Although U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) planners have long focused on preparing for the contingency of a large-scale conflict with Russia, the Ukraine war has created a unique set of circumstances that make a more limited Russian attack plausible. This Perspective outlines the characteristics of the potential Russian attack that are relevant to informing a U.S. or NATO response, including Moscow's possible motivations for launching the attack, what the United States could try to accomplish in its response, and how different types of U.S. or NATO responses might help to advance U.S. goals in the conflict.
Using four hypothetical limited Russian attack scenarios, the authors explore how variations across two dimensions of a U.S. or NATO response — the proportionality of a possible kinetic response and the nature of non-kinetic responses — could lead to trade-offs in the pursuit of different U.S. goals. From this analysis, the authors identify key considerations to assist U.S. policymakers weighing how to address various contingencies.
This Perspective was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Program of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).
This commentary is part of the RAND Corporation Expert insight series. RAND Expert Insights present perspectives on timely policy issues. All RAND Expert Insights undergo peer review to ensure high standards for quality and objectivity.
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