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US and Western Defense Policy in the Next Four Years

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On 11/11/2020 at 7:36 PM, BansheeOne said:

- Things he might might want to do, but reality might interfere: Revive JCPOA. People have expressed hope that he might be the president to acknowledge that a stronger Europe is prerequisite for it to take more responsibility for its own security. One suggestion has been restarting talks on TTIP or a similar free trade agreement to overcome the trade war rethoric of the last years (while achieving essentially the same aims).

Add INF and Open Skies to this.


Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Russia

November 09, 2020

RM Staff


Originally published Aug. 13, 2020. Updated Nov. 9. 2020.

On Nov. 7, after several tense days of vote counting closely watched by the world, U.S. media declared Joe Biden the winner of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, while anticipating legal challenges from incumbent Donald Trump. Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, will not only be the first female U.S. vice president but also the first Black American and first South Asian American to hold that office. [...] But where does the first woman of color to be nominated for national office by a major political party stand on the important foreign policy issue of U.S.-Russian relations?

As for Biden—who, when a vice president himself, made headlines by proclaiming the Obama administration’s intention to “press the reset button” in U.S.-Russian relations—have there recently been any significant changes in his own views on Russia? Below is a sampling of Biden’s and Harris’s statements on what U.S. policies they advocate on key Russia-related issues, as well as their views on Russia itself, as expressed since U.S. President Donald Trump’s election in November 2016, not an exhaustive record. The quotes are divided into categories similar to those in Russia Matters’ news and analysis digests. The current president’s views on Russia were published in an earlier compilation.





Russia Has No Illusions About a Biden Presidency

Dmitri Trenin

There are no signs that post-election relations between Russia and the United States will become warmer. The Kremlin is braced for four years of what it expects to be uncertain rule under President-elect Joe Biden.

Published November 09, 2020

Moscow didn’t have too much of a stake in the U.S. election: it assumed that, whether President Donald Trump or President-elect Joe Biden won, the U.S.-Russian confrontation would continue and probably grow more intense.

Despite Trump’s recurrent rhetoric about getting along with Russia, his administration has taken a hard stance toward Moscow. In the last four years, the United States has imposed no fewer than forty-six sanctions packages on Russia. Trump has canceled the INF Treaty, potentially opening the way for the United States to deploy fast-flying U.S. missile systems in Europe that would target Russia’s critical strategic assets at close range. And Trump’s White House took a hard line on extending the New START Treaty, the last major element of the arms control system. Meanwhile, U.S. troops in Europe have moved closer to the Russian border, even as U.S. warplanes and naval ships exercised closer to Russia’s frontiers and did so more often. What’s more, Trump leaned hard on Germany, urging it to cancel the almost completed gas pipeline project Nord Stream 2, the flagship of Moscow’s energy export policy.

Russia Has No Illusions About Biden

Weeks ahead of the vote, the Kremlin began to get ready for a Biden win. Russians have no illusions. The Democrats are determined to be even tougher on Russia than the outgoing administration. Sanctions are likely to continue as the prime instrument of U.S. Russia policy. Under Biden, they may get more targeted and strategic. With better communication between the United States and Europe, the West’s Russia policies will be better coordinated, ratcheting up pressure on Moscow. The Democratic administration will probably provide more military support to Ukraine and pay more attention to the standoff in Belarus. While Trump’s promotion of U.S. liquified natural gas in Europe challenges Russian energy interests in the short term, Biden’s policies, going broadly in the same green direction as those of the EU, sap at the foundation of Russia’s reliance on hydrocarbons as the backbone of its economy.

Biden and Vice President–elect Kamala Harris are expected to criticize Russia’s domestic policies and practices with gusto and offer more support to anti-Kremlin elements. Biden, of course, supports a simple extension of New START, but arms control talks with his administration will probably be as tough as any in history. The positives of Biden’s accession include more predictability and hopefully a diminishing role for Russia as a focus of U.S. domestic politics. Yet, with all these concerns in mind, the Kremlin will not miss an opportunity to reach out to the Biden administration hoping to resume dialogue.

The Uncertain Rule of the Liberal Establishment

The election itself has confirmed to the Russian public that, while the U.S. political system is in a deepening crisis, U.S. political institutions continue to function. The chaos that many prophesied and some were looking forward to hasn’t happened. While giving extensive coverage to the U.S. election, Russian television networks concluded that U.S. election practices did not meet the standards that the United States uses while assessing elections in other countries. That may explain Russian President Vladimir Putin’s delay in congratulating Biden on his victory. This is a political statement thinly disguised as waiting for the procedure to be finalized. The Kremlin does not expect Biden to be a strong leader, much less a successful reformer. In short, Russia is bracing for the uncertain rule of the liberal establishment, challenged by the pro-Trump forces that have held sway for the last four years.




Joe Biden’s Foreign Policy and Russia

While Biden recognizes China as America’s top competitor, he calls Russia the biggest threat to the United States.

Nov. 19, 2020

When Joe Biden said in 2011 that he had looked into [Putin’s] eyes and found that he had no soul, Vladimir Putin’s response was: “We understand one another.” With Biden elected the forty-sixth president of the United States, and Putin allowed under the recent constitutional amendments to stay in the Kremlin through 2036, this promises to be one of the coldest personal relationships between the U.S. and Russian leaders.

In terms of foreign policy, President-elect Biden is often compared in Russia to his former boss Barack Obama, but although many of the people likely to get top positions at the National Security Council, the state and defense departments, and the U.S. mission to the UN are former members of the Obama administration, Biden’s foreign policy experience goes back much further.

For the seventy-eight-year-old, the Cold War is not something he learned about from books, like Obama, but something he lived through. Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972, Biden visited Moscow in 1979, when the ill-starred SALT-2 treaty was signed, and then again nearly a decade later just after the signing of the INF agreement, which was canceled by Donald Trump last year.

A photo taken during the latter trip of Biden with Andrei Gromyko, the patriarch of Soviet diplomacy who was then the nominal head of state of the USSR, has become a big hit on Russian social media since Nov. 3. Therein lies a major distinction between Biden and Obama where it comes to Russia: for Biden, the present confrontation with Moscow is a postscript to the Cold War. And like the Cold War itself, it must be won by the United States. 

Of course, Biden does not entirely conflate Russia with the Soviet Union. As a U.S. senator, a longtime chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and a two-term U.S. vice president, he has been intimately involved in world affairs for almost a half century.

However, while Biden recognizes China as America’s top competitor, he calls Russia the biggest threat to the United States. Even though he describes Russia as a country in enormous decline, an oil-based economy and a second-rate military power, unable to compete with the West and saddled with depressive demographics and a kleptocratic regime run by KGB thugs, he sees Moscow’s policies as aimed at weakening Western countries internally; undermining the unity of such institutions as NATO and the European Union; and subverting the liberal world order. He sees an increasingly revanchist, aggressive Russia that is taking the fight beyond the former Soviet space and getting closer to China.

Yet Biden does not believe that the attempt made at the end of the Cold War to integrate Russia into the U.S.-dominated system was a mistake. He rejects any notion that the failure of that effort was the result of NATO’s eastern enlargement: Russian paranoia, in his view, should not be condoned. Rather, the problem was the takeover of the Russian state by its security services.

However, Biden is not giving up on Russia. There may not have been any Arab Spring-style ouster of Putin in 2011–2012, but Biden hopes that new opportunities will present themselves in the future.

Thus, in Biden’s view, Russia should not be cornered: one, it would make it too dangerous for the United States; two, the only thing that keeps Putin in power is nationalism and anti-Americanism. Eventually, Russia will come back to its senses, ditch Putin’s policies, and recognize that it cannot rebuild itself unless it engages with the West. 


Biden’s win promises a more coordinated Russia policy within the NATO alliance. Over the last few months, the stance of European countries on Russia has significantly hardened, bringing Europe very close to America’s position. Germany, once Russia’s advocate in the West, has turned into the leading critic of Kremlin policies within the EU and the initiator of sanctions campaigns against Russia.

Out of willingness to heal the rift between Washington and Berlin caused by Trump’s disruptive behavior, Biden might let the Germans decide for themselves the fate of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia. However, his own concerns about Europe’s energy dependence on Russia, plus the growing opposition in the U.S. Congress to any Russian energy projects in Europe might make him continue Trump’s pressure on Germany to cancel Nord Stream 2. 

Another follow-up from the forty-fifth president could be the development and ultimately deployment in Europe of U.S. intermediate-range missile systems that would target Russian command centers and strategic assets at very close range. Biden supports arms control, including the extension of the New START Treaty negotiated by the Obama Administration, but he favors arms negotiations from strength.

Looking ahead, the prospect of U.S. INF deployments minutes away from Moscow could be one element of that position. Strategic stability talks with Russia, if they begin on Biden’s watch, will be as tough as any in history.

Closing ranks with Europe could be accompanied in Biden’s foreign policy by a mini-détente with China for which Beijing is also keen. Both developments would step up the geopolitical pressure on Russia, which would see its foreign policy options shrink even further. For the Biden White House, everything will be part of a strategy. Russia will not be central to it, but neither will it be absent. The ultimate goal appears to be to undermine Putin’s nationalism, destroy Russia’s near-alliance with China, and return the country to the position of an adjunct to the West.





The looming US withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty

Steven Pifer Thursday, November 19, 2020

The Trump administration’s antipathy toward arms control will strike again on November 22, when the United States withdraws from the Open Skies Treaty. That is a mistake. While Russia has violated the treaty, the United States has reciprocated. NATO allies support the treaty — which focuses first and foremost on enhancing European security — and wish the United States to remain a party.

Whether the treaty can continue following the American departure remains to be seen and will depend on what Russia does. When it takes office, the Biden administration should consider reentering the agreement, though that may require some creative international lawyering.

The treaty

The Open Skies Treaty, which entered into force in 2002, permits countries to fly unarmed aircraft with cameras and other sensors over the territory of the treaty’s other 34 members states. Based on an idea advanced by Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s, Open Skies provides for the collection of imagery of military installations and activities in order to foster transparency.

Each party to the treaty has two annual quotas: the number of flights it may conduct over other treaty-parties (active quota), and the number of overflights that it must accept (passive quota). Aircraft are inspected before conducting an Open Skies flight, and personnel from the country to be overflown are on board during the flight.

The treaty offers several advantages. While the capabilities of U.S. reconnaissance satellites are superior to those of Open Skies aircraft, all 34 treaty-parties have access to imagery from the flights (whereas satellite imagery is highly classified). The treaty gives U.S. allies and partners, who lack sophisticated imagery satellites, the opportunity to gather confidence-building data. Moreover, aircraft offer greater flexibility than satellites in flight plans and can fly under cloud cover. Open Skies flights can also be used to send political signals: After Russia instigated the conflict in Donbas in 2014, for instance, the United States targeted flights at eastern Ukraine and the bordering Russian territory in order to send a message of U.S. support for Kyiv.

By 2019, the 34 parties had conducted a total of more than 1,500 overflights. During the treaty’s first 15 years of operation, the United States conducted 196 flights over Russia and Belarus (the two are paired for treaty purposes), while Russia conducted 71 flights over the United States.

Unfortunately, Russia has violated the treaty by imposing restrictions on certain flights over its territory. In response, the United States imposed reciprocal restrictions on Russian flights over U.S. territory. While the Russian violations are problematic, Washington has not declared that they constitute a material breach — that is, a violation that vitiates the central purpose of the treaty. Nevertheless, on May 21, Secretary of State Pompeo released a statement saying that, unless Moscow returned to full compliance, Washington would leave the treaty in six months’ time. The U.S. government provided formal notification of its intention to withdraw to the other treaty parties the following day; hence, the U.S. withdrawal will take effect on November 22.


What next for Open Skies?

The Open Skies Treaty focused on strengthening confidence and security in Europe, one reason why the Trump administration should have given the views of its allies greater weight. A major question now turns on what Moscow will do, given that the U.S. departure will mean that Russia can conduct flights over European territory and Canada but not the United States.

If Moscow decides to withdraw from Open Skies, perhaps citing the treaty’s decreased value because it can no longer overfly American territory, the treaty will collapse. NATO allies will see little point in overflying other allies or partners such as Sweden and Finland. Alternatively, Moscow could decide to remain in the treaty, at least for a time, in part to score propaganda points over the U.S. withdrawal.

At a November 12 press conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that, if the treaty continues to operate, Russia would insist that, when conducting flights over other treaty-parties, its aircraft could overfly and take pictures of U.S. bases and facilities located on their territory. Lavrov added that countries remaining in the treaty would have to commit not to transfer Open Skies imagery or other data to the United States.

His demands do not appear unreasonable. The treaty makes no provision for a country to deny another treaty-party the ability to fly over U.S. facilities on its territory, and the treaty provisions provide that imagery and other data gathered from overflights shall be shared only with other treaty-parties. These conditions will put U.S. allies in Europe in an awkward position — something that Lavrov no doubt relishes.

If, however, the treaty can be sustained into 2021, the Biden administration could consider reentering. The advantages offered by the treaty remain valid, despite Russian violations.

Doing so, however, could require creative work by international lawyers. Were Washington to re-sign the treaty, it then would have to resubmit it to the Senate for consent to ratification. However, with at best 50 Democratic senators (assuming far-from-certain wins in both of the Georgia run-off races), consent to ratify would still need 17 Republican votes. It is difficult to see that many Republicans consenting to ratify a treaty from which a Republican administration has just withdrawn.

Alternatively, the Biden administration could consider rejoining the treaty on the basis of an executive agreement, perhaps one approved by simple majorities in the House and Senate. Such a mechanism would require the agreement of the other 33 treaty-parties. Hopefully, the Russians would not choose to be spoilers.

When it takes office, the Biden administration should seek to rejoin Open Skies. The treaty serves U.S. interests. That is what NATO allies want. And within the treaty, Washington can push to get Russia back into compliance while continuing restrictions that deny Russia the full benefits of overflying the United States. The new administration should make clear its intention to rejoin the treaty and put some clever lawyers to work figuring out a way to make that happen.




22 Nov, 10:06 Updated at: 11:27

Russia to seek firm guarantees that parties to Open Skies Treaty meet their commitments

Russian diplomats said the US withdrawal from the treaty did not increase security of the US and its allies

MOSCOW, November 22. /TASS/. Russia will seek firm guarantees that the remaining parties to the Treaty on Open Skies will meet their commitments in full, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Sunday in connection with the US withdrawal from the treaty.

"Now, after withdrawing from the Treaty on Open Skies, the US side expects that its allies, on the one hand, will hinder Russian observation flights above US military facilities in Europe and on the other hand, share with Washington their files on photo surveillance of Russia’s territory. Certainly, this is unacceptable for Russia," the ministry stated.

"We will seek firm guarantees that the remaining parties to the Treaty on Open Skies meet their commitments. First, on ensuring the possibility of observing their entire territory and second, on non-transfer of files on observation flights to third countries, which are not participants of the Treaty on Open Skies," the ministry stated.

Moscow states that if other member-states want Russia to keep its membership in the agreement, they should think how to allay its fears. Meanwhile, Russian diplomats said the US withdrawal from the treaty did not increase security of the US and its allies.



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On 11/19/2020 at 4:34 AM, Stuart Galbraith said:

Though why they need the MOD to do it is beyond me. They would have done better to have built a ministry of technology or something, and not use the MOD as a vehicle to deliver it. 

Quatermass and his Experimental Rocket Group would agree.

A MOD powerplay, pure and simple, and probably inevitable.

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I hadn't made that connection to Quatermass. :D No more tube extensions for a while then. :)

I see a lot of things worth funding. Unless they are putting structures in place to find the Sabre engine development, many of them look like they should be civilian run project. Though of course, we don't really do things like that here anymore.

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There is no way the INF is coming back. Leaving that treaty was one of the rare good ideas the previous administration had and the US is already introducing a number of weapons that would have violated  in it the next several years. It was an agreement that didn't constrain China and that the Russians were already violating.

Edited by Josh
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