Don't Lose Russia

March 1, 2007 Topic: DefenseSecurity Regions: RussiaEurasia Tags: BeslanDiplomacyHeads Of State

Don't Lose Russia

Mini Teaser: A former U.S. senator offers tough-love advice on Russia to the Democrats.

by Author(s): Gary Hart

THIS LETTER is an appeal to Democrats, now a congressional majority, to propose a ore positive, constructive relationship between the United States and Russia-less for Russia than for the United States.

At virtually any point between 1947 and 1991, if any serious thinker had proposed that we could form a strategic relationship with Russia but should refuse to do so, he or she would have been considered misguided at best and slightly deranged at worst. Yet that has happened today. The mystery is this: What forces are at work to demonize Russia, to isolate and alienate it from the West and to treat it as an enemy?

Few would dispute that Russia has become increasingly imperious and autocratic, though almost always in internal affairs and neighboring states. Vladimir Putin has re-centralized power. Only history can determine, however, whether this is a reaction to Western, especially American, actions or whether it reflects the Russian character. But undoubtedly a chicken-egg syndrome exists: The more U.S. actions isolate the Russians, the more Moscow seeks to recapture its independent great-power status.

In recent months two developments on the U.S. side stand out. First is the policy of the Bush Administration, largely promoted by Vice President Richard Cheney, to adopt a confrontational stance toward Russia. Cheney, among others, has advocated using NATO as an anti-Russian military alliance. He and others have also proposed overt support to Putin's domestic political opponents.

Second, more surprisingly, is an unreflective reaction among foreign policy elites, particularly the Council on Foreign Relations ("Russia's Wrong Direction", March 2006), to endorse this policy. The CFR report's executive summary might as well have read: "The poor state of the U.S.-Russia relationship is entirely the fault of the Russians, who refuse to conduct their domestic affairs as we insist they should. We should hold the Russians to a uniquely high standard, though we refuse to say why."

Still, no argument is given to justify this animosity. Whatever the reason-lingering nostalgia for the Cold War's relative clarity, desire for a tangible nation-state opponent in a world of stateless terrorism-it should be set forth. The best the CFR can do is decry the various failures of the Russians to meet liberal democratic standards. Those standards apply uniquely to the Russians.

Numerous Russia experts, including Stephen Cohen at New York University, Anatol Lieven at the New America Foundation and Graham Allison at Harvard's Kennedy School, have challenged what they perceive as a concerted effort to alienate Russia from the West. It would astonish any objective observer that the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, a 1974 measure denying most favored nation trading status (now called normal trade relations) to Russia as leverage to liberate dissidents and refuseniks, is still official U.S. policy. Its repeal would represent an excellent beginning point in putting U.S.-Russian relations on a more productive track.

"What interests, if any, do we have in common?" should be our first question. There are several. First, we have an ongoing interest in reducing nuclear arsenals. Thanks to the persistent efforts of former Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA) and Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), and despite resistance by the Bush Administration, we continue working to dramatically reduce both sides' nuclear warhead and delivery system stockpiles. A serious argument against this project has yet to surface.

Second, we have a mutual interest in defeating terrorism. The Russians have conducted prolonged military actions in Chechnya, and the United States has conducted equally prolonged military occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. There are clear differences in methodology, with the Russians using much more brutal means, but the residents of Grozny and of Fallujah might not see that. Though opposing our invasion of Iraq, the Russians fully endorsed our invasion of Afghanistan (where they themselves had a rather unpleasant experience). If we are not fully exploiting Russian intelligence networks in pursuit of this common interest, it is to our detriment.

Third, there is the matter of oil. During the first Clinton Administration, I urged our government to negotiate long-term oil purchase agreements with the Russians to help reduce our dependence on dangerously unstable Persian Gulf sources. It is not too late for that. The Russians need massive Western investment in oil production facilities, and the United States and its European allies need predictable oil supplies. High-level diplomatic and commercial engagement with the Russians can prevent destructive Russian tendencies to nationalize oil production facilities. There is no reason we cannot replicate our decades-long arrangements, such as those with the Saudis, in Russia, but this will require stable, friendly relations.

Fourth, we have high technology, and the Russians need it, particularly in telecommunications, health care and industrial modernization. A decade of experience modernizing Russia's telecommunication system convinces me of two things: 21st-century communications technology is key to Russia's emerging economy, and Russian science, though inadequately equipped, has much to offer the West and global markets. Russia represents a huge potential market for U.S. technology companies-its health care system is abysmal for most Russians-and U.S. companies should be encouraged to explore those markets.

Fifth, Russia is neighbor to several Islamic states, former Soviet republics-whether one subscribes to a Huntingtonian thesis of civilization clashes or merely believes in civilization frictions, Russia occupies an unrivaled strategic position. Further, it occupies a strategic position in northeast Asia, particularly with regard to North Korea and China. As the noted Russia expert Dimitri Simes has repeatedly pointed out, Russia's geostrategic location places it in a unique position to exert influence on critical matters such as Iran's nuclear ambitions. An alliance with Russia is in our interest.

This list of shared interests is far from exhaustive, and several principles should guide a constructive bilateral relationship. Mutual self-interest, not altruism, is one. A working relationship is not a favor to the Russians but an advantage to us. Russia is by history and culture a Western nation and should be integrated into the West. The United States and Russia share security interests and concerns. An isolated, anti-democratic Russia increases our insecurity. Russia's development as a market democracy will best be achieved by engagement, not rejection.

Until recent years, when U.S. foreign policy assumed a theological aura, we consistently sought self-interested relations with disagreeable nations. The late Jeane Kirkpatrick is notable for distinguishing authoritarian states, with whom we could collaborate, from totalitarian states with which we could have nothing to do. Even today, despite strong emphasis on good and evil, we maintain productive relations with states no less authoritarian than Russia (including former Soviet republics).

Also, to expect Russian subservience to its chief Cold War rival is to misunderstand Russian history, culture and character. At few points in U.S. history, prior to the end of the Cold War, have we adopted the imperious attitude toward other nations that we have in the 21st century. Not coincidentally, this arrogance arrived with a neo-imperialist project that has overtaken our foreign policy.

Few nations rival Russia in nationalist sentiment. Though younger Russians with income are internationalist and cosmopolitan, outside Moscow and among older generations "Mother Russia" is still a palpable phenomenon. Dictation of domestic behavior and performance, especially by the United States, is a sure prescription for popular resistance. In most cases, the issue is not what is preferable, best and right, but who is dictating it. U.S. policymakers, including Democratic congressional majorities, must not treat the Russians as schoolchildren.

Twenty-first-century realities require we get all the help we can. These realities include WMD proliferation, terrorism, failed and failing states, tribalism, ethnic nationalism, religious fundamentalism, the decline of nation-state sovereignty, integrating markets, climate change and the threat of pandemics. One nation alone cannot solve these problems. It is not in America's national interest, and particularly its security interests, to go it alone or rely on "coalitions of the willing" composed of minor powers rallied in extremis.

On the U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century, my fellow commissioners and I agreed unanimously that three regional powers are critical to future world stability. These were China, India and Russia. We urged the new Bush Administration in early 2001, and thereafter, to expand ties to these nations, contribute more to regional stability and encourage economic and political leadership. No systematic effort has been made to implement these recommendations; in the case of Russia the opposite has occurred.

In a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece, "A Nuclear-Free World", former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Senator Sam Nunn set forth an ambitious agenda to eliminate nuclear weapons. This is impossible absent Russian cooperation, which will be easier to engage if relations are positive and productive.

Congress does not make foreign policy. The congressional party, particularly in opposition, is hamstrung if the executive branch shuts it out from offering advice and consent. But Congress can educate the American people on the importance of a constructive relationship with Russia. That is what I advocate here.

Administration officials should develop a positive U.S.-Russian relationship or, if they refuse, defend that position. In recent years this has not happened. The 110th Congress should undertake this project. The United States does not have the luxury of creating unnecessary conflicts. We have enough to deal with as it is. It is not in our interest to demonize and isolate Russia; it is in our interest to integrate it into the West.

Essay Types: Essay