Is Russia America’s main geopolitical adversary?
(A reflection on the world’s worst geostrategic mistake in recent decades)
Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, called Russia
Other Republican party “heavyweights” have expressed similar views. In 2010, at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, John McCain declared:
”What we need most now is a greater sense of realism about Russia – about the recent history of our relationship, about the substantial limitations on Russian power, about the divergences in U.S. and Russian interests, and about the lack of shared values between our governments.” (Washington Post, 12th October, 2010)
Could anything be any further from the truth?
Far from having divergent interests, the USA, Europe and Russia are bound together by the threat of terrorism and their common values, all belonging to the European culture in a broad sense, are countless: literature, music, religion, scientific culture, etc.… so many reasons for our politicians to set memories of the Cold War aside. Not to mention the complementarity of Europe and Russia in economic terms (raw materials vs. technology).
The start was promising, though.
When he came to power Vladimir Putin stunned Western leaders by officially envisaging Russia’s integration into NATO. But his initiative clashed with outdated reflexes from the Cold War.
“Russia belongs to the European culture. I don’t envisage my country isolated from Europe and the civilized world. Under these conditions, it is really difficult for me to imagine NATO as an enemy.” (Vladimir Putin, television speech, 6th March 2000).
Drawing from the lessons from the end of the Cold War, the Russian President was prescient enough to suggest that the Americans – more than one year before September 11 – a joint preventive bombardment of the Islamic terrorist hotspots in Afghanistan to finish off the Taliban. Right after his arrival to the Kremlin in 2000, he proposed a large-scale Russian-Western strategic cooperation in the fight against terrorism. He spelled out his intentions:
“As to the NATO-Russia relations, we intend to go – I’m emphasising this – as far as the Atlantic Alliance is ready to go but only as far as it is ready to consider the legitimate interests of Russia.” (Speech at the Russian Embassy in Washington, 13th November, 2001)
The same day Tony Blair responded to him favourably:
“In respect of Russia, we should mark the fact that in Afghanistan we have worked together; in the war against international terrorism, we stand together; and that both Russia and the US and EU have much to gain from us being partners. Central to that new relationship should be a change in Russia/NATO relations” (13th November, 2001).
After the 9/11 attacks, on 28th May 2002, the Russian President and his counterparts from the nineteen member states of the Atlantic Alliance established a joint council, a draft of a Pan-Western defence organisation.
“The agreement signed Tuesday joins nations that stretch from Vancouver eastward toward Vladivostok as a force to tackle the common enemy of global terrorism” (NATO Secretary General George Robertson, 29th May 2002).
This strategic rapprochement raised hopes about the establishment of a “super-NATO,” the backbone of which would have been the new post-Cold-War Western axis formed by the USA, the EU and Russia.
But how does it look in 2012?
The surprising honeymoon of the USA and Russia in the aftermath of September 11 gave way to the old ways of the Cold War: Containment and rollback, attempts to diminish the strategic depth of the ex-communist Russian-orthodox space, for example in Kosovo, Georgia and Central Asia…
Regrettably, certain historic occasions do not present themselves twice. Russia won’t stretch its hand out for a second time. It’s true that in this way the USA could maintain its supremacy over NATO… but at what price?
Russia is turning elsewhere nowadays, following its geopolitical and economic interests towards China, India and the Muslim world.
- China: participation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) as illustrated among others by the joint Chinese-Russian military exercises of April 2012.
- The Muslim World: despite the war in Chechnya, ties between the countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, in which Russia is an Observer State, and Russia have always been tight. Russia’s new Eurasian vision seduces Islamic capitals that hope to benefit from a wide-ranging cooperation on economic, politic and military-strategic terms (transfer of nuclear and ballistic carrier technology for example). As paradoxical as this Eurasian and pro-Islamic orientation may be, this orientation of Russian geopolitics is based on the refusal of globalization driven by America.
The problem is that this “anti-hegemonic cooperation” inevitably encourages the proliferation of strategic arms and sophisticated technologies, making them accessible to those countries most likely to threaten Western militarily in the years to come.
I think that the missed opportunity of integrating Russia into NATO may not present itself again or perhaps it will present itself only on an occasion of tragic events that would have been better to anticipate!
The only susceptible option for bringing Russia back into the European fold and breaking this anti-Western alliance is its increasing participation in Western economic structures (Russia just become a member of the WTO), diplomatic (European Union / Council of Europe) and strategic institutions (NATO).