Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Asymmetric Global Reach

After perusing several different Russian sites today, this is the picture forming in my head:

The Russian Federation cannot return as a superpower rival to the United States, nor seek to balance Washington. But what it can do is use its regained wealth to "annoy" and complicate matters for America.

My thinking was sparked by reading this report in Utro.ruabout Russian plans to form what would effectively be a version of the U.S. Space Command. Then over to Leonid Ivashov's comments about restoring a Russian presence in Cuba--reactivating a listening post and having air facilities. Add to that the ending note in the Utro.ru piece about expanding the range of Russian patrols and what you have is a blueprint for Moscow "showing the flag" in areas the U.S. thought it no longer had to worry about after the end of the Cold War.

Let's not overreact, of course. The U.S. is in no way threatened by the flights of 1950s-era bombers over the Pacific. But it is an annoyance and causes us to have to pay attention to matters we assumed were taken care of.

I don't think that Moscow is trying to challenge the U.S., and all of these new military expenditures still don't dent overwhelming U.S. superiority. But these efforts are also "no skin off Moscow's nose"--paid for out of new-found wealth--so that unlike during the Soviet period, "butter" is not being sacrificed for "guns". Perhaps the Kremlin wants to see if these annoyances may cause us to recalculate our own strategy in the Eurasian space.

Russia, with very little expenditure of diplomatic, economic, and military effort can derail US strategies. In that, she is like Iran in the Middle East - thwarting US strategies.

Perhaps the reason that these 2 states can do so is because of the tightness of the international system - just-in-time logistics and manufacturing ideas having peneterated the relations amon states. By that I mean that US and her allies do not have "FAT" or "Flexibility" built into their relationships (networks, connections - whatever you want to call it). Small changes can break the system of alliances and strategies.
Perhaps, Russia is trying to show that in a good neighborhood (read Planet Earth) one cannot be respected for the biggest gun (read army) but for the ability to be a neighbor and respect different traditions, cultures, ideas, etc. The notion “they are not strong enough to do us any harm so let’s do what we want” is a bad idea for any serious policy.
Clearly Russia is not likely to be a serious global rival to the United States any time soon. However, that does not mean that she can be ignored or indeed taken for granted. At present Russia seems to be following a similar path to France after 1945 by seeking to establish her status as a "Great Power" by complicating US policy calculations.
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