The United States and Russia continue to go toe-to-toe with each other, over the same real estate, time and time again. Recently I found an old 1988 US Navy Arctic Manual. The pictures inside are interesting in that they look a lot like the pictures circulating in our current intelligence briefs. The concerns are still the same. In fact, if you replace “Soviet Union” with “Russia,” you might not guess it’s from 1988.
Why do we keep sparring with Russia in the Arctic, over the same issues? Haven’t we advanced as a society? Didn’t we win WW2 to solve this problem?
Sadly, the answer is simple: we haven’t defined what a post-conflict Russia looks like.
We talk a LOT about war with Russia. We fight each other on resources, influence, trade and occasionally territory. The outcome is always trying to get right up to the level of total war without crossing it. In the Cold War, that meant not triggering a nuclear apocalypse. But that calculus doesn’t work now, so Russia changed it to “not trigger a US decapitating strike,” and ensured that it maintained tactical nuclear weapons that would offset conventional actions.
With the US now looking at new weapons since the INF treaty went away, the calculus will change again, but the calculus will ALWAYS remain about Russia vs. US. And that, right there, is the problem. Nobody has laid out what our two countries look like if we don’t fight.
This is evident in North Korea. Before Trump, nobody laid out a North Korea post-conflict. We imagined fighting, winning, and then imposing unification on the Korean Peninsula. Trump changed that with a famous video and completely different negotiating style, and while bumpy, it is working.
We need that for Russia. We need to tell the Russians that one day, we can work together. The Space Station was a nice symbol of that at one point, but we didn’t build much from there.
What might a post-conflict Russia look like? Well, imagine an economic boom in Siberia, where US and Russian companies extract resources and transport goods across a Siberian-Alaska highway. Imagine nuclear power generation in those northern places, with ready access to cold water cooling, and that power being transported across both countries on near-perfect conducting wires. Imagine reality TV shows based in Russia that entertain Americans, and American craft beer that becomes as much a Russian staple as vodka. Imagine both countries pooling resources to land, explore and settle in places like Ceres, Titan, Mars and Europa.
It might sound like wishful thinking, but not that long ago war seemed certain in North Korea. Maybe it’s time we break from the past and define a new future, so we can stop writing the same manuals from the past.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.