The RAND Corporation issued a new report that warns against a “protracted conflict” in Ukraine and says a prolonged war is against US interests, breaking from the view of many hawks in Washington that the US should support the fight against Russia for the long term.
RAND is funded directly by the US military and often shapes US policies, including hawkish ones toward Moscow. A 2019 report titled “Extending Russia” examined the risks and benefits of ways the US could try to “extend” Russia, and many of those policies have been implemented, including the provision of “lethal aid” to Ukraine, sanctions on Russia, and “hindering” the country’s gas and oil exports.
The new report from RAND titled “Avoiding a Long War” examines the risks of the current conflict and acknowledges a protracted conflict heightens the risk of nuclear war.
A summary of the new report reads: “Discussion of the Russia-Ukraine war in Washington is increasingly dominated by the question of how it might end. To inform this discussion, this Perspective identifies ways in which the war could evolve and how alternative trajectories would affect US interests. The authors argue that, in addition to minimizing the risks of major escalation, US interests would be best served by avoiding a protracted conflict.”
The authors say the war in Ukraine makes it harder for the US to focus on its efforts to prepare for a future conflict with China. “The US ability to focus on its other global priorities — particularly, competition with China — will remain constrained as long as the war is absorbing senior policymakers’ time and US military resources,” the report reads.
The report says that the major risk of a long war in Ukraine is that there would be “a prolonged elevated risk of Russian nuclear use and a NATO-Russia war.” It says that “avoiding these two forms of escalation is the paramount US priority.”
When it comes to Ukraine retaking more of the territory that Russia captured, the report says this is only a “less significant benefit” and that “avoiding a long war is also a higher priority for the United States than facilitating significantly more Ukrainian territorial control.” It places “weakening Russia” as a greater benefit to the US than Ukrainian gains, but still not worth the risk of a long war.
The report recognizes that there is currently little hope for peace talks and suggests that the US could “condition future military aid on a Ukrainian commitment to negotiations.” Another suggestion to foster negotiations is for the US to establish conditions for sanctions relief for Russia. The authors acknowledge the Biden administration has made no effort to push the warring sides toward peace talks.
The conclusion says that due to the political situation in the US, a “dramatic shift” in US policy toward Ukraine is unlikely. But the authors say that “developing these instruments now and socializing them with Ukraine and with US allies might help catalyze the eventual start of a process that could bring this war to a negotiated end in a time frame that would serve US interests.”