Writing in the Washington Post Sergey Rogov, the director of the Institute of USA and Canada Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, calls for cooperation between Russia and the U.S. But the article is headlined “A Russian Calls for Collaboration.” Maybe it was a Freudian slip?
My generation arrived in this world when Russia and America were engaged in a Cold War confrontation. I’ve spent 40 years — all my adult life — studying the United States and Russian-American relations, and now I’m afraid that when my generation leaves this world, America and Russia will be adversaries again. The Cold War ended nearly two decades ago. When communism collapsed, the expectations were high that former enemies would become strategic partners. But it never happened. Why?
Many people in Russia blame America. Many people in America blame Russia. Unfortunately, both are right. Nice but empty declarations cannot substitute for a clear strategy. Personal chemistry between presidents cannot substitute for institutionalized cooperation and common policies. Predictably, the backlash against the unfulfilled hopes and promises is strong today in both countries.
The 1990s were a very difficult time for Russia. Some in the United States saw the beginning of a golden age of democracy, but Russians saw and felt the disintegration of a former superpower. President Boris Yeltsin brought out tanks to fire on the parliament to impose his policy of speedy privatization of industry, business and natural resources, so a few became super-rich and many were pushed into poverty. My country nearly became a failed state. But the worst-case scenario was avoided. With a lot of help from high oil prices, Russia has managed to begin an economic revival. Today the standard of living is going up, and the threat of a civil war is gone. We still face a long and difficult path to a mature democracy and a modern market economy, of course. New mistakes can still be made, but Russia is on its way to recovery.
Meanwhile the United States has enjoyed the fruits of “victory” in the Cold War. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Washington’s strategy has been to prevent the emergence of a new peer competitor and to extend “the unipolar moment” as long as possible into the 21st century. America has failed to resist the temptation of unilateralism and preemption. A new surge of the arrogance of power brought the United States into Iraq.
The relationship with Russia no longer dominates America’s foreign policy. Washington has stopped treating Moscow as an equal player. Instead, Russians have been lectured on the need for domestic reforms, and sometimes given assistance when it directly served U.S. interests. But with the exception of the Nunn-Lugar program to help the former Soviet republics dismantle nuclear weapons, there has been no substantial assistance, no Marshall Plan for Russia.
In fact, Russia has had to repay all the Soviet sovereign debt plus International Monetary Fund and World Bank credits. The flow of capital from Russia (including official transfers and the much bigger illegal and unofficial flight of capital) has exceeded by many times all Western assistance and private investment in Russia. Even today, Russia helps to finance the U.S. federal budget deficit, holding hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign currency reserves (though not as much as China).
Ironically, while some Russian oligarchs make huge investments in America, the U.S. Congress has never repealed the 35-year-old Jackson-Vanik amendment, which treats Russia as a centrally planned economy undeserving of most-favored-nation trading status. This still stings in Moscow.
On issues of international security, Russia has been treated as a second-rate power whose complaints can be ignored. At the end of the Cold War, President George H.W. Bush proposed a new security system “from Vancouver to Vladivostok,” but this idea was quickly forgotten. So was NATO’s promise not to expand its military infrastructure eastward beyond West Germany.
“The winner takes all” — so despite Russia’s objections, all former Soviet clients in Eastern Europe have been admitted into NATO, including three former republics of the Soviet Union. And two more former republics — Georgia and Ukraine — could be next. Russia’s objections were also ignored when NATO started its first war in Kosovo.
At the same time, the old arms-control regime is half-dead. The two strategic arms-limitation agreements on the books will expire in 2009 and 2012. Today there are no serious negotiations between Russia and America about any new arms-control arrangements, and the Bush administration says that there is no more need for legally binding treaties. To demonstrate its point, the administration unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, ignoring Russian objections.
Now the United States wants to deploy the components of missile defenses (interceptors and a radar) in Poland and the Czech Republic. Now Russians are complaining that the deployment of American missile defense systems so close to Russia could undermine Russian nuclear deterrence.
Many in Russia say that the United States violates a commitment to avoid a “substantial deployment of forces” in Eastern Europe, which America and the West made, when the Russia-NATO Founding Act was signed in 1997. The perception of violated promises and mistrust of American intentions produced calls in Moscow to deploy nuclear and conventional medium-range missiles. This could lead to new tensions.
Unfortunately, Russia and America have never fully escaped from the Cold War doctrine of “mutual assured destruction.” Both pretend that they may someday confront each other with nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, the nuclear club continues to grow ominously. It now has five official and three “de facto” members. North Korea and Iran could also join, if diplomatic efforts fail. A new wave of proliferators would surely follow. What used to be primarily a bilateral Soviet-American nuclear arms race during the Cold War already looks like a multilateral competition that might make a real nuclear war more possible. And with China’s recent anti-satellite test, we are threatened with a new arms race in outer space.
After Iraq, the United States will not be able to act as the world’s policeman. The American public does not want to play that role. To avoid chaos, there must be a workable, multipolar international system based on multilateral rules of the game that are accepted by all major players.
America and Russia have unique responsibilities here. If they revert to confrontation, we cannot expect, say, China or France to lead efforts to create a new world order and control the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Only Americans and Russians can lead the world away from the biggest dangers. To do so effectively, they must begin serious cooperation in three areas:
First, a real effort to reinvent arms control. I’m not suggesting the restoration of old treaties. Both countries should make a commitment to take seriously each other’s security concerns and avoid actions that the other side might perceive as a threat. The dispute over anti-missile equipment in Eastern Europe should be resolved through a compromise, not a confrontation.
Even more important are Russian-American initiatives to invite other nuclear countries to demonstrate self-restraint and abstain from the unnecessary buildup of their nuclear arsenals. Joint brainstorming is needed to prevent the collapse of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which is at serious risk.
Second, Russia and the United States must cooperate on bilateral and multilateral efforts to manage regional conflicts. The success of the six-party negotiations on North Korea proves that when the United States gives priority to non-proliferation instead of a regime change, solutions are possible. The same approach should be applied to Iran.
Multilateral efforts must be expanded to prevent the Taliban from restoring its grip on Afghanistan. Russia, China and India can help NATO politically and economically, and even militarily, if Russia can overcome its “Afghanistan syndrome.”
If the United States agrees that the way out of the Iraq quagmire requires multilateral arrangements, Russia also can help. And it can share responsibility for implementing the “road map” to an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement.
Third are the problems of democracy and values. Russia and the United States face serious problems related to terrorist threats. It is premature to claim that either has found the best ways to expand human rights and democratic freedoms. America hardly occupies the high moral ground that would enable it to lecture others. Neither does Russia, which is debating a vague concept of “sovereign democracy,” trying to understand how to apply universal standards of human rights and democratic procedures.
It would be a great blunder to revive the spirit of the ideological crusade that gave us the Cold War. Propagandistic campaigns should belong to history. While there are heated debates on these issues in each country, we need a Russian-American dialogue instead of mutual accusations.
Russia is back as an international player. While it is not a superpower (except in the number of its nuclear weapons) and is still amid a difficult internal transformation, no one should be surprised that Russia wants to protect its national interests. Russia should be treated as a responsible player, sharing the rights and the duties of membership in the community of democratic market economies in a globalized world. That was President Vladimir Putin’s message in the speech he gave last month in Munich. And Russia, if necessary, should be criticized for her mistakes, as should America, or China, or other members of the international community. But the goal should be a new cooperation, not a new Cold War.