Relaying remarks he delivered at the Summit on Realism & Restraint, a conference dedicated to foreign policy held in Washington earlier this week, Larison explained that relations between Moscow and Washington have faced a decline in recent years largely because US policymakers have proven incapable of "distinguish[ing] between tangential and vital interests."
"Our relationship with Russia has suffered from repeated disappointments and setbacks in part because successive administrations have failed to make that distinction," Larison noted. "Instead, Washington has sought to compete with Moscow in places that matter greatly to them but which matter very little to us. We have seen that with attempted NATO expansion deeper into the former Soviet Union, and we're seeing it again today in Syria."
"If that's right, we need to scale back our ambitions and restrain the ambitions of our allies and clients as much as possible to minimize the frequency and intensity of disputes with Russia," Larison stressed.
Washington's conventional wisdom – that the US has the right and obligation to try and confront Russia "whenever it does something undesirable," rarely explains "how that actually makes the US or our allies more secure." Meanwhile, "the proposed method of countering [Moscow] often involves exposing us and our allies to greater risks for little apparent gain."
The journalist suggested that "the easiest way to keep irritants out of the relationship with Russia is to make sure not to add new ones. Gratuitous moves aimed at poking Moscow in the eye just for the sake of doing it obviously won't produce the cooperation Washington wants, and they will become part of the litany of complaints about American behavior that Russian leaders and diplomats recite." This, in Larison's view, includes everything from US missile defense in Europe, to NATO's never-ending expansions, to more and more anti-Russian sanctions.
"Whenever there is a temptation to 'punch the Russians in the nose' (as John Kasich put it), we need to consider carefully what we are trying to achieve, what the likely reaction will be, and whether it is really necessary," the commentator emphasized. Furthermore, Washington must realize that even if it succeeds in "forcing another great power into a humiliating climbdown" in one area, this only "runs the risk of producing a more volatile crisis down the road."
Ultimately, Larison stressed that worsened relations between the countries could still be reversed, and "it should still be possible to improve relations," thus "minimiz[ing] the chance of great power conflict in this century."
For this to happen, he added, the US will have to acknowledge the failure of efforts to 'punish' and 'isolate' Russia, and for leaders from the two countries to engage one another diplomatically, and not put off talking about the short- and long-term disagreements which exists between great powers.