Churchill, Not Quite

Churchill, Not Quite

Mini Teaser: With America facing grave threats, the Bush Administration has failed to demonstrate a willingness to establish a hierarchy of priorities.

by Author(s): Graham AllisonDimitri K. Simes

Russia under Vladimir Putin has demonstrated a willingness to accommodate the United States on a number of important issues. After the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, President Putin was the first world leader to speak to President Bush and to pledge Russia's full cooperation. Materially, Russian intelligence provided essential assistance to the U.S. war that toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan and denied Al-Qaeda that sanctuary for its operations. Indeed, for the purposes of this war, Russia supported the establishment of U.S. bases in Central Asia. It also accepted that neither North Korea nor Iran should be allowed to develop nuclear capabilities and that this is something that cannot be stopped without serious international pressure.

Yet, notwithstanding President Bush's misplaced praise for President Putin's soul, the United States sided with Russia's new neighbors in almost every single dispute they had with Moscow, treating Russian influence in the post-Soviet space as unacceptable neo-imperialism. Most significantly, the administration has recently supported a fast-track into NATO for Ukraine and Georgia, while the latter openly talked about creating an anti-Russian coalition. Recent disagreements over Georgia came on top of the participation by two U.S. assistant secretaries of state in a pre-G-8 political gathering in Moscow that, while described as a pro-democracy conference, included militant xenophobic communists and was guarded by storm troopers who frequently wear Nazi-style insignia. Unsurprisingly, this apparently put the Kremlin in no mood to display flexibility on Russia's WTO accession, leading the talks to break down over a relatively minor disagreement over Russia's right to inspect imported American beef and pork. If we cannot agree on inspections of beef and pork, how can we expect to agree on inspections of Russian nuclear facilities, without which the anti-proliferation objectives announced in St. Petersburg are unlikely to be fully met?

It should also be clear what we are not suggesting in order to gain greater Russian cooperation on U.S. anti-terrorism and non-proliferation issues. We are not suggesting that Russia be permitted to use force against its neighbors with impunity or try to recreate the Soviet Union. Likewise, we are not suggesting that Russia should be entitled to treat the post-Soviet space as its sphere of influence, where the United States and others would not be allowed to pursue their legitimate interests, including maintaining military bases against the Taliban or building pipelines that bypass Russia. Nor would we favor pretending that everything is fine with Russia's democratic development and that Russia is becoming a land ruled by law.

Rather, what we are suggesting is that in dealing with Russia, the Bush Administration think first about what matters most to America's interests and well-being. The likelihood of terrorists exploding nuclear bombs in American cities is significantly affected by the depths of Russian cooperation with the United States in securing nuclear weapons and materials not only in Russia, but worldwide. The likelihood of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons is significantly affected by the depth of Russian cooperation with the United States in a joint strategy to prevent this outcome.

In seeking Russian cooperation on priority American interests, Russia should be treated in the same way the United States engages other less-than-democratic regimes--for example, China or Saudi Arabia. As these cases suggest, there are significant limits to what any other sovereign power is prepared to do, even when it is eager to please Washington. Russia's willingness to support a military attack against Iran that may expose it to Muslim extremist backlash, particularly in the North Caucasus, will be no greater than China's readiness to support an attack that could destabilize North Korea. Senator McCain is right to suggest that Iran and North Korea should be defining issues in our relations with Moscow and Beijing, respectively. But getting what the United States needs from each will require not only penalties but incentives. So far the American establishment, in both parties, has not been prepared to accept the notion of quid pro quo.

If the United States continues to demand a transformational outcome in Iraq and to give priority to regime change in its approach to Iran and North Korea, it will have neither the energy nor the international support required to pursue a realistic strategy to prevent North Korea and Iran from becoming nuclear weapons states and nuclear weapons making their way into the hands of the Osama bin Ladens of the world. As Churchill observed in the dark days of World War II, when confronting mortal danger, "It is not enough to do one's best. What is required is that one does what is necessary for success."


Essay Types: The Realist