United States-Russian relations in the post Cold War era Essay
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The global affairs after the Second World War were dominated by two superpowers with totally different political and socioeconomic models. The central drama within the global system was characterized by conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union expressed in the form of capitalism and communism. These two superpowers had at their disposal the greatest armies and artilleries that no any other country could match during this period of time (Donnelly, 1965).
The internal organization of these two superpowers was radically different with the United States having a democratic polity and a market economy while the Soviet Union having a totalitarian political system and a command economy.
Each of these nations believed in the superiority of their system and thus attempted to actively promote the replication of these systems in other countries while at the same time hindering the expansion of the other’s system. The competition between the United States and Russia was thus driven by this ideological divide.
Put simply, the United States and the Soviet Union were not only rivals because of their greatness in the international system but also because they were two powers with irreconcilable visions concerning how the political, social and economic life should be organized.
During the initial stages of the final decade of the twentieth century, one side in this bipolar ideologically divided system collapsed and for the first time in the history of the modern world, there occurred a shift the international balance of power without a major conflict leading to war.
For the political leaders in Russia and the United States, these were hard times and talks were initiated concerning the new task of transforming Russia into a democratic polity, market economy and a new associate with the West, instantly erasing the cold war. However, as the century concluded, the attitude in the United States-Russian relations was becoming more inclined towards the cold war era than with the more optimistic periods of the early nineteen nineties. The policies that the Clinton administration had pursued toward Russia were derided by members of the Congress, academics, journalists and the emerging campaign by George W.
Bush for the presidency. The question that they most often asked was whoever “lost Russia”. In particular, the Clinton administration was charged with failing in virtually every issue. It was accused of delving too much into Russian internal affairs, ignoring or even supporting corruption among leading Russian officials, over personalizing their relationship with Yeltsin, being blind to the evils of Russia towards the breakaway Republic of Chechnya and failure to stop Russia from assisting Iran with its nuclear weapons program.
Listening to the experts and the Republicans led to the conclusion that every conceivable thing that would have gone wrong concerning the United States-Russian relations did go wrong (Masci, 1998: 232-3). The major question that one is bound to ask is whatever happened between the years that the Soviet Union collapsed and the witch hunt for the lost Russia less than a decade later.
Various argument have been put forward with some holding that it was largely the fault of the first Bush administration for failing to offer enough assistance to the fledgling regime of Yeltsin in 1992 (Goldgeier & McFaul, 2003). Others still argue that all the wrong kinds of assistance was provided by the Clinton administration after 1993 or that it had pursued “anti-Russian” policies which maximized Russian resentment for the West (Beschloss & Talbott, 1993: 9).
The relations between Russia and the United States seemed to have taken a decisive turn in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack in 2001, hardly a year after George Bush became the president. Russian president showed a good gesture by moving quickly to show his sympathy for the United States and pledging his support for collective responsibility against global terrorism. There was much optimism that Russia was being inclined to the West. The relationship between the United States and Russia seemed better until the period of the American-led war with Iraq.
In looking at the relationship between the United states and Russia, I am primarily interested in the perception of the United States policy makers concerning what they intended to accomplish and their understanding of the events. For instance, did they understand that there was a transition going on in the Soviet Union in 1991 and what was their belief concerning what they could do? Did the United States believe that the enemy was gone once the Soviet Union disintegrated?
The most transformative events in the affairs of the world since the period that immediately followed World War II was marked by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Before this period, the United States foreign policy was focused of containing the threat posed by the Soviet Union. The Americans, prior to 19090s, saw every issue in the world in the perspective of the cold war struggle with the Soviet Union-whether it was peace in the middle East, defense of Europe, African civil war or even the development of resources on the floor of the ocean.
Thus, the collapse of the Soviet Union dealt a blow for United States foreign policymakers. Considering that the main American enemy was defeated, there was need for the vacuum to be filled posing an intellectual and organizational challenge of refocusing and reorienting foreign policy away from the period of cold war and toward a new relationship with Russia. With the end of the Cold War, an opportunity for creating a basically new and cooperative relationship between Russia and the United States was established.
The establishment of a positive United States-Russian partnership was seen to offer benefits not only for the two nations but also in confronting the challenges that the human race is faced with during this period of time. A necessary climate for beefing up United States-Russian relations was created by the changes that were introduced in the foreign policy of the Soviet Union during Gorbachev’s tenure. The new way of thinking introduced by Gorbachev held that the preservation of peace must be the fundamental objective of all nations.
The Marxist thought of class struggle was abandoned as the central guiding principle in foreign policy. Instead, the global human values were to go beyond the narrow class interests in guiding the conduct and behavior of nations. This New Thinking was not the same as the principle adopted by Khrushchev. In his principle of peaceful coexistence, Khrushchev advocated for the evasion of all out war between communist and capitalist system even though he did not indicate that the struggle between capitalism and communism should be concluded.
He continued to maintain that one of the systems will emerge to be the victor. Gorbachev and his associates saw the world as an interrelated totality where every nation must cooperate for in the interest of the survival of entire human race. The basic argument was that nations of communist and capitalist orientation should not exist in a state of perpetual struggle. It was held that every nation should make concerted effort to ensure that the world is a safe place.
Gorbachev’s New Thinking was not simply a rhetoric or propaganda but was supported by dramatic changes in the international behavior of Russia. Gorbachev saw the collapse of the Berlin Wall and signed important agreement with the United States. Russia also sought for integration in the world economy besides seeking for a more positive relation with democracies of Western Europe. The United States and Russia also participated jointly in dialogs aimed at resolving regional conflicts in places like Africa. The Soviet troops were also removed from Afghanistan and Africa by the soviet government.
There was also cooperation between the two nations in their response to the Kuwait invasion by Iraq. With this regard, the relation between the United States and Russia improved so much during the tenure of Gorbachev. It was during this period that the thinking and preferences of Russians with regard to foreign policy underwent massive transformation. Russia discarded their confrontational approach of depending on their military force in favor of diplomatic cooperation as the preferred method of building and managing positive relationships with other nations.
The Soviet principle of New Thinking stressed on the holistic nature of the world community, offering a significant and appropriate set of concepts for guiding the behavior of nations in the global environment. Ronald Reagan who had described the Soviet Union as an evil empire changed his view considering the dramatic changes that the Soviet Union underwent. When he was asked if he still considered the Soviet Union as an evil state, he responded that his initial remarks were meant for a different time and era.
With the end of the Cold War, the animosity between the two nations also concluded. This spirit that was started by Soviet leaders was adopted by other succeeding leaders. After taking office, Yeltsin stated their aim to become involved with other countries in the world in the process of “asserting the ideals of humanism, freedom and democracy in the community of mankind”. He also stated Russia’s intention to pursue “an honest, open and moral policy which is not subordinated to ideological dictate”.
This statement shows that Russia was slowly being integrated into the global system by changing from a military to civilian based economy. As much as his foreign policies appeared to be a continuation of the non-confrontational approach, the strategies that he adopted encompassed basic domestic changes that had implications for the United States foreign policy (Cross & Oborotova, 1994). The attempt by Gorbachev to carry out reforms within the context of the existing socialist system had led to some ambiguity and suspicion in the United States concerning the intention of Soviet leadership.
It also restricted the degree to which shared values existed between the former Soviet Union and the United States. Yeltsin on the other hand openly rooted for capitalism, abandoning the socialist model, thereby eliminating ideological ambiguity and extending the foundation for common United States-Russian values and objectives. He reiterated his commitment to nurturing democratization of Russia and embracing a free market economy which are the sacred values of American tradition.
Although the Yeltsin era is a representation of the continuation of the peaceful policies that had been placed during the time of Gorbachev, it is during his tenure that one can actually begin talking about a new chapter in the relations between the United States and Russia. As much as the United States was cautious in their response to these dramatic changes in the former Soviet Union particularly during the tenure of Gorbachev, its administration welcomed such changes and were willing to exploit the new opportunities to improve bilateral relations.
James Barker, once the United States Secretary of State, classified the progress of United State’s policy towards the former Soviet Union and Russia from the period of Gorbachev to the period of Yeltsin and moving “further than detente and even diplomatic cooperation” to “broad international partnership”. The leadership of Yeltsin changed the conception that the United States of the Western powers were potential enemies of the Russian Federation (Allin, 1995). Clinton recognized the heavy task faced by the new Russian Federation reformers, appealing to the United States to support the Russians.
According to him, the Russians were attempting to carry out three fundamental changes at once. These fundamental changes were; the shift to market economy from communism, a shift to democracy from tyrannical dictatorship and a shift to an independent state from a great empire-an endeavor that the United States ought to support (Cohen, 1993). Clinton emphasized the importance of Russia at the 1993 Russo-American summit in Vancouver, reaffirming the United State’s economic and security interest in establishing a favorable United States-Russian relationship.
He pointed out that the progress of Russia and the new independent states of the former Soviet Union toward democracy and free market was held with much importance by the United States as it represents a great security challenge and provides great economic opportunities (Weber, 1993: 253). After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the United States president George Bush and the Russian president Yeltsin signed the Camp David Declaration which defined the relations between the two countries as founded on “friendship and partnership”.
Andrey Kozyrev, Russian Foreign Minister, stated that the goal of Russia vis-a-vis the United States is the stable establishment of relations with an inclination toward strategic partnership and alliance founded on common values (Friedman, 2000). Conclusion Russia and the United States would do much injustice to each other if they choose to pursue isolationist course. However, there has been an increase in public support for withdrawal from the foreign scene in both countries.
In the last American presidential elections was dominated by domestic issues. This trend was also seen almost two decades ago in 1992 when the presidential election was also characterized by domestic issue. After the Second World War, the Americans saw that their freedom and security were threatened by communism and thus were ready to support presidential appeals to counter the expansion of Soviet around the world. However, the post-Cold War era lacks Soviet as the enemy and thus the American public increasingly became uninterested in foreign affairs.
Many Americans fail to strike the link between domestic and foreign issues as they are basically concerned with the rising unemployment, sagging economy, health care and a variety of domestic problems and hence lack the sympathy to invest their energies in dealing with the problem of other countries. Consequently, in Russia, policymakers, academics and the general public have circulated arguments that the country should concern itself with internal problems and that shifting from international realm would be integral for resources to be freed for domestic purposes.
One variation of this trend seem to have gained prominence among politicians and scholars. The position holds that the Russian foreign policy should be continentalist as opposed to globalist. This position posits that the domestic problems in Russia hinders its possibilities for pursuing an active and multifaceted foreign policy (Cross & Oborotova, 1994). As such, there is a general feeling among the proponents of this position that Russia should focus its energies on seeking relationships with the neighboring countries in Europe and Asia. Within the increasingly interdependent world community, isolationism is not a realistic option.
Limiting the relation between United States and Russia would not serve the interest of either nation. As much as the United States is the major remaining power and the undisputed leader of the Western world, it would be wrong to think that it can maintain peace in the world alone. It lacks the resources to carry out this role and must therefore cooperate with other major global powers so as to effectively counter the challenges existing in the post-cold War arena. Russia is still a strong nation and a nuclear superpower and hence the cooperation between these two countries is very important.
As much as Russia is a Eurasian nation, it cannot ignore the role of the United States or become absorbed with its own domestic problems. There have been concerns with regard to Russia becoming an adversarial competitor of the United States if it decides to support her. The basic argument is that Russia has always been an aggressive and hostile nation besides being an expansionist power. However, this question cannot be answered at the moment. Nevertheless, there may be disastrous consequences for United States interests if it ignores of fail to focus its attention and resources in furthering a favorable U.
S. -Russian partnership. The Russians have thus exhibited remarkable patience in the transition period. Most Russians have shown their commitment to move ahead despite the economic difficulties, recognizing that they have endured many hardships in the past and that they cannot go back to the repressive and inefficient system that characterized their past. In order for the United States and Russia to achieve an enduring and full scale partnership, there are many obstacles that still need to be overcome despite the favorable developments in their relations that have been witnesses in the past decade.
Russia does not possess much experience with market economy neither does it comprehend fully democratic principles. Its political traditions are founded on the autocratic czarist rule. Its aspirations for reforms demand a deep cultural and psychological transition coupled with the establishment of a concrete and enduring democratic representative institutions. This shift to democracy is not a linear process and thus, Russia may experience some setbacks and even some reversals. Again, the interests of the United States and Russia may not correspond owing to the multitude of cultural, historical, geopolitical and economic reasons.
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