Assessing Motives for Russian Federation Use and Non-use of Force: An Approach to Improve the Strategic Planning and Policy of the United States

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The purpose of this dissertation is to inform scholarship and improve U.S. policy and strategy to prevent the Russian Federation from using military force against U.S. interests. It does this by exploring and answering the question, what explains the Russian Federation’s choices on the use of military force? The dissertation developed and demonstrated an approach to translating policy debates into sufficiently rigorous sets of competing explanations of strategic behavior for expectations about future behavior under various conditions to be stated and tested. The explanations developed and tested used motives derived from The Rational Theory of International Politics by Glaser and The Logic of Political Survival by Bueno De Mesquita, Smith, Siverson, and Morrow. Systematic analysis of competing explanations attempted to find incongruence between the expectations if a motive was a plausible explanation and the behaviors actually observed since 1991. This dissertation found that the Russian Federation’s choices on the use of military force are explainable by the balancing of three motives. These choices have prioritized first the motive of the president’s political survival, then Russia’s self-protection/security motive, and then Russia’s domination/greed motive. This suggests that the Russian Federation calculates risks when making these choices differently than currently assumed. The most important risks influencing these decisions are those related to the future of the Russian president’s political winning coalition. These findings allow the U.S. to take a game theory-informed approach to strategic planning that seeks to prevent the use of military force against U.S. interests at a lower level of costs and risks than the current approach. The United States should develop a strategy to foster three somewhat contradictory calculations simultaneously. The U.S. strategy needs to communicate that the negative consequences of using force would outweigh whatever potential benefit might tempt the domination/greed motive. At the same time, the strategy needs to communicate that if Russia acts with restraint, then Russian self-protection/security motive concerns will be addressed cooperatively. Most importantly, the strategy needs to influence the Russian president’s calculations about whether using or not using force against U.S. interests would be better for personal political survival.