Three national security experts said Thursday that one of the next administration’s most important tools in dealing with an aggressive Russia could be seriously undermined if the European Union decides in December not to renew strong economic sanctions to curb Moscow’s ambitions along its borders.
Speaking at the Center for New American Security, a Washington, D.C., think-tank, Michelle Flournoy, former undersecretary of Defense for policy, said, it’s “very important for the new administration to have that tool” available when it takes office. A vote by the E.U. not to renew “greatly weakens the new administration’s hand.”
Robert Kimmitt, former deputy secretary of Treasury, said whoever wins the election needs to reach out very early to European leaders to say how important those sanctions—which are renewed on a six-month basis—are for their own countries and the United States. “It gets more complicated with French and German [national] elections next year” on whether the EU would be willing to renewing sanctions.
The U.S. and European Union sanctions against Russia has cost Moscow “a couple of percentage points” of its gross domestic product, Peter Harrell, one of the authors of a new CNAS report on the value of sanctions as a national security tool. He noted, “EU support for sanctions is beginning to wane.”
“The toughest part of enforcement [of sanctions is] implementation,” Kimmitt said. Noting how sanctions against Iraq were eased after Desert Storm, leaving Saddam Hussein’s regime in power, he added, “Save some energy for implementation. . . . That’s going to produce the results” of a longer-range strategy.
“I worry a lot” about Russia and/or Iran taking “a very provocative act” on Jan. 21, Inauguration Day, Theodore Kassinger, former deputy secretary and general counsel at the Commerce Department, said, with the implication that the new administration is not immediately prepared to meet the challenge.
Flournoy said the Bush administration was extremely helpful in the transition in addressing national security issues. One way was using gaming to think through a scenario that possibly could be a national security challenge.
“Sanctions are a tool. Threats of sanctions are not a tool,” Kassinger said.
Flournoy, who is also is CNAS chief executive officer, said too often sanctions are seen as “sort as a one-off . . . to express displeasure.”
It is critical “to look at sanctions in a 360-degree view.” The view encompasses the interagency, allies and partners, but the United States needs to be prepared if necessary to act unilaterally, Kimmitt added. It is also very helpful to have U.N. support for sanctions against countries such as Iran and North Korea on their nuclear weapons programs. “It is harder for some countries to argue with the U.N. than the U.S.”
He noted Treasury is relatively new to discussions of national security. Flournoy added that many national security specialists are not really fluent in understanding the economic implications of the actions they recommend.
Kassinger said, “Flexibility is incredibly important” in developing a tailored sanctions response, but sanctions should be on the table from the start in addressing a challenge. “The president needs to be able to reward as well as punish.” All agreed imposing sanctions was not a one-size-fits-all.
Elizabeth Rosenberg, a co-author of the report, said sanctions in the past decade have become a “key part of U.S. foreign policy” and have “quite a lot of bipartisan agreement” on their value. The report looks at sanctions in dealing with Russia, Iran, Cuba, North Korea and the Islamic State.