Talking to Russia

Russian actions in Georgia shouldn't be met with the silent treatment. Instead, America, Europe and Russia need be able to discuss their different interests and motivations.

With Russia's military pull-back, if not entire withdrawal, from Georgian territory, tensions between Moscow and the West will ease. But the question remains: Now what? The Eastern Europeans remain skittish, the leaders of "Old Europe" look ineffective, the Bush administration continues to bluster foolishly, and there's no reason to assume that hostilities won't soon flare again in the Caucasus, Ukraine, or even Eastern Europe.

At the meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels, the Europeans could agree on only one step: suspending the NATO-Russia Council. Moscow responded by ending joint exercises and other military cooperation with NATO. Alas, these steps move in precisely the wrong direction. Kicking Russia out of the G-8 would be even worse. What the United States, Europe, and Russia need now is more communication, not less.  Granted, NATO may not be the best forum in which to conduct serious talks about the future. But such talks are needed.

Despite crude screeds comparing recent events to World War II, there is no simple explanation for the recent war-South Ossetian and Abkhazian separatism go back centuries and provide a stronger case for independent states than does Albanian separatism in Kosovo. One of the most important factors in the recent conflict is the dramatic divergence between forms of nationalism in Russia, Europe, and the United States Robert Kagan captured part of the problem with his "Americans are from Mars, Europeans are from Venus" formulation. With Russia in the mix, the differences are even more complex.

The Cold War saw a largely bipolar, hegemonic competition between an aggressively ideological and democratic empire, led by the United States with a gaggle of allies in tow, and an aggressively ideological and communist empire, dominated by the Soviet Union, followed by its Eastern European camp. Both sides exhibited more than a little cynicism and realism at critical moments. After all, Washington cheerfully unseated any democratically elected government that seemed to pose security threat, broadly defined, while the Soviet Union accommodated many states that fell short of Marxist-Leninist ideals. But the overall outlines of the struggle were ideological, and both sides were prepared to use force when necessary-and sometimes simply when it was advantageous.

Then came the collapse of Communism, fall of the Wall, fragmentation of the Soviet Union, and dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. One side of the fight disappeared.

Two decades later a complicated three-side relationship has reappeared. The United States remains an aggressively ideological and democratic empire, willing to use diplomacy, money, and even war-haphazardly but routinely-to expand its reach. Thus from Washington comes a spate of supposedly "good" interventions, including Panama, Somalia, Haiti twice, Bosnia, Serbia, and Iraq. Thus from Washington comes a spate of supposedly "good" interventions, including Panama, Somalia, Haiti twice, Bosnia, Serbia, and Iraq.  This belief in Washington's right to forcibly reorder the world has become so embedded in America's fabric that President Bush, Senator McCain and a multitude of lesser officials have unashamedly criticized Russia for violating a nation's sovereignty and territorial integrity and for invading another country-as though America had never done so, let alone ostentatiously done so in 1989, 1992, 1994, 1999, 2001, 2003 and 2004, and threatened to do the same to Iran almost every week for the last half dozen years.

Still Washington's partner, but an increasingly uncomfortable one, is Europe, which has evolved into something much different than a hapless collection of American followers. The European Union does not yet approach a nation state.  It won't become one even if the Lisbon Treaty is eventually approved, since forcing a centralized bureaucracy down the peoples' throats won't make anyone more willing to die for Brussels; the essential characteristic of successful assertive powers around the world. Nevertheless, Europe has an important role to play, given its economic strength, diplomatic pretensions, and military potential.

But the European nations, though democratic, are driven by consensus, not ideology. Many European elites are essentially post-national. Their goals are utopian internationalism: everyone should be like them and forget history, nationality, ethnicity, religion, tradition, culture, language and most everything else that has driven human behavior since the beginning of civilization. Certainly no one should use force against anyone else for any reason.

That explains Europe's bizarre fixation with preserving a multi-ethnic Bosnia against the wishes of its own people, as well as forcing Serbs to remain in a new nation of Kosovo. The issue isn't even democracy, but multiculturalism and liberal nationalism. But, of course, the Europeans would never use force to achieve these ends. That's why the United States military must be brought in to do any actual fighting. For European leaders, everything is structures, forums, and discussions. It is a new world divorced from thousands of years of human experience.

Russia is no longer an ideological empire, but it certainly has not evolved into a European-style post-modern state. Rather, it has returned to Great Power mode. With its government controlled by nationalists unafraid to use military force, Moscow has made the security and prestige of Russia its central foreign policy objective. It is determined that its concerns are voiced and that its interests are protected.

Pages