Stanford's new European Security Initiative focuses on changing geopolitical landscape

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The new European Security Initiative at Stanford will examine the long-term policy issues and trends in Europe's changing geopolitical landscape, especially given Russia's growing aggression in the region.


First, it was the 2014 annexation of Crimea. Then, it was the intervention in eastern Ukraine. Most recently, airstrikes and naval cruise missiles are hitting targets in Syria.

What, many are wondering, is Russian President Vladimir Putin up to?

Russia's spate of aggressive tactics has thrust Europe into a new era of uncertainty and has raised pertinent policy questions that Stanford scholars have set out to explore more deeply with the launch this fall of a new European Security Initiative (ESI).

The working group of a dozen senior faculty members – whose breadth of expertise in Russian and Eurasian affairs spans multiple administrations – portrays Russia's actions as constituting the greatest challenge to European security and stability since the end of the Cold War. At the same time, Russia's own unstable economy and political landscape complicate the matter; policy changes moving forward will be high-stakes decisions, as Russia and the West step into a period of sustained competition.

Stanford, with its heavyweight lineup, is poised to play a role. The European Security Initiative – formed by the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI), the Europe Center, the Hoover Institution and other university partners – will serve as the collaborative framework for the policy research.

"Policymakers in Washington have to react immediately to events in the world, making it difficult to develop longer-term strategies for dealing with ongoing challenges," said FSI's director, Michael McFaul. "At Stanford, we have the luxury of being able to think about longer trends and then recommend more enduring strategies to our colleagues in government.

"We also have deep expertise on Russia and Europe, which assigns us a special responsibility to tackle these new challenges to European security."

The initial group of Stanford faculty involved in the initiative includes: McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia and a professor of political science; Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. secretary of state and a professor of political science; international studies Professor Coit Blacker, former special assistant to President Bill Clinton and director for Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian Affairs on the National Security Council; David Holloway, professor of history and of political science, and one of the world's leading authorities on Russia's nuclear weapons program and defense policies; and Kathryn Stoner, an expert on Russia's governance and political economy and a senior fellow at FSI. 

Analyzing Russia's actions

One of the first objectives of the initiative is to understand the nature of the conflicts at hand and develop theories on Russia's domestic and international intentions.

For example, is Putin trying to re-establish Russian dominance over former Soviet states? Is he trying to distract internal constituencies from an array of domestic problems? Depending on the answers, the initiative's faculty members say the United States would have to pursue different policy options.

Working group discussions and a series of public events featuring key figures in U.S.-Russian and European policy will facilitate the Stanford-based dialogue and help broaden the academic discussion among students.

In September, for instance, ESI launched the new academic year with a talk at the Europe Center by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who was at the center of European and global politics as the former secretary-general of NATO.

Other fall quarter ESI events, past and upcoming, include an Oct. 14 talk by Sergey Aleksashenko, a former deputy chairman of the Russian Central Bank; a Nov. 2 visit by Vladimir Milov, the former Russian deputy minister of energy; and a Nov. 9 visit by General Philip M. Breedlove, supreme allied commander, Europe. 

Students, scholarship

In addition, Stanford students are showing a growing interest in Putin's actions and the unfolding refugee crisis in Europe. Applications for new student fellowships on European issues in Brussels this past summer far outstripped the six spaces available. To capitalize on this renewed interest, the initiative will involve students through events, new fellowships and a new seminar.

The initiative aims to rebuild scholarship in an area of academic interest that waned as the Cold War ended.

"At the end of the Cold War, many thought that we no longer needed to study Russia. I myself even stopped teaching courses on Russia and Eastern Europe," McFaul said. "That was a mistake." He noted that Stanford is ideally positioned to seed a new generation of expertise on Russia and Europe.

FSI provided the startup money to create the initiative, but it will be looking for funds to sustain the program.


This article was originally published in The Stanford Report on October 28, 2015.