Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

The United States, Russia, and the New Challenges

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

The United States, Russia, and the New Challenges

Article excerpt

Nikolai V. Zlobin is senior fellow at the Center for Defense Information, Washington, D.C., where he edits the Washington ProFile newsletter. He is also an executive editor of Demokratizatsiya.

It is pointless to try to improve the legacy of the cold war. We need to create qualitatively new relations. By "improving" Russian-American relations, we are only prolonging the funeral of the cold war.

Today, the main challenge in Russian-American relations is the absence of an understanding of their foundations. Neither side truly comprehends the basis of their relations and their political philosophy. We need an intellectual breakthrough, a completely new understanding of Russian-American relations. One cannot form relations between the United States and Russia as an heir of the Soviet Union. Not improvement of old relations, but the formation of fundamentally new ones, should be the goal of the political elites of both countries.

The fight against terrorism cannot be the new basis for relations, since it is impossible to base relations on being against something. There is a historical example of "friendship against": In World War II a common enemy brought our nations very close together. And yet after victory, they immediately pronounced each other to be the enemy and spent the next four decades preparing to fight each other. Nor can economic cooperation serve as the foundation--currently it is not adequate, and the difference in economic potentials is not conducive to parity. The legal procedures necessary for successful economic cooperation--from the protection of property rights to rules concerning dumping of goods or the transparency of financial transactions--are also missing. Even potential cooperation in the energy sphere cannot be the new foundation--for that to even be realized will require decades of hard work and billions of dollars in investment from the West, which it is not prepared to provide.

The formation of new relations between Russia and the United States will undoubtedly take place in a new and unique geopolitical situation. We are experiencing a rapid re-evaluation of the very foundation of the world order; the structure of international relations is changing; old institutions and blocs are falling apart; the concepts of allies, enemies, and partners are changing; the concept of neutrality is disappearing; the leading players' conceptions of their national interests are rapidly evolving. Under these circumstances, each country tries to get as much long-term advantage and strategic political profit as it can. Between 1945 and 1947 the foundations of the political order were set for the following half-century; winners and losers were determined for decades. Governments and nations, political leaders and national elites, had to make the right decision in choosing sides. Now as then, no nation in the world can avoid making such a decision.

Both Russia and the United States are currently developing new foreign policy doctrines, which is not an easy task for either nation. After the collapse of the USSR, it was difficult for the United States to determine its national interests and priorities, and a number of foreign policy mistakes were made by the Clinton administration. These were not really mistakes, but rather inevitable side effects of a transitional period of foreign policy, foreign policy of a transitional character.

The new Bush administration also began by significantly underestimating the changes that had taken place in the world, in part because of a lack of new ideas. Out of habit, everything was based on a theory that until recently governed international relations--the concept that a unipolar world, a world with only one superpower, could not exist. It was maintained that, if one superpower exists, then another country, or a group of countries will inevitably begin to create another superpower, which will challenge the first one, bringing about parity. The entire experience of twentieth-century international relations corresponds to this concept. …

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