Nikolas Gvosdev

Nikolas K. Gvosdev is the former editor of the National Interest, and a frequent foreign policy commentator in both the print and broadcast media. He is currently on the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect those of the Navy or the U.S. government. His weekly WPR column, The Realist Prism, appears every Friday.

Articles written by Nikolas Gvosdev

The Realist Prism

Syria, Ukraine May Force Obama to Learn to Love Coalitions of the Willing

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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Democrats often mocked the George W. Bush administration's invocation of "coalitions of the willing" to legitimize U.S. action abroad. Once back in power, they argued, Democrats would be able to generate genuine multilateral support to back U.S. initiatives. Although the Obama administration initially seemed to fulfill those predictions, two crises now threaten to derail the Obama approach to multilateralism. more

The Realist Prism

On Iran and Russia, Obama Gambling for More Time

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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Though it is axiomatic that almost any foreign policy action taken by President Barack Obama will be reflexively criticized by the Republican opposition, in recent months congressional Democrats have been more willing to publicly voice critiques of the president’s performance. But Obama appears to be willing to swallow his pride and suffer domestic political attacks if it buys him time and maneuvering room.

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The Realist Prism

U.S. Watches From Sidelines as Global Leaders Gather in Brazil

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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The U.S. missed out on a rare geopolitical opportunity this past week. Vice President Joe Biden, who has emerged in Barack Obama’s second term as more of an alter ego for the president on the international stage, should have taken a short trip to Brazil for the World Cup final. Sure, the U.S. team had already been eliminated, but Biden still had good reasons to drop in at the close of the tournament. more

The Realist Prism

As Ukraine Looks West, EU Seeks Russia Accommodation

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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After the Cold War, there was a sense of optimism that the Euro-Atlantic community could be expanded at little risk and without significant cost. Western policymakers did not consider the possibility of a Russia both hostile to Western expansion and with the strength to stymie it. Now the Ukraine end game is challenging assumptions of European security that have guided policymakers for the past two decades. more

The Realist Prism

Russia’s Energy Ambitions Explain Putin’s Zigzags on Ukraine

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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How to explain Vladimir Putin’s zigzags on Ukraine? Putin’s long-term goal is to prevent Ukraine’s integration into the Euro-Atlantic world. In the short term, however, there is a lodestone that accounts for the shifts in Russia’s Ukraine policy: completing Russia’s emergence as the world’s energy superpower. This involves accomplishing two major projects: the South Stream pipeline and the opening of the Arctic. more

The Realist Prism

Time for Plan B on Obama’s Triple Containment of Russia, China, Iran

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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When the Obama administration took control of U.S. foreign policy in 2009, it undertook to mitigate what it considered the damage wrought by the Bush team. A deft wielding of diplomacy would end the standoff with Iran, reset relations with Russia and bring China into a dialogue to solve global problems. Things did not go according to this plan, and it is past time to move to a “Plan B” for U.S. foreign policy. more

The Realist Prism

Instead of Isolating Putin’s Russia, U.S. Must Offer Alternatives

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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Over the past two years, whenever Russia has undertaken steps in the international arena that the U.S. disapproves of, there has been a predictable response in Washington: a parade of somber-faced U.S. officials solemnly warning Moscow that it risks isolation by its policy choices. Certainly, the U.S. has had some successes in turning the threats into reality. But for the most part the rhetoric has fallen short. more

The Realist Prism

Between Warsaw and West Point, a Contradiction in Obama’s Foreign Policy

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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President Barack Obama has delivered a consistent message during his trans-Atlantic sojourn this week, including a stirring address in Warsaw, and hit all the right rhetorical notes. The president reaffirmed his commitment to the security of Europeans concerned that the long-announced “rebalance to the Pacific” means less U.S. attention to their continent. Now comes the hard part: translating words into policy. more

The Realist Prism

Kazakhstan a Model for Ukraine in Accommodating Russia

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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With chaos continuing in Ukraine, the country’s new president-elect, Petro Poroshenko, and his team might want to consider learning from how another mid-sized Eurasian state has managed its relationship with the Russian bear. This week, in a ceremony overshadowed by the events in Ukraine, Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev signed the agreements formally creating the Eurasian Economic Union with Russia. more

The Realist Prism

India’s Modi Gets Short Shrift From Obama’s Agenda

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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In the aftermath of the Indian elections, President Barack Obama expressed his desire for rejuvenating the U.S.-India relationship, which is still seen as a linchpin for America’s rebalance to Asia. But at present Obama is not scheduled to meet with India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, until a pair of summits at the end of this year. And those meetings will likely be too brief to make serious progress. more

The Realist Prism

New U.S. Policies for China, Russia Must Be Backed by Action

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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While Americans have been absorbed in the usual medley of celebrity scandals, the Obama administration has quietly hinted at two changes in its approach to U.S. foreign policy that, if followed to their logical conclusion, signal a major reorientation in how Washington plans to conduct international affairs. But, to be effective, the new policy statements on China and Russia must be backed by deeds. more

The Realist Prism

Ukraine Crisis Exposes NATO, EU’s Lack of Strategic Clarity

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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No matter whether the crisis in Ukraine begins to de-escalate in the coming days, Vladimir Putin has demonstrated the hollowness of the West’s 21st century approach to Euro-Atlantic security. NATO and the EU have been unable to respond effectively because their assumptions about the nature of conflict and the burdens that members ought to bear to provide for the common defense have not been updated. more

The Realist Prism

To Save the Pivot, Obama Must Disown It

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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President Barack Obama’s trip to East Asia was supposed to highlight America’s seriousness about rebalancing its foreign policy attention to the Asia-Pacific region, but it failed to do much to burnish U.S. global leadership. Obama can still lay the foundations for the rebalancing strategy, but to do so he must first recognize that the pivot to Asia cannot be completed in his administration’s political lifetime. more

The Realist Prism

Khobragade, Keystone Cases Illustrate Fragmented U.S. Policy

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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If a national security policy to be worth more than the paper it is printed on, it needs to serve as a guide to making tough policy choices. But recent controversies around two U.S. strategic objectives show how poorly strategy is guiding policy. In the Devyani Khobragade case and the Keystone XL pipeline decision, the administration has lacked any mechanism to choose between competing priorities. more

The Realist Prism

West’s Tactical Blunders on Ukraine Go Unquestioned

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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A Communist Party deputy who was attacked earlier this week as he addressed Ukraine’s parliament raised some uncomfortable points that Western policymakers need to consider about their response to the crisis in Ukraine. By driving Ukraine’s elected president out of office, protesters created the conditions for other aggrieved parties in Ukraine—and Russia—to use similar tactics to advance their own interests. more

The Realist Prism: U.S. Unwilling to Give or Take on Ukraine

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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It was no surprise when last Sunday’s emergency meeting in Paris between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov ended inconclusively. The U.S. is not prepared to cut a 19th-century-style deal with Moscow, but neither has it articulated a 21st-century response that would change Russia’s calculus. The U.S. seems unwilling to make a grand bargain or to reverse Russian gains. more

The Realist Prism: Crimea Crisis Puts the Lie to America’s Long-Term Planning

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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The Ukraine crisis has once again highlighted a fundamental weakness of the U.S. national security process: its inability to hold to long-term planning in the midst of short-term crises. At the beginning of 2014, it seemed that, Washington might finally begin to match action to rhetoric and concentrate on the Asia-Pacific region. Now, the talk in U.S. foreign policy circles is all about a “pivot” back to Europe. more

The Realist Prism: Is America Prepared to Sacrifice for Crimea?

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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For U.S. policymakers, the focus now needs to be on formulating a new policy toward Russia situated within an overarching framework of U.S. interests. The U.S. must determine how great a threat Moscow’s unilateral action in Crimea poses, and in turn whether reversing it or pushing for a long-term settlement is the right course. If reversal is the goal, the question is, what costs is the U.S. prepared to pay? more

The Realist Prism: On Ukraine, Obama Tethered to Domestic Politics

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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Acting Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk traveled to Washington on Wednesday to plead for urgent U.S. help for his country. But two newly released public opinion polls will be little comfort to U.S. pundits pushing for vigorous assistance for Ukraine. As midterm congressional elections approach, the Obama administration is highly sensitive to a growing unwillingness to engage in adventures abroad. more

The Realist Prism: Obama Must Choose What Comes Next for U.S.-Russia

By Nikolas Gvosdev
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It’s safe to say that the U.S.-Russia reset is now dead. It is not clear, in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis, what will replace it—but there can be no return to the status quo ante. The Obama administration has wavered between insisting Russia’s interests in Ukraine are fundamentally illegitimate and suggesting Ukraine could be a neutral zone. It must now choose between these irreconcilable positions. more