Escalation Management in Ukraine: “Learning by Doing” in Response to the “Threat that Leaves Something to Chance” (Summer 2023)




Stein, Janice Gross

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Texas National Security Review



The article analyses a process of escalation management over time between nuclear states under conditions of radical uncertainty. After Russia invaded Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin manipulated uncertainty to manage escalation and to deter NATO support of Ukraine. President Joe Biden was determined to avoid a war between NATO and Russian forces that he feared could escalate and was simultaneously committed to helping Ukraine repel Russian aggression and defend itself. These two objectives, often in tension with one another, defined the boundaries of the strategy of escalation management that the United States developed to reduce uncertainty. This contest between a strategy to manipulate uncertainty and a strategy to reduce uncertainty frames the analysis of escalation management and raises important issues of theory and policy. The article finds that the U.S. strategy of “learning by doing” has succeeded thus far in managing escalation but concludes with four challenges that could jeopardize future success.

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