Say No to NATO’s Expansion Parade: Adding Georgia, Finland, and More Would Make America Less Secure

Doug Bandow

NATO, the alliance informally known as North America and The Others, remains committed to expansion. Powerhouse Montenegro, with 2080 men in uniform, will be the next entrant. Other governments knocking at the alliance door include Finland, Georgia, and Serbia.

Adding these states would violate the purpose of an organization intended to increase American security. Past NATO expansion made the U.S. worse off by multiplying Washington’s military guarantees. Newer accessions would do the same, without providing any countervailing benefits. Candidate states range from military nullities, such as Montenegro, to conflict carriers, such as Ukraine.

The transatlantic alliance was created in 1949 to protect war-ravaged Western Europe from the Soviet Union, an opportunistic predator after its victory over Nazi Germany. The threat to America reflected both Moscow’s control over Eastern and Central Europe and the U.S.S.R.’s role as an ideologically hostile peer competitor.

The end of the Cold War changed everything. The Soviet subject nations were freed, a humanitarian bonanza. More important, the successor state of Russia went from hostile superpower to indifferent regional power. NATO lost its essential purpose, since the U.S. no longer needed to shield Western Europe from Moscow.

Yet the alliance proved to be as resilient as other government bureaucracies. NATO officials desperately sought new reasons to exist. Explained Vice President Al Gore: “Everyone realizes that a military alliance, when faced with a fundamental change in the threat for which it was founded, either must define a convincing new rationale or become decrepit.”

The latter was viewed as inconceivable, not even worth considering. So the alliance expanded both its mission (to “out-of-area” activities) and membership (inducting former Warsaw Pact members). Washington’s military obligations multiplied even as the most important threat against it dissipated.

Objections to this course were summarily rejected. Not a single Senator voted against admitting the three Baltic states. Then no one imagined that the U.S. might be expected to fight on their behalf. The alliance was seen as the international equivalent of a gentleman’s club, to which everyone who is someone belongs. Those who pointed to possible conflicts with Moscow were dismissed as scaremongers. Expansion was expected to be all gain, no pain.

The alliance—at least led by the U.S.—is obsolete.

Alas, Russia did not perceive moving the traditional anti-Moscow alliance up to its borders as a friendly act. Despite coming from the KGB, Vladimir Putin originally didn’t seem to bear the U.S. or West much animus. However, NATO compounded expansion with an unprovoked war against Serbia, a traditional Slavic ally of Moscow, and proposals to include Georgia and Ukraine, the latter which long had especially close historical, cultural, economic, and military ties with Russia. Over time Putin, as well as many of his countrymen, came to view the transatlantic alliance as a threat.

Russia’s aggressive confrontation with Kiev set off near panic in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. They, along with Poland, have been pressing for “their” allied, meaning U.S., garrisons. And the Obama administration obliged, committing $3.4 billion to a “European Reassurance Initiative” and an armored brigade for deployment in Eastern Europe.

Last month Vice President Joe Biden visited the region, where he declared: “I want to make it absolutely clear to all the people in Baltic states, we have pledged our sacred honor, the United States of America … to the NATO treaty and Article Five.” That is, the Obama administration is prepared to take the nation into war against nuclear-armed Russia over three countries which are irrelevant to U.S. security. Since America’s safety should be the most important objective policy of any alliance, NATO expansion has turned out to be really stupid policy.

So much for all gain, no pain.

Yet U.S. officials learned nothing from the past. Montenegro already has been invited to join. At least it faces no threats, so it isn’t likely to drag America into war. The country simply is irrelevant. With just 2080 men under arms, Podgorica won’t be rushing troops to America’s defense any time soon. Yet Washington undoubtedly will be paying dearly—financial aid to professionalize the Montenegrin military, at least—for the privilege of welcoming the alliance’s latest Balkan member.

Who will come next? When it comes to NATO, the aspirants fall among the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Counting as good are the most ludicrous ideas, since they aren’t likely to occur. For instance, there have been proposals over the years to add Russia (what is an alliance that brings in the country against which it was formed?) and China (what security interests does the rising Pacific power share with the “transatlantic” club?). Had both joined NATO could have been renamed the North Atlantic-North Pacific Treaty Organization.

Three years ago there was a brief boomlet for Colombia—yes, the country located in the north of South America. That campaign died out: it was a bit hard to imagine, say, the Netherlands rushing troops to save Colombia from an invasion by bankrupt, chaotic Venezuela. Australian accession rated support from Rupert Murdoch a number of years ago. Israel also has its partisans, though as a nuclear-armed regional superpower it doesn’t need support from anyone. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq some pundits proposed that nation as well as Egypt, though the catastrophic outcome of America’s Mesopotamian invasion appeared to end that campaign.

Counting as bad would be the Balkans, which is filled with more plausible, but equally useless, applicants. Macedonia, with all of 8000 men in uniform, wants in, but has been blocked by Greece, which objects to Skopje using a name associated with the former in ancient times. Bosnia’s ambitions remain hindered by internal division and discord. The Serbian government is moving toward NATO, despite that country’s traditional friendship with Russia and role as NATO target for 78 days of bombing in 1999.

There is congressional support for Kosovo’s membership, a step backed by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who supported her husband’s earlier “splendid little war.” Pristina’s membership remains hindered by continuing tensions with Serbia, from which Kosovo split with NATO support, and a reputation as a gangster state run by former terrorists. None of these nations is likely to start a war with Moscow, but none would enhance U.S. security as an alliance member.

Accession by Cyprus has been broached as a means to encourage a negotiated settlement to the island’s division, which dates back to alliance member Turkey’s 1974 invasion. However, Nicosia’s participation would be of little military value, since Russia has no significant naval presence in the Mediterranean and Greece already offers the alliance naval facilities. Turning NATO into an incentive in other geopolitical disputes would further dilute the alliance’s defensive purpose.

More substantive are candidates Finland and Sweden. Both were neutral during the Cold War, with the former enjoying its independence at Moscow’s sufferance. Both have moved closer to NATO in recent years, becoming formal partners (a relationship which can lead to membership) of the alliance. Their militaries aren’t significant, but at least the two nations have greater economic sophistication and military potential. Yet they, like the other aspirants, would expand America’s security commitments without offering countervailing benefits. Although the likelihood of a Russian attack on either country is de minimis, Moscow almost certainly would respond to their accession with hostility.

Indeed, the main case for Scandinavian membership is to back up the Baltics. Explained Aaltola Mika of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, “What is needed from Finland, is for Finland to be able to stop the Russian use of its airspace and maritime areas to support military incursions into the Baltic.” But Helsinki would take on Russia only if America was prepared to back Finland in a war. Such a conflict obviously would not be in Washington’s interest.

NATO has indicated that its door is open to Ireland, which also long has followed a neutral policy despite (or perhaps because of) its long, difficult relationship with Great Britain. Dublin has participated in NATO-led operations and there is some public support for accession, but the government shows little interest in joining the alliance. And Dublin’s participation would do little to augment alliance military capabilities.

Finally, there is the ugly: Georgia and Ukraine, both promised eventual membership in April 2008. Tbilisi long has had its partisans, including the George W. Bush administration, which promised Russia’s small neighbor alliance membership. The Europeans always have been less enthusiastic, though they have hesitated admitting that NATO’s promise was merely pretense. David J. Kramer and Damon Wilson of the McCain Institute and Atlantic Council, respectively, wrote about “Georgia’s frustration,” but the latter is of no concern to the U.S. or Europe. So long as alliance membership is about security rather than charity, the issue is the interest of existing members.

And the latter would be foolish to induct Tbilisi. Georgia’s ever-irresponsible President Mikhail Saakashvili triggered a short war with Russia in August 2008. Moscow may well have welcomed the opportunity to punish Saakashvili for his anti-Russian perspective, but outside observers reported that Georgian forces started the shooting. Saakashvili is gone—now serving in the Ukrainian government—but his successors also hope to join the alliance. Argued Michael Cecire of the Foreign Policy Research Institute: “Between a pragmatic foreign policy outlook and a capabilities oriented approach to defense, Georgia is slowly but surely overturning a reputation as a liability into that of an asset.”

However, to bring such a state, even under presumably more rationale leadership, into NATO would offer America no substantial security benefits: Tbilisi’s contributions to U.S. missions to Afghanistan and Iraq were welcome but not worth a military guarantee against Moscow. The fact that “Georgia contributes more to international operations than most existing members of NATO,” in Kramer’s and Wilson’s words, illustrates the paltry nature of others’ efforts, not the bountiful role played by Tbilisi. Georgia does not even meet NATO’s minimal standard for military spending of two percent of GDP.

Nothing at stake with Georgia should cause America to risk conflict with Moscow. Putin’s Russia looks like pre-1914 Imperial Russia, concerned with international respect and border security. That explains Moscow’s aggressive behavior toward Tbilisi, which does not warrant an American willingness to threaten war against a nuclear-armed power. Georgia’s advocates warn that the country might move toward Russia if rejected by NATO. Why should that concern Washington?

A majority of Ukrainians have come to favor alliance membership and President Petro Poroshenko said that accession remained a “strategic goal.” However, Kiev is an even poorer candidate for membership. Ukraine is involved in an active conflict involving Russia. Fear of NATO acquisition of the Crimean naval base at Sebastopol was an important reason for Moscow’s annexation of the former Russian territory. Ukraine matters much more to Moscow than America in every way; as a member of NATO Kiev would be seen as a potential security threat to Russia. Thus, Moscow always will take far greater risks and endure far greater costs in terms of relations with Kiev. That would not change if Ukraine joined NATO; only the dangers for the U.S. would increase.

Of course, the decision on alliance expansion is NATO’s alone. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg declared: “no one else has the right to interfere or try to veto” alliance membership, referring to Russia. However, since NATO is supposed to increase U.S. security, it would be foolish for Washington to ignore Moscow’s likely reaction.

The alliance—at least led by the U.S.—is obsolete. The Europeans collectively have a larger economy and population than America, and vastly larger than Russia. There is no reason for Washington, which is very busy in Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere, to continue defending its prosperous, populous cousins across the Pond.

At the very least the U.S. should halt NATO expansion. If the European members of the alliance want to defend weak, distant states, that should be their decision and responsibility. However, Washington should declare No Mas! The alliance was created to augment American security. Not risk U.S. lives and resources for no good reason.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, specializing in foreign policy and civil liberties.

This Is Why It Will Be Very Hard to Prosecute the Cop Who Shot Terence Crutcher

Jonathan Blanks

At the end of last week, 40-year-old Terence Crutcher was shot and killed by Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby. Video released by the department shows Crutcher walking away from police officers with his hands up while moving toward his vehicle, which had apparently broken down on the road. As he approached the door of his car, one officer deployed a taser on Crutcher and officer Shelby fired her weapon.

Despite repeated public outcry in highly publicized cases like this one, data shows that police officers are in fact very rarely charged or successfully prosecuted for on-duty shootings or other uses of force. According to a Washington Post investigation, between 2005 and 2015, just 54 officers were prosecuted for shootings. Assuming that the almost 1,000 police shooting deaths recorded in 2015 wasn’t a statistical outlier, that’s 54 cases out of nearly 10,000 fatal shootings.

The reasons for so few prosecutions are many, of course. And it’s often the case that shootings are both justified and arguably necessary.

A fraught 1989 Supreme Court decision makes it very tough.

But there is one protection that shields officers from prosecution and civil liability for killing even unarmed people: the case of Graham v. Connor.

A landmark Supreme Court ruling that still features prominently today in determining the propriety of officer use of force, Graham was decided in 1989. This case involved Dethorne Graham, who had been seen running out of a convenience store in Charlotte, North Carolina. A police officer who thought Graham was a fleeing thief detained Graham, roughed him up, and injured him in the process.

In actuality, Graham was diabetic and trying to get sugar to counter an insulin reaction, and the line at the store was too long, so he abruptly left. He sued under federal civil rights law, accusing the officer of using excessive force.

The court ruled that to be held liable under federal civil rights law, a police officer must have acted in a way that was “objectively unreasonable” to other officers in similar situations. In other words, because the officer believed that a crime may have occurred and that his actions were generally in line with encountering criminal suspects, the officer was not held liable.

In use of force cases, this evolved into what has been colloquially dubbed the “reasonably scared cop rule.” That is, if the officer can reasonably articulate that he was in fear of his life, the use of force will likely pass muster with prosecutors and investigators. The upshot of the rule is alarming, as Scott Greenfield explained on his blog Simple Justice:

As long as the question is whether the cops can piece together vague excuses to justify their fear as being objectively reasonable, particularly in light of the great deference paid the police by the courts and public, there will be no incentive to not kill when the opportunity presents itself.

The background notion is that if the law places a heavier burden on police before pulling the trigger, they will hesitate when faced with a true threat and, in at least some instances, lose the race to survival. The flip side, of course, is that they will shoot first, shoot prematurely. They will shoot not because of an actual threat, but because of the fear of a potential threat, a huge step removed. Yet, the ability to craft a viable excuse for fear is all that’s required as a matter of law to protect the cop from culpability for his kill.

Put simply, a fearful police officer is a very dangerous one. If he can articulate a plausible narrative that he believed he or his life was in danger?—?often involving the suspect making a “sudden” or “furtive movement,” or “reaching for his waistband” as if for a gun any lack of actual danger or dangerous weapon is not relevant to the officer’s legal culpability. Absolved of criminal or civil responsibility by investigators, the officer may keep his job and go back on the streets.

The real problem with the “objectively reasonable” standard of accountability is that it’s actually much closer to “subjectively reasonable.” The perspective of sympathetic officers who can imagine themselves shooting someone in a potentially life-or-death scenario given a set of stipulated facts effectively trumps the individual rights of an unarmed person shot to death.

In practice, such a standard can provide an abundance of caution in favor of the officer’s safety at the cost of the lives of people they are sworn to serve. In some circumstances, officer caution can save a suspect’s life in critical situations. But Graham protects officers who may overreact to a perceived threat so that they shoot first and look for a weapon later. Putting officer safety first and foremost subverts the protections that the government is supposed to provide to its citizens. While officer safety is undoubtedly important, it is also important to remember that there is no officer safety exception to the Constitution.

Almost 30 years since Graham, it remains the crucial ruling that governs the actions in so many police shooting cases. Given the actions of Terence Crutcher in the critical moments before his death, it will likely be invoked again.

Jonathan Blanks is a research associate at the Cato Institute’s Project on Criminal Justice and managing editor of

Is the Libertarian Party the Moderate Alternative in Today’s America?

Ted Galen Carpenter

The 2016 US presidential campaign, already noteworthy for the flamboyant and controversial ability of Donald Trump to capture the Republican Party nomination, is markedly different for another reason. The Libertarian Party (LP), which has been on the fringes of American politics since its formation more than four decades ago (typically winning about 0.5% of the vote in presidential elections) is playing a much more significant role this time. Depending on how the questions are phrased and the makeup of the survey sample, the ticket of former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson and former Massachusetts Governor William Weld poll between 7-13%, usually clustering around 9-10%.

Most political observers attribute that much stronger support to two factors. One is that the LP has nominated two figures with serious records of achievement instead of some of the rank (and occasionally bizarre) outsiders that it chose in other years. But that factor cannot fully account for the surge of support. After all, Gary Johnson was the party’s nominee in 2012 (with a different running mate) and although he did better than previous LP candidates by receiving 1.2 million votes, he narrowly failed to pierce the 1% level. Clearly, something has changed.

The majority of experts attribute the sharp rise of support for the Johnson-Weld ticket to the unprecedented level of public dissatisfaction with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Polling data may support that thesis, since the disapproval rating for Clinton has risen to 58, while for Trump it has remained around 64%. There is indeed a lot of public disgust with the nominees of both major parties, and that undoubtedly contributes to the search for a third-party alternative. With two very respectable figures on their ticket, the LP was well positioned to take advantage.

It is possible that it represents the cutting edge of a new political coalition — a new moderate force more in tune with the wishes of the American people.

However, there are indications that public dissatisfaction goes much deeper than the revulsion over the 2016 Republican and Democratic presidential nominees. The two major parties are increasingly polarized on some key domestic issues, making the concept of political compromise almost unthinkable. Abortion is the most obvious issue, but the polarization has bled over into an entire range of social and economic issues. Appointments to the Supreme Court, and increasingly even lower courts, are now subject to strict political and ideological litmus tests. The idea of nominating a quality jurist who will simply do his or her best to apply the law as the facts of a particular case indicate, has now become a quaint, obsolete notion for the dominant elites in both major parties. Yet, except for movement zealots, that is likely what a majority of Americans seek. The LP offers the hope of fresh appointees without the extensive baggage of political and ideological obligations.

A different kind of polarization has taken place on the issue of national security. While prominent Republicans and Democrats will happily engage in partisan sniping, the reality is that there is very little difference in the substance of the policies that the elites of both parties embrace. Although Trump himself has made some statements suggesting that he is a bit of a maverick (calling NATO “obsolete”, for example), most of the GOP and the bulk of the Democratic Party leadership remain firmly wedded to the status quo. And that status quo is one of high levels of military spending, maintaining (and where possible, expanding) Washington’s alliances, and intervening militarily around the world in conflicts that have little or no connection to America’s vital interests. Moreover, one must wonder about Trump’s supposed maverick tendencies when he pledges a new campaign to destroy ISIS in record time and end the budget sequester provisions so that the already generously funded Pentagon can get even more money. Conversely, less than one-third of the public supports increased military spending.

The American public has been increasingly frustrated with the so-called bipartisan interventionist consensus. Polls show that Americans believe that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were a mistake, and they want to avoid similar quagmires. Although panic about a high-profile terrorist incident can generate temporary support for US military action in the Middle East, that support tends to fade, and it is always notable for a lack of enthusiasm for extended occupations or nation-building missions.

The GOP and Democratic elites are also out of touch with the American public on the issue of alliances. Trump was able to tap into a reservoir of anger about the allies not bearing their “fair share” of the collective defense burden. In fact, the public shows manifest reluctance to defend allies like Taiwan and South Korea, even though Washington has a long-standing commitment. A willingness to shed American blood for the likes of NATO allies such as the Baltic republics is far from certain either.

Johnson and Weld have been far less definitive than previous LP tickets in repudiating interventionism. For example, they would not necessarily have the United States withdraw immediately from NATO. They would, however, push for lower military spending, rather than higher, and the days of the US military being the first responder to every crisis in the world would not be part of their foreign policy. For a war-weary American public, that is an appealing message.

Finally, support for the LP may compel the Republicans and Democrats to address economic (especially budgetary) policies in a more serious fashion. Both major parties talk about reducing the alarming, chronic annual federal budget deficit, but their actions belie their words. The administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama added more to the US national debt than all previous presidents combined. And one is hard-pressed to figure out how to stem the tide of red ink when candidates promise to give the Pentagon more to spend or want to provide free tuition for anyone who wishes to go to college. The LP points out the blatant contradictions in the positions of the GOP and its Democratic competitor and, as on the issue of war, a worried public may be ready to listen.

It remains to be seen how much of an impact the Libertarian Party will have on the 2016 election and beyond. The Johnson-Weld upsurge could be merely a one-time phenomenon brought about by the selection of especially unsavory nominees by the two major parties. But it is also possible that it represents the cutting edge of a new political coalition — a new moderate force more in tune with the wishes of the American people.

Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor at the National Interest, is the author of ten books and more than 600 articles on international affairs.

Primed against Primacy: The Restraint Constituency and U.S. Foreign Policy

A. Trevor Thrall

In 1998, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today Show: “If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.” Albright’s view was anything but unique to her or to the Clinton administration. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a strong bipartisan consensus in favor of frequent American military intervention has reigned in Washington. Even President Obama, who came into office calling for greater restraint than his predecessor, expanded the “war on terror,” engaged in regime change in Libya, and extended the mission in Afghanistan — America’s longest war. Facing vocal critics who seek to increase American intervention not just in the Middle East but also in conflicts throughout the world, Obama was unable to implement many of the more restrained policies he advocated.

Looking ahead, the greatest danger to the case for restraint is the interventionist habit of America’s political leaders.

The American public, however, is far less supportive of an interventionist foreign policy agenda than political elites. Given this, a critical task for the next president will be to navigate between the interventionist tendencies of the right and the left, while embracing the “restraint constituency.” An analysis of polling data from both CNN/ORC and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs reveals that this constituency, which cuts across party lines and represents roughly 37 percent of the public — exhibits a reliable disposition toward foreign policy restraint, opposing the use of military force in all but a few cases. That contrasts with an “interventionist constituency” that represents about a quarter of the public and supports much more aggressive efforts to promote American interests abroad. Since neither constituency’s core followers represent a majority, the deciding voice between intervention and restraint in foreign policy debates belongs to the 40 percent of the public that falls somewhere between the two camps.

Though the restraint constituency enjoys an advantage on many important foreign policy issues, public fears about terrorism and other global conflicts will continue to be a significant challenge for restraint-minded policymakers. Framing world events as “other people’s business,” reminding the public of the costs of major war, and pursuing an active noninterventionist counterterrorism strategy can help policymakers encourage public support for a more restrained foreign policy.

The Restraint Constituency

In the broadest sense, most Americans agree that the United States should play some sort of role in world affairs. The most commonly asked poll question on this topic asks whether the United States should “take an active part” or “stay out” of world affairs. The proportion of respondents who say “take an active part” has ranged between 60 percent and 70 percent since the mid-1980s. What such surveys do not communicate clearly, however, is what exactly people mean when they answer them. In the case of military intervention, taking an “active part” could mean anything from contributing to a peacekeeping mission to frequent full-scale regime change of a hostile regime, while “stay out” could mean anything from cutting ties with allies to rejecting responsibility for resolving foreign conflicts.

We can develop a more complete picture by assessing people’s beliefs on two key fundamental questions regarding intervention and the use of force. The first question concerns how much effort the United States should make to solve the world’s problems. The second concerns how often the United States should turn to military force to promote national interests. Figure 1 provides a snapshot of Americans’ underlying attitudes along these two dimensions.


With these answers in hand we can begin to identify competing predispositions towards foreign policy. Some Americans — those we label here the restraint constituency — feel that the United States should not seek to take the leading role among all nations to solve the world’s problems. They believe that the United States should rarely use military force. The interventionist constituency, on the other hand, are those who answer the opposite. This group believes the United States should take the leading role and support the frequent use of military force to promote American interests. Figure 2 combines responses to both questions, helping identify and measure four distinct postures toward foreign affairs.


These predispositions toward restraint and intervention are just that — under certain conditions, even restrainers will support intervention and interventionists will not. At any particular moment, Americans’ opinions reflect not only these predispositions but also information coming from political leaders and the news media about the world. More recent polling on the Islamic State, for example, illustrates that support for an aggressive response has risen considerably across all groups as concerns about the threat posed by the Islamic State have grown.

The Politics of Restraint Today

The shifting context of international security and domestic politics provides both opportunities and challenges to policymakers trying to chart a restrained path in foreign policy.

Today, three major factors work in favor of restraint. The first is war fatigue. Large majorities remain convinced that both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were mistakes. With over 7,000 U.S. military personnel killed and many thousands more wounded, and trillions of dollars spent killing terrorists and “exerting influence” in the Middle East and elsewhere, many Americans are simply convinced it is time to spend more time focusing on domestic concerns. A 2016 Pew survey found, along these lines, that 70 percent of the public wants the next president to focus on domestic issues compared to just 17 percent who want to see a focus on foreign policy. One possible interpretation of this finding is that a growing number of Americans may see little connection between military intervention and American security, especially given how few terrorist attacks have occurred on American soil since 9/11. As a result, fewer may now believe such efforts are worth the high costs in lives, money, and in the lack of attention paid to domestic issues. Such poll findings establish a high burden of proof for future intervention. Those seeking to repeat a troop-intensive intervention in the Middle East not only will have to explain why the security risk justifies such an action but also must reassure the public that the next Islamic State will not emerge in its aftermath.

Second, the American public continues to find serious military intervention justified in relatively few situations. As surveys from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs repeatedly illustrate, a majority of the public opposes most potential uses of U.S. ground troops, with two key exceptions: humanitarian intervention (including preventing genocide) and preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The emergence of the Islamic State also represents a significant challenge to a restraint-minded president. The group’s barbarism, along with the attacks in Europe, San Bernardino, and Orlando, have driven public support for an aggressive response to levels not seen since the early days after 9/11, though support for sending American troops remains low.

Finally, looking beyond the temporary effects of global events, the situation today reflects generational shifts in public opinion. The data reveals that the restraint constituency has been growing as younger and less intervention-minded Americans start to replace older, more interventionist Americans. The Millennial generation, born between 1980 and 1997, is the most restrained yet, with both Democratic and Republican Millennials more likely to fall into the Restraint Constituency. Figure 3 illustrates the generational shift toward restraint.


The Road Ahead: Priming the Restraint Constituency

Continued clashes between the restraint and interventionist constituencies are inevitable. Both camps can rely on a core of followers to support their positions and both have illustrated the ability — on different issues — to command majority support. The key questions thus become under what conditions will the restraint constituency win the day? And how can policymakers help make that happen? Restraint-minded policymakers can make the strongest case possible in various ways.

Most important, policymakers should assert a “civil conflict” frame when discussing the situation in places like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and any future failed or troubled state. Historically, the restraint position has been most compelling when Americans believe they are being asked to intervene to resolve other nations’ internal problems, while interventionist arguments have been strongest when Americans are asked to take action against a group or nation that poses a direct threat to the United States. In reality, of course, public perception often depends in large part on how the president, other political leaders, and the media frame that issue in the first place.

The Syrian civil war provides an excellent illustration of this dynamic. In 2013, the popular perception was that, although tragic, the situation was above all a civil war and primarily Syria’s problem. As a result, 68 percent of the public told pollsters that the United States did not bear responsibility for Syria. A similar majority opposed sending troops or even providing aid to the rebels fighting Assad. Yet by 2015, a large percentage of the public saw Syria not only as a civil war but as a battlefield on which to confront the threat of terrorism, largely thanks to the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.

Restraint-minded policymakers should also invoke the length and cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with the chaos that both created, including the birth of the Islamic State. Even as Americans indicate a desire to move more aggressively against the Islamic State, they remain extremely wary of a full-scale ground war. To the extent that political leaders can keep the public focused on the dangers of any military engagement, they can reduce the appeal of calls for more intervention.

Finally, policymakers, especially the president, should emphasize noninterventionist strategies for counterterrorism. It is clear that the fear of terrorism is the most likely cause of future American intervention abroad in the near to medium term. And though nothing can completely eliminate calls from the interventionist constituency to play whack-a-mole abroad to combat terrorist groups, the majority of the public traditionally prefers exploring nonmilitary means of solving problems to the use of force. By highlighting an active program of nonmilitary counterterrorism efforts, the next president could blunt calls for military intervention.

Looking ahead, the greatest danger to the case for restraint is the interventionist habit of America’s political leaders. Under either a President Clinton or a President Trump, it seems extremely likely that the United States will continue to suffer from what Christopher Preble calls the “power problem.” Thanks to the exceptional security and overwhelming power the United States possesses, it enjoys too great a temptation, to intervene abroad in pursuit of all kinds of foreign policy goals that have nothing to do with national security.

A. Trevor Thrall is senior fellow at the Cato Institute and associate professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.

North Korea: Friendly Proliferation May Beat a Nuclear Umbrella

Doug Bandow

The Obama administration is debating a declaration of no first use of nuclear weapons. Some Asia specialists fear the resulting impact on North Korea. But dealing with Pyongyang is a reason for Washington to encourage its ally South Korea to go nuclear.

Washington has possessed nuclear weapons for more than 70 years. No one doubts that the U.S. would use nukes in its own defense.

However, since then Washington has extended a so-called “nuclear umbrella” over many of its non-nuclear allies. For instance, the U.S. long has threatened to use nuclear weapons in its NATO allies’ defense, though the precise circumstances under which the U.S. would act were not clear. The U.S. also holds, probably, a nuclear umbrella over at least some of its Mideast allies.

Dealing with nuclear weapons is never easy. Washington’s best alternative may be to withdraw from Northeast Asia’s nuclear imbroglio.

Northeast Asia is the region where nuclear threats seem greatest. Japan and South Korea are thought to be snuggled beneath America’s nuclear umbrella, which has discouraged both from acquiring their own weapons. Other possible claimants include Taiwan and Australia, though, again, no one quite knows what Washington would do when.

The “umbrella” obviously is defensive, that is, to protect American allies against the first use of nukes. However, Washington also could — and, it appears, would, if necessary, whatever that might mean — use nuclear weapons first to stop a conventional attack. While Russia and China might not be particularly friendly with America these days, they aren’t likely to attack the Republic of Korea or Japan. More plausible is a North Korean invasion of the ROK.

Extended nuclear deterrence always has been risky for the U.S. It means being willing to fight a nuclear war on behalf of others, that is, Americans would risk Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles to, say, defend Berlin and Tokyo.

At least bilateral deterrence among great powers tends to be reasonably stable. Dealing with North Korea is potentially more dangerous. Kim Jong Un’s judgment and stability are problematic. He might start a war inadvertently.

Yet the DPRK eventually may gain the ability to strike the U.S. by developing long-range missiles as well as nuclear weapons. The North isn’t likely to attack first, but it still could lay waste to a major U.S. city.

Which would be a bad deal indeed. Yet advocates of extended deterrence are criticizing proposals for an American pledge of no first use of nuclear weapons. Writing for NK News, analyst Robert E. McCoy argued: “It is imperative that Kim Jong Un is made to understand that he faces the destructive power of our entire weapons arsenal at all times when it comes to threatening the U.S. or its allies.”

Yet that is precisely the problem. It is one thing for Washington to use nuclear weapons, including pre-emptively, to protect America. It is quite different to do so for allies.

Alliances are a means, not an end — that is, a mechanism to help defend the U.S. A North Korean attack on South Korea would be awful, a humanitarian tragedy. But American security would not be directly threatened. Certainly there is no threat warranting the risk of nuclear retaliation on the U.S.

Of course, those being defended have configured their security policy and force structure in response. But future policy should not be held captive to the past.

Washington’s chief responsibility should be America’s security. Backers of the status quo act like there is no alternative to leaving South Korea (and Japan, which faces a real, though less direct, threat from the DPRK) vulnerable to attack.

However, Seoul is well able to deter and defeat the North. The ROK possesses around 40 times the GDP and twice the population of North Korea, as well as a vast technological lead and an extensive international support network. Japan, which long possessed the world’s second-largest economy, also could do far more.

The South is capable of developing nuclear weapons. Indeed, polls show public support for such an option today. Opposition to nuclear weapons is stronger in Japan, but an ROK weapon would put enormous pressure on Tokyo to conform.

Obviously, there are plenty of good reasons to oppose proliferation, even among friends. However, the current system is entangling Washington in the middle of other nations’ potential conflicts. The result is to make America less secure.

Dealing with nuclear weapons is never easy. Washington’s best alternative may be to withdraw from Northeast Asia’s nuclear imbroglio. Then America’s allies could engage in containment and deterrence, just as America did for them for so many years.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

The World Has Changed. Why Haven’t Our Trade Deals?

Simon Lester

One of the most contentious debates in trade policy right now is over investor-state dispute settlement, a set of provisions that allows foreign investors to sue host country governments when they believe their rights have been violated. ISDS provisions are now a standard part of many countries’ trade agreements, but are often criticized for giving multinational corporations too much influence over developing countries’ sovereignty and democracy.

For the debate to make any headway, it needs to be informed by the origins of ISDS. When the historical context is understood, it becomes clear that the provisions are outdated in many ways — it may be time to find new ways to define the relationships of multinational corporations to the developing countries where they invest.

Today’s world is nothing like the world after World War II, and we should no longer stereotype all non-Western or developing governments as incompetent or corrupt.

Many former colonies became independent nations in the post-World War II era. After an initial wave of industry nationalizations in the 1950s through the ’70s, private enterprise came back into favor, and Western multinationals began to expand their operations throughout the developing world. The result was stronger economic growth in many of these previously poor countries, but also continued conflict between governments and foreign investors.

In their original form, investment treaties containing ISDS were seen as a way to manage this conflict. International courts were proposed as a way to challenge nationalizations and takeovers that took place without fair compensation. Foreign investors were given the right to raise claims directly against host country governments, avoiding local judiciaries who were not always independent and impartial. The idea was to promote a stable business environment and encourage investment.

The ISDS regime was fairly quiet and obscure for many years, but as treaties encouraging foreign investment proliferated, more claims were brought. That’s because enterprising lawyers recognized that the broad language used in these treaties covered more than just factory expropriations or nationality-based discrimination, and began to push the boundaries of the claims. Soon, what many people would consider normal government action — such as environmental regulation or litigation arising from contract law disputes in domestic court — was being challenged by multinational corporations through ISDS lawsuits. Today, the system is used more for general disputes about supposed unfairness in government behavior than for its original purpose of protecting investors against nationalistic bias or expropriation.

Today’s world is nothing like the world after World War II, and we should no longer stereotype all non-Western or developing governments as incompetent or corrupt. In truth, there is a great deal of diversity among these countries. Many have fairly sophisticated legal and political systems, comparable to the Western ones we set up as examples. Former dictatorships such as South Korea and Chile, for example, are now stable and reliable partners in world affairs. It’s odd that a system designed to address nationalizations and other extreme acts taken by dictators should be applied to countries such as these.

As for authoritarian regimes that do still exist, it is unclear whether these international investment rules are even helpful. Some proponents argue that international obligations such as ISDS can set an example for fair regulation and litigation, which will then spread to domestic systems. But there is no clear evidence that this is happening. In practice, the situation is that wealthy foreigners are able to assert their rights against authoritarian governments, while ordinary citizens cannot.

It is also worth noting that there are other more narrow and tailored alternatives available to manage conflict. ISDS has led to unanticipated, potentially spurious claims, such as tobacco companies bringing lawsuits against tobacco control regulation. A better approach might be for foreign investors to use arbitration clauses in the contracts they sign with governments. This would make the limits on government action clear from the outset, rather than relying on a broad and vague investment treaty.

To determine what international trade rules are needed (if any!), we need to define the issues more clearly. People talk vaguely about arbitrary government actions or corrupt courts abroad. No doubt these things exist. Yet the problem of governments brazenly taking over privately owned property has been on the decline for a while. So what is ISDS really addressing today? What exactly is the problem, and in which countries?

Overall, what we need is a more balanced approach to international economic agreements with developing countries. Too often, these agreements mainly reflect the demands of Western business groups and non-governmental organizations.

Before taking the extreme step of creating a private right-to-action under international law, we should first identify the problem we are solving and think carefully about the scope and nature of the rules we adopt. Otherwise, the current state of affairs — with proliferating challenges to domestic statutes, regulations and judicial decisions — will continue to undermine domestic autonomy in ways that many civil society groups and others find objectionable.

Simon Lester is a arade policy analyst for the Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies at Cato Institute

Racial Equality: Much Progress Made, Much More Needed

Michael D. Tanner

In less than two weeks, on September 24, the newest addition to the Smithsonian museum system will open on the Washington, D.C. mall. The National Museum of African American History and Culture will tell a story that reminds us of both our failures as a nation and our unique promise and ability to rise above our baser instincts.

Certainly the African-American experience starts in adversity. From 1619, when a Dutch ship brought 20 African slaves ashore at Jamestown, until the slave trade was abolished in 1807, nearly 600,000 slaves were forcibly brought to this country. At the start of the Civil War, roughly 89 percent of all blacks in America, almost 4 million people, were slaves. Overall, between the arrival of those first black slaves at Jamestown and 1865, when the 13th Amendment officially outlawed slavery, millions of Africans and their descendants were held in bondage and servitude in the United States. They were routinely murdered, raped, beaten, and deprived of the most basic human rights. That represents an indelible stain on this country’s soul.

The oppression of African Americans hardly ended with the abolition of slavery. On paper, of course, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments promised equality. In reality, however, the end of slavery marked the beginning of a century of legally enforced second-class citizenship. In fact, while the worst aspects of Jim Crow were outlawed by various civil rights laws in the 1960s, the treatment of African-Americans has remained unequal.

The Smithsonian’s new African-American museum reminds us of America’s flaws and virtues.

Far too many conservatives pretend that the mere removal of legal barriers to black progress instantly elevated African Americans to a level playing field. In reality, even if overt discrimination has greatly diminished today, the consequences of past discrimination are still with us. You cannot have a race in which one runner is loaded down with weights and chains for half the race, remove them, and suggest that from then on it’s a fair contest.

Nor should we forget that, from abuses in the criminal-justice system to continued discrimination in employment, housing, and education to the rise of the alt-right, full equality remains more aspiration than reality. As a white man, with all the privilege that implies, I can’t even begin to imagine the toll that constant exposure to racism, from minor slights to full-blown discrimination, must take on its victims.

But while the museum will appropriately highlight our sins and failures, it will also tell a uniquely American story of triumph over adversity. We should recall that even in times of oppression, African Americans raised families, educated themselves, started businesses, and formed charitable societies to care for each other in hard times. They became scholars, business owners, politicians, and leaders in all manner of fields. And before the tragedy of the modern welfare state, African Americans developed an extraordinary network of private charities, especially lodges like the Prince Hall Masons, to take care of their communities.

For all its faults, it is the American system — democracy, the rule of law, and free-market capitalism — that has made it possible for African Americans to overcome this legacy of oppression. Likewise, it is the basic decency of the American people that has helped transform the political and legal landscape to overcome racism — African-Americans who demanded change, and millions of white Americans who stood along side them. The civil-rights movement could really only have happened here.

Indeed, one can look around the world at simmering racial, ethnic, and tribal conflicts and see few countries that have come as far as we have. Racial equality may still be aspirational, but it is part of the American character to have such aspirations. After all, racism is simply another form of collectivism. It rejects the value of the individual. That’s about as anti-American as one can get.

Given the current heated political climate, the National Museum of African American History and Culture will almost certainly arouse controversy. That’s a shame. In reminding us of our flaws, it also reminds us how far we have come. In reminding us of how much remains to be done, it reminds us how much we can still achieve. In reminding us that we haven’t been as perfect as we pretend, it reminds us of how great we really are.

That’s a message, all of it, that we need to hear.

Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the author of Going for Broke: Deficits, Debt, and the Entitlement Crisis.

Americans’ Fear of Foreign Terrorists Is Overinflated

Alex Nowrasteh

One thing is clear from this presidential campaign: many Americans are scared of terrorists and immigrants. Donald Trump has managed to capitalize on that fear by conflating the two phenomena. The refugee crisis emanating from Iraq and Syria as well as recent attacks like the one in San Bernardino, Calif., have prompted calls for heightened immigration restrictions to keep our country safe. But is it really true that immigrants pose a unique terrorist threat?

No, actually. In a new analysis I just published at the Cato Institute, I look at every single terrorist attack committed on U.S. soil by an immigrant or tourist from 1975 to the end of 2015 and apply some basic risk analysis. Turns out, Americans should not be so worried: the chance of being killed in a terrorist attack committed by a foreigner is about 1 in 3.6 million per year.

That number includes the terrorist attacks on September 11—a dramatic statistical outlier bigger than any terrorist attack in history. The 19 hijackers entered the U.S. legally on visas—18 masquerading as tourists and one as a student. But 9/11 accounts for a whopping 98.6% of the 3,024 people killed on U.S. soil by foreign-born terrorists in the past 41 years.

Punishing 28 million innocent people—not to mention the countless Americans who want to marry the foreigners, hire them, or sell them products—is a gross overreaction to this danger.

Since that fateful day until the end of 2015, 24 people were murdered by foreign-born terrorists on U.S. soil. Fourteen of those 24 were killed by Saudi Arabian-born Tashfeen Malik in a December 2015 attack in San Bernardino.

These are brutal tragedies. But the number of murders, sad as each one of them is, doesn’t warrant the public alarm. In December of last year, 47% of Americans said they are “somewhat worried” or “very worried” that they or someone in their family will be a victim of terrorism. About 26% of Americans worried about immigration are most concerned with national security.

Reacting to the widespread fear, Trump has proposed an immigration ban on “terrorist countries” and even went so far as to call for a complete ban on Muslims entering the U.S. Some well-known conservatives including Larry KudlowDavid Bossie, and Ann Coulter have called for a complete moratorium on all immigration as a way to deal with terrorism.

Obviously, terrorists should not be allowed to come here. But too much damage is caused if the government bans everybody from certain countries just because somebody else born there killed Americans in a domestic attack. Think of it this way: from 1975 to 2015, more than 1.13 billion foreigners entered the U.S. legally and illegally. So, more than 28 million foreigners entered the country for each successful terrorist who actually managed to kill somebody in a domestic terrorist attack. Punishing 28 million innocent people—not to mention the countless Americans who want to marry the foreigners, hire them, or sell them products—is a gross overreaction to this danger.

The risk posed by immigrants varies depending on the visa type. Refugees and illegal immigrants are the most feared groups of foreigners on U.S. soil when it comes to terrorism. Twenty refugee terrorists have attacked or attempted attacks, but they only managed to kill three people—all in the late 1970s before the creation of the modern refugee screening system. The annual chance of being killed in a terrorist attacked committed by refugees is one in 3.6 billion a year. Ten illegal immigrants were terrorists, but they only managed to kill one person—meaning your chance of dying in a terrorist attack committed by an illegal immigrant is one in 10.9 billion a year.

By comparison, your chance of being murdered by anyone is 1 in 14,000. In other words, your chance of being murdered is 253 times as great as dying in a terrorist attack committed by a foreigner on U.S. soil.

Life is fraught with risk. From the dramatic, such as crime and terrorism, to the mundane, such as dying in car accidents or being crushed by furniture, risk is a part of our lives. Every action the government takes to reduce risk comes at a cost—which is often worth bearing. Using conservative estimates, the economic benefit of immigration and tourism is $229 billion a year. Security is important, but $229 billion accounts for many people’s livelihoods that could be disrupted or eliminated with immigration bans that will only slightly decrease the chances of being killed in a terrorist attack.

The U.S. government should continue to devote resources to screening immigrants for the purpose of excluding terrorists. Foreign-born terrorists could become deadlier in the future, but we should plan for the world we have and react to challenges as they arise rather than exaggerate manageable hazards. Hopefully, Cato’s new report will put the danger from foreign-born terrorism into perspective and provide guidance on how to allocate security resources to where they’ll do the most good.

Alex Nowrasteh is an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute

Do Other Countries’ Trade Policies Hurt the United States?

Daniel R. Pearson

The major candidates in this year’s presidential race both believe that trade policies of foreign countries are unfair and serve to damage the United States. Donald Trump says, “The American worker is being crushed” by trade. Hillary Clinton’s take is that, “When countries break the rules, we won’t hesitate to impose targeted tariffs.”

Appealing to populist sentiment may prove to be good politics, but is it good economics? How justified are the charges that other countries’ trade policies are harmful to America?

To answer those questions, it helps to divide foreign trade policies into two broad categories: (1) those that limit the ability of U.S. exporters to sell into overseas markets; and (2) those that reduce the prices of foreign products entering the United States.

The ability of U.S. firms to export is somewhat constrained by other countries’ import restrictions. So-called “border measures” — primarily tariffs and quotas — have been reduced substantially since 1948 through a series of negotiations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), now transformed into the World Trade Organization (WTO). However, many countries still have tariffs that are quite high on products of interest to the United States. As an example, Japan’s import tariff on rice is prohibitive at over 700 percent.

It is in America’s best interest to ensure that help for unemployed workers is provided in ways that don’t restrict trade.

Domestic policies can be just as restrictive as tariffs. A country might craft technical specifications for motor vehicles in ways that make it impossible for U.S. cars to meet them. Thus, American automobiles would need to be redesigned before they could be exported.  WTO rules specify that technical standards should not create unnecessary obstacles to trade, but many such barriers still exist. One U.S. objective in negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was to reduce the trade restrictiveness of domestic policies.

It may provide scant consolation to exporting firms, but economists have understood for decades that trade restrictions do more economic damage to the country that imposes them than to countries at which they are directed. So even though Japan’s high rice tariff hurts U.S. rice growers, it does far more damage in Japan by reducing economic welfare there.  Bottom line: the import restrictions of other countries do some harm to the United States, but they impose much bigger costs on the nations that implement them. (Of course, the same is true in reverse for U.S. import restrictions.)

How about the second category — foreign government policies that lower the prices of their exports? Direct export subsidies generally are not allowed under WTO rules. However, many countries take steps to help their exporters. Among others, these can involve providing tax incentives to encourage construction of new plants, assisting in worker training, building new export infrastructure, and offering export credit to overseas buyers. Countries with centrally planned economies tend to do even more. Those nations have the ability to establish artificially low prices for basic inputs used by industrial firms, or to offer government loans that may never be repaid.

In addition, some countries at times appear to have reduced artificially the values of their currencies in relation to those of other nations. This has the effect of making exports less expensive. If such “currency manipulation” is a conscious policy choice, it is a strange one, indeed. A country’s decision to reduce the value of its currency is a decision to change the “terms of trade” (the ratio of a country’s export prices to its import prices) in a way that benefits the U.S. economy. America will get a bargain — obtaining a greater value of imports for the same value of exports. The country with the low-valued currency will be selling its exports for less than they are worth, thus transferring wealth to the United States.

The same dynamic holds true for any foreign government policy that unnaturally reduces the prices of exported goods — it has the effect of transferring wealth to this country. So when other nations are “unfair” in promoting their exports, they reduce their own economic welfare and enhance America’s.

Policies that strengthen the export postures of foreign nations can create political challenges in the United States. Those policies have the potential to lessen the competitiveness of U.S. firms and to eliminate jobs of U.S. workers. Not every American comes out ahead when other countries promote their exports, even though overall U.S. economic welfare is enhanced.

The United States has a history of providing adjustment assistance to people who have lost their jobs. It is in America’s best interest to ensure that help for unemployed workers is provided in ways that don’t restrict trade.

The trade policies of other countries — whether they restrict imports or promote exports — really can’t to do all that much to harm the United States. However, America inadvertently could inflict a great deal of damage on itself by erecting new trade barriers.

Daniel R. Pearson is a senior fellow at Cato and the former chairman of the U.S. International Trade Commission.

What Does the Ceasefire in Syria Mean for U.S.-Russia Relations?

Christine Guluzian

The United States and Russia have agreed to a 48-hour ceasefire in Syria. Should the attempt endure for a week, as per the terms of the ceasefire, the United States and Russia may collaborate in future exercises against common aggressors in Syria. The agreement’s success, however, is far from assured. Further, should the ceasefire hold over the next 48-hours, and the United States and Russia subsequently combine their efforts in Syria, relations between the two countries in Syria could still be contentious.

What could be defined as “successful” is relative: there is ample opportunity for obstacles to derail attempts at the cessation of military activity. First, the warring factions could use the ceasefire as an opportunity to rearm and regroup. Second, how the United States and Russia will convince their respective allies to abide by the terms of the ceasefire will be of concern. Finally, agreeing on who the common aggressor in Syria is will prove problematic.

Indeed, Washington and Moscow remain at odds on the future role of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Therefore, aside from finally providing a window of opportunity for humanitarian relief, what is the purpose behind the current ceasefire attempt, and the possible creation of an arena of cooperation for the U.S. and Russia which might ensue pending a successful ceasefire?

The next 48-hours, and the following week, will test the possibility of a serious accord between the United States and Russia.

One possibility relates to Russia’s upcoming September 18th parliamentary elections. The timing of the ceasefire and, should it last for a week, the potential for joint U.S.-Russian military operations in Syria seems hardly coincidental given the timing of the Russian parliamentary elections, which were moved up from December to September amidst troubling domestic circumstances and the hugely volatile aftereffects of the parliamentary elections of 2011. Even taking into account the prevalence of state-sponsored media outlets, a record of murky electoral processes and the questionable reliability of approval rating and polling results, President Putin’s United Russia party remains relatively popular within the country. One reason is that one of the main foreign policy goals of the Putin administration is to regain a metaphorical “seat at the table” amongst world powers.

This foreign policy goal serves two key purposes. First, it promotes the foreign policy interests of those within Putin’s circle of elites, referred to as the siloviki. Second, it feeds into nationalist sentiments that the Putin administration has stoked. Moscow has been eager to dispel the embarrassment of the Yeltsin presidency and its broader marginalization internationally after the fall of the Soviet Union; regaining pride domestically and eminence abroad have been seen as the antidote. Thus, polishing Russia’s image as a global power has been a foremost goal for the Putin administration, which envisions a reemergent Russia. Thus, propping up Russia’s image as a global power and gaining a “seat at the table” amongst world leaders has been a foremost goal for the Putin administration, and for its vision of a re-emergent Russia. Success in that regard, whether attained by reasserting dominance over its traditional geographic sphere of influence or by aligning with other great or emergent global powers, translates into success domestically amongst Russian constituents. What it lacks in domestic political legitimacy, the Putin administration gains through a “successful” foreign policy.

The Putin administration does not want a repeat of the 2011 parliamentary elections’ aftermath, when thousands took to the streets to protest the results. With so many domestic concerns, and given the dodgy reputation of electoral processes in Russia, the Kremlin is well aware that the situation is ripe for a recurring set of mass protests following the upcoming parliamentary elections. Where Putin can, and historically has, gained legitimacy in the face of such varied domestic challenges has been in foreign policy. A “success” internationally, whether in Syria or elsewhere, would be a feather in Putin’s cap.

In Washington, meanwhile, the discussion regarding the future of U.S.-Russia relations is contentious, as the circumstances surrounding the possibility of U.S.-Russian accords remain fluid and unclear. Scholarly discussion and chatter within policy circles are, by and large, centered along a debate similar to the argument and counterargument recently featured in the Washington Post.  These exchanges, while differing on the minutia of the discussion, display agreement on the need to continue (or “ramp up”) economic sanctions, and maintain an enhanced military presence in the region to deter any further destabilizing attempts by Moscow. Also, dialogue or increased engagement is painted as somewhat futile, while areas of cooperation are considered limited.

The next U.S. presidential administration should, however, approach its policies toward Russia carefully. A careless approach could lead to a trajectory akin to a renewed Cold War, as recently pointed out by Russian Prime Minister—and former President—Dmitry Medvedev. In the United States, sentiment towards such a possibility vary and a generational gap can even be witnessed. Those who lived through the Cold War either abhor the idea of another such debacle, or distrust Moscow’s motives to such an extent that they view any attempt at establishing a positive trajectory in relations with Russia disdainfully.

Conversely, the foreign policy preferences of the millennial generation point to wariness toward aggression abroad, as highlighted by an insightful study by the Cato Institute. Millennials, which did not experience the realities of the Cold War first hand, has, by and large grown weary of prolonged, seemingly endless involvement in global conflicts in the absence of a clear and present danger to U.S. national security or a major international humanitarian crisis. That is understandable, considering that “millennials” have hardly experienced a time in which the United States has not been at war.

Where does that leave the United States in terms of its relations with Russia? Is a period of renewed Cold War or corollary conflicts paved in stone? Would the possibility of a unified U.S.-Russia front against common aggressors in Syria harken a new, more collaborative approach to U.S.-Russia relations? The next 48-hours, and the following week, will test the possibility of a serious accord between the United States and Russia.

Christine Guluzian is a post-doctoral visiting research fellow in Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute.