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The U.S. Deterrence Strategy and the Russia-Ukraine Conflict


How is Beijing assessing the effectiveness of U.S. deterrence approaches vis-a-vis Taiwan? Writing in one of China’s leading IR journals, Renmin University’s Zuo Xiying argues that while the U.S. “failed to deter Russia from taking military action,” its actions since the invasion to support Ukraine and punish Moscow have “produced a powerful deterrent effect against China with regard to the Taiwan issue.”

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Following the end of the Cold War, NATO continuously expanded eastwards, and Ukraine became an outpost of U.S. and Russian confrontation. In the wake of Ukraine’s color revolutions, Russia and Ukraine descended into antagonism and conflict. During the 2014 Russia-Ukraine conflict, Russia adopted a hybrid war approach. By combining conventional with non-conventional troops and tactics, it achieved an enormous strategic success.  1 To reinforce deterrence against Russia, the United States launched the “European Reassurance Initiative” (later changing its name to the “European Deterrence Initiative”). This helped Ukraine to strengthen its military build-up and augment its ability to resist Russia militarily. The Ukraine situation again deteriorated after November 2021. The United States, in an attempt to stop the outbreak of war through deterrence, repeatedly sent threatening signals to Russia. However, after Russian President Putin, on February 21, 2022, declared the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Lugansk People’s Republic” in eastern Ukraine to be independent countries and ordered the Russian army to enter the two territories, and after a Russia-Ukraine conflict once again broke out on February 24, the U.S. deterrence strategy headed for failure. However, the economic and financial sanctions that the United States is now imposing on Russia and the massive military aid that it is providing Ukraine have formed a new deterrence logic and new deterrence effects. With this as the background, it is necessary to conduct a more in-depth and systematic analysis and evaluation of how the United States devised its deterrence strategy.

冷战结束以后,北约不断东扩,乌克兰成为美国与俄罗斯对抗的前哨。随着乌克兰爆发颜色革命,俄罗斯和乌克兰陷入了对立和冲突。在2014年俄乌冲突中,俄罗斯采取了“混合战争”(hybrid war)的方式,将正规部队和非正规部队、常规战术和非常规战术结合,取得了巨大的战略成功。为了强化对俄罗斯的威慑,美国提出了“欧洲再保证倡议”,随后将其更名为“欧洲威慑倡议”,帮助乌克兰加强军力建设,增强乌克兰在军事上抵抗俄罗斯的能力。2021年11月以来,乌克兰局势再次恶化,美国向俄罗斯屡次发出威胁信号,试图通过威慑来阻止战争爆发。然而,随着俄罗斯总统普京2022年2月21日宣布承认乌克兰东部的“顿涅茨克人民共和国”和“卢甘斯克人民共和国”为独立国家,并命令俄罗斯军队进入两地,以及2月24日俄乌冲突再次爆发,美国的威慑战略走向失败。不过,当前美国在经济和金融上制裁俄罗斯,在军事上大规模援助乌克兰,已经形成了新的威慑逻辑和威慑效用。在此背景下,有必要对美国如何运筹威慑战略进行更深入和更系统的分析和评估。

I. Designing the U.S. Deterrence Strategy


In March 2014, following the eruption of the Crimean crisis, the United States quickly reacted on a diplomatic level. First, it implemented economic and financial sanctions against Russia that restricted financing channels for its key sectors. Second, it employed many different measures to calm its NATO allies and made sure that the related countries retained their confidence in the United States.


Figure 1 European Deterrence (Reassurance) Initiative funding allocations (by main categories) (in 100 million U.S. dollars)


Data source: “DoD Budget Request,” https://comptroller.defense.gov/Budget-Materials/ (Accessed on April 28, 2022)
数据来源:“DoD Budget Request, ”https://comptroller.defense.gov/Budget-Materials/(.上网时间:2022年4月28日)

Third, it strategically supported Ukraine, providing it with an aid package. When the crisis first broke out, the United States’ reaction was based on a crisis response mode. That is, the United States had to declare a position and exhibit resolve while calming the fears and concerns that its NATO allies had about Russia. As the situation stabilized, the United States strengthened its strategic planning, expanded its military aid to Ukraine, and thereby bolstered its deterrence against Russia. The adjustments to the U.S. strategy reflected a shift in its center of policy gravity, behind which lay a conceptual and cognitive change. In the seven years that followed, the United States continuously reinforced Ukraine-related deterrent capabilities to prevent Russia from taking further action. Specifically, the United States made two main adjustments to its strategic design. The first was to launch a strategic initiative to deter Russia. On June 3, 2014, Obama announced the “European Reassurance Initiative,” which requested 1.0 billion U.S. dollars in fiscal year 2015 as aid to the relevant European countries in order to calm NATO allies and deter Russia. It primarily included an increase in exercises, training, and rotations in Eastern Europe; the deployment of detachments of U.S. planners to help allies to strengthen their ability to design and organize training and exercises; the pre-deployment of military equipment and improvement of infrastructure in European countries to facilitate rapid deployment of U.S. forces; an increase in U.S. naval deployments in the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea; and the establishment of close partnerships with Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. 2 However, the European Reassurance Initiative merely resolved some of the concerns of the United States’ European allies. Militarily, it contained little that was new and it could not cope with Russia’s military operations in eastern Ukraine. In February 2018, the United States changed the name of the European Reassurance Initiative to the European Deterrence Initiative, with the aim of continuing to strengthen the U.S. deterrent and defensive posture, committing to the protection of the territorial integrity of NATO allies and partners, and improving the preparedness and reaction capabilities of U.S. forces and allies.


In terms of content, the European Reassurance Initiative and the European Deterrence Initiative introduced by the United States covered five main areas: augmenting military presence, exercises and training, reinforcing pre-deployments, improving infrastructure, and building up partnership capabilities. In terms of funding flows, augmenting military presence, and reinforcing pre-deployments accounted for the largest shares (Figure 1). The reason for this was that the United States, needing to react to the Russian military operations, carried out deployments on a rotational basis in Eastern Europe, thus strengthening its military presence there and sending a message of deterrence to Russia. In addition, the United States also became aware of the need to pre-deploy military hardware and strategic resources in order to reduce redeployment time and costs in the event of a conflict and to raise war readiness. Therefore, whether viewed in terms of its name or its policy focus, the European Deterrence Initiative placed more emphasis on putting on a show of strength to Russia in an attempt to reinforce deterrence so as to dissuade Russia from taking military action.


Figure 2        U.S. security aid to Ukraine in fiscal years 2013-2020 (100 million U.S. dollars)

图2   2013~2020财年美国对乌克兰的安全援助(亿美元)

Source of information: Elias Yousif, “U.S. Military Assistance to Ukraine,” https://www.stimson.org/2022/u-s-military-assistance-to-ukraine/. (Accessed on January 6, 2022)
资料来源:Elias Yousif ,“U.S. Military Assistance to Ukraine, ”https://www.stimson.org/2022/u-s-military-assistance-to-ukraine/(上网时间:2022年1月6日)

The second major adjustment was to reinforce security cooperation with Ukraine. Following the eruption of the Crimean crisis, the United States promptly enhanced its security relationship with Ukraine. In addition to assisting Ukraine in security matters, the United States’ initial actions included supporting Ukraine in establishing security and stability, coping with humanitarian and reconstruction needs, conducting democratic elections and constitutional reforms, bringing about economic recovery, and fighting corruption. Security aid was just one aspect of the U.S. initial aid package to Ukraine, and it was not even the most important aspect. This was because the urgent task facing the United States was to help Ukraine cope with a small-scale war. Helping Ukraine prepare for a large-scale war was a medium-term or long-term task. Moreover, the Obama administration tried to occupy the moral high ground by emphasizing the role of values in its foreign policy. However, the United States quickly realized the critical importance of security cooperation with Ukraine. With the support of NATO, Ukraine initiated defense reform in 2015. It planned to increase its military strength, reinforce interoperability between Ukraine’s armed forces and NATO, and establish credible military deterrence against Russia. Under the Trump administration, the United States further raised the level of its security cooperation with Ukraine. The United States and Ukraine entered a stage of in-depth cooperation. In 2019, by means of a constitutional amendment, Ukraine wrote accession to NATO into its constitution. This act won a positive response from the United States. On June 12, 2020, Ukraine received “NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partner status,” which provided further institutional safeguards for enhancing partnership interoperability between NATO and Ukraine.


The United States shifted its focus from political issues to security issues with the objective of helping Ukraine to improve its military capabilities for deterring Russia. When the Crimean crisis erupted in 2014, Ukraine’s national defense system had already been in disrepair for many years. The armed forces lacked combat experience and basic strategic materials. Overall, they performed very poorly. Therefore, the United States and its allies provided the Ukrainian armed forces with large-scale military aid in the four areas below.


First was the provision of financial aid. After the Crimean crisis, Ukraine greatly increased its own military budget. According to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, military spending accounted for just 1.6% of Ukraine’s gross domestic product in 2013, but this proportion rose to 3.2% in 2021. 3 At the same time, the United States and its allies also greatly expanded their security aid to Ukraine. According to statistics, U.S. financial aid to Ukraine underwent a large increase beginning in 2014 and totaled more than 2.7 billion U.S. dollars as of 2020 (Figure 2). U.S. military aid programs to Ukraine are relatively complex. The main sources are the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, overseen by the Department of Defense, and Foreign Military Support, overseen by the State Department. According to statistics from the U.S. Congressional Research Service, these two projects provided approximately 1.317 billion U.S. dollars and 624 million U.S. dollars, respectively, of security aid to Ukraine in fiscal years 2016 through 2021. 4 In addition, Cooperative Threat Reduction, the European Deterrence Initiative, and International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement also provided some funding.


Second was the strengthening of personnel training. As early as April 2015, the United States sent 300 soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade to train troops in Ukraine. Then, to cope with external threats from Russia, the United States led the establishment of an interoperable combat training center operated by NATO. In this combat training center, the U.S. military has continually been stationing units in Ukraine on a rotating basis to train troops there as a way of reversing the trends of Ukraine’s post-Cold War neglect of training, infrastructure construction, and equipment procurement and of strengthening the Ukrainian military’s deterrent capabilities. An analysis of the statistics shows that, from fiscal year 2015 to fiscal year 2019, the United States provided military training to at least 10,629 Ukrainian personnel. 5 Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO, also acknowledged that: “Over the years, Allies have trained tens of thousands of Ukrainian troops.” 6 This training has been very helpful in enabling the Ukrainian military to become familiar with NATO intelligence transmissions and in raising their battlefield situation awareness. Some analysis indicates that, having undergone both NATO training and battlefield combat experience, the new generation of Ukrainian soldiers have overturned the top-down Soviet leadership model and are causing lethal damage to the Russian army [translator’s note: the English text cited actually states that it is ‘the old Soviet model of top-down leadership that has paralyzed Russian units…’; the Chinese seems to be a mistaken reading of this point]. 7


Third was the provision of weapons and equipment support. Because U.S.-Russian relations are highly sensitive, and initially the main goal of the United States was to help Ukraine to fight the anti-government armed forces in eastern Ukraine, the aid provided by the United States was “non-lethal aid,” mainly consisting of Humvees, medical supplies, body armor, and radar systems. However, Trump adjusted the relevant U.S. policies in December 2017, giving the greenlight to the sale of lethal weapons to Ukraine. On February 28, 2018, the U.S. State Department permitted the sale of 210 Javelin anti-tank missiles and 37 launchers. Javelin anti-tank missiles are portable anti-tank weapons that, by using infrared focal plane array seekers, have powerful target recognition capability and are lethally effective against tanks and infantry. Thus, this move reinforced deterrence against Russia. Ukraine subsequently used Foreign Military Support and national funds to procure equipment such as Javelin anti-tank missiles and Mark VI patrol boats through the Foreign Military Sales system. It procured large quantities of guns, ammunition, and other laser imaging guidance equipment by means of direct commercial sale. The army also provided important equipment such as sniper rifles, counter battery radars, satellite image and analysis capabilities, and anti-UAV systems.


Fourth was the improvement of interoperability. The United States guided Ukraine towards integration with the NATO system and improved its interoperability with the NATO military system. This process specifically involved three steps. First was strengthening security cooperation mechanisms. After obtaining “NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partner status” in 2020, Ukraine was able to participate in all military actions and exercises within the NATO framework and to obtain more military aid and intelligence support. Second was the large-quantity procurement of NATO weapons, equipment, and combat systems, and the systematic study of NATO operational concepts. Third was the reinforcement of training through military exercises. The aim of Exercise Rapid Trident, held once a year by Ukraine and NATO, was to strengthen Ukraine’s interoperability with NATO and to display the military preparedness of NATO and Ukraine. The scale of this exercise exhibited a continuous upward trend. From 1,300 in 2014, the number of participants grew to 6,000 in 2021.


There were two aspects to the United States’ basic strategic design and strategic plans in the 2014–2021 period: while reinforcing its security relationship with Ukraine, it increased Ukraine’s deterrent capabilities so as to dissuade Russia from further action. At the same time that it was reinforcing bilateral security relations, the United States sought to promote a transformation of Ukraine’s defense. That is, while de-Sovietizing institutional systems, weapons and equipment, and operational concepts, it NATO-ized combat systems. Through seven years of effort, there was a huge improvement in the defensive and deterrent capabilities of Ukraine’s armed forces. 8


II. Employing the U.S. Deterrence Strategy


From 2021, Russia-Ukraine relations took a sudden turn for the worse, and the Ukraine crisis again escalated. On March 25, Ukrainian President Zelensky approved the new Military Security Strategy, confirming that Russia was still Ukraine’s military enemy. On July 12, Russian President Putin published a long essay, On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians, in which he maintained the notion that Russians and Ukrainians were one people. On November 10, the United States and Ukraine signed the U.S.-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership, which clearly spelled out U.S. support for Ukraine against an armed Russian invasion. The related Ukrainian policies elicited a strong reaction from Russia, which massed more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border. Putin also presented demands to the United States and NATO, insisting that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO and threatening to use military force. Under these circumstances, the Biden administration tried using a deterrence strategy to deter Russia. It mainly made use of the following three methods.


The first method was to convey a clear deterrence message. After November 2021, having used its intelligence systems to gain a clear picture of Russia’s strategic intentions and military deployments, the Biden administration became greatly concerned about the situation. Faced with a new round of the Ukraine crisis, the Biden administration uncharacteristically declared right away that it would not send troops to intervene in conflict, but at the same time it also tried to send Russia a clear deterrence message in an effort to dissuade Russia from military action. To summarize, the United States clearly issued three deterrence signals to Russia. The first deterrence signal was to threaten Russia with unprecedented economic and financial sanctions if it took military action. This appeared in three calls between Biden and Putin and in multiple statements by senior U.S. officials. Biden clearly stated in a December 7, 2021 video call with Putin that “the United States and its allies would respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation.” 9 On December 30, Biden spoke with Putin by phone and threatened that Russia would suffer severe sanctions if it took military action and that there would be “a heavy price to pay for it.” 10 In another call between Biden and Putin on February 12, 2022, Biden reiterated that the sanctions by the United States and its allies would “impose swift and severe costs on Russia.” It is not hard to see that the intention of the United States was to send a message of deterrence to the senior leadership of Russia. That is, it could force Russia to pay a heavy price through economic sanctions without having to dispatch troops. As U.S. Secretary of State Blinken said, “The purpose of the sanctions in the first instance is to try to deter Russia from going to war. As soon as you trigger them, that deterrent is gone. And until the last minute, as long as we can try to bring a deterrent effect to this, we’re going to try to do that.” 11


The second deterrence signal was to warn Russia that it would be isolated by the international community if it took military action. The United States threatened to expel Russia from Western society and to attack Russia’s international standing. On January 25, 2022, the Biden administration issued a severe warning to Russia: the United States, in conjunction with its allies and partners, has prepared economic deterrence measures, including severe economic sanctions and export controls. The former will have an obvious impact on the day they are implemented, and the latter will weaken Russia in the medium term. 12 Biden stated to Putin on several occasions that these sanctions by the United States and its allies would exceed the 2014 sanctions in their intensity and would have a profound and long-lasting impact on Russia. During the February 12 call, Biden threatened Putin, saying that Russia’s military action would cause widespread human suffering and weaken Russia’s standing, with the result that Russia would become internationally isolated.13 At the Munich Security Conference on February 19, U.S. Vice President Harris also issued a threat, namely that the U.S. sanctions would “target those who are complicit and those who aid and abet this unprovoked invasion.” 14

二是警告俄罗斯如果采取军事行动将被国际社会孤立。美国威胁将俄罗斯清理出西方社会,打击俄罗斯的国际地位。2022年1月25日,拜登政府向俄罗斯发出严重警告,美国已经联合盟友和伙伴准备好了包括严厉经济制裁和出口管控在内的经济威慑措施,前者实施之日即产生明显影响,而后者将使俄罗斯在中期上处于弱势。拜登多次向普京表示,此次美国及其盟友的制裁将超过2014年的力度,会对俄罗斯产生深远的影响。在 2月 12日的通话中,拜登威胁普京,俄罗斯的军事行动将造成广泛的人类痛苦,并削弱俄罗斯的地位,使俄罗斯陷入国际孤立。在2月19日的慕尼黑安全会议上,美国副总统哈里斯也发出威胁,美国的制裁“将针对那些同谋者以及那些援助和怂恿这场无端入侵者”。

The third deterrence signal was to threaten to provide military assistance to Ukraine to make it difficult for Russia to win a war or to make it pay a heavy price for launching a war. In early discussions within the U.S. policy community, some analysts recommended large increases in military aid to Ukraine. They believed that the United States would have to accelerate delivery of the relevant military hardware to prevent Russia from quickly achieving victory. This would lower Russian military effectiveness and increase the strategic cost to Russia of taking military action. 15 During the December 7, 2021 video call, Biden threatened Putin, saying: “We would provide additional defensive material to the Ukrainians, above and beyond that which we already provided. And we would fortify our NATO allies on the eastern flank with additional capabilities in response to such an escalation.” 16 Such deterrence signaling by the United States was a way of warning Russia that it would not win a war easily and that war would become a quagmire which would continuously wear it down.


The second method was to announce relevant intelligence. Back in the fall of 2021, Biden signed a decryption and intelligence-sharing plan designed and overseen by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. This plan won the support of Secretary of State Blinken, Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns, and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines. On November 2, Biden sent a delegation headed by CIA Director Burns to Moscow. In a meeting with Putin, they expressed their serious concern over the Russian military buildup and claimed that the United States had already come into possession of intelligence on Russia’s imminent invasion of Ukraine. The Biden administration then used multiple channels to disclose a large amount of intelligence information.

三是美国威胁将在军事上援助乌克兰,让俄罗斯难以获得战争胜利或为发动战争付出沉重代价。在美国政策界的早期讨论中,有分析者就建议大幅增加对乌克兰的军事援助。他们认为,为了阻止俄罗斯迅速取得胜利,美国需要加快交付相关武器装备,这会降低俄罗斯的军事效能,增加俄罗斯采取军事行动的战略成本。在 2021 年 12 月 7 日的视频通话中,拜登威胁普京道:“我们将向乌克兰提供更多的防御性物资,超过我们已经提供的,我们将强化北约东部盟友的防务,为应对这种升级提供更多的能力。”美国这种威慑的信号,是在告诫俄罗斯不会轻易赢得战争,而且会深陷战争并不断被消耗。

First, was [intelligence on] Russian military deployments and military preparations. On December 3, 2021, the Biden administration disclosed an intelligence document to the Washington Post that included satellite images: according to information in the possession of U.S. intelligence departments, Russia had massed 175,000 troops on the Ukraine border.17 On January 13, 2022, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) also issued a warning that “Russia may invade Ukraine” and conducted military simulations to analyze in detail possible Russian military attack directions.18 On January 28, the U.S. intelligence agencies announced that the Russian military buildup near Ukraine had expanded to include the supply of blood and other medical resources and that they regarded this as a key indicator of Russian military preparations. In response to the military withdrawal announced by Russia on February 15, the United States stated that, according to the intelligence in its possession, the withdrawal from the Ukrainian border announced by Russia was a meticulously designed trick intended to mislead the United States and other powers. Second, was the announcement of specific dates on which Russia might take military action. Biden, Secretary of State Blinken, National Security Advisor Sullivan, and relevant personnel of the intelligence departments on more than 10 occasions publicly released warnings that Russia would invade Ukraine on a specific date. The clearest of these was the Biden administration’s call to Americans in Ukraine to depart. On February 11, U.S. National Security Advisor Sullivan, calling for the departure of Americans from Ukraine, expressed the opinion that “the risk is now high enough and the threat is now urgent enough.” 19 The Biden administration used this to send a message to Russia. That is, it asked Russia to prove that “we were wrong.” To a great extent, this disrupted Russia’s war plans. Third, was the disclosure of intelligence relating to Russian “false flag operations” and “decapitation strikes.” The United States responded in a targeted way to Russian information concerning Ukrainian attacks on civilians and military operations against eastern Ukraine. By disclosing a propaganda video made by Russia and announcing in advance potential Russian moves to launch “false flag” operations, the United States aimed to stop Russia from “framing” Ukraine and prevent it from using this incident as an excuse for taking military action. Sullivan claimed that Russia had a “kill list” and was planning to detain or kill Zelensky and other famous Ukrainian figures.20 By proactively disclosing intelligence, the Biden administration hoped to call Putin’s bluff and defeat Russia’s plans.

其次,公布相关情报。早在 2021 年秋天,拜登就签署了由美国国家安全助理杰克·沙利文设计和主持的解密和分享情报计划,这一计划得到了国务卿布林肯、中央情报局局长威廉·伯恩斯和国家情报局局长艾薇儿·海恩斯的支持。11月2日,拜登派中央情报局局长伯恩斯率团前往莫斯科,在与普京会见时表达了对俄罗斯军事集结的严重担忧,并称美国已经掌握了俄罗斯即将入侵乌克兰的情报。随后,拜登政府通过多种渠道公开了诸多情报信息。

During the current Russia-Ukraine conflict, the United States’ intelligence about Russian military operations has been very accurate. The reason for this is that the United States has adjusted its intelligence organization systems, which for the past 20 years had been concentrating on the war on terror, shifting their focus to competition with China and Russia. In early 2020, the CIA underwent a comprehensive review and reorganization so as to emphasize strategic thinking rather than reporting matters that occurred just five minutes ago. In October 2021, the CIA strengthened existing centers and established the China Mission Center, focusing on gathering intelligence about China and Russia and concentrating particularly on collecting and analyzing intelligence on the highest-level leaders of China and Russia. The United States also made ample use of open-source intelligence and obtained much open-source information from on the ground in Ukraine. Some even came from Russian territory. In addition, the U.S. government also encouraged companies to share commercial satellite photographs with the U.S. government, to track Russian military deployments and battlefield situations, giving a huge boost to U.S. intelligence work. The U.S. choice to disclose intelligence was thoroughly weighed and discussed. First, it was felt that credible intelligence could deter Russia from initiating the war. In his speech to the United Nations, U.S. Secretary of State Blinken said, “If Russia doesn’t invade Ukraine, then we will be relieved that Russia changed course and proved our predictions wrong.”21 Second, it was felt that it would disrupt Russia’s war plans. In the intelligence war between the United States and Russia, the following pattern emerged: whenever Russia declared an intention, the United States immediately released some evidence that Russia was lying. This caused enormous damage to Russia. In a U.S. Senate hearing on March 10, 2022, CIA Director Burns stated: “We have had a great deal of effect disrupting their tactics and their calculations and demonstrating to the entire world that this is premeditated and unprovoked aggression built on a body of lies and false narratives.”22 Third, it was felt that disclosing intelligence would spur the relevant European countries to change their view of the Russia-Ukraine situation. In November 2021, the United States initiated multilateral, high-level cooperation with the intelligence agencies of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy, but the European countries felt that there was still room for negotiation. The publication of this intelligence gradually changed the views of France and Germany and to a great extent unified the European allies.

一是俄罗斯的军事部署和军事准备情况。2021年12月3日,拜登政府向《华盛顿邮报》透露了一份包括卫星地图的情报文件:根据美国情报部门掌握的信息,俄罗斯在乌克兰边境集结了 17.5万名士兵。2022年 1月 13日,美国战略与国际问题研究中心(CSIS)也发出“俄罗斯有可能入侵乌克兰”的警告,并进行兵棋推演,详细分析了俄罗斯可能的军事进攻方向。1 月 28 日,美国情报机构公布了俄罗斯在乌克兰附近军事集结扩大到血液和其他医疗物资的供应上,并将其视为俄罗斯军事准备的一个关键指标。针对俄罗斯 2月 15日宣布撤军,美国表示,根据其掌握的情报,俄罗斯宣布从乌克兰边境撤军是精心设计的诡计,意在误导美国和其他大国。二是公布俄罗斯可能采取军事行动的具体日期。拜登、国务卿布林肯、国家安全顾问沙利文以及情报部门有关人员等前后 10 余次公开释放出俄罗斯入侵乌克兰具体日期的警告。其中,以拜

The third method was to reinforce the military presence in Eastern Europe and increase military aid to Ukraine to send a powerful signal to Russia. As the Ukrainian situation deteriorated, the United States increased military aid to Ukraine. In late November 2021, the United States dispatched an additional 160 members of the Florida National Guard to Ukraine to provide training, advice, and guidance to the Ukrainian military. The United States also increased weapons aid to Ukraine. According to statistics, the United States has provided in excess of 6.4 billion U.S. dollars in security aid for the purpose of training and equipping the Ukrainians. 23The United States also mobilized its NATO allies to take Soviet-style weapons from their stocks and supply them as aid to Ukraine. In addition, the United States also reinforced its defensive deployments in Eastern Europe so as to increase the strategic deterrence against Russia. On January 24, 2022, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered 8,500 U.S. soldiers to be placed on “heightened preparedness” for possible deployment to Eastern Europe. On February 2, the United States dispatched 1,700 troops to Poland. On February 11, Biden ordered 3,000 more troops to Poland in addition to 300 troops deployed earlier from Germany, making a total of 5,000 troops. Lastly, the United States also united with its allies. It reinforced strategic cooperation with its NATO allies and thereby demonstrated resolve to Russia.


To summarize the above analysis, the United States not only sent threatening signals and made full use of a strategy of intelligence disclosures, but also reinforced the military presence in Eastern Europe, thereby demonstrating resolve to Russia in an attempt to deter Russia from taking military action. The basic intention of the United States was, by means of coercive threats, to force a change in the cost-benefit calculations of Russia’s military action decision-making process and thus to change Russia’s military behavior. The conceptual basis for this was the Biden administration’s “integrated deterrence” concept. That is, emphasizing the combination of new technologies, combat concepts, hard power, and allies and thereby forming a reliable, flexible, and powerful network approach.


III. Escalating the U.S. Deterrence Strategy


Russian President Putin first ordered the army into the two regions of Donetsk and Lugansk and then decided to send the troops into Ukraine. The fact that the Russia-Ukraine conflict broke out again signified the failure of the United States’ strategy to attempt to dissuade Russia from military action through deterrence methods. So why did the U.S. deterrence strategy for the Ukraine issue fail? In theory, deterrence involves two sets of factors, that is, the relationship between strength and resolve and the relationship between coercive threats and reassurance. In academia, more people pay attention to the former, and relatively few pay attention to the latter. Regarding the latter, Thomas Schelling believed that any coercive threat required corresponding reassurance. 24 By examining these two relationships, one can pinpoint the root of the U.S. failure to deter Russia.


There were two problems with the U.S. deterrence strategy. First, the United States put too much emphasis on coercive threats and not enough on sending reassurance signals to Russia. The eastward expansion of NATO following the Cold War has formed a major security threat to Russia. The United States has long failed to give adequate attention to Russia’s security concerns. Of course, geopolitical and structural factors played a part in this, but the United States’ own strategic errors cannot be overlooked. In particular, Ukraine’s reorientation to the West and NATO’s continuous reinforcement of military aid to Ukraine were matters of serious concern to Russia, and the United States failed to reassure Russia on these core issues. These situations hardened the Russians’ understanding of the threats and reinforced their own sense of the reasonableness of taking military action.


Second, the Biden administration lacked a real military deterrent. The most powerful military deterrent would be U.S. resolve to dispatch troops. However, the United States declared early on in this Russia-Ukraine conflict that it would not intervene by sending in troops. The United States’ choice not to dispatch troops was made following a systematic evaluation. It was the logical choice. Ukraine is not a NATO member, nor is it of vital interest to the United States. Moreover, the United States has grown decadent in recent years and already lacks sufficient available resources for spending on war. The United States had already retreated from Afghanistan, and the desire not to become mired in another war was a consensus of the Biden administration. Therefore, the United States lacked sufficient military strength for a head on confrontation with Russia in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. However, by announcing too early on that it would not send troops, the Biden administration exposed a flaw in its deterrence strategy. Nadia Schadlow, who served as a Deputy National Security Advisor in the previous administration, said: “By signaling that the U.S. had no intention of using its capabilities, the Biden administration seriously weakened their deterrent value.” 25 U.S. Congressman Mike Gallagher also believes that, although it was of course important that the Biden administration emphasized new technologies and alliances, deterrence ultimately depended on the Russians’ assessment of existing U.S. military strength and of U.S. willingness to use it. The Biden administration’s reliance on non-military punitive threats to deter Putin inevitably resulted in deterrence failure. 26 John Bolton, a National Security Advisor in the previous administration, believes that the reason for the failure of the Biden administration’s deterrence strategy lay in the fact that, though the threats they issued would not be implemented until after Russia crossed the Ukraine border, the United States had already lost all credibility with regard to threats of punishment. In addition, U.S. military strength was not on the table. This was a unilateral concession made without forcing Putin to pay a price.27


When making a strategic assessment, Putin was not sufficiently impressed by the threats issued by the Biden administration, or he underestimated the scope and intensity of the sanctions that would be imposed by the United States and its allies. On the one hand, Putin paid too much attention to Russia’s external threats, emphasizing the reasonableness of its own claims. On February 21, 2022, Putin gave a talk on national television in which he claimed that NATO had “pushed military facilities and equipment to the Russian border, entirely without regard for our concerns, protests, and warnings.” Putin gave another television address on February 24. He said that if Russia remained indifferent as military and technological achievements were brought to the borders of Russia, the related military infrastructure would constitute “an absolutely unacceptable threat” for Russia. In Putin’s view, containment of NATO was, for Russia, “a matter of life and death,” “an existential matter,” and “a question of the continued existence of our state.” On the other hand, prior to taking military action, Putin himself felt that he clearly perceived the fact that the United States lacked the ability and resolve. He was insufficiently impressed by the threatening signals from the Biden administration. Hal Brands believes that Putin did not feel the weight of the deterrence signals from the United States because it was hard to assess how severe the penalties would be. 28 In fact, in the speech he gave on February 24, Putin claimed to have an “objective understanding” of the threat of Western sanctions and claimed that Russia’s “judgment was extremely objective and realistic.” However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was surprised by the extent of the U.S. sanctions on Russia’s central bank. He stated frankly that no one could have predicted which sanctions the West would impose. 29


Although the deterrence strategy failed to deter Russia from taking military action, the United States’ deterrence actions against Russia have by no means ended. In theoretical research, deterrence is generally separated into two forms: deterrence by punishment and deterrence by denial. The former refers to the threat of punishing a rival by military or economic means. The latter aims to make a rival believe that they will not attain their objectives on the battlefield. The United States’ threat to use economic and financial sanctions against Russia is a typical example of deterrence by punishment. If deterrence by punishment fails, the deterring nation generally will choose to make good on its promise so as to guarantee its deterrence credibility. In this sense, the deterrence mechanism is still playing a role. Currently, U.S. deterrence against Russia has not stopped but instead is undergoing further escalation. It may be regarded as second-stage deterrence. At present, the United States is treating penalties against Russia as a deterrence tool for achieving broader objectives.

虽然吓阻俄罗斯采取军事行动的威慑战略失败了,但是美国对俄罗斯的威慑行为并未结束。在理论研究中,威慑一般分为惩罚性威慑(deterrence by punishment)和拒止性威慑(deterrence by denial)两种形态。前者指威胁通过军事或经济手段来惩罚对手,后者旨在使对手相信不会在战场上达到目标。就美国威胁使用经济和金融制裁俄罗斯而言,这是一种典型的惩罚性威慑。如果惩罚性威慑失败了,威慑国一般会选择兑现其承诺,以保证威慑的可信度。在这个意义上,威慑的机制仍然在发挥作用。当前美国对俄罗斯的威慑并没有停止,而是进一步升级,可以将其视为第二阶段的威慑。当前,美国正在将对俄罗斯的惩罚作为一种威慑工具,以实现更广泛的目的。

First, it is putting into effect the economic and financial sanctions that it had promised and continually escalating them in a timely way based on the situation. After Russia decided to take military action, the United States reinforced economic, financial, and technological embargoes and sanctions against Russia. The primary measures included: economic measures prohibiting new investment in Russia; expelling designated Russian banks from the SWIFT system; sanctions against key Russian state-owned enterprises; and financial sanctions against Russian government officials and their families. The United States also prohibited export of dual-use products to Russia, sanctioned over 1,000 Russian individuals and companies, and froze 630 billion U.S. dollars in foreign reserves of the Russian central bank. In addition, U.S. allies and partners correspondingly adopted a large number of sanction measures. The goal of the United States was to strike a huge blow against the Russian financial system and Russian foreign trade and thus make Russia pay a heavy economic price. According to forecasts by the U.S. government, Russian GDP will shrink 15% in 2022, erasing the economic gains of the past 15 years. 30


Second, militarily, it is comprehensively aiding Ukraine and thus increasing the cost of the war to Russia. Since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the United States has provided large amounts of security aid to Ukraine. On April 7, 2022, Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated that Western nations had already provided Ukraine with roughly 60,000 anti-tank weapons and 25,000 anti-aircraft weapons. 31 Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles are typical examples of such weapons. On April 13, the U.S. Department of Defense convened a meeting with the eight largest weapons manufacturers in preparation for large-scale export of weapons and equipment to Ukraine. According to statistics, the United States had provided Ukraine with more than 5,500 Javelin anti-tank missiles and more than 1,400 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles as of April 22. 32 Some analysis indicates that the Javelin anti-tank missiles and the Stinger anti-aircraft missiles already sent to Ukraine by the United States probably account for one-third and one-fourth, respectively, of total U.S. stockpiles. 33 The Biden administration’s policy indicates that the United States will further increase its military aid to Ukraine. Biden has proposed a 33-billion-dollar additional aid package for Ukraine so as to provide Ukraine with large-scale military assistance. Congress increased the figure to 39.8 billion U.S. dollars, with the House approving it on May 11. In addition, the United States has provided Ukraine with a large amount of intelligence concerning Russian military deployments and movements, giving enormous support to Ukrainian military operations. On April 13, Ukraine struck the guided missile cruiser Moskva, which was the flagship of the Russian Black Sea fleet, causing it to sink. U.S. government officials acknowledge that the U.S. provided intelligence to Ukraine which helped Ukraine to sink the Russian warship. 34 The United States has also provided Ukraine with intelligence about high-ranking generals in the Russian army so that Ukraine can target and kill and injure Russian generals. The U.S. decision to provide Ukraine with large-scale military aid has become a key factor shaping the future direction of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.


In a wider sense, the United States is imposing harsh military and economic punishments on Russia and is further reinforcing its deterrence measures. Its intentions in doing so are twofold. On the one hand, it is causing ample harm to Russia through economic and military bloodletting. With this it is bruising Russia on the levels of national strength and strategic psychology so as to create a deterrent effect on Russia far into the future. After its attack suffered a setback at the end of March 2022, Russia adjusted its military strategy. It retreated from Kiev and the surrounding suburbs and shifted its strategic center of gravity to eastern and southern Ukraine. The United States and its allies also quietly changed their pre-existing strategy. They comprehensively supported Ukraine militarily and switched their strategic goal to making Russia bleed, weakening Russia as much as possible. The United States increased its military aid to Ukraine with the objective of magnifying the harm to Russia. Specifically, by strangling Russia economically and financially, they could make Russia experience a punishing lethal force and prevent it from taking similar military action in other regions. At the same time, it sought to wear down Russia militarily through the Ukraine-Russia conflict so as to reduce Russian military strength and prevent it from employing war again as a means to change the situation in Ukraine. After visiting Kiev on April 25 and meeting with Zelensky, Austin pointed out that the United States hoped “to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.” 35 He thus plainly revealed the main intention of the Biden administration. However, the U.S. shift in the Russia-Ukraine conflict from supporting Ukraine’s defensive efforts to wearing down and weakening Russia has caused a further deterioration in Russian-U.S. relations. It has added greatly to the uncertainty of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and increased the risk that Russia would threaten to use, or would use, nuclear weapons.


On the other hand, it has produced a powerful deterrent effect against China with regard to the Taiwan issue. The United States had another important intention concerning the Ukraine issue. Namely, by letting the Chinese leadership and people observe how Russia was being sanctioned by the United States and its allies and partners, and by showing the high cost that Russia was bearing, it sought to give shape to a psychological expectation that when China reunifies with Taiwan it must bear a high cost and to ultimately change the psychology and strategic arrangements of the Chinese leadership and people. For U.S. decision-makers, the greater the mess that Russian military operations become, the more severe its economic hemorrhaging, and the more its overall national power declines, the more striking the deterrent effect will be against China. Some analysts are of the opinion that the Russia-Ukraine conflict will cause China to become more cautious over the Taiwan issue. 36 In fact, all the parties involved with the Taiwan issue are studying the Russia-Ukraine conflict and trying to gain experience and lessons from it. For Western nations, the lessons and experience are clear, namely, that Taiwan must prepare for war—that it must both improve its defensive capabilities and strengthen its will to fight. This would be the only way to convince China that it cannot win on the battlefield or that it cannot bear the cost of reunification.


Deterrence is an important tool in U.S. national security strategy. However, the role that deterrence plays forever faces many theoretical and practical challenges—a point well demonstrated during the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The success of the U.S. deterrence strategy requires not only that the United States itself has powerful forces and strong resolve but that it can make the other side accurately feel the threat and have an accurate calculation of the costs and benefits. But the real world is complicated, and it is difficult to have both conditions present at once. Modern warfare and conflict often come coupled with information warfare, public opinion warfare, and psychological warfare, which undoubtedly exacerbates the difficulty of successful deterrence. It must be recognized that, although the U.S. failed in deterring Russia from adopting military action against Ukraine, the economic sanctions against Russia used by the U.S. and its allies and their military aid for Ukraine created a broader-scope deterrence effect for Russia and other countries. For China, the Russia-Ukraine conflict acts as a mirror—a model for us to assess how the United States’ deterrence strategy is devised. China needs not only to study in depth how the United States deters and how it punishes Russia, but also to carefully analyze how Russia perceives the United States’ threats, and to derive experience and lessons from therein. This is the only way that we can clearly see the real essence of this major international event, find new opportunities from within crises, and open a new game from within a changing game.


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Cite This Page

左希迎 (Zuo Xiying). "The U.S. Deterrence Strategy and the Russia-Ukraine Conflict [美国威慑战略与俄乌冲突]". CSIS Interpret: China, original work published in Contemporary International Relations [现代国际关系], May 20, 2022

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