Sunday, May 04, 2008

The New U.S. - Russia Relationship?

I was recently asked what happened to the "realist" agenda for the U.S.-Russia relationship. I think that Alexey Pushkov's comments last week are quite apropos: the core fundamentals--anti-terrorism, promoting stability in the international system, stemming nuclear proliferation, and so on--were never really operationalized with clear criteria and where both sides took the "in principle" and moved to "what we do" (e.g., from Moscow's statement that, "in principle", Russia does not want Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, to what Moscow actually thinks is the problem and what it is prepared to do about it).

Both sides could still try to move forward to provide more definition--and the documents agreed at Sochi last month do give us a framework-but I doubt we will see much action.

One of the major stumbling blocks as well was the question of what both sides should expect to get. Over the last several years, Washington has, at times, become more comfortable with the idea of one-off coalitions and groups that come together to focus on only one issue--and therefore, this assemblage of states who come together to work on a particular issue are NOT expected to support the positions or interests or prioriteis of member-states on issues UNRELATED to the specific issue at hand. Take the Proliferation Security Initiative. Cyprus, for instance, is under no illusions that because it is part of the PSI--given its large merchant fleet and that it is an international banking center--other members of this initiative, working together to stem the likelihood of a nuclear terrorist attack which would have negative economic consequences for the PSI's members, even if they were not the actual recipient of the attack--are somehow obligated to support Cyprus' position on OTHER international issues (especially resolution of its territorial integrity). The same might be said of the Six-Party Talks on North Korea.

This runs up against a prevailing Russian interest that weighs cooperation alongside the continued restoration of Russia's great power status and interests--so that if cooperation with other states undermines that quest, it must be questioned.

I wrote in 2002 for TNI about this problem--where U.S. and Russian interests might collide--and think that the analysis holds up for 2008.

But what it also means for today is that I do think that the realist agenda for the U.S.-Russia relationship shifts. Now, an American realist wants to focus on preventing problems from opening up in the trans-Atlantic relationship OVER Russia. That is to say, most of the principal European countries are following a track vis-a-vis Russia that is similar to ours (and of most Asian states) vis-a-vis China. Yes, they have a number of complaints about a number of Russian internal and external policies; but those complaints don't lead them to assume that a more confrontational stance towards Moscow is justified. So, if the U.S. thinks that Russia's resurgence is now a problem--it may find it more difficult to find a consensus with the Europeans. The Bucharest NATO summit was a foretaste of this--and then begs the question, what political capital does the U.S. want to spend with Europe on the Russia account? At Bucharest, for instance, the president didn't "get" MAP for Georgia and Ukraine but got approval for missile defense and at least token increases for Afghanistan.

Just some thoughts.

I think a mistake that Peskov and many others do is trying to discuss U.S. - Russia relationship in terms of areas of cooperation. Perhaps such people want to be positive but this is wrong. Unfortunately, a relationship so flawed needs to be discussed firstly in terms of mutual claims. Until problems are settled down to a reasonable degree, there won't be consistent joint effort in any area.
Interesting to see whether the Europeans force greater realism on Russia on Washington or whether full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes.
I agree, DDF. It would be wonderful if there could be significand joint efforts by the US and Russia, on so many global issues.

Unfortunaely, the USG prefers backing every tin-horn Russophobe on Russia's periphery

When oil hits $250 a barrel due to declining global production, and Gas goes to 1000 euro/1000m2, the US will be forced to reconsider that, and Europe will rue the day it gave Poles and Balts control over its energy relations with Russia.
That's why strong support for things like Nord Stream and South Stream--Europe getting energy directly from Russia.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?