Reminds Me of the Old Days

Few Americans care about a new Russian attempt to split NATO. It is a faint echo of the titanic struggle of the 1980s but it is a lot like the old days. We have the strategic defense initiative. (The proposed system, BTW, is not aimed at Russia and would be incapable of blunting a Russian nuclear strike.) Putin is considering withdrawing from the 1987 INF treaty and the former KGB man has never been enthusiastic about the whole democracy thing. Besides that, things are okay.

Since Vladimir Putin calls the collapse of the USSR the worst catastrophe of the 20th Century (some of us disagree) it is no surprise that he wants to claw back some lost Soviet power and it is particularly sweet if he can take down a latter day SSI and do it at the expense of new NATO members. This is hitting the trifecta (or the troika) as far as Putin is concerned.

There is never a final victory or a final defeat. We have again learned the lesson that we should judge capabilities, not intentions which can change depending on the leadership. Back in 1997, there were those who spoke against NATO membership for Poland, Hungary & Czech Republic on the grounds that it was provocative to the peace loving Russia, then led by comical drunk and on the edge of collapse. Russia is back but it is not the democratic partner we hoped for. Because of a variation of trust but verify, we are in a much stronger position. How fortunate that the former communist satellites are now firmly in the western camp. Starting and sustaining this process was IMO Bill Clinton's greatest foreign policy success.

Europe could certainly afford to defend itself from Russia. Europe significantly lags the U.S. in GDP and productivity but it is way ahead of Russia by any economic measure. Ironically, the consideration for Europe is a mirror image of that of Russia. Europe clearly has the capacity, but perhaps not the intentions to defend itself.

Good relations with Russia are in Europe's interest, but the relationship is never going to be really relaxed. Europe is comfortably established and satisfied. Russia is hungry. History has not ended. The new development is population decline in both Russia and Europe, rather faster in Russia. How aggressive can a country be when its population is aging and crashing? Maybe Russia, like the old soldier, will just fade away. I would be disappointed to see the Russians going quietly into that good night, but we just do not know. The world has never faced a situation of sustained population decline in the absence of war or serious epidemics.

Russia is also not a natural enemy of the United States, but its interests and aspirations often run contrary to ours. Since before the time of Ivan the Terrible Russia has been expanding in all directions and has stopped only when confronted by strength. Russia has also tended toward political autocracy & economic autarchy, neither of which appeals to Americans. This is not a deal breaker. The lesson is that it is possible to live in peace and reasonable cooperation with Russia if we adjust for its fundamental interests and nature. I suppose they would make a similar assessment about us. For all Putin's recent bellicosity, Russian behavior has not changed very much. Both of us should trust but verify, not expect too much from each other and we can probably get along.

Posted by Jack at February 22, 2007 8:36 PM
Comment #209393

Good article, Jack.

I’d suggest, however, that despite whatever Russia is up to in its attempts to “split” NATO, the organization is effectively split anyway in the post Iraq climate and that it is in the interests of the United States to recognize this fact and behave accordingly.

It’s long past time for western Europe’s “soft socialist” nations who are addicted to the idea of a “post-history” in which security is either no concern or the designated responsiblity of the United States to face by themselves the threat posed by Russia.

For too long, NATO has been a means whereby western European democracies can ignore any an all threats, confident in the belief that the United States will ride to their rescue, and spend all their resources on attempts to construct fantasy socialist utopias.

What does the US gain from NATO? Do we actually believe that our partners in NATO would be either effective or willing to provide for OUR national defense in the way we offer to provide for theirs?

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at February 22, 2007 11:50 PM
Comment #209402


“What does the US gain from NATO?”

Like the UN, which most Americans love to hate, NATO helps provide for a more peaceful world.

Like it or not, being the world’s preeminent military power comes with the responsibility to make sure the other children play nice.


If, as you say, the Russian economy is still in shambles, what does America truly have to fear from Russia pulling out of the IMF?

Posted by: Rocky at February 23, 2007 9:04 AM
Comment #209403

What nation’s interests aren’t going to run contrary to ours on a few issues at least? Great Britain and the U.S. have points of contention.

The only concern about Russia and Putin for the U.S. is if Russia and China continue down their new path of cooperation and mutual military cooperation, such as their joint exercises on their common border. Russia still has superpower weapons technology, and China has vast and rapidly growing economic clout.

Looks like a marriage waiting to happen if America continues on its global hegemonic path.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 23, 2007 9:13 AM
Comment #209408

Russia will emerge as a more powerful nation than we have ever seen her before. The fall of the USSR only released the several republics from Russian control. (Ras)Putin will show his old KGB abilities in a much more forceful and deceitful way. Russia will be a force to be reconed with.

Posted by: tomh at February 23, 2007 9:53 AM
Comment #209409

BTW—Russia will join with the middle eastern states to attack Israel. The middle eastern states will be using mainly Russian armaments.

Posted by: tomh at February 23, 2007 9:55 AM
Comment #209418


We Americans have little directly to fear INF is aimed at Europe. That is the point of trying to split the alliance. It is a potential way to intimidate Europe and exacerbate differences.

Re bad economies – nukes are cheap once you know how to make them. They really do not need to make many anyway. And do you remember Brandenburg-Prussia. It was a very poor country that supported a very good army.


The Russians have a lot more to fear from the Chinese and the Chinese have a lot more to gain from a strong and prosperous U.S. I expect posturing, but they do not have a fundamental confluence of interests.


I do not believe Russia will ever again be as powerful as it was in the early and middle cold war. It became a super power under unique circumstances. Russia was a super power only after competitors were smashed. It happened after the Napoleonic Wars and again after WWII. Otherwise, Russia was very large, very backward and a threat only to those nearby.

Even the large part is in jeopardy. The Russians have forgotten how to reproduce. Someday soon the big geopolitical hotspot will be the Russian Far East, as the Japanese invest and the Chinese move in.

Posted by: Jack at February 23, 2007 11:30 AM
Comment #209447
Like the UN, which most Americans love to hate, NATO helps provide for a more peaceful world.

NATO, like the UN, helps to “provide for a more peaceful world” by using primarily American resources and manpower. On one hand, we’re expected to do and pay for everything with our dollars and the lives of our soldiers, and on the other hand we’re expected to take all the heat if anyone objects to how we go about trying to defend THEM.

Pat Buchanan, who I generally don’t care for at all, had an excellent article about this very topic yesterday.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at February 23, 2007 3:14 PM
Comment #209450


They provide for a “more peaceful world” because, regardless of the petty sniping that takes place, and the fact that we (America) do most of the heavy lifting, which BTW, is to America’s advantage, if we are talking we aren’t fighting.

Posted by: Rocky at February 23, 2007 3:46 PM
Comment #209453

That’s right, we are talking.

Endlessly talking even when we SHOULD be fighting. And then when WE are fighting and everybody else is on the sidleine THEY keep talking, talking and talking about how we are doing such a terrible job of spending our money and lives to protect them.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at February 23, 2007 3:58 PM
Comment #209454


“Endlessly talking even when we SHOULD be fighting.”


Talking is always better than fighting.

Can you name one place, other than Afghanistan where we should be fighting?

Posted by: Rocky at February 23, 2007 4:04 PM
Comment #209456
Talking is always better than fighting.

If that’s true, why shouldn’t we talk about Afghanistan instead of fight there?

I don’t advocate American involvement in the Sudan, but I’m sure that some of the thousands dying there might have a different point of view about whether talking is always better than fighting.

Any tyrant or madman in the future will always prefer to see the UN and NATO talk, which they do quite well, while they themselves go about their business—be that business creating nuclear weapons or committing genocide.

Because like you, the UN and NATO think that talking is always better. A big coffee klatch while the world burns.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at February 23, 2007 4:20 PM
Comment #209471


“Because like you, the UN and NATO think that talking is always better. A big coffee klatch while the world burns.”

Always the extremes, right?

Of course there will be times when actions will speak louder than words. Afghanistan is only the most recent example, and it was in America’s best interests to go there, plus we had virtually world wide support for that mission.
Bringing NATO into Afghanistan was also in America’s best interests, and they seem to be doing, if not a better job, at least as good as we did with our “coalition”.

Like it or not, America’s recent hegemonic agenda has put us out there as the leaders of the free world, both militarily and politically.

In other words, if we don’t do it nobody else will either.

America has placed itself in this position, and has eschewed any diplomatic overtures until just recently.
We’ve all seen how well that has worked out.

Posted by: Rocky at February 23, 2007 5:32 PM
Comment #209494

FYI. The first country to give Isreal diplomatic recognition was the Soviet Union.

Yeah,pretty much. Is not one reason for Russias declineing population a rapidly diminishing lifespan. Not a precursor of stability.
It should still be taken into account that Russia has been fighting Islamic terrorist much longer than we have. They can and should be a valuable alli.
They are also dependant on oil revenue. Something to think about.

Posted by: BillS at February 23, 2007 9:12 PM
Post a comment