European Affairs

Between a Rock and a Hard Place     Print Email
Susan Eisenhower

Reviewed by Susan Eisenhower
The New Russian Diplomacy
By Igor Ivanov
Brookings Institution Press and The Nixon Center, 2002
203 pages

In the fast, fluid international political environment that now exists, are most countries driven by their clear-sighted aims or hampered by years of haphazard short-term economic and political compromises?

Take Russia. Throughout the post-Communist years Moscow has declared America's strategic consolidation "unacceptable," only to cave in. Why did Russia, which has just emerged from international isolation, in effect agree to be strategically sequestered again, this time with the expansion of NATO to her borders?


True, Russia has been given a "voice not a veto" in NATO affairs, but Moscow's willingness to establish a joint Russia-NATO council has only assured that tiny countries of the former Soviet bloc, like Estonia and Romania, will now have more clout over the future of Europe than Russia.

It was also curious that President Vladimir Putin responded to the news that the United States had just exercised its right to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty by saying that his friend George Bush had made a "mistake." A mistake? Only days before, Russia had declared that the end of the ABM treaty would bring about the collapse of the entire arms control framework and a renewed arms race.

At the time, Putin's response to the ABM announcement was even more inexplicable since just months before, in the aftermath of September 11, the Russians provided invaluable military and intelligence assistance to the United States in Afghanistan. In an unprecedented move, Moscow also gave its assent to the stationing of U.S. troops in Central Asia. Given U.S. dependence on Russia at that time, why did not Moscow bargain some concessions or even press its advantage - the strongest it has had since the Soviet Union collapsed?

A book like Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov's, The New Russian Diplomacy, published by Brookings Institution and the Nixon Center, offers the hope of getting some answers to these perplexing questions. In his thin 180-page volume Ivanov has tried to set out his country's foreign policy in a coherent and organized way. But almost immediately it is clear how difficult Ivanov's job really is. Even the Foreign Minister's considerable talent cannot mask the basic contradictions of Russia's position.

Despite what Ivanov describes as "practical," non-confrontational relations with the United States, that are at times warm and "close," the U.S.-led international system is set up as an exclusive club for the wealthy and the strong. Ivanov wonders, for instance, if we have not reached the stage of "legalized inequality," along the lines of George Orwell's famous book, Animal Farm. In a world run by America, with a double standard among states: "all are created equal, but some are more equal than others."

On the issue of the AMB treaty, Ivanov's rhetorical contradictions are even sharper. He states that both the United States and Russia face largely the same threats. This is why Russia is discussing the issue of strategic stability with the United States "not as an adversary intent on any unilateral benefit, but with the goal of finding balanced and well-thought-out solutions."

But within pages his skepticism and annoyance resurfaces, doubting that a rogue nation would undertake "missile blackmail" of the United States.

Furthermore, he says, Washington likes to say that the world is different today so "we can dispense with the whole system of disarmament treaties as long as we are making good faith unilateral or parallel reductions in arms. Yet the logical question is immediately raised: are these not efforts motivated by a desire for military and technological superiority that lies beyond any kind of external control? The vital need for external controls is demonstrated by U.S. violations of START I - a treaty that provides for verification measures. What might happen when external control is completely lacking?"

One cannot help the feeling that Russia today is somewhere between a rock and a hard place - afraid to offend the United States but marginalized because of it. "A successful foreign policy," Ivanov writes, "should be based on maintaining a reasonable balance between its objectives and the possibilities of attaining them."

For now Russia's short-term policy is to keep its options open for the future. Without economic survival, the Russians believe, there will be no long term to discuss. All the same, Russia, like Europe, does not have to make a choice between economic growth and unambiguous policy. The American people have repeatedly said through public opinion polls that it does not want the United States to "go it alone" and most Americans are not afraid of some kind of restraint on unchecked American power, as evidenced by public support for the United Nations.

American politicians know ultimately that America needs the rest of the world as much as it needs us. It is confusion, the potential for miscalculation and ultimately credibility that is at stake here: and on that score, confidence and a clear sense of direction trumps waffling and negativity every time.

Susan Eisenhower is President of the Washington-based Eisenhower Institute

 

This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number III, Issue number IV in the Fall of 2002.