Ukrainian soldiers conduct urban operations, during Rapid Trident 2021.

When Redlines Fail

February 02, 2022
Dan Altman and Kathleen Powers
This article was originally published by Foreign Affairs, with the subheading: "The Promise and Peril of Public Threats."

The authors, an assistant professor of political science at Georgia State University and an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College, write that “U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has faced persistent questions about its redlines” in response to Russia massing troops on its border with Ukraine. The authors note that while “abandoning redlines altogether is not the answer,” articulating redlines comes with its own challenges. First, “the adversary can simply ignore [redlines], forcing the United States to follow through on its threats or else look weak and unreliable. … [Additionally,] public threats can provoke targets to resist or retaliate instead of backing down. Furthermore, overly aggressive threats in defense of redlines can reduce the incentive for U.S. adversaries to comply.” The authors argue against pre-emptive sanctions against Russia, and that “Washington should instead create the strongest possible incentive for Putin to stand down by making clear that U.S. sanctions will be maximized if Russia invades and minimized if it does not.” 

Read the full article at Foreign Affairs.


Dan Altman

Dan Altman is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Georgia State University.


Kathleen Powers

Kathleen Powers is an Assistant Professor of Government at Dartmouth College.

The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author. Photo by Staff Sgt. David Carnahan shared under a Creative Commons license.