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Research Questions

  1. To what extent can the United States cooperate with China or Russia in Europe and the Middle East?
  2. Where do the United States, China, and Russia share interests, what are the obstacles to cooperation, and where might the United States be able to cooperate with one or both powers on the issues of (1) broader Euro-Atlantic security, (2) Baltic security, (3) Balkan security and strategic orientation, (4) Turkey's regional role and strategic orientation, (5) the future of Ukraine, (6) Middle East stability and peace processes, and (7) countering Iran and its proxies?
  3. What are the possible second-order effects of cooperating with China or Russia in these areas?

Can the United States find ways to cooperate with China or Russia in Europe and the Middle East? Using official U.S., Chinese, and Russian policy documents, leadership statements, and other sources, the authors of this report assess the prospects for great power cooperation on seven issues: broader Euro-Atlantic security, Baltic security, Balkan security and strategic orientation, Turkey's regional role and strategic orientation, the future of Ukraine, Middle East stability and peace processes, and countering Iran and its proxies.

The authors find that, in Europe, opportunities for cooperation on the core security challenges with either competitor are virtually absent, but there are opportunities to limit escalation or manage tensions. In the Middle East, more substantive opportunities for cooperation exist in principle — more with Russia than China, but some cooperative options exist even with the latter. However, in both regions, there are multiple obstacles that will likely preclude the United States from seizing the more ambitious of these opportunities in the near term. This research was completed in September 2020, before the February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine and before the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021. It has not been subsequently revised.

Key Findings

  • In Europe, the trade space contains hardly any opportunities for cooperation on the core security challenges within each issue area, but there are opportunities to limit escalation or manage tensions.
  • In the Middle East, more substantive opportunities for cooperation exist in principle — more with Russia than China, but some cooperative options exist even with the latter.
  • Obstacles complicate even relatively modest steps toward the theoretically present opportunities for cooperation.
  • Cooperation is likely to be accompanied by both positive and negative second-order effects, which would have to be weighed by decisionmakers in light of their policy priorities.

Recommendations

  • If the United States chooses to cooperate, approach cooperation with Russia in Europe and the Middle East through gradual, modest steps.
  • In Europe, focus on measures that reduce the risk of competition producing conflict: conventional arms control, confidence- and security-building measures, crisis management, and deconfliction.
  • Expand U.S. engagement with Russia on ending the conflict in Eastern Ukraine based on the Minsk II agreement.
  • Pursue more modest opportunities to limit the most acute consequences of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine for the affected populations and to reduce tensions between the parties.
  • Seek opportunities to cooperate with Russia to counter Iranian proxy networks.
  • Maintain and look for opportunities to expand military-to-military engagement for purposes of deconfliction in Syria and establish such channels in Europe.
  • Pursue dialogue with Russia to limit sales of S-400 missile systems and other advanced weapon systems to Iran.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by Headquarters Air Force A-5 Strategy Section and conducted within the Strategy and Doctrine Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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