Soviet Union Deja Vu?

By Ellison, Herbert J. | The World and I, July 2000 | Go to article overview

Soviet Union Deja Vu?


Ellison, Herbert J., The World and I


The years 1983 and 2000, though nearly a generation apart, resemble each other in terms of U.S.-Russian tension over America's eagerness to build a defense against nuclear missiles.

In 1983, there was confrontation over the Strategic Defense Initiative- -President Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars." And this year, the United States has proposed to modify the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty to allow itself to develop a limited system of antimissile missiles aimed at shooting down projectiles fired by terrorist groups or rogue nations. Russian leaders, including newly elected President Vladimir Putin, insist the U.S. initiative would halt the progress of bilateral agreements on reduction of nuclear missiles. Their concern is that the United States might develop and deploy a gigantic missile defense system that would neutralize Russia's nuclear arsenal.

How could it be that the new, democratic Russia is as fearful of a major security threat from the United States as its communist predecessor was?

In June 1992, the U.S. Congress heard then-President Boris Yeltsin speak eloquently of Russia being America's "partner in the building of global democracy." Now it is again a story of confrontation over deployment of a nuclear missile defense system, accompanied by fear and mistrust.

WHAT WENT WRONG?

Russian anxiety over American intentions has varied sources and forms. Communists and ultranationalists still see America as the power that destroyed the Soviet Union (with a little help from domestic "traitors" like former Presidents Mikhail Gorbachev and Yeltsin). They believe it seeks to keep Russia weak and dependent and extend its influence in the former Soviet republics.

Viewing America and its allies as basically hostile, they resist reductions of Russian military power, especially nuclear weapons. They remain unreconciled to the dismantling of the Soviet Union and seek its reintegration. They have little interest in cooperating with the United States and expect only the worst from U.S. policies.

Though their attitudes have changed little since Russian independence, their political power was greatly reduced by the December 1999 parliamentary elections.

Russian democrats (center and moderate right)--a group that includes Putin and the large coalition of leaders and parties that now control the parliament--have become more negative toward the United States since the mid-1990s. Deeply disappointed that Russia was left outside the restructured NATO when it became the centerpiece of the new European security system, they were concerned when it expanded to include former members of the Warsaw Pact and began to discuss inclusion of former Soviet republics (other than Russia) as well.

The democrats would have preferred a new security structure, preferably one based on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). They regarded the restructured NATO as a symbol of Russia's exclusion from the European security system and reproduction of Europe's Cold War division.

Russia experienced a similar feeling of exclusion in Asia, where relations with Japan were dominated by Japanese pressure for return of the southern Kuril Islands rather than agreements on economic support. Having dropped its support of North Korea, Russia was soon confronted with North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons, left out of Japanese- American-South Korean-Chinese policy responses, and otherwise marginalized in the region's new international system. Its Asian position bore an unpleasant resemblance to that in Europe.

The negative feelings these developments engendered were reinforced by U.S. initiatives to strengthen ties and influence in former Soviet republics from the Baltic to the Transcaucasus and Central Asia. Russian hackles were raised by evidence that the U.S. government, in cooperation with the post-Soviet states of the Caspian Sea region, sought to replace Russian oil pipelines with new ones that bypassed Russia. …

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