D-10 Strategy Forum March 16, 2017

Strategy of “Constrainment”

By Ash Jain, Damon Wilson, Fen Hampson, et al

“At a time when Russia is deliberately challenging US allies and interests around the world, it is more important than ever for the United States to renew its global leadership role and unite our allies behind a comprehensive strategy to defend our values and interests…The strategy laid out by the Atlantic Council presents a clear-eyed and comprehensive approach to relations with Russia that highlights the potential for cooperation on areas of mutual interest, while acknowledging the severity of the Russian threat and the need for sustained, US-led engagement to defend shared values and interests.” – Senator Rob Portman (R-OH)


Russia represents one of the most vexing geopolitical challenges facing the West today. In the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its unprecedented meddling in the US presidential election, relations between Moscow and the West have reached their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.

As the Trump administration begins to shape its national security strategy, how to deal with Russia will be a high priority. President Donald Trump’s rhetoric on Russia during the campaign, and his stated desire to “get along” with Vladimir Putin, suggest a new Russian “reset” may be in the offing. At the same time, senior administration officials have reiterated the importance of holding Russia to account for its actions in Ukraine and Syria.

The West needs a new strategy. The United States and its allies must be clear about the nature of the challenge posed by Russia, and put in place a coordinated and sustainable strategy to address this challenge, while advancing Western interests and values. Russian cooperation on certain issues—such as the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)—may be worth exploring. To be effective, however, any approach to engage Russia must be grounded within the context of a broader strategy that recognizes and pushes back against Moscow’s efforts to undermine the rules-based international order.

This paper, a collaboration with experts from a network of think tanks across leading democracies, sets forth what such a strategy might entail. It provides a framework for assessing the nature of the challenge posed by Russia, outlines a common strategic vision, and sets forth a multifaceted approach for achieving that vision. In short, it proposes an active and sustainable strategy to constrain Russia’s ability to challenge the security of the United States and the wider West, and the legitimacy of the rules-based democratic order, while preserving channels of cooperation on issues of mutual interest.