by Gordon M. Hahn
American foreign policy, especially its Russia policy, is a runaway train without rails, driven by a troubling confluence of hubristic ideological influences and bureaucratized sectoral interests networked through Washington. These two kinds of influence too often are neither disinterested, nor in the American interest, and deprive U.S. foreign policy of a strategic imperative. The former influence consists of American democratic messianism and revolutionism that push for regime change on a far too broad basis, weakening our foreign policy’s realist component while simultaneously discrediting its idealist component. Bureaucractic influences include out-of-control bureaucratic, military, military-industrial, and think tank interests that foster and manipulate American messianism and revolutionism. The combination of uncontrolled messianism and sectoral interests have wrought ‘imperial overstretch’ that far outstrips America’s declining capacity and power in the world. Consequently, there is a growing gap between American ambitions and capacity. The potential for bad policy outcomes inherent with such a gap is compounded by the growing threat of global jihadi terrorism and Islamism, China’s rise, Russia’s resurgence, and the Sino-Russian strategic partnership. This paper focuses on problems in U.S.-Russian relations and their possible solutions.
PART 1: REFRAMING AMERICAN LEADERSHIP AND RECONCEPTUALIZING RUSSIA
U.S. post-Cold War foreign policy has tended to make competitors into enemies and increasingly make allies and potential ones, like Russia, into unwilling partners and competitors. Worse still, messianistic revolutionism destabilizes regimes and sparks unnecessary, sometimes unjust wars through regime destabilization and regime change ‘color revolutions.’ America’s recent wave of neo-imperialist revolutionism has rumbled recklessly through Egypt, Libya, Syria and Ukraine, giving rise to ISIS in the Middle East and globally as well as neo-fascist elements under the Maidan regime in Kiev. These largely unintended consequences not only undermine the regimes and countries in which they occur but their neighbors’ sense of security as well. Often these neighbors include U.S. allies, some of whom are becoming increasingly disenchanted with U.S. policy. Just in the last few years some shifting away from U.S. policy has occurred in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, and Moldova. Twenty-five years of military expansion though NATO enlargement is a particularly egregious example of the out-of-control American freight train. Regarding Russia, America’s institutionalized, messianistic revolutionism has undermined Russia’s sense of national security, inflamed distrust of the West, especially the U.S., pushed Moscow away from democracy, and has inspired the development of a Russian counter-messianism – neo-Eurasianism – as an antidote to the American-led ‘Atlanticism’.
Rather than making a robust effort to integrate Russia into Western economic, political, and security institutions, as some seem to suggest occurred in the 1990s (see an otherwise sound report at http://globalinterests.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/CGI_A-New-Russia-Policy-for-America_Andy-Kuchins.pdf, p. 7), Washington was slow and timid in developing policies to do so. When such policies were implemented, they were almost always poorly-informed and counter-productive. Rather than taking the blame for its timidity and ineffectiveness, the West chose to hedge its ‘integration policy’ further at the first sign that democratic and market consolidation might require taking into account Russian interests and strategic culture. Meanwhile, those eternally opposed to Moscow either from Cold War habit or anti-Russian grudges or biases, were working feverishly behind the scenes to initiate a policy of NATO and, less importantly, EU expansion in order to isolate or even weaken Russia.
Changing Polarity in the International System: From American Hegemony to Multipolarity
Moreover, the expansionist NATO and EU policies’ defiance of Russian interests have pushed Russia into a rising China’s arms, hastening the dissolution of American’s hegemony in a unipolar international system and its replacement by a multipolar or more precisely a bipolar system. The Sino-Russian strategic partnership is beginning to organize America’s real and perceived enemies into an alliance of disillusioned and even rogue states as a counterweight to American adventurism. Within a structure of several power centers consisting of civilization-oriented poles – the West, Eurasia (China, Russia, and others), the Islamic world, and the Hindu world — a bipolar system encompasses the bulk of the international order’s great powers. The two main power poles are: (1) Trans-Atlantic community of NATO and EU countries plus Australia, New Zealand and Japan and (2) an emerging Eurasian power center led by China and Russia and organized under the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and even BRICS. The other poles and individual states belonging to them for which the two dominant poles are important for one or another reason — India, various historically Muslim states, Africa (minus the Maghreb), and Latin America — will be forced to choose or balance between the dominants. If they have not been already, some states may be torn apart in the struggle to choose or balance – e.g. Ukraine, Turkey, Moldova/Transdniestria, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia.
In order to minimize the negative effects of the new bipolar multipolarity, the U.S. must develop a multilateral networking foreign policy strategy and come to some kind of modus vivendi with Moscow that recognizes Russian national interests as well as a precise conceptualization, not caricature of its soft authoritarian regime.
American Leadership Without Hegemony: Imperial Overstretch or Network Leadership?
Since the Cold War’s end, the United States has been not just the globe’s lone superpower, but it regarded and still tends to regard every part of the planet to be a region of vital U.S. national security and interests. The U.S. has over-securitized its omnipresence, maintaining an active military presence in 147 countries. With a total debt of $19 trillion and exceeding the U.S. GDP, this military over-extension is not sustainable even in the mid-term. Too much of the U.S. military budget is derived from considerations other than a strict calculus of what is needed in terms of force posture and weapons development to ensure U.S. national security. Too often the budget is the product of political patronage and re-election campaign donation imperatives, explaining much of the over-spending. U.S. defense spending – like domestic social welfare and other spending – needs a complete inventory and harsh streamlining. Congressional reform, including term limits and lobby-related restrictions, are in order to address both defense and civilian budget spending.
The U.S. needs to fundamentally alter several aspects of its foreign and security policy, bringing them in line with its true national (as opposed to narrow particularist) interests, declining relative global leadership capacity, and the difficulties in projecting sufficient power into central Eurasia in the clearly failing effort to challenge Russia’s pre-eminent position in the region. A sound approach for American foreign policy overall would be to maintain our country’s defensive capacity and abandon neo-imperialist military expansion and regime change revolutionism.
First, the EU’s 26 member-states can defend themselves even without NATO or at least the present level of U.S. security involvement on the continent. The EU economy, at $18 trillion, equals that of the United States and is nearly ten times larger than Russia’s largely commodity export-based economy. Washington must insist that Europe take full responsibility for its security, while still offering some assistance.
Second, in order to maintain defense and security capacity in times of declining economic growth rates and revenue cuts, the West should engage Russia, India and other regional powers, including (for as long as prudent) China, in forward-leaning diplomacy not just through the United Nations and other international and regional organizations. In particular, Washington and Brussels should take a page from Moscow’s networking foreign policy strategy and seek to partner and perhaps gradually integrate Western international organizations with Eurasian international organizations. There are at least three good reasons to engage such organizations. Such engagement could ease our burden and allow us to share responsibility and improve defense, security and intelligence capacity when it is in our interests, rather than relying so heavily on American unilateral assistance and networks based solely in the West. U.S. leadership, though not hegemony, will be retained for some time by dint both of its superior economic, technological and military power and of China’s continued emphasis on domestic economic development and political stability over international involvement. In addition, these organizations are venues for potential constructive engagement and peaceful competition with China, Russia and their allies on their own regional and international turf. Finally, such interaction can be a useful data and even intelligence gathering venue for assessing both Russian, Chinese, and others’ intentions and purposes in participating in these organizations and more generally.
Third, Washington and the rest of the West must scale back regime de-stabilization or ‘democracy-promotion’ efforts. The Internet makes much of the direct financial and other assistance for the purposes of democracy-promotion unnecessary and superfluous. Moreover, the involvement of foreigners in political activity raises the suspicions of authoritarian leaders and often discredits the opposition in the eyes of some who might otherwise support their calls for democratization.
We need far greater precision in U.S. and Western democracy-promotion policies and heightened caution towards our American revolutionism. Democracy-promotion funding and other assistance is too blunt an instrument at present to sufficiently minimize the risk of needless destabilization in countries, regions and even the international system as a whole, as recent events in North Africa, the Middle East, and the former Soviet space demonstrate. America’s positive experience with revolution and the messianic vision of its founding fathers has transmuted into a cult of revolutionism. Even if possessing sufficient moral superiority, democratic systems and ‘communities of democracies’ do not have a natural right to risk destabilizing other states and entire regions. At present, almost any revolutionary opposed to an authoritarian regime that conducts an independent foreign policy or one that is at all detrimental to maintaining and expanding American hegemony is greeted as pro-democratic and something deserving of US backing.
In future, U.S. and Western policymakers must resolve that the stakes should be very high before approving the inherently risky policy of full-blown regime change or ‘color revolution.’ Several factors should condition such a decision. First, there should be clear and strict criteria for designating a country as a target for regime change. Revolutionary forms of regime change should be supported only in cases of the most aggressive and totalitarian regimes. Revolutionary forms of regime change should target only governments that pose a real a priori threat (intent plus capability, without/before provocation, to damage or destroy) to the U.S. and its allies: North Korea and Iran.
In addition, Western support for ‘colored revolutions’ should only be forthcoming when the cessation of brutal regime violence and large-scale violation of civil and human rights is at stake. Only if there is deep, countrywide support for the overthrow of a regime and that regime is particularly brutal in its authoritarianism or poses a direct and near-term threat to U.S. national security should policymakers support regime change. If possible, all initial effort should be made to channel the transformation towards the transition (imposed or negotiated transition or a peaceful revolution (from below or above).
In considering whether and to what degree such support should be rendered, the value of any existing regime to American and Western interests and the effect on regional or international security should be taken into account. In cases involving a regime that is both brutally authoritarian/totalitarian and a threat to U.S. Western, and/or international security interests, support for a colored revolution should be seriously considered. In cases where neither of these conditions is met, support for such should as a general rule be very limited or withheld. When only the first condition is present, the moral imperative is there, but the imperative of realpolitik is not, making support for a colored revolution a bad bet. When only the second condition is present, realpolitik would suggest taking action against the regime, but the soft nature of the authoritarian order and likely substantial support base at home and abroad pose risks for America’s reputation. In sum, in cases where rights’ violations are not grievous and American interests and global stability are vested in continuing survival of a particular regime, any support of ‘orangism’ and even aggressive assertion of democratization should be viewed with caution.
Criteria codified in an international convention or treaty regarding foreign involvement in the domestic politics of states might be useful. By regulating democracy-promotion and/or other activities of a distinctly political nature that can be carried out by one state in relation to another, it might be possible to limit the foreign promotion of destructive revolutionary activity such that it does not devolve into interference by one state in the domestic politics and internal affairs of another. Harsh authoritarian and totalitarian regimes would be ineligible to be participants in the convention, which could perhaps be first applied to OSCE states in line with the Helsinki Final Act’s prohibition against member-states’ interference in other member-states’ internal politics. Similarly, an international treaty on cyber aggression needs to be concluded that would impose strong prohibition against cyber subversion of elections and other domestic political institutions and practice.
Revolutionary regime change in a potential ‘target’ country should be undertaken only after detailed intelligence and analysis of that country’s potential and kinetic revolutionary movements and the complex internal politics of revolutionary coalitions, the strength of democratic forces within such coalitions, and other factors that determine the likelihood of a democratic outcome for each possible mode of regime transformation (violent and non-violent, revolution from above and from below and imposed and negotiated transitions).
Fourth, the next president must restore the constitution’s supremacy over state practice. In foreign policy this means reinstating constitutional constraint on presidential war-making prerogatives. In 2017 the president must propose greater constraints on the presidency’s powers to unilaterally order lethal military operations abroad, including drone operations and assassinations of American citizens abroad. At present, the U.S. president improperly has the ability to authorize military, special force, or other operations that can become a casus belli with Russia and other great powers. The American people and its representatives must have an opportunity to assess the viability, benefits, and risks of such operations, given their potential for grave unintended consequences, including escalation to full-blown warfare. This is particularly important as tensions rise with nuclear powers, Russia and China.
Reconceptualizing Russian Power Status and Security Interests, Correlating U.S. Policy
Any Russian leader by dint of the country’s history and political and strategic cultures is obliged to oppose the expansion of world history’s most powerful military alliance to Russia’s border. Russian opposition to NATO expansion is long-standing and began under the pro-Western Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Thus, on 1 December 1994, when Russian Foreign Minister Kozyrev traveled to Brussels to sign a Partnership for Peace agreement with NATO but instead refused to sign in protest to a NATO communique` released earlier that day proclaiming the policy of NATO expansion. Four days later, Yeltsin protested against attempts “from a single capitol”—(that is, Washington)—to decide “the destinies of whole continents and the world community as a whole” and warned this was pushing Europe “into a cold peace” (Coit D. Blacker, “Russia and the West,” in Michael Mandelbaum, ed., The New Russian Foreign Policy, Washington, D.C.: Council of Foreign Relations, 1998, pp. 167-93, at pp. 179-80.) That Yeltsin sounded precisely like his successor would after a decade of NATO expansion demonstrates that the worsening of U.S.-Russian relations has more to do with that expansion than with Putin’s arrival to power. Russia’s sometimes seeming acceptance of NATO expansion had more to do with Russians’ traditional sense of honor and ability to hunker down in winter, re-group, and exact revenge like a wounded bear.
Vladimir Putin’s rise and continuing hold on the Russian presidency is in significant part a function of NATO expansion, not to mention EU enlargement and revolutionist regime change policies. Putin is not opposed to the West or democracy per se. If he were, then Russia would not have good relations with the non-NATO, non-EU democracies such as India, South Korea, Japan, and others. The core problem in U.S.-Russian relations is NATO expansion and the attendant Western interference in the politics of Russia’s immediate neighbors designed to facilitate NATO expansion among other goals. The day India or Japan is poised to join a U.S.-led military alliance as powerful as NATO will be the day Moscow’s relations with New Delhi or Tokyo will deteriorate.
Contrary to the claims of Condoleezza Rice in the early 2000s and Barack Obama in the mid-2010s, Russia is not a weak country. It is a Eurasian superpower and global power. Although it is not yet capable of competing with the U.S. for international leadership. In partnership with China it is capable of doing so and then some. Moreover, due to a series of comparative advantages – in part residual leftovers of Soviet superpower status and in part strengths nurtured by post-Soviet Russian administrations, especially under President Vladimir Putin – Russia can challenge American interests if it chooses or is forced to do so in a number of regions, as recent events prove.
Russia’s regional-global power status is rooted in several positions. First, its nuclear weapons forces and potentially other mass destruction capabilities (biological and chemical) make Russia a potential global threat. This buttresses Russia’s strong military and intelligence traditions, founded under the tsars and supplemented by Soviet ‘commissars.’ Second, Russia’s position as one of just five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council gives Russia a kinetic global power role. Third, Russia’s geopolitical (geographic position plus concomitant military and trade capabilities) position gives Russia a competitive edge in pivotal Eurasia and more importantly affords Moscow the comparative advantage over all other powers of bordering every key global civilization: the Euro-Atlantic West, Confucian Asia, Islam, Hindu south Asia, and Buddhist southeast and south Asia. Its Orthodox Christian heritage puts it at the center of another global civilizational pole. These geopolitical realities makes it possible for Russia to more easily than might seem plausible to establish itself as Eurasia’s predominant power and as a global power. Granted Russia’s geography presents challenges as well for national security, defense, and economic advancement, but Moscow’s fourth strong suit – its strong military and intelligence traditions compensates for these weaknesses.
Fifth, Russia’s sociopolitical tendency is towards internal solidarity — whether labeled collectivism, sobornost’ or something else — making it an almost impregnable target for destabilization, no less revolution and/or territorial breakup. Thus, challenging the bear in his lair usually only foments more intense defensiveness and solidarity. Imperial Russia and the USSR were made less cohesive and thus more vulnerable by virtue of a larger percentage of national minorities among the population.
Sixth, Russia is the most natural resource-rich country in the world. This allows it some breathing room to maneuver amidst its inefficient, highly statized economy, despite its Dutch syndrome. Combined with its geopolitical comparative advantage of being the heart of Eurasia, modern Russia is becoming the energy and energy transport hub of Eurasia writ large, from Southeast Asia to the Middle East and Europe. Given the Sino-Russian strategic partnership and China’s growing economic attraction, the Russian energy-transport hub is bound to only grow in influence politically and economically.
A seventh strong point is Russia’s human capital, potentially powerful but still limited due to problems in social capital. To be sure, post-Soviet brain drain is depleting Russia’s otherwise rich human factor, but Russia continues to reproduce talent allowing for a certain sufficiency of capability and competence. Unfortunately, much of that is being drained into economically inefficient functions such as crime, criminality, and bureaucracy, which are phenomena that only compound the lack of mutual trust in post-Soviet Russian society.
In sum, Russia is Eurasia’s superpower and one of several (US, China, Russia) global great powers. It is a potentially valuable ally and a potentially formidable foe. NATO expansion not only alienated Russia from the West, but it deprived the international community the immense benefits that can accrue from Western-Russian cooperation. A Center on Global Interests report actually missed this main lesson of the major success that was the removal of chemical weapons from Syria during the peak of the Ukrainian crisis: that bilateral U.S.-Russian cooperation can resolve conflicts, where lack of cooperation exacerbates them. Early on in the Syrian crisis, the Washington and Moscow played bad cop-good cop in forcing Assad to relinquish his chemical weapons. The report noted: “Perhaps the most underrated recent success story in U.S.-Russia relations was the 11th hour agreement for the joint removal and decommissioning of the entire Syrian declared chemical weapons arsenal by a June 2014 deadline. This remarkably complex operation took place mainly during the first half of 2014, when virtually all attention was on the growing conflagration over Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea and the then growing conflict in the Donbass. The chemical weapons removal process received almost zero coverage in either the U.S. or Russian media, despite its significance for global security. It is also likely that without this agreement—and therefore with the higher likelihood of a U.S. military strike on Syria—the effort to reach agreement with Iran over its nuclear program would have been a much more difficult, if not impossible task. One study of the Syrian chemical weapons removal effort suggested that without the imminent threat of a U.S. military strike, the Syrian government never would have agreed to the removal (a finding unlikely to be welcomed by Russia). The removal of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal is therefore a valuable case study in coercive diplomacy. It is also a textbook case of how a very significant achievement in U.S.-Russian cooperation can go completely unrewarded in the domestic political contexts of both countries” (http://globalinterests.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/CGI_A-New-Russia-Policy-for-America_Andy-Kuchins.pdf).
Russian President Vladimir Putin seeks neither the ‘recreation of the USSR’ nor any restoration of the Russian Empire. Rather he seeks to maintain Russia’s post-Soviet status as the leading great power in central Eurasia (the former USSR minus the Baltic states) and re-establish Russia as a global great power, especially in Eurasia writ large (the World Island in geopolitical terminology), stretching from the Levant and Ukraine in the west through the Persian Gulf region and on to India in the east.
Towards a new Russia policy, the Donald Trump administration must avoid the pitfall that the Obama ‘reset’ embraced in focusing initially only on those areas where it was easiest to find agreement with Moscow and limiting contacts with then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin out of the loop, developing good relations only with then President Dmitry Medvedev. This created several problems. First, it left the underlying real problems in the relationship unresolved. This caused the three key problems that have poisoned post-Cold War U.S.-Russian relations — NATO expansion, EU enlargement, and regime change (democracy-promotion) operations in countries bordering Russia and those in its immediate neighborhood or traditionally allied with Moscow — to simmer. It also allowed the bureaucratic inertia and machinations to deepen the gap between Washington and Moscow on these most troubling issues. The ultimate example was unqualified support for revolutionaries in Kiev. Another mistake of the ‘reset’ was to limit contacts with Putin and cozying up to Medvedev, Washington. This further alienated Putin from the West and created a dichotomy between the two members of the ‘tandem’ that made it more imperative in Putin’s mind that he return to the Kremlin after the West, by intervening in the civil war, violated the UN resolution on Libya by that Medvedev had refrained from vetoing against Putin’s advice.
The first-order task — that will be largely achieved by the Obama administration’s departure — is to cease U.S. officials’ gratuitous demonization and personal attacks on Russia’s popular President Putin. Accompanying this should be a termination of the intelligence-journalist-think tank strategic communications campaign designed futilely to discredit Putin and sew dissent within the Kremlin. Instead, the Washington and the rest of the West must engage Putin more often and directly. Russia’s sense of honor and of being a great power should be entertained by scheduling well-prepared summits with President Putin to address the core strategic issues plaguing the relationship and pursue avenues for overcoming them and as well as for taking advantage of areas of common interest.
At present, Russia is neither friend nor foe. For the most part, it is a competitor toying with becoming a challenger, not yet a foe intent on the U.S.’s downfall. To ensure that the latter never comes to fruition and Russia becomes less of a competitor and more of a partner and over time a potential ally, American-led Western revolutionism and expansionism must be abandoned. Thus, the Trump administration must address the most fundamental issue as Moscow sees matters, NATO expansion. EU expansion will not be perceived as a challenge to Russian power, if Moscow’s concerns regarding Western military expansion are addressed.
A review of problems in several issue areas suggests why such change is prudent and specific policy shifts.
PART 2: RECOMMENDATIONS FOR U.S. RUSSIA POLICY
The West must acknowledge that NATO poses a grave potential threat to Russia.NATO’s economic capacity and thereby potential military capacity are some 19 times that of Russia’s. At a minimum, NATO’s existence — no to mention its expansion — escalates Russia’s military and security calculus, requiring larger defense and intelligence budgets, which in turn are perceived as a threat by the West, creating a cycle of insecurity – the classic ‘security dilemma.’ This is even truer after the Western-supported revolt in Kiev, NATO support for the anti-Russian Maidan regime in Ukraine, and NATO’s military buildup in Eastern Europe. Neighboring and historically-tied and strategic for Russia, the West’s de facto alliance with Ukraine creates an existential threat to both Russia’s national security and political stability. The collapse of neither is in the U.S. or Western interest given the potential vulnerability of Russia’s stockpiles of means and weapons of mass destruction to terrorist acquisition. It is a completely different matter if Moscow wishes to limit Russia’s capacity and competitiveness by relying on a largely state-controlled economy and a soft, albeit, authoritarian political regime. This may actually be in the U.S. interest if it confines Russian power to its immediate neighborhood.
The West’s support for the illegal overthrow of the legally elected, if corrupt Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych sets a destabilizing precedent, compounding Western mistakes in Kosovo and Russian overreactions in Georgia. Russia’s firm intent on protecting the Donbass and Russia from the ambitions of the Maidan regime and Washington’s and Brussels’ response, in fact, reduces rather than enhances Europe’s security. The U.S. is unlikely to engage large-scale military operations in Europe should Russia act or overreact to Western moves in Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova or even in the NATO-member Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Moreover, by mounting a greater forward military presence in these states we undermine both their security and the credibility of our commitment under a strict reading of NATO’s Article 5 guarantee as an ironclad guarantee of mutual defense (which Article 5 is not) in case of attack by an outside state.
Therefore, the U.S. and its NATO allies should declare a moratorium on further NATO expansion and revive the dormant NATO-Russia Council using it to pursue channels for greater cooperation in counter-jihadism efforts and as a military-to-military forum for probing Moscow regarding then President Dmitry Medvedev’s 2008 proposal to negotiate a new security infrastructure for Europe and Eurasia.
Simultaneously, the West should pursue an ‘integration of the integrations’ policy. While Russia has an institutionalized relationship with both NATO and the EU, the United States has eschewed any relationship with Russia-inspired international organizations. The West should pursue military cooperation with non-NATO member states in Europe and Eurasia writ large through other military alliances such as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and even the increasingly ‘securitizing’ Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). This would be a way to probe Moscow’s flexibility in terms of restructuring the Greater Eurasian security landscape, with an eye towards beginning talks on a new European-Eurasian security infrastructure. Successful cooperation with the CSTO and/or SCO would help contain U.S. national security spending and avoid a costly arms race. The first sphere for NATO-CSTO(-SCO) cooperation should be counter-jihadism intelligence cooperation, training, and military operations.
Regarding NATO policy, the Trump administration along with America’s European allies should establish a civilian forum to probe the same, curtail and eventually repeal recent forward NATO deployments in Poland and the Baltic states, and establish new confidence-building measures in light of those recent deployments. NATO itself should engage in outreach to the CSTO with a view towards signing a treaty with both Moscow and the CSTO on non-interference, non-aggression, and cooperation. None of this is to imply that NATO capacity should be reduced and policies such as bolstering member-states’ defense spending to the designated 2 percent of GDP should not be carried through as long as no alternative security infrastructure is established.
On Europe’s eastern periphery, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and perhaps Eurasian post-Soviet states should be guaranteed security under an OSCE-sponsored treaty and process that would implement a Finnish or Austrian neutrality model. In Ukraine, the Trump administration should cease the Obama administration’s policy of ‘leading from behind’. Without U.S. leadership and leverage, the complex and potentially explosive Ukrainian conflict cannot be resolved, since it is driven in part by past and present U.S. policies such as NATO expansion and forward-leaning democracy- and regime change-promotion. Specifically, the Washington should take the lead in pursuing a Minsk 3 accord with the EU, Ukraine and Russia and insist under that new process Kiev must negotiate directly with the Donbass rebels on mutual implementation of Minsk 3. This will undercut Moscow’s influence on the Donbass rebels, while making it less necessary as well. This can reinvigorate the Minsk process, especially if coupled with Washington’s pledge to support an immediate lifting of all economic sanctions against Moscow and Crimea, if and when Russia and Donbass fulfill their obligations under Minsk 3 and relinquish full control over Ukraine’s border with Russia to Kiev.
The EU should develop ties with the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and even the Sino-Russian-led BRICS association. In this way, rather than EU expansion impinging on Russian interests, including its EEU economic and trade integration project, the EU would begin to reduce trade complications between itself and the EEU. This would also ease dilemmas experienced by former Soviet bloc countries now in the EU, which are torn between former and fairly lucrative economic ties with Russia and today’s relative poverty as part of the EU periphery, on the one hand, and the promise of gradual modernization within the EU, on the other. Once Kiev is granted full control over its eastern border with Russia, the EU should consider a trade agreement with the EEU.
The War against Jihadism
The global nature of the jihadi and Islamist revolutionary movements and quasi-alliance requires a global effort to defeat them. In order to debilitate and ultimately defeat the global Jihadist/Islamism threat, a grand global counter-alliance of the great powers and their international organizations involved in security affairs is required. Global cooperation between all the major regional powers is imperative, regardless of regime type or international tensions in other spheres. The Obama Administration’s failed Muslim Brotherhood strategy for reforming the Muslim world from Egypt to Syria collapsed in disaster: rollback to military dictatorship in Egypt and the rise of the Islamic State in Syria, Iraq, the Maghreb and more globally. The Trump Adminisration must face the reality that there are no good choices in the Islamic world, and gradual reform of secular dictatorships and monarchies is the best option for global security and stability at present. In Syria this means abandoning the ‘Assad must go’ policy and working more closely with Russia and NATO member Turkey to defeat IS and Al Qa`ida. Eschewing revolutionism in the Muslim world will help stabilize the increasingly revolutionary situation there.
The U.S. cooperated closely with and even assisted Stalin’s Soviet Union in World War II; it can cooperate much more closely than it is now with Russia and China in the war against Islamism/jihasdism. Specifically, Russian and other foreign expertise and intelligence can be tapped by first establishing joint international analytical centers, then joint intelligence analysis centers. The failure to engage Moscow in counter-jihadism efforts sufficiently led to the 9/11 attacks and the Boston Marathon bombing.
Exchanges of best practices in counter-jihadism are in order, whether in terms of public diplomacy, strategic communication and propaganda or in terms of intelligence-gathering and police and combat operations. Finally, joint training and eventually operations where advantageous and possible should be undertaken involving NATO, CSTO, even SCO, and their member-states. The described approach would have prevented the Boston Marathon bombing and other jihadi attacks on the U.S. homeland. However, inordinate American hubris and ‘russophobia’ or at least distrust prevented such cooperation with Russia, with the predicted disastrous results, and continues to hinder cooperation with Moscow and other states (for more, see my previous 2008 proposals to the the then incoming Obama administration for the Hart-Matlock Working Group on U.S.-Russian Relations at https://gordonhahn.com/2015/11/17/report-2009-u-s-russian-relations-and-the-war-against-jihadism/).
The Trump administration must resume nuclear arms control talks with Moscow. Immediately upon Putin’s assumption of the Russian presidency, the George Bush administration withdrew the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2001 and began to pursue and deploy the first elements of what could become a comprehensive missile defense system in Europe that not only would have the capability of downing Iranian nuclear missiles but Russian ones as well. This heralded an inevitable disruption of the nuclear balance of power established through decades of Cold War and post-Cold War era U.S.-Russian diplomacy. In 2015, the Barack Obama administration announced plans to modernize and upgrade US nuclear weapons, with an estimated cost of as high as $1 trillion over three decades. Thus, by 2045, as Andrew Bacevich notes, the U.S. will possess “more flexible, precise, survivable, and therefore usable nuclear capabilities than anything hitherto imagined. In effect, the country will have acquired a first-strike capability” (www.democracynow.org/2016/3/10/andrew_bacevich_why_is_no_candidate). This will require a Russian response which can only make the U.S., Europe, and others in the international system less secure.
The New START Treaty is set to expire in 2021, and both Russian President Putin and U.S. President-elect Donald Trump have vowed to upgrade their countries’ respective nuclear arsenals, setting the stage for a renewal of the Cold War era’s nuclear arms race and revitalization of mutually assured destruction postures. Not only a new arms race with Russia but one with China (and perhaps others) would almost certainly ensue.
The nuclear arms talks’ current limbo on the background of increasing NATO and Russian military deployments in and around Ukraine increases the risk of an accidental confrontation that could escalate into a nuclear one. If one is building policy on the myth that the Reagan arms buildup caused the Soviet collapse, then it should be considered that said arms race could help weaken Russia’s economy and destabilize its polity, making Russian nuclear and other WMD-material weapons and materials less secure. Armageddon was avoided the first time round during the collapse of the Soviet nuclear superpower. Is it reasonable to risk Armageddon again via destabilization of Russia?
A better strategy for U.S. national security would be to pursue new arms control agreements with robust verification and confidence-building measures. A good first step would be to broach the idea of simultaneous but separate talks on a new INF agreement and an extension of the START Treaty to 2026 after Putin’s inevitable re-election in 2018. The defunct U.S. and Russian working groups tasked with seeking a path beyond traditional missile defense talks typically focused on sharing the technology should be revived as well. In addition, working groups should be set up to pursue how new communications and other technologies could facilitate more direct and immediate contact between the Kremlin and White House during a potential nuclear crisis, the implementation of more thorough confidence-building verification measures, and the lengthening nuclear deployment decisions and launch times. Conventional arms cuts in Europe and cyber arms control agreements could be pursued if limits and cuts in nuclear forces can be agreed upon. The former could mitigate Russia’s tendency to counterbalance the U.S. conventional arms superiority with nuclear and more recently cyber initiatives, in turn facilitating further nuclear arms control talks. The resulting cutbacks in weapons procurement and production would also help to address U.S. government overspending and the growing national debt.
The Trump administration should revive the U.S.-Russian partnership on non-prolferation issues. Until recently, Russia was a key partner with the U.S. in international efforts to stem the proliferation of weapons and materials for weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, chemical, biological, and radiological means. Under the Obama administration reset’s failure that cooperation began to decline significantly. The Russian-American ‘Megotons to Megawatts’ Program ended in 2013 without renewal. Beginning in 1993, the 20-year program transferred more than 500 metric tons of downblended HEU having become more than 14,000 metric tons of low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel sold to nuclear utility customers in the U.S. for use in nuclear reactors. In that period, estimates are that one in 10 light bulbs in the US were lit by energy generated from the uranium delivered from 80 dismantled Russian nuclear warheads, and Russian nuclear fuel gave the U.S. some seven trillion kilowatts of electrical energy. With the program complete, Rosatom began selling enriched uranium to the U.S. at international market prices considerably higher than the cost under the ended program.
In 2012, Moscow announced it would not extend the so-called the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program, an umbrella program for the Megatons to Megawatts Program. But meeting with his American counterpart in Washington, the US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and his deputy Daniel Poneman, Russian RosAtom Director Sergei Kirienko announced that the two parties had“compiled a list of mutually interesting projects,” including development of an international fast-neutron reactor (http://tass.com/russia/711053). Outside the program’s framework, Rosatom signed contracts worth more than $5.5 billion with US nuclear power generators (www.rt.com/news/heu-leu-agreement-over-037/). These were frozen by the Obama administration under economic sanctions targeting Russia after the Ukraine crisis in 2014.
Russia also garnered 20 percent of the Unites States’ uranium stocks in a controversial deal that has had some affect on the recent U.S. presidential campaign (“Cash Flowed to the Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal,” New York Times, 23 April 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/04/24/us/cash-flowed-to-clinton-foundation-as-russians-pressed-for-control-of-uranium-company.html?_r=0). Thus, a now less enthusiastic anti-proliferator, which even when it cooperated with U.S. non-prolferation efforts under Nunn-Lugar was fueling Iran’s presently frozen nuclear program, may be posed to add to, rather then subtract from global proliferation problems.
In October 2016, President Putin withdrew Russia from the early Putin-era Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA) signed in 2000 and designed to destroy and make irreversible the destruction of weapons-grade plutonium from scrapped nuclear weapons. Putin explained his withdrawal in terms of “the threat to strategic stability posed by the hostile actions of the US against Russia” as well as US failure to fulfill its obligations (www.nonproliferation.org/putin-suspends-us-russia-plutonium-disposal-agreement/). Although there were delays in producing financing and implementing stages of the program, the tipping point seems to have been the onset of hightening Russian-American tensions over Ukraine and Syria.
As in the case of nuclear arms, the The Trump administration should seek to de-link non-proliferation issues from tensions over local conflicts and pursue a framework for negotiations on renewing the PMDA and the Megaton to Megawatts program. If progress can be achieved, incentive for further talks can be provided by reviving discussion of the Moniz-Kirienko ‘mutually interesting projects’, including joint work on the international fast neutron reactor proposal. Agreement on said projects could be based on the condition that Moscow take a tough line on any Iranian violations of the nuclear development treaty Teheran signed under Russian-Western auspices.
The potential for cyber conflict and destabilization requires the same efforts of control in the 21st century that the nuclear arms race required in the 20th century. Although the evidence presented by U.S. intelligence that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and the email systems of 2016 Democratic Party candidate for president Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager John Podesta is somewhat less than convincing, this does not mean that the onset of the cyber warfare age has arrived. The U.S., Russia, Chinese, and Israeli routinely carry out cyber operations against opponents and enemies. The potential targets for such operations are numerous and attacks on infrastructure – such as nuclear power plants, electrical grids, etc. – are fraught with catastrophic consequences. This danger suggests a need to conclude an international cyber warfare treaty that would place certain targets and practices off limits. America-Sino-Russian leadership on this issue is vital, and the three countries should establish a working group to develop crisis management procedures in the event of a major cyber attack on any nation to limit misperception — given the difficulties in determining the perpetrators of cyber attacks — and address potential consequences. The working group should also be charged with developing a framework for drafting a relevant international agreement or treaty limiting cyber warfare.
Restructuring U.S. energy security policy to involve Russia should be a top mid-term goal of the Trump administration. This is true for at least two reasons. First, the Persian Gulf is no longer as vital to U.S. and Western energy security than it was nearly four decades ago when President Jimmy Carter announced that the United States viewed securing the flow of oil and natural gas from the Persian Gulf as a vital U.S. national interest it would fight for. We now know that the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Venezuela contain sufficient oil and natural gas to sustain the American and even the global economy for many decades to come. Thus, securing the Western Hemisphere is more central to energy security than is protecting the Persian Gulf.
Second, Russia figures much more heavily in the world energy future and Western energy security than the USSR did four decades ago. This can be seen from the consequences for gas supplies generated by Russian conflict with Ukraine in recent years and Russia’s pursuit of its energy interests in the Arctic. Evidencing Russia’s global power status is the fact that Russia is the only country in the world to pursue military-political power in the Arctic towards the goal of securing its share of the 6 percent of the world’s oil reserves and 24 percent of natural gas located under the Arctic ice and shelf. Thus, it is the only country to have a strategic naval presence or to invest significant resources in developing a military infrastructure in the region. Moreover, as a result of failed U.S. policies in Syria and Iraq, Moscow has been able to upgrade its relations with the Gulf States, evidenced by Russia’s growing energy business interests in the region and its recent deal with Saudi Arabia to cut oil production and thus buttress oil prices.
Thus, along with securing energy supplies from the Western Hemisphere, any rapprochement in U.S.-Russian relations should include efforts to help U.S. companies crack the Russian energy market after building first efforts to develop cooperation in Arctic exploration. Given the close relationship between Russian President Putin and Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, it might seem a relatively simple proposition to terminate sanctions in the energy sphere that have halted Exxon Mobil-RosNeft joint exploration in the Arctic under a 2012 deal negotiated by Tillerson, limiting the latter’s ability to capitalize on reserves there. However, any hasty removal of sanctions in this sphere will bring charges that Tillerson and Trump are doing Exxon Mobil’s and Putin’s bidding. Thus, the Trump administration should tie energy sanctions’ removal to progress on the Minsk 2 accords for settling the Ukrainian conflict which prompted the sanctions, rather than Moscow’s agreement to nuclear force cuts, as President-elect Trump recently proposed). Progress on these fronts could be parlayed in the mid- to long-term into deeper oil and natural gas cooperation with Moscow on the recent model of RosNeft’s privatization of 20 percent of its shares to Qatari and Swiss firms, along with facilitating Russian firms’ access to U.S. oil and gas deposits and related projects.
The Sino-Russian Strategic Partnership (Alliance)
U.S. policy towards the Sino-Russian ‘strategic partnership’ should aim at engaging it in order to contain it. Their strategic partnership is a de facto defensive alliance that could potentially spark conflict with the U.S. It is manifested in both close bilateral relations, which the parties refer to as a “strategic partnership”, and joint efforts in international organizations, including SCO, BRICS and the UN. Never in its history has Russia been so integrated into Asia, with good ties not just China but with both Koreas, the four Asian tigers, India and Pakistan, and the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation or APEC and other multilateral fora. Particularly in SCO and BRICS, Russia and China function together as co-leaders and have been deepening economic and financial ties bilaterally and multilaterally while expanding these institutions’ remits into political and security affairs independent and sometimes in opposition to the West.
In the UN, Russia is strong enough to entice China to support it on almost every issue Russia pushes for internationally, as evidenced by the repeated Russian and Chinese joint resolutions introduced and joint vetoes of Western-backed resolutions introduced to the Security Council. In November, for example, Moscow and Beijing voted together to block a Western-backed draft resolution at the U.N. Security Council demanding a seven-day truce in Aleppo to evacuate the sick and wounded and to provide humanitarian aid into the city.
On way to limit the extent to which the Sino-Russian strategic partnership develops further as an anti-Western or anti-American alliance is to pursue areas where we can cooperate with Moscow and Beijing together. Such cooperation can build trust and help build bridges for reducing tension and resolving conflicts and crises that might develop from the South China Sea to the Donbass and Syria. Again, the war against jihadism, the closely related non-proliferation regime, transnational crime and drug trafficking are areas where such trilateral cooperation and leadership should be pursued. Such trilateral cooperation would help build trust that could help in times of crisis, say, in the South China Sea between the U.S. and China — allowing one party to mediate between the other two. The potential for Sino-American conflict is likely to rise under a Trump administration, given the incoming president’s pronouncements on trade relations and recent tensions in the South China Sea.
Washington must come to terms with the fact that it has overextended American power since the end of the Cold War, cannot maintain American hegemony beyond the short-term, and faces a rising China and a resurgent Russia increasing allied against American interests largely as a result of U.S. hubris and overextension. It is thus in the American interest to face the emerging multipolar order does not become a bipolar one pitting the West against the rest. A multipolar structure of global strategic action requires a multilateral networking approach in foreign policy. Although ideals of democracy and human rights should remain a key element of U.S. foreign policy, they need to be applied without double standards. Such an approach should privilege Russia over China as a potential ally of the West. This does not mean that U.S. policy should be focused on dividing Russia and China. It should have as a key focus avoiding war and improving relations with both to meet the multiple security challenges facing the West and the rest. After abandoning revolutionism, America’s improved relations with Moscow and Beijing will reduce the need for them to unite join forces to counterbalance the West.
Finally, the U.S. needs to reinvigorate the field of Russian and Eurasian studies by: (1) increasing government and private funding for Title VIII and other programs supporting the study of Russia, Eurasia, and their politics, history, languages and cultures; (2) holding congressional hearings or conference on intellectual bias, data falsification, lack of pluralism, and excessive group think and pressure to conform in academia, journalism, and think tank communities on issues related to Russia; and (3) convening similar hearings on the politicization of intelligence analysis and intelligence leaks on Russia and more generally. Contrary to recent claims, the problem with American rusology is not a shortage of experts but an inability of corrupt institutions anchored in Washington DC to allow a pluralism of opinions regarding the Russian state, society, politics, culture and history.
It is important to remember that the overwrought distrust in the U.S. academic/expert and intelligence communities regarding any claim coming from Moscow led to 9/11 and the Boston Marathon attack. U.S. law enforcement refused to believe Russian claims in the 1990s that Al Qa`ida (AQ) jihadists were among the Chechen Republic of Ichekeriya (ChRI) militants — even after the AQ-financed July 1999 invasion of Dagestan led by AQ operative Ibn al-Khattab — and therefore decided not to detain and interrogate the 20th 9/11 attacker who was undergoing pilot training in Minnesota because his only AQ connection was Khattab. Similarly, in 2012-13 U.S. law enforcement failed to deploy sufficient surveillance of Tamerlan Tsarnaev despite FSB warnings that he had radicalized and developed ties with global jihadist organization, the Caucasus Emirate, based in Russia’s North Caucasus [see, respectively, Gordon M. Hahn, Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007) and Gordon M. Hahn, The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014).
The above analysis and recommendations for policy change are offered not for the sake of cooperating with Russia. They are proposed in order to foster the American national interest and security by rolling back the post-Soviet trend towards increasing alienation of, and confrontation with Russia in service of the goal of avoiding war with Russia along its periphery and the grave risks, including that of nuclear war, that such a conflict would entail. They are also intended to lighten the burden of global leadership on the U.S. by transforming the burdensome and resource-consuming emerging Russian challenge into a U.S.-Russian partnership, which, while limited by competitive aspects in the relationship, can assist the attainment of U.S. foreign policy goals.
About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an analyst and Advisory Board member at Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation (Chicago, Ill.), http://www.geostrategicforecasting.com; member of the Executive Advisory Board at the American Institute of Geostrategy (AIGEO) (Los Angeles, Calif.), http://www.aigeo.org; a contributing expert for Russia Direct, russia-direct.org; a senior researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group (San Jose, Calif.); and an analyst and consultant for Russia – Other Points of View (San Mateo, California), www.russiaotherpointsofview.com.
Dr. Hahn is the author of the forthcoming book from McFarland Publishers Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War”. Previously, he has authored three well-received books: The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction Publishers, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media.
Dr. Hahn also has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and has been a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, and the Hoover Institution.