Nonviolent Ways the United States Could Exploit Russian Vulnerabilities
April 24, 2019
Russia's use of information warfare and its conventional military arsenal make it a formidable opponent, but the state also has significant weaknesses that could be exploited, according to a new report from the RAND Corporation.
The report examines a range of nonviolent measures the United States could take to stress Russia's military, its economy or the regime's political standing at home and abroad.
The steps would be designed to cause Russia to compete in domains or regions where the United States has a competitive advantage—driving Russia to overextend itself militarily or economically or causing the regime to lose domestic and/or international prestige and influence, said James Dobbins, lead author of the study and a senior fellow at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.
Russia's greatest vulnerability is its economy, which is comparatively small and highly dependent on energy exports. The Russian leadership's greatest anxiety concerns the stability and durability of the regime.
The most promising strategies to stress Russia are those which directly address those vulnerabilities and anxieties. Dobbins, a former Assistant Secretary of State for Europe, and his RAND colleagues evaluate a wide range of possibilities. These include economic pressures, ideological and informational initiatives, geopolitical maneuvers, and military steps on land, sea, and in air and space.
Economic sanctions have already caused a significant drop in the living standards of many Russian citizens. Expanding American energy production is probably the least costly and least risky way to further stress the Russian economy. Imposing tougher sanctions is also likely to degrade the Russian economy, and could do so to a greater extent and more quickly than maintaining low oil prices, provided the sanctions are comprehensive and multilateral.
Recent Russian efforts to subvert Western democracies provide a powerful rationale for some sort of counter campaign to serve as retribution, reestablish a degree of deterrence in this domain, and create the basis for a mutual stand-down in such activities, Dobbins said.
In the aerospace domain, strong contenders for a cost-imposing strategy against Russia include investments in long-range cruise missiles, long-range anti-radiation missiles and—if they prove affordable enough to be produced in high numbers—autonomous or remotely piloted aircraft.
Similarly, deploying land-based or air-launched anti-ship cruise missiles on NATO's Black Sea coast could compel Russia to strengthen defenses of its Crimean bases, limit its navy's ability to operate in the Black Sea, and thus diminish the utility of its Crimean conquest.
The report evaluated but rejected a number of other measures as likely to end up costing the U.S. more than Russia. Among them were deploying intermediate range missiles (INF) or more anti-ballistic missile systems to Europe and breaking out of the strategic arms agreement.
“While Russia would bear the cost of this increased competition less easily than the United States, both sides would have to divert national resources from other purposes,” Dobbins said. “Extending Russia for its own sake, in most cases, is not a sufficient basis to consider many of these measures. Rather, any such steps need to be considered in the broader context of national policy based on defense, deterrence, and—where U.S. and Russian interests align—cooperation.”
The study, “Extending Russia: Competing from Advantageous Ground” can be found on the RAND website. Other authors are Raphael S. Cohen, Nathan Chandler, Bryan Frederick, Edward Geist, Paul DeLuca, Forrest E. Morgan, Howard J. Shatz and Brent Williams.
Research for the study was conducted within the RAND Arroyo Center's Strategy, Doctrine and Resources Program. RAND Arroyo Center, part of the RAND Corporation, is a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the U.S. Army.