Cover: Planning for the Aftermath

Planning for the Aftermath

Assessing Options for U.S. Strategy Toward Russia After the Ukraine War

Published Feb 9, 2024

by Samuel Charap, Miranda Priebe


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Research Questions

  1. What strategic choices will Washington face in determining its approach toward Moscow after the Russia-Ukraine war ends?
  2. What are the trade-offs associated with those choices?
  3. To what extent do these trade-offs depend on the war's outcome?

U.S. policy choices made at the conclusions of past wars have had enduring consequences. Although there is no end in sight to the Russia-Ukraine war at the time of this writing in late 2023, U.S. policymakers should begin considering postwar Russia strategy now.

The authors of this report address this issue through an alternative futures analysis. Planning for after the war is complicated by significant uncertainty: Neither the conflict's trajectory nor the international climate at the war's end can be predicted with confidence. Given this uncertainty, the implications of U.S. strategic choices must be explored in different contexts. The authors develop two ideal-type postwar worlds, as defined by the outcome of the war and the character of the broader international environment: a less favorable world and a more favorable world. They also propose two ideal-type options for postwar U.S. strategy toward Russia, a hardline approach and a less hardline approach. Then, they consider how each strategy would play out in each world over the course of the decade after the war ends, yielding four alternative futures. They draw on the history of U.S.-Russia relations and the literatures on rivalries, interstate conflict, and alliances to assess the implications of each future for U.S. interests.

Key Findings

Wartime choices could shape the postwar world

Not taking these longer-term factors into consideration could lead to missed opportunities to shape the postwar environment.

The choices that will have to be made in the immediate aftermath of the war can have ripple effects on many long-term U.S. interests

These effects are not straightforward. Policymakers thus need time — long before the war ends — to consider these choices.

The United States may be able to influence the conflict outcome to promote its long-term postwar interests

The United States cannot determine the outcome of the war on its own; its decisions will never have the same impact as those of the two combatants. But Washington does have policy options to try to affect the trajectory of the conflict.

A longer, more violent war would lock in adverse consequences for U.S. interests

For example, a longer war could significantly undermine Ukraine's postwar recovery.

U.S. policy during and after the war can reduce the risk of Russia-Ukraine conflict recurrence

The United States has instruments to increase the likelihood that any peace endures.

Ramping up military pressure on Russia in Europe after the war could pose more risks than benefits

The war has weakened Russia and shown that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has a strong deterrent against Russian attacks on allies. Further forward deployments and other measures are likely unnecessary to deter opportunistic Russian aggression, but may make war by misperception about U.S. intentions more likely.

This research was funded by a generous gift from Peter Richards and conducted by the Center for Analysis of U.S. Grand Strategy within the International Security and Defense Policy Program of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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