Thoughts from a Russian Realist
I personally think that what the U.S.-Russia relationship lacks at this point is regularity, a systemic approach to issues. Usually during the contacts between the two sides, we discuss already-existing problems and how to solve them; we do not try to anticipate what may arise in the future or formulate a course of action. I believe that we are witnessing the beginning of a new dynamic in global affairs; we are at the beginning of new and interesting developments. Therefore, I would like to take the opportunity to highlight some of the pertinent issues we think about in Moscow.
First of all, we are thinking about ways to make the work each side currently does by itself come together in a joint operation--a proposal I discussed at the State Department. Realistically, I do not see any issue of an antagonistic nature between the two countries that would preclude this. Of course, current relations are based upon profound trust and frank exchange of information but this depends greatly on the fact that the presidents in office happen to be George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin. We need to think about the ways in which the bilateral relationship would be affected after these leaders leave office. So, I believe that during this window of opportunity provided by our two presidents, we can move forward to "marry" Russia and the United States, so that mutual integration and understanding reach such a point that no other power can break up our alliance.
One area that needs to be jointly explored concerns deficiencies in international law. We are all aware of the American attitude toward a bureaucratically cumbersome and slow moving United Nations. Russia has a similar attitude toward such behemoth structures; they are too slow to make decisions in a fast-paced world. International terrorism is one such issue. There is a pressing need for an internationally recognized legal definition of what terrorism is and the need for swift reaction when such incidents occur. I believe that various countries, to label their opponents (as terrorists) or to pursue their own interests, can exploit the continuing absence of a commonly accepted definition.
There are also other defects that need to be addressed. There are no accepted definitions or provisions that can enable a country to formulate a policy if it faces terrorist attacks emanating from the territory of another state if the government of the other state does not really control the territory where the terrorists are based. Can a state use military force against terrorist bases in another country, or would this be interpreted as an act of war against a sovereign state? Similarly, if a government of a given country implements a policy of internal genocide against an ethnic minority or some other part of its population, is it legal for another state to employ force to prevent this from occurring? If an outside power interferes in such a situation-whether to protect the citizens of another country (humanitarian intervention) or to curb terrorist activity-what are the limits to such an intervention? What acts are or are not legal, according to international law?
All of these are serious issues. There are not really any definite rules or codes of conduct in international law. So, a country can either act unilaterally-and face criticism for doing so-or it can try to act based upon precedents set down by previous actions.
I think there is an ample set of issues for us to work together, to get rid of vagueness in international law, come up with solutions and set the trend for the future development of international organizations. Such a joint process would also allow for a much greater understanding on the part of Russian society of various American actions undertaken in areas adjacent to the Russian Federation. To be very frank, I am frequently challenged in heated debates about "What are the true motives" behind U.S. actions in Central Asia, Afghanistan and the Caucasus. I would like, however, to ask a question of those of you who follow the Russian media: have you found a strong reactions on the part of the Russian government to the enlargement of NATO or the creation of U.S. military bases in Central Asia-things which would have been unheard of even a decade ago? Why was there no adverse official reaction to the presence in Georgia (even though we have problems due to its adjacent location to Chechnya), or any emotional hysterics on the part of the government concerning American withdrawal from the ABM Treaty? Is it that Russia has simply "swallowed" all of this, or do we, perhaps, have some interests in such developments?
Allow me to present a version of an explanation for Russia's calm reactions, although it is not entirely my own. Let's examine the enlargement of NATO. Traditionally, NATO was seen by Russians as a military bloc preparing for war with another military bloc (e. g. the Warsaw Pact) or a single country (the USSR/Russia). As NATO has expanded, however, have you witnessed any military counterpositioning on our part? I can say: the larger NATO becomes, the less of a threat it becomes for Russia. So in a way we are very interested in having you adopt all of our former companions. It does not change the fact that we clearly know whom we have to talk to in order to amend the situation in those countries.
If I may, allow me to relate a short story. I once asked my father, a Soviet general, about whom we could count on from among our Warsaw Pact allies in the event of war with the West. He replied, "Maybe the East Germans-the rest will flee." So why do we need such allies--it is best you should have such allies! All of this goes to the point that NATO is becoming less and less of a military organization. Lacking a distinctive enemy, a target that needs to be monitored, an army becomes demoralized over time.