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2014 Archives

SMU national security expert warns Russia:
occupying Ukraine more burden than victory

Joshua Rovner
Joshua Rovner

See Op-Ed:
     Putin's Crimea Blunder

March 4, 2014

Professor Joshua Rovner writes extensively on strategy and security and is currently a much sought-after expert on the volatile political situation in the Ukraine.

“The conventional wisdom is that there isn’t much the United States can do in response to recent events in Ukraine,” Rovner says.  “Russia’s fait accompli in the Crimea put Washington on the defensive and put the new Ukrainian government in peril.  Critics of President Obama blame him for issuing weak threats that are not enough to deter Russia from doing more, and they fear that Vladimir Putin has thoroughly outwitted the administration.  U.S. options appear limited and the future is bleak.  But the critics are wrong, because the United States doesn’t have to do much at all.  The truth is that Russia stands to lose a great deal in this crisis no matter how the White House responds.

“Critics fear that Russia may soon move beyond the Crimea and occupy predominantly Russian-speaking areas in Eastern Ukraine.  This could trigger open war with Ukraine, whose military would be badly overmatched. But suppose Russia actually fought and won such a war.  It would be left with a serious problem: occupying a large country marked by deep ethnic differences and a very restive population.  Meanwhile, Russia would become increasingly isolated and face a variety of sanctions, which would represent another burden on an already overstressed economy.  Some victory. 

“And while critics view the ongoing crisis as the return of U.S.-Russian competition, there are good reasons for Washington to avoid competing.  Much as we do not like to admit it, Russian cooperation is important for any long-term solution on issues from arms control to Syria to Iran.   A more aggressive response to Russia in Ukraine would threaten progress on issues that are more relevant to U.S. interests.   The United States has already stepped in with a $1 billion loan guarantee.  U.S. leaders need to be careful not to let this be the first step on a slippery slope.” 

Rovner’s recent book, Fixing the Facts: National Security and the Politics of Intelligence (Cornell University Press, 2011), is a wide-ranging study about how leaders use and misuse intelligence.  Rovner's book combines a new theory of intelligence with a deep historical analysis of critical moments in U.S. foreign policy, including key decisions about the wars in Vietnam and Iraq.  Widely praised by reviewers, Fixing the Facts won the International Studies Association Best Book Award for security studies, and the Edgar S. Furniss Book Award, presented by the Mershon Center at Ohio State University. 

Rovner's research interests also include international relations theory, nuclear weapons, grand strategy, and U.S. defense policy.  He has written on intelligence before and after the September 11 attacks, strategy in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and possible responses to nuclear proliferation. In addition to his continuing research on intelligence, he is currently working on issues relating to U.S. force posture in the Persian Gulf, the theory and history of counterinsurgency, and contemporary deterrence theory. 

A frequent public speaker, Rovner seeks to encourage a wide-ranging discussion on the issues of force and war.  He also seeks to promote close collaboration between political scientists and historians.  As reviews editor for The Journal of Strategic Studies, he has deliberately brought together scholars from different disciplines in order to encourage work that is both theoretically rigorous and historically rich.  

Before coming to SMU, Rovner was Associate Professor of Strategy and Policy at the Naval War College, and he also taught at Columbia University and Williams College.

Rovner is the John Goodwin Tower Distinguished Chair of International Politics and National Security, associate professor of Political Science, and director of Studies at the Tower Center for Political Studies.