Dancing with the Bear: Managing Escalation in a Conflict with Russia Proliferation Papers, No. 40, Winter 2012
"Escalation", the tendency of belligerents to increase the force or breadth of their attacks to gain advantage or avoid defeat, is not a new phenomenon. Systematic thought about how to manage it, however, did not crystallize until the Cold War and the invention of nuclear weapons.
Given the limitations identified in these Cold War approaches to escalation and the profound changes that have affected the strategic environment, a new framework for thinking and managing escalation against nuclear adversaries is needed. It should lead to a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of escalation: its dynamics, forms, and the motives that drive it. This paper attempts to fill a gap in the current strategic literature, and explores the challenges that NATO would face in managing escalation in a military conflict with a major nuclear power such as the Russian Federation. Escalation management is about keeping wars limited. In a war against Russia, Western leaders would need to weigh their interests in the issue at stake and adjust their war aims and efforts accordingly. They could secure success only if it is defined and pursued in ways that ultimately allow for compromise and do not threaten the survival of the Russian state or its leaders.