I have already written about the fascinating debate (‘Faulty Powers’) sparked by John Mearsheimer’s claim in the preceding issue that the West is to blame for the crisis surrounding Ukraine.
Another major essay, entitled ‘Pick Your Battles,’ by Richard Betts, director of the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, Columbia University explains how the US military can move beyond its losing engagements with counterinsurgency and nation-building over the past dozen years and return to what it knows best: big wars against great powers. Russia specialists may take comfort in Betts’ finding that Russia is too weak for the US to bother with and can be left safely to its NATO allies in Europe to dispatch. China hands must shiver alone: China is the big game that the Pentagon can stalk in war scenarios intended to preserve U.S. global hegemony.
Yet it is the contribution of Richard Haass, president of the Council of Foreign Relations, parent organization of Foreign Affairsmagazine which probably trumps all others in the issue. This magisterial essay, entitled “The Unraveling. How to Respond to a Disordered World’ should be mandatory reading for the editorial board of Foreign Affairs. Their studying it closely could lead to very beneficial changes in the publication policy with respect to ''dissident voices'' in the American international relations community.
Considering where he stands on Putin and Russia generally, it is more than ironic that Haass chose to address the very same theme as guided the Valdai Discussion Group’s meeting in Sochi the week before FA’s November-December magazine was released to its subscribers: "The World Order: New Rules or a Game without Rules." And where Vladimir Putin’s keynote speech in Sochi was a model of consistency, the doyen of his field in the USA delivered an analysis and prescription for policy that is a jumble of contradictions.
At the start of his essay, Haass sets out the challenges to global governance and describes the causes, many of which, by his own determination relate to US actions in the Middle East and the way it has conducted its relations with Russia. He touches upon a number of more general buttons with which we in the 'other camp' on directions for US policy will agree fully: including the lax regulation of financial institutions that led to the 2008 crisis which is the biggest determinant in European politics today, plus the 'overly aggressive national security policies that trampled international norms.' Moreover, it is not just American political scientists in the shadows who would agree with his very frank listing of causal factors to the unraveling of the world order. Vladimir Putin's narrative tracks very closely to the points laid out by Haass.
As regards his big picture appraisal of pluses and minuses around the globe, Haass speaks of Russia as an unappealing outlier capable of causing troubles only on Europe's periphery. The language is so close to passages in President Obama’s speeches about Russia in the late spring and summer that the question naturally arises: who scripted whom?
Russia is not a major threat in part because it is constrained by interdependency, in Haass’ view. As a consequence, he concludes that America can direct its attention elsewhere: Europe is "no longer a security problem." Thus, Haass is entirely on the same page as Richard Betts as noted above. But this is an odd formulation at the very moment when a hot war between Russia and NATO can break out at any moment on the territory of Ukraine and when Russia's declared military doctrine states that it will use nuclear arms if it faces superior conventional forces.
The risks of nuclear exchange by misjudgment in the context of the ongoing information war and hyper-active military maneuvers of both sides must not be played down. This is not Ebola. It is not ISIS. It is a potential Armageddon. How can Haass and Betts be oblivious to it all?
Given Haass’ spot-on statements about Russia being constrained by interdependence, I find it contradictory that in the last third of his essay, among his recommendations for a way forward he persists in recommending that we 'shore up Ukraine economically and militarily, strengthen NATO and sanction Russia."
Then one inch down the page he calls upon Europe to cut its dependence on Russian energy. Surely this is not out of solicitude for Europe’s economic welfare, since Russian gas, especially if the South Stream project is eventually built, is and will be the most secure and by far the cheapest source of energy available to the Old Continent. The real intent is to destroy the foundations of the Russian economy and downsize the Russian-European strategic partnership. That policy of cutting interdependence is a concise formula for ending Russian restraint and ushering in WWIII.
Sandwiched between those two economic prescriptions is the recommendation that Ukraine ‘not become a member of NATO any time soon.” This formulation will shock the Neocons, for whom Ukraine’s joining NATO will prove its sovereignty and provide a cudgel against Russia. At the same time, the intentionally vague ‘any time soon’ will not satisfy Russia for whom Ukraine must be excluded from consideration for NATO, full stop.
At the beginning of his essay, Haass casts aside the objections to Russia itself being admitted to NATO going back to the 1990s, before the water went over the dam. He says that in effect NATO is no longer a classic alliance, just a pool of talent for 'coalitions of the willing.' Why then does he not re-examine the implications of his own words as they bear on current policy?
We are now beyond Russia in NATO, though from the Russian standpoint it was a viable proposition as recently as in 2009, a year after the Georgian war. But we have before us the possibility to return to Dmitry Medvedev's initiative of finally ending the Cold War in a manner that was overlooked by the Clinton presidency, by bringing Russia into a newly designed pan-European security architecture. Medvedev's 2008 proposal was half-baked, but the West made no counter-offer.
In conclusion, I find that Richard Haass arrives at a neutral position in his tour d’horizon of global order and forces for disorder. But he does so in a manner that will please no one. He takes the understanding of causality from the dissident analysts who are almost never published in Foreign Affairs. And he provides the policy recommendations that come from the hawks who populate the administration and who otherwise fill the pages of the magazine. Is it any wonder that with advisers like this the United States has such a wrong-headed policy on Russia, and on many other hot spots globally?
G. Doctorow is an occasional guest lecturer at St. Petersburg State University and Research Fellow of the American University in Moscow. His latest book, Stepping Out of Line: Collected (Nonconformist) Essays on Russian-American Relations, 2008-12, is available in paperback and e-book from Amazon.com and affiliated websites worldwide.
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