Skip to main content

The tragedy of US–Russian relations: NATO centrality and the revisionists’ spiral

A Correction to this article was published on 29 April 2020

This article has been updated


We contribute to the debate on NATO expansion in two ways that depart from standard practice: we make explicit the theoretical models that this debate demands; and we carefully trace Russian discourse and behavior through time. We show that NATO centrality rather than simply NATO expansion is the root issue. It best captures the historical origins of the problem and is most consistent with the Russian evidence. We demonstrate that Russia’s cooperative moves vis-à-vis NATO were premised upon Moscow’s strongly revisionist preferences regarding the European security architecture. We argue that the US–NATO–Russia spiral is best understood as an offensive-realist tragedy as opposed to a security dilemma or a standoff between one pure security-seeking state and one greedy expansionist. The key protagonists were both revisionists whose preferences and grand strategies brought them into conflict. Central to the whole story is not classical territorial security threats, but much broader conceptions of security.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Change history

  • 29 April 2020

    In the original article, the first author name has been published incorrectly as “Andrey A. Sushenstov”. The correct name is “Andrey A. Sushentsov”.


Download references


This work was supported by Russian Ministry of Science and Education under Grant 14.461.31.0002.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to William C. Wohlforth.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

The original version of this article was revised due to incorrect name of first author. The correct name is Andrey A. Sushentsov.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Sushentsov, A.A., Wohlforth, W.C. The tragedy of US–Russian relations: NATO centrality and the revisionists’ spiral. Int Polit 57, 427–450 (2020).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: