Moderates can steer US-Russian relations

By Clifford A. Kiracofe Source:Global Times Published: 2013-2-28 18:13:01

Washington's so-called reset policy with Russia was a failure in Barack Obama's first term. Will the US take effective steps in Obama's second term to improve relations with Russia, or will the Cold War mentality prevail?

New Secretary of State John Kerry, who has had almost three decades of experience on the influential US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, can break new ground with Russia should the White House decide to make a sincere effort for a reset. 

The moderate Chuck Hagel, who has just become secretary of defense, could also play an important role in a reset.

There are, however, a number of obstacles to improved relations. To reset relations with Russia today, the White House must drop Cold War thinking and action, including old geopolitical concepts aimed at the containment of the Eurasian landmass.

But while the Russian side signals a willingness to improve relations on a new basis, Washington continues a Cold War mentality, which is concretely manifested by seeing the relationship only through the lens of security issues and through interference in the internal affairs of Russia.

After the end of the Cold War in 1991, Washington did not appropriately revise its national strategy. It failed to take steps to adjust to an emerging multipolar world. Instead, it moved into a phase of unilateralism and increased hegemonism which it self-servingly deemed as world "leadership."

This did not have to happen. Five decades ago, long before the end of the Cold War, Henry Kissinger wrote of a coming multipolar world. He, and other experts, realistically foresaw an emerging international situation involving five major powers: the US, the EU, Russia, China, and Japan. Today, India and Brazil are also in mix.

For Kissinger, diplomacy is the critical factor in world politics needed to adjust relations between major powers in a nuclear age. But Washington seems incapable of a systematic constructive diplomacy in the national interest. Diplomacy takes a back seat to the unnecessary and counterproductive use of military force. 

The present policy of the encirclement of Russia with an anti-ballistic missile network is an expression of containment and hard power. Not surprisingly, NATO expansion is perceived by Moscow as potentially threatening and the new plans for the globalization of NATO give rise to further concerns. 

Both provocations are serious obstacles to a reset, although mutually agreed upon adjustments are still possible.

Washington modified the Cold War formula of democracy versus communism to democracy versus authoritarianism, and so ideological warfare and bloc thinking remains in place in US policy. Promoting "color revolutions" is one result.   

Russia strongly objects to such foreign interference in its own internal affairs and in the affairs of other sovereign states. This is understandable as the principle of noninterference is a traditional tenet in international relations dating as far back as the Peace of Augsburg in 1555 and the Peace of Westphalia of 1648.

In recent years, Washington moved to undermine this traditional element of international law. Continued meddling in Russia's internal affairs under the guise of human rights and democracy is a significant obstacle to a reset.

Should obstacles be overcome, however, there are many well known areas for US-Russian cooperation which include counterterrorism, counternarcotics, scientific research, and medical research.

The development of Siberia and large infrastructure projects such as a Bering Strait tunnel are major areas for long range economic cooperation. The recent meteor event certainly provides a basis for cooperation in space research and defense with respect to bodies such as asteroids.

Some, however, see a reset as a means of drawing Russia away from the BRICS concept thereby undermining multipolar cooperation. Others believe integrating Russia into the EU can play a role in containing China and halting Russian Eurasianism. Such Cold War thinking is counterproductive. Real progress toward an appropriate reset can only be achieved with a view to the construction of a new cooperative multipolar world.

A reset in US-Russian relations must put vestiges of the Cold War to rest, and must aim at the constructive transformation of the international system. Now that Washington has a new secretary of state, the US should send a qualified professional diplomat as ambassador to Moscow to assist the reset process.

The author is an educator and former senior professional staff member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

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