In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration has formulated a unprecedented response. The coordination of transatlantic diplomacy, including the condemnation of Russia at the United Nations and the implementation of a massive sanctions package, is truly impressive. In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration has formulated a unprecedented response. The coordination of transatlantic diplomacy, including the condemnation of Russia at the United Nations and the implementation of a massive sanctions package, is truly impressive. The president’s recent request for an additional $33 billion from Congress in security, economic, and humanitarian aid for Ukraine demonstrates the seriousness of America’s commitment to European security.
While the White House should be applauded for its response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, this only tells part of the story. Indeed, none of these diplomatic initiatives would have been necessary had the United States and its allies successfully deterred Russia from attacking Ukraine in the first place. Deterrence failed because the United States and its allies signaled, in advance, that it was not prepared to apply direct military force in Ukraine. It did so because it was afraid of Vladimir Putin’s nuclear threats. America’s risk calculus was framed by the fear of nuclear escalation and Washington’s overestimation of Russian military power.
While initial efforts to deter Russia have failed, the West should now pursue a different approach. Rather than deterrence, the United States should focus on compellence. A comprehensive compellence strategy toward Russia would entail the focused integration of covert and overt military power, as well as a greater efforts to conduct information operations inside Russia to weaken Putin’s fragile political control.
The goal of such a strategy could be to force Putin to stop the war, not merely help Ukraine stave off defeat. It strives to achieve this by raising costs to Moscow beyond sanctions and political isolation. The strategy would help the West coalesce around the objective of ending the war in the near term, but also forcing a negotiated conclusion to hostilities that would be more advantageous to Ukrainian and Western interests. The West’s aim should be to ensure Putin suffers an operational failure, not accede to Russia’s subjugation of Ukraine or some tortured negotiated compromise.
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Dr. Frank Hoffman is a Distinguished Research Fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, Center for Strategic Research at National Defense University. The views expressed are the authors own and do not reflect those of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.