The tragedy of US–Russian relations: NATO centrality and the revisionists’ spiral

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We contribute to the debate on NATO expansion in two ways that depart from standard practice: we make explicit the theoretical models that this debate demands; and we carefully trace Russian discourse and behavior through time. We show that NATO centrality rather than simply NATO expansion is the root issue. It best captures the historical origins of the problem and is most consistent with the Russian evidence. We demonstrate that Russia’s cooperative moves vis-à-vis NATO were premised upon Moscow’s strongly revisionist preferences regarding the European security architecture. We argue that the US–NATO–Russia spiral is best understood as an offensive-realist tragedy as opposed to a security dilemma or a standoff between one pure security-seeking state and one greedy expansionist. The key protagonists were both revisionists whose preferences and grand strategies brought them into conflict. Central to the whole story is not classical territorial security threats, but much broader conceptions of security.




Sushentsov, A. A., & Wohlforth, W. C. (2020). The tragedy of US–Russian relations: NATO centrality and the revisionists’ spiral. International Politics, 57(3), 427–450.

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