ESI in the news

European Security Initiative to Address Policy Challenges Amid A Shifting Geopolitical Landscape

Stanford Report, Oct 28, 2015 

By May Wong


First, it was the annexation last year of Crimea. Then it was the intervention in Eastern Ukraine. Now, in recent weeks, there has been an assault of airstrikes and naval cruise missiles in Syria.

What, many are wondering, is Russian President Vladimir Putin up to?

Russia’s spate of aggressive tactics has thrust Europe into a new era of uncertainty and raises pertinent policy questions that Stanford scholars have set out to explore more deeply with the launch this fall of a new European Security Initiative.

The working group of a dozen senior faculty members  – whose breadth of expertise in Russian and Eurasian affairs spans multiple administrations – believes Russia’s actions constitute the greatest challenge to European security and stability since the end of the Cold War. At the same time, Russia’s own unstable economy and uncertain domestic political landscape complicate the matter. Policy changes moving forward will be high-stakes decisions, especially since Russia and the West have apparently stepped into a period of sustained competition.

Stanford – with its heavyweight lineup – is poised to play a role. The European Security Initiative, formed by the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) and The Europe Center (TEC), will serve as the collaborative framework for the policy research.

“Policymakers in Washington have to react immediately to events in the world, making it difficult to develop longer term strategies for dealing with ongoing challenges,” said FSI’s director, Michael McFaul.  “At Stanford, we have the luxury of being able to think about longer trends and then recommend more enduring strategies to our colleagues in government.”

“We also have deep expertise on Russia and Europe, which assigns us a special responsibility to tackle these new challenges to European security,” he said.

The initial group of faculty involved in the initiative includes, among others: McFaul, former U.S ambassador to Russia; Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State; Chip Blacker, former Special Assistant to President Clinton and Director for Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian Affairs on the National Security Council; David Holloway, one of the world’s leading authorities on Russia’s nuclear weapons program and defense policies; and Kathryn Stoner, an expert on Russia’s governance and political economy.

One of the first objectives of the initiative is to understand the nature of the conflicts at hand and develop theories on Russia’s domestic and international intentions.

For example, is Putin trying to re-establish Russian dominance over former Soviet states?  Is he trying to distract internal constituencies from an array of domestic problems? ESI faculty members say the U.S. would have to pursue different policy options depending on the answers.

Working group discussions and a series of public events featuring key figures in U.S.-Russian and European policy will facilitate the Stanford-based dialogue and help broaden the academic discussion among students.

In September, for instance, ESI launched the new academic year with a talk at The Europe Center by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who was at the center of European and global politics as the former Secretary General of NATO.

Other fall quarter ESI events, past and upcoming, include an Oct. 14 talk by Sergey Aleksashenko, a former Deputy Chairman of the Russian Central Bank, a Nov. 2 visit by Vladimir Milov, the former Russian Deputy Minister of Energy, and a Nov. 9 visit by General Philip M. Breedlove, Supreme Allied Commander Europe.

In addition, Stanford students are showing a growing interest in Putin’s actions and the unfolding refugee crisis in Europe.  For example, applications for new student fellowships on European issues in Brussels this past summer far outstripped the six spaces available. To capitalize on this renewed interest, the initiative plans to involve students through events, new fellowships, and a new seminar.

The initiative aims to rebuild scholarship in an area of academic interest that waned after the end of the Cold War. “At the end of the Cold War, many thought that we no longer needed to study Russia. I myself even stopped teaching courses on Russia and Eastern Europe,” McFaul said. “That was a mistake.”  McFaul said that Stanford is ideally positioned to seed a new generation of expertise on Russia and Europe.

FSI provided the start-up money to create the initiative, but it will be looking for funds to sustain the program.