The Atlantic Council, Russia and Keeping the Cold War Alive

For those of you who may not have heard of the Atlantic Council, it is a "nonpartisan" foreign policy think-tank that is essentially an extension of NATO and a number of nations, high profile corporations and individuals as shown here:

…and has long taken an anti-Russia stance on global issues.  That said, a recent opinion piece published in early March 2021 has taken a somewhat less anti-Russian than normal which has led to a significant unintended consequence for the organization.

Here is the article in question:

The authors, Emma Ashford and Mathew Burrows are both part of the New American Engagement Initiative as shown here:

 

The New American Engagement Initiative is:

"…housed within the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, challenges prevailing assumptions governing US foreign policy and helps policymakers manage risks, set priorities, and allocate resources wisely and efficiently. The United States confronts a range of national security challenges, but the marketplace of ideas defines these too expansively, fails to prioritize them effectively, and limits the range of options for addressing them. Unconventional thinking is needed to help Americans put dangers into perspective, and encourage them to embrace global engagement through diplomacy, trade, and mutually beneficial cultural exchange."

Interestingly, the Scowcroft Center for Security and Strategy received a rather significant donation from the Charles Koch Institute (of the Koch Brothers) as shown here:

In the opinion piece, the authors note that Washington and the newly minted Biden Administration are  is focusing on the wrong issue when it comes to Russia as quoted here (my bolds):

"On January 17, just three days before the inauguration of President Joe Biden, Alexei Navalny returned to Moscow from Germany, where he was receiving medical treatment following a failed Kremlin assassination attempt. Within a week of his return, the noted dissident had been arrested, tried, and sent to prison. The Biden administration has promised both to support human rights and to engage with adversaries to advance American interests. It fulfilled the first of these promises on March 2, when it issued new sanctions against Russian companies and individuals linked to Navalny’s poisoning.

However, these sanctions – in effect, making human rights the focus of Washington’s Russia policy – may well undermine critical US interests. Russian behavior on human rights is deplorable, but the United States has other salient interests pertaining to Russia. Nuclear and strategic stability talks to shore up arms control or effectively deter Russian interference in US elections are more important than imposing largely symbolic sanctions because of human rights abuses. Policymakers should prioritize strategic stability accordingly."

The authors also note that Washington's focus on Russia's human rights record risks drvigin a wedge between the United States and its European allies:

"The United States’ European allies disagree among themselves over the best way to handle Russia; the small states closest to Russia have often emphasized a harder line, while Germany, Italy, and other states with closer trade ties to Russia are less keen. German leaders have called openly for Navalny’s release, but they have resisted American and French calls to end participation in the Nordstream-2 project. American sanctions–such as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) sanctions on German energy companies–risk undermining core transatlantic relationships for limited gain.

Here is the key quote:

"Finally, democratization in Russia would not necessarily be good for US foreign policy interests. Alexei Navalny, for example, is an open nationalist who is widely known to agree with Putin on many foreign policy questions; he backed the Russian seizure of Crimea and has made racist and islamophobic remarks. Broader academic research on regime change indicates that it does not typically alter a nation’s foreign policy orientation. In addition, there is always the risk of political uncertainty–never a good thing in a nuclear power like Russia."

The authors also recommend the following:

1.) Resisting further sanctions against Russia since they have been ineffective.

2.) Adapting a realistic attitude to Russia because it is not a minor power than can be punished for its "misdeeds".

3.) Find a "carrot" approach that avoids being punitive unlike the sanctions framework that has painted Washington into a "policy corner".

Apparently, this rather atypical approach to Russia did not sit well with many of the 'cold warriors" at The Atlantic Council who wrote this rebuttal:

"Dr. Emma Ashford and Dr. Mathew Burrows’ “Reality Check #4: Focus on interests, not on human rights with Russia” misses the mark. Their article is premised on a false assumption that human rights and national interests are wholly separate and that US policy toward Russia was and remains driven by human rights concerns principally. In fact, previous administrations and the current one have sought to integrate our values and other national interests.

 We the undersigned disagree with its arguments and values and we disassociate ourselves from the report.

The rebuttal was signed by the following 22 Atlantic Council employees:

Given that Washington hardly has clean hands when it comes to human rights and the support of dictatorships around the world, the recent opinion piece on the Atlantic Council's website is rather pragmatic, unlike the response by the 22 Atlantic Council employees who have made it quite clear that they want to "integrate our values and other national interests" (i.e. American exceptionalism) in Washington's approach to Russia, an approach that has made absolutely no impact on Russia and its behaviour whatsoever.

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