In the aftermath of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine, influential personalities in the United States have begun confidently inserting themselves into the debate on American foreign policy. Specifically, the aforementioned have been speaking with forthrightness on the territorial battles in Eastern Europe. Politicians, public intellectuals, academics, and policy wonks have been commenting publicly on an increasingly confrontational Russian policy as it relates to American power.

While some commentators have counseled a careful pursuit of a pragmatic, patient, and more methodical path in which to confront the rising influence of the Kremlin in the international system, others have sounded a clarion call for a more forceful course of action. Those proposing a more confrontational approach have only increased the volume of their calls in the wake of the disaster last week in Ukraine.

These competing camps are both seeking to confront a Russian foreign policy that has grown progressively more confident and assertive in projecting Russian power beyond its historic near abroad in the past decade. Each approach, though diverging from the other on important points of policy debate, carries with it risks and rewards for its implementation.

There are a number of consequences to consider when formulating policy responses to the issue of rising Russian influence.  In this regard, it is essential to avoid overreaction and timidity. The consequences for unnecessary expense of soft power carry great cost for the future capabilities of our military to meet and eliminate threats to the national security of the United States.

Consideration of a more confrontational response to Russian intervention (specifically in Eastern Europe) largely relegates allies of the United States to wall decor. Those promulgating unilateral U.S. diplomatic action tacitly assign these European allies mere supporting roles in a play on a stage that exists on their own territory. This course of action often elicited adverse consequences during the decades-long Cold War, inspiring a backlash in public opinion in countries such as West Germany and catalyzing demands for removal of American military assets on the territory of key allies. In the context of recently strained ties between the governments of the United States and Germany over accusations that the U.S. spied on its German partners, it is especially important to be thoughtful about how responding to Russian aggression in Ukraine can adversely affect relationships between the United States and its allies.

Conversely, neo-isolationists (those calling for a reduced international profile for the U.S.) often mistake American influence around the world as malevolent and a catalyst for exacerbation of conflict and diplomatic tension. This is also a fallacy. United States diplomatic personnel and military forces are more often than not the only stabilizing force in keeping a semblance of peace between belligerents whose actions threaten to engulf entire regions in open warfare. Considering the consequences of inaction is as important as considering the consequences of action. Failing to respond quickly and assertively in confronting the aggressive actions of a geopolitical adversary can and often does have disastrous repercussions for the security interests of both the United States and its allies.

Among the more important lessons of the Cold War is one that clearly applies in the present conflict with Russia: anticipating and appreciating the implications that American foreign policy has on the domestic politics of allied nations. It will be important to consider the preferences and policies of these long-standing American allies, especially in Europe, as domestic politics in countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy will inevitably (and in a significant way) impact the ability of American policymakers to implement courses of action which ensure the security of U.S. interests while paying heed to the national interests of our allies. This is especially true when interests of those allies diverge with those of the U.S.

The approach of the U.S. in confronting intensifying Russian involvement in places such as eastern Ukraine will affect the approach by which leaders in allied nations establish policy and ensure the political capital necessary for public support for any action (diplomatic or military) against Russian involvement in places such as Ukraine, Syria, Egypt, and Iran.