Topics in International Studies: U.S.-Russia Relations
Russia remains the only country in the world that can destroy much of the U.S. in just a few hours with a nuclear attack.
Let that sink in for a moment if you were unaware of this or had never really thought about it. If nothing else, that is the ultimate reason why the U.S. and Russia need or are forced to deal with each other despite often severe complications in the relationship.
But isn’t this talk of Nuclear Armageddon so “Cold War-ish”? Didn’t the Cold War end 30 years ago as the “Winds of Change” swept across Europe and we watched as it became, in President George H.W. Bush’s words, “whole and free”? Shouldn’t we be friends or at least not enemies now? While most Americans believe, rightfully so, that the Cold War essentially ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 followed by the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself two years later, the legacy of post-World War II antagonistic perceptions and policies continue to dominate the U.S.-Russia relationship a generation later. Even before WWII came to its conclusion, the seeds for distrust and potential confrontation were firmly planted, even though agreements such as Yalta in February 1945 were designed to avoid these potentially existential challenges. Current tensions over Ukraine exacerbate the relationship.
The relationship is indeed complicated and has seen highs, such as during WWII when we allied against common enemies; and lows, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis which nearly led to nuclear annihilation. Today’s relationship seems to be nearing a new “Cuban Missile Crisis” over Ukraine and Europe. Or perhaps a Cold War 2.0? Will the relationship center around, as one of our authors Angela Stent was quoted in January 2022 as saying, a “third reorganization of the Euro-Atlantic security since the 1940s.”
This course is designed to provide an overview of U.S.-Russia relations over the past 200+ years with an in-depth look at Cold War tensions and the contentious relationship since the “re-emergence” of Russia from the post-Soviet morass in the Putin era. We will look in-depth at various attempts to “reset” the relationship from the end of the Cold War to the Trump Administration and new challenges for the Biden Administration. Even if Russia no longer dominates American foreign policy as the Soviet Union did, the relationship has once again become a frequent and usually troublesome topic with Russian meddling in the 2016 and 2020 U.S. elections, allegations of improper “collusion” with Russia and the Trump Administration, increased tensions in Europe and around the world, and challenges in arms control.
With so many irritants in the bilateral relationship (such as NATO enlargement, missile defense, arms control treaties, Ukraine, Georgia, Iran, Syria, the Balkans, spy scandals, etc.), how can this relationship move forward? Is it possible to improve relations in the short, medium, or long term? Are there areas in which we should focus our cooperation (such as space, climate change, and humanitarian assistance) to put the relationship on a more positive and productive track? We will study these questions in this course.