The US will gain nothing by declaring Russia a terror state: experts
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi told Secretary of State Antony Blinken that Congress will designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism if the executive branch doesn’t, according to Politico.
The move would no doubt be cathartic for Americans who are outraged by Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, which has killed thousands of civilians and displaced millions. But it will have little effect on the war, according to experts who spoke with Responsible Statecraft. In fact, it may even end up doing more harm than good.
“The Kremlin will simply dismiss the charges as anti-Russian propaganda,” said Rajan Menon, the director of the grand strategy program at Defense Priorities. Menon added that, while further sanctions would lead to more pain for Russians, it is unlikely that they would have a significant impact on President Vladimir Putin’s calculus.
“Plus the pain is a [two-way] street,” he added. “Just consider the boomerang effect on Western economies.”
Blinken can unilaterally place Russia on America’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, which currently includes Iran, North Korea, Cuba, and Syria. He has so far hesitated to do so, arguing that the designation would in many ways be redundant.
But the State Department’s public justification may obscure more practical concerns. As Edward Fishman of the Atlantic Council told Politico, putting Moscow on the list “would be significant because it’s a blanket measure” that “injects a risk into all dealings with Russia.”
This pervasive risk would make it difficult to do any business with Russian companies, including those that provide vital supplies of gas and food to America’s allies. With the European Union already urging its citizens to ration gas, the designation could deal another blow to the West’s united front on Ukraine, which has already suffered from the political crisis in Italy caused by disagreements over the war.
The Politico piece notes that the congressional designation would not be enough to force Blinken’s hand but could add significant political pressure to make the move.
“If either resolution passes on Capitol Hill — or a full terrorism sponsor designation gets through both chambers — Blinken may feel more pressure to side with lawmakers and make the designation,” wrote reporters Alexander Ward and Betsy Woodruff Swan.
Whether or not the designation comes from the State Department, the move would make it more difficult to conduct diplomacy with Moscow on a range of issues. (Who could forget former President George W. Bush’s famous assertion that “no nation can negotiate with terrorists”?)
And concerns go beyond this particular case: The state sponsor of terror list has long suffered from a crisis of legitimacy, made worse last year when former President Donald Trump added Cuba to the list despite scant evidence of support for actual terrorism. As Barbara Slavin argued in Responsible Statecraft at the time, U.S. terror designations have “become overly politicized and now amount to counterproductive expressions of disapproval for adversarial regimes and groups.”
“When one considers the tens of thousands of innocent civilians killed as a result of U.S. policies, […] the hypocrisy and counterproductive nature of these designations becomes even more apparent,” Slavin wrote. “The violent actions of other groups on the list, while reprehensible, in many cases are technically acts of war not terrorism.”