Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 05/2012

The United States, Russia, Europe, and Security: How to Address the "Unfinished Business" of the Post–Cold War Era

Isabelle François

April 2012

Institute for National Strategic Studies


In 2012, the U.S. Department of Defense published Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense. In this strategy document, the Defense Department outlines the new focus of U.S. efforts on threats emanating primarily from South Asia and the Middle East, spelling out the U.S. commitment to address them by working with allies and partners, acknowledging Europe as the “home to some of America’s most stalwart allies and partners.” It clearly states that the United States “has enduring interests in supporting peace and prosperity in Europe as well as bolstering the strength and vitality of NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization], which is critical to the security of Europe and beyond.” Moreover, the document characterizes engagement with Russia as important and reiterates U.S. commitment to continue efforts toward building a closer relationship in areas of mutual interest, encouraging Russia to be a contributor across a broad range of issues. The strategic environment will therefore remain one of partnership with Europe and Russia as nations work out the consequences of a rebalancing of forces in the near future. In addition, the United States will be hosting the next NATO summit in Chicago on May 20–21, 2012. This will be an opportunity to send a strong message of Alliance solidarity in the face of budgetary restraints and will provide a concrete commitment to “smart defense” through pooling and sharing limited resources. The NATO summit might also provide an opportunity to consider what this means for NATO-Russia cooperation in an age of austerity. Immediately following Russian elections, there may be a case for reviewing the state of play between NATO and Russia, should the new Russian president seize the opportunity to refine his approach toward security cooperation with the West.