This article was originally posted at HuffingtonPost.com.
The United States and Russia are at a potentially fateful crossroads in their relations. Twenty years after the end of the Soviet Union, the relationship features more elements of cold-war conflict than of stable cooperation. Still more, recent developments, including presidential campaigns and other political changes under way in both countries, may soon make relations even worse.
And yet, in the United States, there is virtually no critical discussion, certainly no debate, about American policy toward Russia. This failure of our own democratic process—particularly of our political and media establishments—is in sharp contrast to fierce debates over Russia policy that took place in Congress, the national media, academia, think tanks and even at grassroots levels in the 1970s and 1980s.
As a result, serious criticism of Washington’s policies toward Moscow that should be stated publicly—by Americans, not Russians—is not being expressed in our mainstream politics or media. I will state that kind of criticism here today—very briefly and bluntly. I do so as a scholar who has studied Russia’s history and politics for fifty years—and as an American patriot. Most of what I have to say is not a matter of personal opinion but of historical and political fact. It can be summarized in five major points.
First: Today, as before, the road to America’s national security runs through Moscow. No other US bilateral relationship is more vital. The reasons should be known to every policymaker, though they seem not to be:
– Russia’s enormous stockpiles of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction make it the only country capable of destroying the United States as well as the only other government, along with our own, essential for preventing the proliferation of such weapons.
– There is also Russia’s disproportionate share of the world’s essential resources, not only oil and natural gas but metals, fertile land, timber, fresh water and more, which give Moscow critical importance in the global economy.
– In addition, Russia remains the world’s largest territorial country. In particular, the geopolitical significance of its location on the Eurasian frontier of today’s mounting conflicts between Western and Eastern civilizations, as well as its own millions of Islamic people, can hardly be overstated.
– Not to be forgotten are Russia’s talented and nationalistic people, even in bad times, and their state’s traditions in international affairs. This too means that Russia will play a major role in the world.
– And, largely as a result of these circumstances, there is Moscow’s special capacity to abet or to thwart US interests in many regions of the world, from Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea and China to Europe, the entire Middle East and Latin America.
In short, these inescapable realities mean that partnership with Russia is an American national security imperative.
Second: There is no real American-Russian partnership today. Nor has there been one since the Soviet Union ended in 1991, despite periodic (largely decorative) declarations to that effect in Washington. Indeed, there is less essential cooperation between Washington and Moscow today than there was during the late years of the Cold War under Presidents Ronald Reagan, the first George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev. Still worse, important elements of cooperation that do exist—on Afghanistan, Iran and nuclear weapons—are fragile and may soon end.
In short, the United States is farther from a partnership with Russia today than it was more than twenty years ago.
Third: Who, it must be asked, is to blame for this historic failure to establish a partnership between America and post-Soviet Russia? In the United States, Moscow alone is almost universally blamed. The facts are different. There have been three compelling opportunities to establish such a partnership. All three were lost, or are being lost, in Washington, not in Moscow.