Why the US Needs to be Right on Russia

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In their article “Wrong on Russia” published today in The National Interest, Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett follow a thread I began yesterday on US strategy towards Georgia. The Leveretts, along with a number of others Steve Clemons has mentioned (here, here, and here), are skeptical of both Presidential campaign’s approaches to Georgia and Russia as they commit the fundamental error that has led this administration down treacherous paths — failure to strategically prioritize relationships and objectives in the region. There should be no doubt that the tangible security deliverables a strong relationship with Russia can offer are far more valuable than anything Georgia’s dubious democracy purports to uphold.
The Leveretts lay out Russia’s role in the global order and value to the United States:

As Washington contemplates future relations with Moscow, U.S. pundits and policymakers should keep two fundamental realities in mind. First, America and its European allies need positive relations with Moscow, if for no other reason than to forestall Russian steps that could seriously damage Western interests. For example, as Russia’s current account surplus continues to balloon alongside rising oil prices, Moscow is emerging as an increasingly important purchaser of U.S. Treasury securities and agency paper. Would those calling on Washington to deliver various ultimatums to Russia prefer that Moscow dump its dollar denominated assets? Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin told us recently that Moscow is preparing the ground for the possible introduction of contracts to purchase Russian oil that would be denominated in rubles, rather than dollars. Does the anti-Russia camp want Moscow to take such a step, given its likely negative impact on the dollar’s long-term value?
Similarly, Europe’s need for Russian gas will only continue to grow in coming years. The West cannot “work around” this situation with pipe dreams about new pipelines, like the European Union’s Nabucco project, for which there are insufficient non-Russian gas volumes to make them economically viable. Shortly before he moved from Russia’s presidency to its premiership earlier this year, Putin said that Europe and the United States could build Nabucco and any other pipelines they wanted. But, he asked rhetorically, where would they get the gas to fill them? In the end, Europe cannot provide for its own energy security without a deep and productive partnership with Russia.
Second, the United States and its allies need Russia’s cooperation in the international arena. Russia is and will remain a permanent member of the Security Council, which means that Washington must work with Moscow if there are to be even minimally effective multilateral responses to the full range of “threats to international peace and security,” from Afghanistan to Iran and Zimbabwe. We cannot “work around” this reality by championing a “concert of democracies” as an alternative forum for legitimating decisive international action — an idea that will only antagonize Russia (and China) without providing any strategic benefit.

In addition to the critical arenas like energy security and Iran where Russia is essential and Georgia can play little to no meaningful role, the US very much needs Russian cooperation in the area of unsecured fissile material and non-proliferation efforts.
If this administration or the next thinks this terrorism to be high on the national security threat list then it would do well to heed the advice of experts like Peter Bergen who warn the next big attack will likely come in the form of a radiological bomb. It would be both operationally easy, made from accessible loose fissile material, and guarantee a high fear return by creating the impression that al Qaeda had crossed the nuclear threshold. If this is the case, Russia also becomes the linchpin to securing fissile material sites to stave off such scenarios and moves up even further in the “critical relationships” column.
— Sameer Lalwani

Comments

12 comments on “Why the US Needs to be Right on Russia

  1. Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi says:

    There should be no doubt in the most popularly established opinion that today’s world-in quest of peace and politico-economic stability_can no longer afford the evil ressurection of the Leviathan Cold war doctrine.

    Reply

  2. JohnH says:

    McCain in particular does not seem to realize the disconnect between his fantasy of US power and the realities:
    “The big concern with a McCain presidency – a concern which I am surprised has not been vocalized more fully – is that the U.S. will lurch from crisis to crisis, confrontation to confrontation, whether it be with Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria, Saudi Arabia, etc. The danger is that McCain’s pundit-like rhetoric will entrap the U.S. in descending spiral of foreign policy brinksmanship. Just think about the very likely scenario of McCain giving Iran/Russia a rhetorical ultimatum and Iran/Russia ignoring it. Now we are stuck – either we lose face by not following through on our threats or we follow through and go to war.”
    http://www.democracyarsenal.org/2008/08/a-pundit-not-a.html

    Reply

  3. JohnH says:

    McCain in particular does not seem to realize the disconnect between his fantasy of US power and the realities:
    “The big concern with a McCain presidency – a concern which I am surprised has not been vocalized more fully – is that the U.S. will lurch from crisis to crisis, confrontation to confrontation, whether it be with Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria, Saudi Arabia, etc. The danger is that McCain’s pundit-like rhetoric will entrap the U.S. in descending spiral of foreign policy brinksmanship. Just think about the very likely scenario of McCain giving Iran/Russia a rhetorical ultimatum and Iran/Russia ignoring it. Now we are stuck – either we lose face by not following through on our threats or we follow through and go to war.”
    http://www.democracyarsenal.org/2008/08/a-pundit-not-a.html

    Reply

  4. JohnH says:

    The scary part is thinking about the future. What will these unaccountable psychopathic megalomaniacs dream up next to maintain appearances of being the hegemon? Bankrupting the country? More pyrrhic wars?
    (Actually, since a pyrrhic war is by definition a debilitating victory, it might be an improvement over the debilitating quagmires we’re currently in.) Anybody see an opportunity for a debilitating victory or just more of the same (Iran, etc.)?
    The handwriting is on the wall…

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  5. JohnH says:

    As Carroll says, “it appears Europe is not interested in backing up US threats and punishments any longer.” The Georgian conflict may mark the moment when Europe begins peeling away from the trans-Atlantic alliance. IMHO they are more interested in doing business with Russia (importing energy, exporting goods and services) than in proving fealty to a fading hegemon that increasingly proves itself to be more of a hindrance than a help to European ambitions.
    The American moment came and went in less than a generation, squandered by Bush and not advanced much by Clinton. But it will probably be another ten years before the President, the foreign policy mafia and their megaphones in the media start to recognize the disconnect between their “narrative” and the realities out their. It’s tough to be a former king of the hill.

    Reply

  6. Paul Norheim says:

    An official in the Norwegian Foreign Department said today in an
    interview that it would be unwise to “import problems into NATO”
    (i.e. by inviting Georgia). Norway is not significant here, but I
    doubt that he would have said this, if it did not reflect the
    thinking of several other NATO member countries as well.

    Reply

  7. Carroll says:

    The Leveretts are right in my opinion.
    And from a quick scan of statements by foreign leaders and some former, more respected than current, leaders it appears Europe is not interested in backing up US threats and punishments any longer.

    Reply

  8. Don Bacon says:

    As with Iraq, Zathras has trouble understanding what Johnh described clearly, that people and states who/which have differences with others need to find a way to negotiate their differences. Those ways exist and they are preferable to war, which represents a failure of effort.

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  9. Johnh says:

    Zathras nicely sums up the view of the unilateralists–“we dictate and they obey. Anything else is surrender.” Unfortunately, such an unnuanced stance simply doesn’t work when the other party holds some trump cards. Recognizing that foreign relations is a two street is a concept difficult for most in the neocon fantasy world to come to grips with.
    The Leveretts describe the cold realities of the world as it exists today. Hard bargaining needs to replace ultimatatums. Sorry Zathras.
    But don’t look for these hard realities to be accepted by the delusional political establishment or repeated in the “narrative” spun by the broadcast media. It’s more fun having people believe that the world revolves around the United States.

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  10. JamesL says:

    Bush has been busy digging America into a hole for some years, and now that the shape, depth, and lack of American niceties of the hole are more apparent, Americans note that they don’t like the hole. Blame Putin! Blame Russia! Blame China! Blame the EU! Blame anyone except the designer and fabricator of the hole.
    And the next presidential election…it’s about the hole, and whether America will paper over the sidewalls and continue digging, or shift to slowly filling it in.

    Reply

  11. Don Bacon says:

    It’s nice to know that the US State Department is hard at work on the big issues.
    1. NATO statement: “We have determined that we cannot continue with business as usual” with Russia.”
    2. news report: SecState Rice said NATO had spoken “with strength and unity” in its decision to suspend regular contacts with Russia.
    3. news report: Moscow plans “to freeze all military cooperation with NATO and allied countries”
    4. US State Dept: “If this indeed is the case, it would be unfortunate. We need to work with Russia on a range of security issues”
    Foggy Bottom is now Comedy Central, led by “Russian expert” Rice, the *worst SecState ever.*

    Reply

  12. Zathras says:

    This is a pretty straightforward description of what “engagement with Russia” means to people now at pains to describe themselves as mature and sophisticated about foreign affairs: surrender.
    If Russia wants it, Russia gets it. Period. End of discussion. The reasons for this vary a little — it’s either because Russia’s energy reserves make it too strong or because its dilapidated nuclear security infrastructure makes it too weak. But they are such strong reasons that minor issues such as whether the Russian government’s word is good — an issue raised, for example, by the way it is choosing to implement the “withdrawal” from Georgian territory it negotiated with the help of the French government — just don’t enter the discussion. They cannot enter the discussion, because it they did the Russians would be upset.
    I suggest we remember that Russia, with its Potemkin economy and declining population, needs the world outside its borders even more than the rest of the world needs it. It does present some difficult geopolitical problems, largely because of its leader’s nostalgia for the Soviet past and the malignant habits of that era. But no “strong” relationship with Russia can be anything other than a two-way street, and if the history of Russian foreign relations teaches us anything it is that one doesn’t build that street by caving in every time the Kremlin decides one must.

    Reply

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