Youth in the Kremlin and a Gerontocracy in Washington

Bizarre ou non, mais les russes se présentent aujourd’hui comme des jeunes – une force très créatrice pour la restructuration du monde dans une direction plus démocratique, plus balancée et plus ouverte aux changements économiques, militaires et politiques dans le monde. La preuve est évidente dans les résultats des réunions des pays BRIC et du Shanghai Cooperation Organisation la semaine passée à Ekaterinbourg. Au meme temps les américains, même les meilleurs conseilleurs du President Barack Obama, s’enlisent dans la pensée de la Guerre Froide – et ils se présentent comme des vieillards

par Gilbert Doctorow


Youth in the Kremlin and a Gerontocracy in Washington


by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D


Over the past ten days we have witnessed amazing activity on the part of Russia’s foreign policy team. ‘Hard power’ was exercised at the CSTO gathering in Moscow on June 14th, shoring up regional security arrangements in the ‘near abroad,’ then the June 15-16th meetings of Brazil, Russia, India and China and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Yekaterinburg highlighted Russia’s position on the world stage, its ability to mobilize an impressive array of heads of state on behalf of a multipolar vision of the world. Next, a follow-up bilateral meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao served up Russia’s ‘economic power’ in the announced frame agreements for $100 billion in trade, largely oil and gas, but also machine building and high technology.


Finally, on Friday, June 19th, President Medvedev was in Amsterdam for the official opening of Russia’s most daring, impressive and permanent embodiment of “soft power,” the Hermitage Amsterdam, a multifaceted 9,000 square meter cultural center which has a vastly greater budget and more brilliant content than, say, British Council or Alliance Française units abroad.


All of these events taken together demonstrate the existence of a full-blooded Russian foreign policy based on a conceptualized approach to the métier. It takes its origins in the famous ‘fart in the church’ speech by then President Vladimir Putin at the Munich Security Conference of October 2007 (see my blog ‘The History Wars,’ 19.04.09). But whereas that speech was negative, calling out what was wrong with a US-dominated unipolar world and how it had aggressed the sovereign interests of Russia, among others, it is clear that in the time since the foreign policy team in the Kremlin has prepared a credible and very positive alternative New World Order which they have convinced some of the world’s most important nations to subscribe to and jointly promote. The weight-bearing timber of this structure is regionalization: the creation and strengthening of regional blocs which magnify the global influence of individual constituent states like Russia and serve as a midway station to the universal institutions of economic and military security The showpiece of a strategy which aims in effect to ‘contain’ the American bully is a decisive rapprochement with China, notwithstanding the two countries’ many past, present and future differences. We are witnessing the remaking of global power balances achieved by that unique realist among American Presidents of the last quarter of the 20th century, Richard Nixon.


At the same time, Russia is continuing to take up whatever meager opportunities arise from the Obama Administration’s over-hyped “reset button” policy within what now is clearly a selective partnership as seen by both parties. Last Friday, in his statements to journalists in Amsterdam following meetings with US officials responsible for the arms limitation negotiations, President Medvedev responded to Obama’s call for significant cutbacks in the nuclear warheads and delivery systems. He agreed that the arsenals could be cut down several times over. However, he also pushed back, linking reduction in numbers of warheads to caps on strategic weapons delivery systems which currently put the United States at a significant advantage and to negotiations over strategic defensive systems. Specifically, Medvedev stated publicly that progress on offensive arms could only be achieved in sync with the United States’ either abandoning or seriously modifying its planned missile defense installations in Eastern Europe. What had been a private to-and-fro with American negotiators has now been put out in the open, even if this means jeopardizing chances for any improvement in bilateral relations from the historic low in the post-Cold War period reached in the final months of George W. Bush’s Administration. But then again, the Russians have nothing whatever to lose by playing hardball at this juncture now that they have secured their back, rallying to the cause of containing the US an international coalition which far exceeds in importance the grouping of the Non-Aligned Movement dating from the ‘60s, which it in some ways resembles.


Given the attractiveness of what Russia is offering to an international community of its own definition and the universal values of the nation state which underpin its proposition, the United States is likely to be bested in the competition which is just beginning. And a large part of the problem lies in the limitations of the American foreign policy mind-set and the age of America’s conceptual thinkers, who are now in their doddering 80’s.


Notwithstanding the youth of the incumbent American President, the foreign policy advisers who have come to the fore since the November 2008 election to play the role of Macchiavelli to the new Prince are persons who either emerged from decades long retirement or are of retirement age today.


In the second part of this essay, I will try to explain how this state of affairs came about and why the self-styled ‘centrists’ in the US foreign policy community today are as tainted by Cold War mentality as the radical Right and Left, by which I mean the majority of Democrats and Republicans in Congress, from whom they think they are separated by a disposition to pragmatism and common sense.


Meanwhile, it is evident that conceptual thinkers remain distinctly on the sidelines of foreign policy as it is being made in the White House. Some commentators speak kindly of an eclectic Obama team pulling in various directions. What is really driving the working at cross purposes is foreign policy which is issues driven. And while being issues driven may appear to be a step forward from the ideology driven approach of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, it lacks the focus and disciplined prioritization essential to successful defense of national interests.


A Youthful and Proactive Russian Foreign Policy



The flurry of Russian diplomatic activity which I mentioned at the outset of this essay and which I will now examine in somewhat greater detail took some time to organize. I would say it dates from the moment last autumn when then Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Republican Presidential candidate John McCain and a great many other American officials threatened Russia with global isolation as punishment for supposedly violating the laws of civilized states by its invasion of Georgia in August 2008. At the time, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted there was no way that the United States could realize its threat, and his country proceeded to invest enormous intellectual and physical resources to turn the tables on the Americans.


Western media have highlighted Russia’s failure to collect international recognition of the new republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia which it helped to found in the wake of its successful war with Georgia. To date, the most significant nation to have taken the side of the Russians is Nicaragua as even fellow CIS countries reacted cautiously.

However, the issue of secession of minority enclaves from existing nation states is troubling to many. Even the United States with help from the European Commission could not bring along all of Europe to the celebration of Kossovo nationhood. The Russians’ failure in this one dimension has perhaps blinded Western observers to the growing Russian diplomatic successes in other areas since the autumn of 2008. And whereas US pundits insisted that Russia’s war in the Caucasus was symptomatic of a xenophobic nationalism cultivated by the Putin ‘regime’ to perpetuate its authoritarian rule, the facts since then suggest the precise opposite: we can discern continuing and accelerating Russian efforts to integrate their country into the world community.


One fine indicator of this move into the world that is wholly ignored by Western media has been the concerted and increasingly successful Russian diplomatic effort to give to Russian passport holders the same global recognition that citizens of what was once called the ‘free world’ enjoy, namely visa-free travel. The list of countries admitting Russians without a visa for stays of longer or shorter duration now runs to more than 60. Among those which extended this right to Russian passport holders after the war in the Caucasus includes Israel and Vietnam (September 2008); Colombia, Nicaragua and Guatemala (March – April, 2009); and Serbia and Croatia (May-June 2009). Russia has been pressing this issue with the European Union and with the United States, so far without success, but with resistance likely weakening in the face of the changing situation worldwide and Russian efforts concentrated on member countries most in need of Russian tourists in the present poor economic conditions, like Spain and Finland.


This integration effort at the level where people live goes in parallel with the more remarked upon Russian efforts to promote the ruble as a global reserve currency for the sake of its national economic interests.


Russia’s recently announced halt to its application for WTO membership by no means contradicts the overall move to greater integration into the world economy. It is on the one hand a temporary measure to spare the country from externally mandated restructuring in the midst of a severe economic downturn and on the other hand an assertion that one ‘reward for good behavior’ long used patronizingly by the United States and Europe is in fact no bargaining chip whatsoever as far as the Russians are concerned. In the event, Prime Minister Putin used the tactical device of replacing the Russian Federation application with a new application on behalf of the still not consummated customs union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan to hammer home yet again the Russian theme of regional blocs versus a ‘flat world’ model of globalization.


But let us turn now to the major gatherings orchestrated by Russian diplomacy over the past 10 days, beginning with the meeting in Moscow on June 14th of the security bloc forged among the former Soviet republics, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). International coverage of this meeting was overshadowed by the demonstrative no-show of Belarus President Lukashenko prompted by disputes with Russia over dairy products and other trade issues. However, the real mission of the CSTO is to secure Russia’s unstable backyard in Central Asia. Back in February, President Medvedev signaled the readiness of Russia to commit real human and materiel resources to this mission so as to match comparable NATO forces qualitatively. In this regard the agreements signed by other member states on June 14th marked a significant step forward in the creation of what is called a ‘collective rapid deployment force.’


Integrated military forces which exercise regularly together is, of course, just one element in Russia’s complex and far-reaching efforts to maintain its leadership and ensure common security in the Central Asian region. It stands alongside common energy policies, economic assistance to weaker states and participation in water management projects.


The June 16th meeting of Brazilian President Lula da Silva, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in Yekaterinburg ended in the issuance of a joint communiqué which touched nearly all the basic principles of foreign policy which Russia has promoted these past two years, as well as a few new notes which fill out the strategy.


The first ‘conclusion’ cited in the communiqué lauds the ‘central role’ of G20 summits in combating the world economic crisis. The backing of all BRIC members for large format global board of directors is easy to understand. Russia’s standing in the leadership club called the G8 was always tenuous, a sort of dispensation which the Clinton Administration arranged to satisfy the Russians’ ego while their world status was otherwise being cut down to size in keeping with their lost empire and collapsing economy in the 1990s. The eviction of Russia from this select club proposed by John McCain in August 2008 followed naturally from the irregular admission of Russia to the gentlemen’s club in the first place. Not only is Russia an indispensable player in the G20 but this is also a forum in which Brazil, China and India, who are otherwise merely an appendage to G8 meetings within its ‘Outreach Five,’ will have full rights. We may expect that this enlarged format will remain with us in the future as the most authoritative world steering committee, well after the current economic and financial crisis fades away.


The BRIC communiqué calls for reform of international financial institutions to give greater representation to countries with transitional and developing economies. It urges changing the appointment procedures for their top managers for the sake of greater transparency and to reward merit. What is at issue is the tradition whereby the United States appoints the President of the World Bank and the European Union appoints the President of the IMF. In the past Russia had gone on record alone and somewhat quixotically in opposing this Old Boy clubbish management of the world economy, its opposition fed by its own bitter experience in the 1990s taking the socially devastating prescriptions of these institutions for economic restructuring. Russia had stood virtually alone in resisting the appointment of Robert Zoellick as President of the World Bank to replace the widely disliked architect of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Paul Wolfowitz, when he fell on his own sword by violating institutional ethics over favoritism in appointments and compensation. Russia (unsuccessfully) promoted a Czech economist, Josef Tosovsky, to oppose the French socialist Dominique Strauss-Kahn put forward by the EU when a vacancy was declared at the top of the IMF in 2007. Now, two years later, Russia has won the open backing of BRIC in its challenge to the rules by which the world economic order is managed.


In the same point, the BRIC members go on record calling for a more ‘stable, predictable and diversified currency system’ – code words for diversification out of the dollar and Euro to the currencies of other major trading nations, including, of course, the Chinese yuan and the Russian ruble.


In its point 12, the communiqué sets out the single most important thesis underlying Russian foreign policy these past several years, saying:


“We emphasize our position in favor of a more democratic and just multipolar world order based on the supremacy of international law, mutual respect,coo peration, coordinated actions and collective decision-making by all states. We confirm our support for political and diplomatic efforts to reach the peaceful settlement of disputes in international relations.’


It is a measure of how far the United States has strayed from generally accepted principles of international behavior that this declaration by the BRIC countries should appear to be directed precisely against the America of Barack Obama.


In point 14, the BRIC countries reconfirm their support for multilateral diplomacy and the central role of the United Nations. At the same time they call for wholesale reform of the UN to raise its effectiveness and ability to respond to global emergencies. Concretely they call for raising the status of India and Brazil within the United Nations structures.



The meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Yekaterinburg during 15-16 June was notable firstly for whom it attracted as participants with observer status. Besides Indian Prime Minister of Singh, there was the newly re-elected President of Iran Ahmedinejad and Pakistan’s President Zardari. President Karzai of Afghanistan showed up as the event’s ‘special guest.’ There could hardly be a better demonstration of Russia’s ‘indispensable nation’ status and of the futility of American policies of isolating and excluding from the civilized world those with whom it has fallen out.




The so-called Yekaterinburg Declaration signed by Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzia, Russia,Tajikistan and Uzbekistan on June 16th largely overlaps the statement of principles which we have highlighted in the BRIC communiqué. However, there are several additional points set out here which deserve mention, beginning with a sentence we have heard repeatedly in speeches by Sergei Lavrov, Vladimir Putin and Alexander Medvedev over the past year: “The security of some should not be assured at the expense of the security of others.” Once again, it is sad to note that this self-evident golden rule is a direct reproach to US conduct of foreign policy. A similarly ‘anti-American’ bias may be seen in the condemnation of ‘unilateral military advantages’ by any countries and the reaffirmation of ‘non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states.”


The bilateral Russian-Chinese summit which followed the aforementioned gatherings focused chiefly on trade issues, more particularly on oil and gas, serving up a so-called ‘deal of the century’ in the form of frame agreements worth a potential $100 billion. And yet it also was notable for setting out shared views on a new world order. The commonplace statement we just quoted with respect to security of some not coming at the expense of others was given concrete meaning in the add-on remark: “ expanding military and political alliances and the creation of global and regional Missile Defense Shields.” Decoding this what we have here is the Chinese coming out side-by-side with the Russians on the question of inclusion of the Ukraine and Georgia in NATO, and both countries condemning not only the US plans for radar and rocket installations in the Czech Republic and Poland, but also condemning similar American activities directed against the Chinese from Taiwan. There was also a resolute statement of mutual support by leaders of the two countries with respect to some of the most sensitive security issues of the other side. President Hu Jintao expressed China’s backing for Russia’s efforts ‘to keep the peace and maintain stability in the Caucasus.’ In turn, President Medvedev confirmed Russia’s recognition of Tibet and Taiwan as Chinese territories.


The period of hyperactive Russian diplomacy over the past 10 days was by no means ad hoc. On the contrary, it represents only the most sensational recent achievement on a campaign of long duration to reshape world politics. This week President Medvedev is making a 4-day trip  to Africa. visiting nations where Russia is developing oil and gas projects as well as other commercial interests: Nigeria, Namibia and Angola. In Nigeria and Angola this will be the first ever visit of a Russian head of state in general. And he will also be pursuing diplomatic interests in Egypt.


A couple of weeks ago, the Russians held long and very friendly talks in Moscow with Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s new rightwing Foreign Minister, conducted in his native language….Russian. On his forthcoming visit to Egypt, President Medvedev will be calling upon not only the leader of Russia’s former main client state in the Middle East, but also visiting the headquarters of the Arab League, where a meeting with representatives of the member states has been scheduled.



The American strategic policy vacuum


Despite the noticeable change in tone from the strident Bush White House to the gifted oratorical style of Barack Obama and the pretense at listening to other points of view and national interest, the substance of US foreign policy remains unchanged from the days of Presidents Clinton and Bush: asserting US ‘leadership’ on the world stage, a euphemism for US hegemony. Although the tone is respectful of others, the US clearly expects its position as supreme leader to be acknowledged in the end and the ducks in the world at large to line up and quack as requested.


Peculiarly no one in Washington wants to take in the obvious fact that the ducks seem to have a mind of their own these days. This is most telling in the Euro-Atlantic relations which are the bed rock of US foreign policy.


The intractability of the United Nations, and in particular the impossibility of US domination given the Chinese and Russian vetoes on the Security Council is clearly what pushed America to develop the non-European theater dimension of NATO as its source of legitimacy to act essentially unilaterally on security issues in an ever expanding geographic scope.


However, several attempts by the new US Administration to get its way with its NATO allies have been stymied. The most important has been the silence with which President Obama’s calls for greater military commitment to Afghanistan were met. German and French opposition to further entanglements in the Middle East at US instigation is a follow-up to their flat refusal to admit Ukraine and Georgia on the path to NATO membership last fall, despite massive public and private arm-twisting by the outgoing Bush Administration.


The European Union has also showed its teeth to the U.S. in the matter of its Eastern Partnership policy, just as it did over prospects for Turkey joining the EU. In the latter case, Nicolas Sarkozy famously told Obama to mind his own business, making it clear that EU enlargement is a matter for the EU alone to consider and decide. Now the US’s hopes that Europe will console the Georgians and Ukrainians over their exclusion from NATO by offering eventual EU membership has been turned down more broadly by the Commission.


I was present at a presentation of the German Marshall Fund in Brussels on June 3rd at which Emma Udwin, a Member of the Cabinet of European Commissioner for External Affairsw and Neighborhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner, stated unequivocally that the US should desist from giving false encouragement to the former Soviet republics over the possibilities of greater economic and political assistance, not to mention a track for admission to membership since none of this was in the cards. She also said that Europe’s proximity to Russia and extensive commercial ties meant that it could not possibly deal with Russia merely in terms of selective partnership as did the United States; rather, the European Union would be pursuing strategic partnership with the Russian Federation.


The way that France and Germany have both now dug in their heels and actively oppose US initiatives which they judge to be maladroit or misguided did not come about at once. They came about despite the personal inclinations of the leaders of both of these core EU countries.

Christian Democratic Chancellor Angela Merkel had made skepticism towards the Russia-friendly policies of her opponent on the ballot, then Chancellor and leader of the Social Democratic party Gerhard Schroeder, one of the key campaign issues. Though the necessities of the Grand Coalition which followed her indecisive electoral victory gave Social Democrat Frank-Walter Steinmeier the Foreign Affairs Ministry, theirs was very much an odd couple on questions of foreign policy. However, following the Russian-Georgian War the Chancellor seems to have distanced herself from US-led attempts to isolate Russia, took the aforementioned line against NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, and most recently gave her personal backing to the Russian financed takeover of Opel/General Motors Europe, a major exercise of Russian economic power in the non-energy sector right in the heart of Western Europe.


For his part, the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy came to office determined to make a break with the anti-American tradition of the French chattering classes, and most particularly of his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, who had been at the forefront of those opposing the US invasion of Iraq. Chirac’s thumbing his nose at the Americans had earned him the fleeting respect of caviar socialists and the longer-lasting enmity of the readership of Le Figaro, the business-minded bedrock whence France’s Center Right draws its strength.


On the campaign trail Nicolas Sarkozy wore with pride the nickname ‘Sarko the American.’ His post-electoral vacation trip to the USA in August 2007 brought him to the estate of the Bush family in the State of Maine for a round of burgers and hot dogs in a convivial atmosphere among admirers of the ‘Land of Friendship.’ The media were already then caricaturing Sarkozy as Bush’s new poodle, replacing Tony Blair. That interpretation was further confirmed during Sarkozy’s state visit to the USA in November 2007, when he was given an opportunity rarely accorded to foreign leaders and addressed a joint session of Congress, where he delivered a suitably engratiating speech.


The pro-American phase of Sarkozy’s term in office was not of long duration. Arguably the decisive U-turn in his thinking occurred during his 6 month Presidency of the European Union beginning in June 2008. And it may be argued that the single factor which turned him around was his experience mediating between the parties to the Russian-Georgian War of August 2008. The truce which he brokered and the Russian withdrawal which followed from it came after intense personal negotiations by the French leader in both Moscow and Tbilisi. He succeeded too well in this task to suit his American friends, and his amour propre was no doubt wounded by vitriolic attacks on his handiwork emanating from Washington. Thereafter he had occasion to clash with the Americans on European issues where he found US meddling to be unacceptable, namely the question of Turkish accession to EU membership, where his opposition drew support from the great majority of French voters, and on America’s planned missile defense in the Czech Republic and Poland, which appeared to be weakening rather than strengthening European security given the determined opposition to these plans by the Russians and their stated readiness to position missiles in the midst of the EU (Kaliningrad) targeted on those US radar and missile launching sites in case the Americans proceeded with implementation of their program.


Meanwhile, America’s traditional Trojan Horse within the European Union, Great Britain has undergone both economic shame on the Continent as co-author and proselytizer for years of the Anglo-Saxon economic and financial model of wholly unfettered markets, all of which created the reckless banking practices and financial meltdown which finally have pushed the Old Continent into severe recession if not incipient Depression. In the US, it may be acceptable to say ‘let’s not look for culprits, let’s move on,’ but in Continental Europe, the willingness to forgive and forget the sources of the current pain is less widespread in the political classes. Moreover, the likely demise of Gordon Brown’s Labor Government in the months to come and its likely replacement by the Euro-skeptic Tories intent on undoing the Lisbon Treaty is marginalizing the UK’s influence within Europe.


At the same time the world economic crisis has greatly weakened America’s more recent special friends within the EU, what Donald Rumsfeld liked to call the ‘New Europe.’ The Baltic States, Poland and the Czech Republic have been among those most adversely affected in Europe by the meltdown. Whereas the Kaczynski brothers as chief of state and premier in Poland, could hold Europe to ransom in 2007 during the negotiations over the Lisbon Treaty, Poland and its fellow East Europeans are today standing cap it hand, waiting for assistance from the wealthier Member States, and their ability to frustrate the wishes of the founding members has been greatly diluted.


These developments show that it is high time for the United States to re-consider what its role should be in a world which will no longer snap to attention, a world that is not passively waiting to be taken by the hand. Put in other words, it is time to consider what world structure is appropriate in a post-unipolar world. It here that we can appreciate the conceptual limitations of US strategic thinking.


Where have all America’s fresh young thinkers gone?


In trying to come to grips with this phenomenon I think of what mainstream American political commentators were saying in the days that immediately following the April 1st agreement between the Russian and American presidents to proceed with arms limitations talks on an urgent basis so as to put in place a new treaty before the expiration of the START 1 in December. These commentators claimed the timetable could be frustrated by the thinning out of Russian expertise in this domain over the past 10 years or more. The working level people were no longer there to get the job done, we were told.


I would suggest that the thinning out of US conceptual thinkers on foreign affairs poses a similar problem for America today. It seems that the main intellectual authorities who stepped forward to guide the course of the President following the elections of November 2008 elections are very advanced in years – the likes of Brent Snowcroft, Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski or their protégés


My working hypothesis is that this is the direct result of the shutdown of political discourse and the brutally partisan vetting of all candidates for higher government posts in the security and diplomatic corps which accompanied the rise to power of Neoconservative ideologues in Washington beginning in the 1990s.


In many respects, Bill Clinton was the best Republican President the US had for the past 50 years. In domestic policy, he balanced the budget, indeed produced what it became fashionable to call a ‘proficit.’ In foreign policy, he continued the expansionist, interventionist U.S. presence globally and promoted the democracy-building, human rights defending agenda of the Neoconservatives. And so his eight years in office, and especially the last four years when the Iron Lady Madeleine Albright served as Secretary of State, were not a time when foreign policy practitioners opposed to the ruling principles of American unilateralism could rise to positions of prominence, nor were theoreticians of such policies likely to find political sponsors on Capitol Hill or in the Oval office to encourage and pay for their philosophizing. Still less was this the case under George W. Bush, when the most rabid partisanship was practiced throughout the federal government and non-Neoconservatives ran for cover. The massive outsourcing of security and intelligence functions to private contractors under Bush also deprived the nation of patriotic minded centrists in government service enjoying a modicum of bureaucratic inertia and independence from meddling politicians.


Thus, there is a generational gap in the US foreign policy Establishment where the few non-mainstream thinkers stayed on campus, far from the halls of power and kept a low profile. The conformist hysteria which followed 9/11 meant one had to be an extraordinarily brave or incautious personality to risk public censure by disputing the logic of the prevailing orthodoxy on security and foreign policy issues even ex cathedra. And who would publish such theses?


This surely explains why a generation of relatively youthful Neoconservative foreign policy thinkers who were riding high in the Bush years has been replaced by thinkers of a certain age whose life experience was earned in the Cold War era.


I am speaking now of those who would describe themselves as ‘centrists.’ They were able to take cover even in the period of Neoconservative dominance in the protective clothing of ‘realism,’ an unassailably patriotic position tracing its lineage to Richard Nixon and his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger And while they may see themselves as liberated from the Cold War frameworks of analysis, nothing could be further from the truth.


The other day I had an opportunity to satisfy myself that this is so during a telephone interview with one such highly visible and authoritative self-described centrist, Professor Graham Allison, Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the prestigious Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, and co-director of the Commission on US-Russian Relations which I have elsewhere identified as the authors of the Obama Administration’s policy of rapprochement with Russia for the sake of arms reduction negotiations and furtherance of nonproliferation (blog ‘Obama Changes US-Russian relations: the money-back guarantee,’ 12.04.2009) That Allison himself is aged 69 puts him among the juniors in the circle of ancient mariners who are piloting the centrist or realist movement today.


I do not question that Graham Allison and his colleagues are fighting the good fight against a know-nothing, America First majority in both major political parties. The problem is that they too are taking their bearings in relation to their radical domestic opponents on the Right and Left and not in relation to the changed military, economic and political dynamics in the world at large to which I was alluding in the foregoing.


The proposition that a centrist or realist approach to relations with Russia amounts to returning to the negotiating table with Kremlin leaders to reduce the numbers of nuclear warheads in the arsenals of each side is terribly outdated. Peaceful coexistence such as Brezhnev and Nixon once negotiated just is not good enough any more now that the Cold War truly ended and we are not facing an ideological enemy intent on ‘burying’ us.


The notion that nonproliferation is a self-standing issue of world affairs is also a nonsense. It is a derivative issue that blew up from nowhere when the world order of the Cold War collapsed and that will largely disappear as soon as a sustainable world order takes its place. We are presently in a relatively chaotic situation between the outgoing attempted American worldwide hegemony and a would be multipolar world of shared power among regional hegemons.


For anyone prepared to look and listen, it is patently obvious that that the Russians seek integration and full acceptance in a world order that accords them respect and influence in accordance with their capabilities and merits. It is also clear that in defending themselves, the Russians have hit upon common interests of other emerging world powers who are also underrepresented and underappreciated by the institutions and practices running the world today, not to mention by a US-dominated unipolar world.


When will the new strategists appear to fill the yawning gap in American thinking on foreign policy? There is little time to lose.


© Gilbert Doctorow, 2009-2010


G. Doctorow is an occasional guest lecturer at St. Petersburg State University. His latest book  Stepping Out of Line: Collected (Nonconformist) Essays on Russian-American Relations, 2008-12 is scheduled for publication in April 2013 and will be available from Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.