A Dubious Partnership; Review of Fred C. Ikle and Sergei A. Karaganov, (co-chairs), Harmonizing the Evolution of U.S. and Russian Defense Policies

A Dubious Partnership; Review of Fred C. Ikle and Sergei A. Karaganov, (co-chairs), Harmonizing the Evolution of U.S. and Russian Defense Policies

Mini Teaser: At one time conservatives like Castlereagh, nationalists like Bismarck and internationalists like Gladstone were all convinced that international order would be torn apart unless the interests of Great Powers were respected and kept in balance. Th

by Author(s): James Sherr

A Dubious Partnership; Review of Fred C. Ikle and Sergei A. Karaganov, (co-chairs), Harmonizing the Evolution of U.S. and Russian Defense Policies (Joint Project of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC and the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, Moscow, 1993), 43pp.

To realists, it has always been axiomatic that one must deal with those who matter, even when they are least congenial. That paradigmatically realist institution, the nineteenth century Concert of Europe, not only treated war as a legitimate institution (to the outrage of its critics), but had an emphatic Great Power bias. That bias was deemed central to the Concert's aim of reconciling interstate conflict with international order. Conservatives like Castlereagh, nationalists like Bismarck and internationalists like Gladstone were all convinced that international order would be torn apart unless the interests of Great Powers were respected and kept in balance.

The Standing Group of this joint U.S.-Russian project--which includes, inter alia, a former Supreme Allied Commander Europe, a former U.S. Undersecretary of Defense, a former U.S. Army Chief of Staff and the last Chief of the Soviet General Staff--have brought these classical convictions to bear upon entirely novel circumstances. The novelty lies in the swift collapse of the power that "balanced" the interests of the United States for forty-five years. Though guarded in its manner of saying so, the report shows discomfort at the extent of the collapse of Soviet power, while welcoming the collapse of the ideology that made this power menacing by definition. If post-Communist Russia could be induced to play the part that post-Napoleonic France played after 1815, these contributors would harbor far fewer anxieties about the post-Cold War order than they plainly do.

In Zhirinovsky's New Year, how realistic is it to suggest that Russia could play this part? Why had so many in Russia's "near abroad" concluded, long before the elections of December 1993, that Russia was playing the role of fire rather than fire brigade in their "common strategic space," and doing so with her customary deliberation and guile? Why have so many in the "far abroad" concluded that the Leninist mentality was swept away with Leninist ideology? How likely is it that Great Russian sentiment will prove to be its antidote rather than its surrogate?

Those who have raised these questions should study this report no less carefully than those who have not. They will find analysis and proposals that, in tone and substance, have as much affinity with liberal internationalism as with classical realism. Yet they will also rediscover that Americans and Russians have impeccably "realist" reasons for maintaining a special relationship with one another.

As the authors note at the outset, today, as in the years of the Cold War, "Russia and the United States continue to share the overriding interest in avoiding global nuclear war." To superpowers who have long felt invulnerable to other forms of military threat, this nuclear preoccupation has been intense. Yet to allies, it has often seemed myopic. Throughout the years of East-West confrontation, Europeans dreaded conventional war no less than nuclear war, and had good reason to fear that policies which made nuclear war "unthinkable" could make conventional war more thinkable. For the same reasons that West Europeans feared "adversary partnership" in the 1960s, East and Central Europeans might approach a 1990s "strategic partnership" with apprehension.

Serious as these apprehensions might be, many of the report's recommendations about nuclear policy are both beneficial and overdue. Why should the U.S. and Russian navies preserve submarine patrol patterns drawn up in a period of superpower confrontation? Why should countries that no longer contemplate first strikes against one another's territory oppose revision of the ABM Treaty and the development of ground and space-based missile defenses? Why should safety not replace deterrence as the first priority of strategic nuclear policy?

Of course, too fundamental a "reorientation and restructuring" of nuclear forces could pose risks even for the United States. If "interdependence" in intelligence, early warning and missile defense were taken as far as the authors propose, how swiftly could independence be reestablished? If the "hair trigger" alert posture were abandoned, as suggested, what would be the effect of its revival at a time of deteriorating relations? In a future crisis (e.g. over the Baltic states and Poland, or the Caucasus and Turkey) might we not find nuclear alert cycles acquiring the significance that railway timetables acquired in 1914? Where nuclear strategy is concerned, the challenge of escaping the "concepts and material legacy" of the Cold War may be inescapable, but it will be a challenge for all that.

Confronting this challenge will certainly require U.S.-Russian cooperation. But are the authors right to suppose that it requires a "strategic partnership"? The former postulates the existence of limited, if significant, common interests, but is fully consistent with other divergent interests, not to speak of divergent policies, commitments and courses of action. The latter postulates a commonality of interest over most questions of importance. In apparent recognition of this fact, the authors do not confine their discussion of strategic partnership to nuclear questions, although these do predominate. They also call for "progressively closer" efforts over conventional defense, regional policy, peacekeeping, and economic cooperation.

When it comes to many of these issues, too, the analysis is as sober and hard-headed as one can expect editors and rapporteurs to be within the bounds of committee etiquette. No skeptic about Russian policy would dissent from the authors' assertion that Russia's main security problems are "internal rather than external...and not military in nature." Nor should anyone dispute that, "as seen from Moscow" it is regional (i.e. external) concerns that are paramount. By pointing out that the "highly unstable" conditions in Central Asia and the Caucasus are bound to be "more than transient," the authors rightly imply that Russian military power is limited and possibly inadequate for many of her purposes and that Western invention, either on the side of Russia or her opponents, would produce very unsatisfactory returns.

Yet in several conspicuous ways, the report departs from the conventions of realist argument. These conventions are fairly clear. Classical realism takes a divided world for granted. It sees divergent histories and cultures as synonymous with divergent values and aims. Its currency is power and interest, its reference points are states and alliances, and its discourse is concrete and political. Realists subscribe to a rigorous means-ends calculus. No realist becomes obsessed with mechanics, and none allows process to divert attention from substance. In every one of these respects, liberal internationalism is the foil to realism. It postulates a common, if latent, moral order in which "misperception" and "misunderstanding" are rife, but incorrigible differences rare. Its currency is morality, reason, and law. Its reference point is the world community. Its discourse is abstract and sociological: wars are caused by "isms" rather than human willfulness; instability "arises," but is hardly ever fostered. Finally, liberal internationalists treat as a general rule what is only true on occasion: that mechanisms, structure, and "processes" will mellow conflicts of interest rather than simply reflect them. Harmonizing the Evolution of U.S. and Russian Defense Policies bears the imprint of internationalism as much as realism.

For one thing, the business of partnership receives more attention than its benefits. Why, for example, is there so much discussion of security "arrangements" and so little about the interests and obligations that give them meaning? What, indeed, would give meaning to a "security system linking the United States and the other NATO members together with Russia, Japan, Eastern Europe," one that is also envisaged as, in time, embracing China and being "linked with other regional and global arrangements?" For how long would the angels on this pin remain angels? Often the authors seem more interested in identifying areas where joint activity is possible, rather than optimal. Given its record in Yugoslavia, why are the authors so confident that multilateral peace operations would be "one of the more promising areas of U.S.-Russian military cooperation"? Possibly the European architects of the common Western "policy" in Yugoslavia genuinely believe that it is better to have an orchestra playing while Sarajevo burns, than to have a despot fiddling, but theirs is hardly a formula to follow.

However it is the report's characterizations of Russian policy that will arouse the most searching questions. That is hardly surprising, given the fact that the report's Russian contributors are neither mavericks nor critics, but pillars of the Russian (and, in most cases, Soviet) defense and foreign policy establishments. Consensus not only demands equality, but equivalence. Twice we are told that "we need to rid ourselves of habits of thought acquired during the Cold War." Yet American habits, which are emphatically liberal, have not prolonged Cold War thinking. To the contrary, they predisposed Republicans and Democrats alike to conclude that little would divide the United States and Russia once Communist ideology was abandoned.

Russia's traditions are far from liberal, and for geographical reasons alone, no one should expect them to be. When the U.S. State Department described the USSR as a "virtual ally" during the Gulf War, General Lobov, a member of the report's Steering Group, was describing operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm as a "threat to the homeland." On any number of occasions since, the current Minister of Defense, Army General Pavel Grachev, has made it clear that he views the presence of foreign forces near the former Soviet periphery (irrespective of their purpose) in similar terms. His geopolitical fatalism is starkly amplified in Russia's newly approved military doctrine, which assesses as "considerable" the risk that "outside powers" would use local war in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) as an "excuse" to launch general war against Russia.

The suggestion of equivalence emerges again when the authors identify "stability" as a "common interest." To be sure, they remind us that this interest "is not unlimited," but the critics and victims of Russian policy would view this qualification as beside the point. These critics would assert and could indeed demonstrate that after 1991, as much as before, Russia's aim in peripheral regions has not been stability but influence. In much of the former Soviet Union--Moldova, Abkhazia and Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan--the pattern of Russian interventionism suggests that where influence cannot be achieved through stability, it will be achieved through enfeeblement. It was not Messrs. Rutskoi and Khasbulatov, but the most liberal of Russia's Deputy Foreign Ministers, Shelov-Kovedyayev, who called for Russia to pursue a "divide and influence policy" in her near abroad.

Along similar lines, the report's co-editor, Sergei Karaganov, has called for "integrationalism," backed by "collective pressure" and the "use of force in a legal framework. More recently, Foreign Minister Kozyrev has spoken of "traditional zones of influence" in ways that seem calculated to blur the distinction between the former Soviet Union and the former Warsaw Pact.

The report's reticence about such subjects is likely to impress its readers in one of two ways. Many Americans will simply conclude that, behind closed doors, the authors agreed to differ over what constitutes "stability" in former Soviet republics and "independence" in East-Central Europe. But many East Europeans may conclude that the Americans accepted Russian arguments with sympathy or indifference. While Americans might conclude that strategic partnership is, for the moment, impossible, Eastern (and many Western) Europeans might conclude that it is all too possible, and that it will be made at their expense.

For the new states on Russia's periphery, this could prove to be so. Although the authors insist that these states should not be reintegrated by force, at no point do they note the degree to which force has already been used to this end, and nowhere do they actually state that the United States has a stake in their independence. By calling these countries "republics," they show little sensitivity to the nuances of sovereignty and subservience that shape Russia's relationship to its neighbors.

Where the former Warsaw Pact states are concerned, however, the authors would parry any charge of equivocation root and branch. They anticipate accusations of establishing a "condominium" and expressly deny them; they deem it "crucial" that partnership reflect a "common interest" in the independence of Eastern and Central Europe. They go so far as to warn that "one possible reaction" to coercion against Ukraine, Belarus, or the Baltic states might be nato's enlargement. But short of such action, the authors seem determined that no steps be taken in East-Central Europe that might embitter Russia or drive her into isolation.

This is a difficult tightrope to walk. Russia has already staked a claim to influence in the region, and she will have every incentive to protest when our policies risk isolating her. If today the enlargement of NATO risks doing so, tomorrow it might be the training of Eastern Europe's military establishments or the enlargement of the European Union itself. For this reason, few in East-Central Europe will scan the CSIS report for reassuring declarations. Most will mine it to discover how Americans view their allegiances and interests. To them, Russo-centrism with qualifications is scarcely more comforting than Russo-centrism without them.

For substantial numbers of Europeans, the principal triumph of 1989-1991 was not the transformation of the USSR--which many rightly saw as partial--but the emancipation of its victims. The future of the former Warsaw Pact countries is as important to Europe as the future of Russia. If the United States treats Russia's "traditional" interests with sympathy instead of using every opportunity to question them, several risks arise.

The most obvious of these is instability in East-Central Europe. There, as was the case in postwar Europe, independence has to be rebuilt, not merely respected, security must be provided rather than simply presumed, and the psychological battleground will prove decisive. Those who have staked all on integration with the West could be the first to lose out if the West builds a strategic partnership with the country whose influence they most fear and distrust.

No less harmful would be a new crisis of German identity. While the United States can decide (and the United Kingdom pretend) that Eastern Europe has little to do with them, Germany has no such luxury. Already, the growth of imperial sentiment in Russia is affecting Germany in two ways. First, and for the better, it is making many question their commitment to the "deepening," as opposed to the expansion of Europe. Second, and for the worse, it is reawakening ambivalences about their Western and Atlantic allies and forcing them to contemplate a more independent role. Several Germans already fear that this could propel Germany towards a Russo-centric policy of her own. The consequences of such a German estrangement would be global, not regional.

Yet those most likely to suffer most from a U.S.-Russian strategic partnership is Russia itself. It is neither natural nor beneficial that Russian influence should increase abroad at a time of internal disintegration? To Russians, of course, the paradox is nothing new. By the 1980s, Russia's "best and brightest" were equating superpower status with ruin. Today, they equate it with madness. It is only Western encouragement that gives it the appearance of sanity.

Finally, how will the United States help herself? A U.S.-Russian partnership will, by default, focus largely on yesterday's business: the control of U.S. and Russian armaments. What of tomorrow's business? Who really threatens the United States: Ukraine with her pro-Western policy and ossifying nuclear forces, or North Korea, Libya, and Iraq, who not only have the will to threaten but are acquiring the means to do so? Does an effective anti-proliferation policy depend upon Moscow or upon harsh rebuffs to malefactors, vigorous protection of their neighbors, and vigorous collaboration with the leading powers of the world? Russia may be a global partner, but she is not a global power. Where she does remain a power--on her own periphery--she may not choose to be a partner.
Realism about the limits of Russia's power and the narrowness of her intentions should not obscure the value of cooperation and the necessity of a mature relationship. The IklŽ-Karaganov report presents the case for both with logic and conviction. But for Russia's sake as well as our own, sensitivity must be balanced by candor in this relationship and cooperation by containment.

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