My latest contribution to the US-Russia.org Expert Discussion Panel this one focusing on whether the West foregoes “incalculable benefits” by continuing the Cold War. Unlike previous Panels, on which I aimed for balance, here I make no apologies at pointing a finger straight to where I believe the blame belongs:
I recently began reading Martin Malia’s Russia under Western Eyes. One of the key points he makes early on is that the Western view of Russia has rarely corresponded well with its objective strength or the actual threat it posed. To the contrary, it is when “institutions and culture” converge that the West’s “evaluation of Russia tends toward the positive”; when they diverge, the reverse. So by that theory, relations should be pleasant: After all, not only is it no longer a military threat, but in terms of political systems and values, the West and Russia are far closer now than they have even been in history.
This makes it all the more puzzling that half the US foreign policy establishment remains entrenched in Cold War thinking. Romney belongs to them. A man who now has a 39% chance of becoming President, according to Intrade, declared Russia to be a “our number one geopolitical foe.” But unlike the case in the Cold War, it is a divergence that now most afflicts the US and its satellites – namely, the idée fixe that it is globally “exceptional”, and thus called forth to express global “leadership.” This translates into the belief that it can dictate its terms – from support for the Iraq War to the pursuit of Wikileaks – to other powers without negotiation (anything else is appeasement!), and woe unto the VIRUS’s that oppose it (a cute neocon acronym standing for Venezuela, Iran, Russia).
Needless to say, such attitudes make mockeries of any genuine democracy promotion. As long as you pay the requisite cultural tribute, you get off scot free – “Bahrain’s bosses understand modern symbolism about minorities so well that the Arab kingdom’s ambassador to Washington is a Jewish woman.” They might not understand the Hippocratic Oath near so well, imprisoning doctors for treating wounded protesters, but that is of little consequence next to anti-Iranian orientations and the US naval base there. Meanwhile, Venezuela is demonized by the Cold Warriors for daring to elect a socialist to power in Latin America, even though it has some of the structurally freest and fairest elections in the world. Their hatred of Russia ultimately boils down to the same roots: It resists.
There are three ways this impasse can end. The first, and most incredible way, would be for the residual Cold Warriors to stop thinking of the world in Manichean terms, with themselves playing God’s role. The second would be for Russia to become a client state of the US. This is not going to happen short of the likes of Gary Kasparov and Lilia Shevtsova coming to power.
The third possibility is by far the likeliest, as it is already occurring. Back in the 1990’s, Western Diktat politics in relation to Russia typically worked because it was in crisis, and had no other powers to work with. They believe this is still the case, and not only the neocons: In 2009, Biden said Russia had a “shrinking population base… a withering economy”, and a banking system unlikely to “withstand the next 15 years.”). This would presumably give Russia no choice but to fall in line. They are wrong. In real terms, the Chinese economy may have overtaken the US as early as in 2010; a constellation of other sovereign, non-Western powers such as Brazil, Turkey, India, and South Africa are attaining new prominence. With the EU in permaslump, the US and Japan under accumulating mountains of debt, and oil futures now permanently sloped upwards, a new world is arising in which modernization is no longer synonymous with Westernization. Russia is one of its key players, just like the other BRIC’s.
One can’t resist gravity forever. Once the requisite relative political, economic, and cultural mass is no longer there, ideological Cold Wars will become as unsustainable as Western hegemony itself.