The Sword and the Shield: Toward U.S.-Russian Strategic Compatibility

The world has changed significantly in the quarter century since the end of the Cold War, when much of the thinking on nuclear strategy and U.S.-Russia relations first evolved. But for both countries, security continues to depend in part on the deterrent effect of the immense nuclear arsenals acquired decades ago. While the primary existential threat remains the possibility of a nuclear attack, the immediate risk has diminished significantly. In its place, a different security landscape with new potential threats has emerged.

The Working Group on the Future of U.S.-Russia Relations, a bilateral collective of rising experts from American and Russian institutions, announces the publication of its fourth joint report: “The Sword and the Shield: Toward U.S.-Russian Strategic Compatibility.” Coauthored by Keith Darden (American University) and Timofei Bordachev (National Research University–Higher School of Economics, Moscow), the paper explains the underlying principles for the strategic stability achieved during the Cold War, and calls for a fundamental reevaluation of arms control and security policy in the present-day U.S.-Russia relationship.

The authors argue that changes in the international security environment have rendered obsolete the existing strategies of security provision, which first evolved during the early Cold War. The security portfolios of Russia and United States have diverged dramatically in the past 25 years, with the result that “symmetrical reductions of nuclear forces no longer have symmetrical effects on Russian and U.S. security.” The study recommends that the United States and Russia instead pursue an approach guided by “strategic compatibility,” under which both partners “assure their optimal force and offensive strengths without undermining each other’s deterrent or defensive capacities with respect to one another, thus providing a solid background for strategic stability, even in the absence of trust.” The study explains why the Cold War period that shaped current security policy was a historical anomaly, and concludes that while relations between the two countries today are not warm, both countries can securely reduce their nuclear arsenals unilaterally, and security arrangements that “are in the strategic interests of both sides” can be achieved without bilateral treaties.

Access the complete text of the report on our website.

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