The United States, NATO, and Geopolitical Strategies: Q&A with Ann Marie Dailey


Jul 3, 2024

Ann Marie Dailey serves as an engineer captain in the U.S. Army Reserves, photo courtesy of Ann Marie Dailey

Ann Marie Dailey serves as an engineer captain in the U.S. Army Reserves

Photo courtesy of Ann Marie Dailey

Ann Marie Dailey is an expert on some of the most pressing questions now facing the United States and its global allies: How to help Ukraine. What to expect from Russia. How to position NATO for the next 75 years.

She's a policy researcher at RAND and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. For more than two decades, she has studied the political, military, and economic drivers that underpin global security. She served as a senior adviser to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs on both Russia and Ukraine, as well as on NATO relations with Ukraine and Georgia. She also joined the U.S. Army in 2015 and now serves as an engineer captain in the Reserves.

You've advised military leaders on both Russia and Ukraine. What's your assessment of the war in Ukraine right now, and what are you watching for in the coming months?

If you look at the battlefield, there's an artificial inflection point that's been brought about by the long delay in approving more U.S. aid to Ukraine. The Russians are going on the offensive. But if the Ukrainians are able to fend them off through the rest of 2024, then I think systemic factors are going to turn in Ukraine's favor. Russia will face increasing difficulties in its defense production, especially its production of armored vehicles. You'll see increasing U.S. and European production coming online. You'll see the introduction of F-16s, which will at least give Ukraine some additional flexibility. Ukraine's strategy through 2024 is going to be to play defense, and hopefully that puts them on a footing for a possible offensive in 2025.

Speaking of U.S. aid, you've warned that failing to support Ukraine might kick off an “American losing streak.” How so?

There are people in Washington who say we can't keep supporting Ukraine because it undermines our ability to prepare for China. But if we're looking at a potential future conflict with China, there are two worlds we could fight it in.

Ann Marie Dailey

Photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND

One is a world in which Ukraine loses. In that world, all of our European allies are going to be laser-focused on protecting themselves from the next attack from Russia. The United States will be more diplomatically isolated, because those 31 NATO allies are going to be much more concerned about their own security than about helping the United States in a fight against China.

The other world is one in which Ukraine wins. Then you have a Ukraine that is going to be the largest and most capable army in Europe acting as a bulwark against Russian aggression. That gives you a strong European flank to the United States' east. You have countries that are confident not only in their own security but in the collective capability of NATO to deter and defeat aggression. They are going to be more willing to contribute if the U.S. finds itself in a war in the Indo-Pacific. This idea that somehow helping Ukraine leaves us less prepared for a war in China is just seeing the world as flat when it's not.

There's been a lot of talk about whether NATO should begin the process of bringing Ukraine into the alliance during its summit in Washington this summer. What do you think?

It needs to either bring them in or make it clear they're not going to be a member. Leaving them in diplomatic limbo just makes things worse for Ukraine and undermines NATO. Personally, I think Ukraine must become a member, but a bigger question right now is, What does NATO need to do to ensure Ukraine wins this war?

A victorious, unified Ukraine would be the most capable military in Europe, and at that point it would just be foolish not to bring them in.

A victorious, unified Ukraine would be the most capable military in Europe, and at that point it would just be foolish not to bring them in [to NATO].

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What does NATO need to do to ensure Ukraine wins the war?

Increase its defense industrial base. As long as Russia sees that it's outproducing the combined capabilities of the United States and its European allies in NATO, it will see that it can continue to fight this war. As soon as the United States and Europe match those numbers, the calculus changes.

I'd also like to see NATO air defenses providing a shield over western Ukraine. You've seen Russia fire missiles and attack drones that actually overfly NATO territory. And rather than air defenses from those nations firing at them and shooting them down, they've relied on Ukraine to use its air defenses to do that. The idea that you wouldn't protect NATO skies by engaging those missiles and drones—it's not only not helping Ukraine, but it's undermining NATO's Article 5 deterrence. I'd also support France's proposal to start bringing troops into western Ukraine, far from the front lines, to provide training on the ground to Ukrainians.

How do you think Russia would respond?

The same way they've responded so far, which is with a lot of nuclear bluster. They know as soon as they mention tactical nuclear weapons, it will freeze decisionmakers in some capitals.

Longer term, as NATO celebrates its 75th anniversary this year and looks ahead to the next 75 years, what do you see as the most important challenges it faces?

We're seeing an increase in threats below the level of military action—massive amounts of disinformation, illicit finances being used to undermine political processes. NATO has been so successful over the past 75 years that its enemies are trying to use other ways to attack or undermine the alliance. It's going to struggle to define what constitutes an attack, and then to ensure it has the capabilities it needs to respond. You've seen China and Russia engage in these threats below the level of what you would consider conventional military actions. NATO needs to make itself a harder target by developing more capabilities that are below the threshold of direct military confrontation and demonstrating a willingness to use them. But it needs to do that while also upholding the democratic ideas of freedom and openness.

You joined the Army a little later in life, after you were well-established in your career. What made you decide to enlist?

I had considered joining at several points in my life. Then, in 2015, I was the senior adviser on Russia strategy, and I'd participate in these wargames, where Russia was attacking NATO. I was always advocating for more NATO forces forward and, in particular, more U.S. forces. We also consistently found that the U.S. Army had not nearly enough large-scale engineering capabilities. My mom used to always say, 'If you want something done right, then do it yourself.' I decided to join as an Army engineer, not just because I thought it was important for me personally. I was advocating moving forward U.S. military forces, essentially as a tripwire, and I wasn't comfortable doing that if I wasn't willing to put myself in that position.

How has your Army experience informed your research at RAND?

One thing the Army has taught me is how the military approaches risk. It doesn't get to decide which missions to pursue. It just has to look at how to assess and mitigate risk, with the understanding that it will always have to accept a certain level of risk to complete the mission. That's something military leaders understand very well, but it's not necessarily deeply engrained in civilian culture. It's also helped me think more broadly about defense and security problems—not just looking at things and platforms, but at people and leadership.

More generally, was there any experience that you see now as a turning point, that set you on this career path?

I was a big Detroit Red Wings fan when I was a kid. Hockey fans might remember, back in the '90s, the Russian Five. It was this line of five Russian players who were brought to the Red Wings and ended up winning several Stanley Cups. Growing up, I would watch Tom Clancy films with my dad, where the Russians were always the bad guys; and then I would watch the Detroit Red Wings, where the Russians were the good guys. It caused this cognitive dissonance in my mind, this contradiction that I wanted to study more. So I pursued Russian studies and international relations in college, and I guess the rest is history.