The Trump administration shocked Washington when it refused to implement new, legally mandated sanctions against Russia in January. The White House claimed there was no need for new sanctions, because the law itself was already deterring those considering doing business with Russia. Yet, since then, not only did a U.S. grand jury indict 13 Russians for fraud and other charges, but the U.S. intelligence community unanimously told Congress that Russia hasn’t stopped interfering in American democracy. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats even testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that the “United States is under attack.” Despite this, the Trump administration continues to stick to its claim that the situation requires no additional sanctions. This is worse than doing nothing.
Deterrence only works if it is credible: The actor threatening retaliation has to be seen as willing to carry it out. By refusing to implement Russia sanctions mandated by Congress despite tremendous political pressure to do so, the administration has sent a clear message: Don’t worry about sanctions, the United States won’t follow through.
The above excerpt was originally published in Foreign Policy.
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