Where Does Russia Belong?

Where Does Russia Belong?

Mini Teaser: In the last issue, Zbigniew Brzezinski proposed a new plan for including Russia in an expanding transatlantic community. But his ideal world might not come about. With a comment from Brzezinski.

by Author(s): Stephen Sestanovich

Over the past half decade, our debate about Russia--and, for that
matter, Russia's debate about us--has been episodic but always
excitable. The issue or problem dominating the news at any given
moment has been seen again and again as the test likely to determine
the overall success of the post-Soviet transformation. Handled
poorly, the problem of the day seemed likely to stunt Russia's
evolution and poison our relations for years to come--or at least
until the next make-or-break issue came along.

These would-be defining moments have included Russia's acute
financial crisis in the summer of 1998 (remembered in one recent
study as "the total collapse of the Russian economy"). It was
followed by the Bank of New York money laundering scandal in the
summer of 1999, which turned Russian corruption into headline news
for weeks on end; by Moscow's grisly grudge match against the
Chechens in the fall and winter of 1999-2000; and, this past summer,
by Vladimir Putin's (slightly) less relentless campaign to bring
independent television under government control.

Foreign policy confrontations have also generated predictions of
lasting U.S.-Russia estrangement. (I know: I made some of them.) NATO
enlargement was perhaps the first disagreement of this magnitude, but
subsequent ones have produced even more dire predictions. Was it not
obvious that relations between Washington and Moscow would never
recover, and that the start II Treaty would never be ratified, after
the war in Kosovo in 1999? When they did begin to improve, of course,
it then became obvious that the real threat to good relations, the
one from which they would never ever recover, was American deployment
of a limited national missile defense.

These seeming watersheds have revealed genuine, and sometimes
massive, problems in Russia's internal development and its relations
with the West. If none has turned out to have the enduring
significance widely predicted for it, their cumulative impact has
nevertheless been very great. They have left behind diminished
confidence about where Russia and U.S.-Russia relations are heading,
and about what kind of relationship might be constructed in the

Measured against these lowered expectations, two recent stock-takings
of U.S.-Russia relations--Zbigniew Brzezinski's article, "Living With
Russia", in the Fall 2000 issue of The National Interest, and the
report of a House Republican group chaired by Representative Chris
Cox, entitled Russia's Road to Corruption--seem strikingly hopeful.
Brzezinski counsels a policy of "patience and strategic persistence"
and concentrates on the question of how over time Russia might be
accepted into NATO and the European Union. As for the Cox report, it
lambastes the Clinton administration's policy, but not (as might have
been expected) for failing to see that Russia is our enemy. The
bottom line of the critique is instead that U.S. policy has failed to
tap the immense potential of Russian-American partnership.

Both of these evaluations start with the assumptions that Russia
belongs in the West, and that--for all the difficulties that stand in
our way--the West has a major interest in anchoring it there. In the
very first sentence of his article, in which he endorses "the
progressive inclusion of Russia in the expanding transatlantic
community", Brzezinski takes as his own the goal that has guided
policy toward Russia throughout the Clinton administration. He is not
happy with the administration's means of pursuing this goal, labeling
it a "one-sided courtship" that has failed to recognize Russia's lack
of commitment to the same result and its continuing aim to regain
control over the other former Soviet states. Yet the debate he joins
is about how to promote Russia's integration into the West, not about
the goal itself.

Integration is indeed the goal that encapsulates all others, and
precisely because it can so easily be forgotten in the daily
controversies over more sensational sounding policy problems, it is
useful to look carefully at what has, and has not, been accomplished
in the past decade, and at what we--and the Russians--can
realistically aspire to in the next. For Brzezinski, the right U.S.
policy will be one that offers Russia a place in Western institutions
but makes full repudiation of empire "Russia's only viable option."
His is a grand design, with no loose ends, and it has to answer the
objections put to all such large conceptions. Is it a realistic
assessment of the world we face, and does it correctly identify the
problems we want to solve? Does it reflect what we have learned from
other efforts to effect such a vast transformation? Does it help us
understand the trade-offs that will be necessary if we have to settle
for second-best?

Lousy Joiners

The goal of integrating Russia into the West is not a new one. Before
the collapse of the Soviet Union, even before the fall of the Berlin
Wall, Bush administration officials used the term "integration" to
describe their hopes for the next, post-Cold War phase of East-West
relations. Beyond the political, economic, military, even
psychological dimensions of this process, Western policy paid special
attention to the institutional side of it--to the "club memberships"
that would give countries that had been kept out of the global
mainstream a place in Western institutions. Their participation was
expected to give them a stake in a more regularized, consensual,
rules-based international order. The prestige of membership would
confirm that they had not been permanently relegated to second-class
status by decades of communism. For Russia it would show that defeat
in the Cold War was not a setback but a new opportunity. Most
important, the practical benefits of drawing steadily closer to
Western institutions would create continuing incentives for
governments and societies to reshape themselves--their economies,
their military establishments, their international conduct, their way
of thinking.

Although this acculturation strategy was fashioned above all for
European states isolated by the Cold War, its basic logic--accept
certain norms of behavior, receive a seat at the table--has been
embraced by others as well. Both China and Turkey have lately made
winning a major new "club membership"--in China's case, accession to
the WTO; in Turkey's, to the EU--not only the center-piece of their
foreign policies but the principal measure of their international

Russia has also gained access to new groupings, but largely where
entry has been offered unconditionally, as a political gesture or
sign of respect. It was in this spirit that in 1991 Gorbachev was
invited to join the members of the G-7 in London for part of their
annual meeting. Although Yeltsin and, after him, Putin have gradually
been granted something close to full membership, their role has still
had largely symbolic significance. Because the G-8 lacks a membership
process, Russia gained entry without having to meet the demanding
performance criteria of other institutions. The same was true of its
accession to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the annual
gathering of the leaders of the Pacific Rim states. Russia joined
this particular club on the strength of an emphatic nominating speech
by President Clinton at the 1997 meeting--and because other members
were willing to go along. But because APEC is, like the G-8, less an
organization than an annual meeting, it demands (and imparts) little
in the way of organizational culture.

Russia's largely decorative participation in the G-8 and elsewhere
tells us little about its overall commitment to integration. Over the
next several years, the process of integration will be defined less
by political gestures and more by how well Russia's actions match the
purposes of groupings--like NATO or the WTO--that have higher
aspirations, a more focused mission, and more rigid membership
criteria. Here Russia's record as a joiner looks far poorer.

NATO is of course the most problematic case, since neither side has
wanted to address the issue of membership as such; Russia was spurred
to develop a new association with the Atlantic Alliance by the fact
that others wanted to become members. Enlargement was Russia's most
complicated foreign policy problem since the collapse of the ussr,
and neither passive acquiescence nor ultra-ferocious opposition, much
less retaliation, would have been an effective strategy for dealing
with it. In the end, the 1997 NATO-Russia Final Act, signed on the
eve of the alliance's invitations to three new members, proved a deft
accommodation for both sides. It allowed Russia to avoid isolation
without obliging it to withdraw its objections to enlargement; the
same solution allowed NATO to create institutionalized ties not only
to new members but to states (Russia, but also Ukraine, which
negotiated a similar document with NATO, and other former Soviet
states) that were, for the time being, left out.

But although the Final Act defused a dispute over enlargement, it has
not created much of a cooperative relationship between Russia and the
alliance. From the moment the document was signed, the Russians have
shown little enthusiasm for the project, and Russia's representatives
at NATO have acted as though they were under instructions to resist
implementing it. The Permanent Joint Council, the new forum created
by the Final Act, has shown little life, and even before the Kosovo
war Russia had blocked the establishment of a NATO "Military Liaison
Mission" in Moscow. Joint peacekeeping deployments in Bosnia and
Kosovo prove that cooperative arrangements can be hammered out in a
crisis, but they are exceptions in a relationship that the Russians
have never been comfortable with. Putin's remark to David Frost last
spring, that Russia might someday be interested in joining the
alliance, seemed for a moment to break this pattern; a day later, of
course, he took it back.

Essay Types: Essay