needle, they say, is to counter with a measured cyber strike against Moscow—rather than kinetic attacks or sanctions—along with a clear message that the United States will take further actions if Russia does not back down.

While this approach is not guaranteed to stop a second Russian cyberattack, it would create an opportunity to avoid escalation and could end a potential U.S.-Russia cyber fight after the first round.

Sweden's Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist, Sweden's Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde, Finland's Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto and Finland's Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen pose during a photo call in Stockholm, Sweden, February 2, 2022, photo by Paul Wennerholm/ TT News Agency via Reuters

Leaders from Sweden's and Finland's Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs in Stockholm, February 2, 2022

Photo by Paul Wennerholm/ TT News Agency via Reuters

If Finland and Sweden Join NATO, What Next?

Finland and Sweden appear to be moving closer to a decision to apply for NATO membership. Adding the two Nordic nations would offer the alliance predictability in a time of uncertainty, first-rate military capabilities, and an injection of democratic values, says RAND's Gene Germanovich. NATO could benefit from fast-tracking Helsinki's and Stockholm's membership requests, but it should first develop contingency plans that address Russia's potential response to an expanded NATO.

Building cranes and power lines connecting high-tension electricity pylons next to a construction site in Kyiv, Ukraine, July 10, 2020, photo by Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

Building cranes and power lines connecting high-tension electricity pylons next to a construction site in Kyiv, Ukraine, July 10, 2020

Photo by Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

What Will It Take to Rebuild Ukraine?

Even as the fighting rages on, Ukraine and its Western partners are beginning to consider how to rebuild after the war. The West will likely be generous in providing aid for reconstruction, and some Russian financial assets may also be used. But RAND experts say that knitting the country back together will also require improving the investment climate in Ukraine, making economic and rule-of-law reforms, and addressing corruption.

Two hands holding a heart made out of flowers in the colors of Ukraine'a flag, photo by Maryna Petrenko-Shvets/Getty Images

Photo by Maryna Petrenko-Shvets/Getty Images

Scars of Conflict: Stories from RAND Researchers

RAND's Alyssa Demus and Obaid Younossi recently wrote about how the war in Ukraine has reopened old wounds. Demus, a Ukrainian American, remembers her grandparents' stories about leaving Ukraine to escape Soviet repression. And today, she worries about her loved ones living through a war. Younossi's family also suffered at the hands of the Kremlin: He was forced to flee his home during the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Their stories stand as testaments that the traumas inflicted by Russia's war on Ukraine will echo for decades to come.

Workers stand in line to cast ballots for a union election at Amazon's JFK8 distribution center, in the Staten Island borough of New York City, March 25, 2022, photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Workers stand in line to cast ballots for a union election at Amazon's JFK8 distribution center, New York City, March 25, 2022

Photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Employers Still Have the Power Over Workers

U.S. workers have made significant gains during the pandemic recovery, but they still lack the power to get what they want. That's according to RAND economist Kathryn Edwards. What's behind the imbalance between workers and employers? When a small number of employers dominate the hiring market, they don't have to compete for employees, she explains. This makes it hard for workers to demand higher wages or better working conditions.

Forest floor with clear glass marble engraved with globe map, photo by RomoloTavani/Getty Images

Photo by RomoloTavani/Getty Images

Climate Change: A Case for Optimism

Today is Earth Day. With the constant flow of grim news about the effects of climate change, it's easy to feel pessimistic about the future of the planet. But according to RAND's Robert Lempert and Elisabeth Gilmore of Carleton University, there are some reasons to be optimistic. The good news is that there are proven solutions to address the effects of climate change—they just haven't been deployed quickly enough. And while transformation resulting from climate change is inevitable, some of those transformations can help create a better future. To keep the good news coming, people will need to embrace change and innovation.

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