May 11th will be a big day in Serbia, the day the country decides either to head into the EU or, alternatively to form a strategic partnership with Russia. It could also be a big day for Washington. The American mental map of Europe is one in which the EU is seen a strong and reliable partner, and Brussels is a convenient hanger for Americans to hang all their European concerns on. This EU ‘convenience store’ concept could be about to receive a shock.
So certain was Brussels that Serbia could be tidied up as their next EU member, that they pressed ahead with enforcing the separation of Kosovo. The problem is that Serbia, despite the cash being offered by Brussels, is now looking more likely to vote for a future as part of the Russian sphere of influence. See HERE That will most likely be followed up with the collapse of the EU mission to assume responsibility for Kosovo from the UN. It has already been indefinitely delayed. See HERE.
Americans are making two strategic errors. One is to listen to the all the talk from Brussels, which is just that – talk without teeth. European countries don’t spend enough on defence, and what armed forces they do have they are unwilling to send into harm’s way. It makes it easy for Russia to issue military threats and push the EU out of its sphere of influence.
The other mistaken view on the part of Americans is the view they have of Russia as weak and ineffectual. Russia’s rearming is proceeding apace, and Putin is showing himself willing to commit troops. He has done so into Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where he describes his deployed force as ‘peace-keepers’ – and he says he is prepared to send a ‘humanitarian mission’ into Kosovo if Serbs there are threatened.
On May 11th, when Serbs will most likely reject the EU and show that they prefer to rely on Russian strength and access to the rest of the world, the Americans might begin to see that the advantages of hanging all their European plays on Brussels are becoming more limited. It could be the moment that Washington starts to find itself catapulted into a new relationship with Europe, where Russia’ strength and reliability suddenly appear to be more use to America too as well as Serbia.
The International Herald Tribune today believes that America will inevitably make just such a change in its foreign policy stance. See HERE.
None of the U.S. presidential candidates has seriously addressed, or seems fully aware of, what should be America’s greatest foreign-policy concern – Russia’s unique capacity to endanger or enhance U.S. national security.
Despite its diminished status following the Soviet breakup in 1991, Russia alone possesses weapons that can destroy the United States, a military complex nearly America’s equal in exporting arms, vast quantities of questionably secured nuclear materials sought by terrorists, and the planet’s largest oil and natural gas reserves.
It also remains the world’s largest territorial country, pivotally situated in the West and the East, at the crossroads of colliding civilizations, with strategic capabilities from Europe, Iran and other Middle East nations to North Korea, China, India, Afghanistan and even Latin America. All things considered, U.S. national security may depend more on Russia than Russia’s does on the United States.
Yet U.S.-Russian relations are worse today than they have been in 20 years. The relationship includes almost as many serious conflicts as it did during the Cold War – among them Kosovo, Iran, the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia, Venezuela, NATO expansion, missile defense, access to oil, and the Kremlin’s internal politics – and less actual cooperation, particularly in essential matters involving nuclear weapons.
Indeed, a growing number of observers on both sides think the relationship is verging on a new cold war, including another arms race. Even a chilly war, or the current cold peace, could be more dangerous than its predecessor, for three reasons:
First, its front line will not be in Berlin or the Third World, but on Russia’s own borders, where U.S. and NATO military power is increasingly ensconced.
Second, lethal dangers inherent in Moscow’s impaired controls over its vast stockpiles of materials of mass destruction and thousands of missiles on hair-trigger alert, a legacy of the state’s disintegration in the 1990s, exceed any such threats in the past.
And third, also unlike before, there is no effective opposition to hawkish policies in Washington or Moscow – only influential proponents and cheerleaders.
How did it come to this?………
The article concludes –
American presidential campaigns are supposed to discuss such vital issues, but Senators John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama have not done so. Instead, each has pledged to be less “soft” on the Kremlin, to continue the encirclement of Russia and the hectoring “democracy promotion” policy, both of which have only undermined U.S. security and Russian democracy since the 1990s.
To be fair, no influential actors in American politics, including the media, have asked more of the candidates. They should do so now before another chance is lost – in Washington and in Moscow.
Stephen F. Cohen is professor of Russian studies at New York University.
And guess which famous American is at the forefront of advocating a new American-Russian alliance – as yet not mentioned in Western media? See HERE.
UPDATE – May 7th, Senator Obama has stated again today in Indiana his earlier line that speaking to America’s enemies is not weakness but wisdom. That offers more than a hint that he expects to change round some of America’s international relationships. The passing of Bush will open up many new options, nowhere more so than in the European theatre and with Russia.