Monday, January 02, 2017

Realism and US-Russia policy

Gilbert Doctorow of the American Committee for East West Accord looks at Henry Kissinger's views on Russian foreign policy in Trump and Revenge of the ‘Realists’ Consortium News 12/31/2016. He argues that despite his reputation as a scholar-statesman - and war criminal - Kissinger's basic view of Russian policy assumption in some ways is surprisingly simplistic:

... Kissinger’s thinking about Russian history is so clear one might imagine he knows what he is talking about. The question is of key importance because the Realist School is built upon the assumption that one can accurately appraise the strengths of all players and that one has a solid knowledge of the history and traditions of the players. In this it distinguishes itself from idealism, with its focus on universal values and disinterest in regional knowledge.

From Kissinger’s own academic career in studying European diplomacy in the Nineteenth Century, Russia should have been on his plate, given that the country was one of the three decisive players in the first half of the century (Holy Alliance) and one of the five or six decisive players in the second half of the century. However, that was manifestly not the case.

Kissinger is widely reputed to be a voracious reader. Yet, it is obvious that Russia has never and does not now figure among the topics he reads. In Diplomacy, for his analysis of Russia, he relied on the very dated Nineteenth Century classics of Russian history like Vasily Klyuchevsky that he read in translation during his graduate student days at Harvard.

Klyuchevsky is unquestionably a good starting point for students of Russian history. He was the father of the historiography that came down to Kissinger in the person of Michael Karpovich, the founder of Russian studies at Harvard. But his notion of Russia’s manifest destiny of borders moving out across the Eurasian land mass was part of a Liberal and anti-tsarist historiography. By today’s standards, reading Klyuchevsky has mainly curiosity value. To put the issue in terms closer to an American reader, it is as if Kissinger were using de Tocqueville as the key source for writing about contemporary America.
Doctorow also discusses the mixed nature of on Kissinger's positions on Russia. On the one hand, he places Kissinger "squarely among those responsible for getting us into the confrontation with Russia that reached its climax under Barack Obama." And, "beginning in the 1990s, Henry Kissinger modified his message of realism to accommodate the then-dominant American school of idealism, or values-based foreign policy."

But he also gives Kissinger credit for a more pragmatic, realistic view of Russia than that shared by neoconservatives and liberal hawks: "he is correctly perceived as a champion of the art of diplomacy, which is another word for compromise and deal-making. It is precisely diplomacy that has been sorely lacking in the U.S. government in recent decades. Under both Republican and Democratic presidents, ideology has held sway at the State Department and in the White House."

Doctorow also calls attention to this Spiegel interview, 'Do We Achieve World Order Through Chaos or Insight?' 11/13/2014, in which the former Secretary of State says:

SPIEGEL: So let's talk about a concrete example: How should the West react to the Russian annexation of Crimea? Do you fear this might mean that borders in the future are no longer incontrovertible?

Kissinger: Crimea is a symptom, not a cause. Furthermore, Crimea is a special case. Ukraine was part of Russia for a long time. You can't accept the principle that any country can just change the borders and take a province of another country. But if the West is honest with itself, it has to admit that there were mistakes on its side. The annexation of Crimea was not a move toward global conquest. It was not Hitler moving into Czechoslovakia.

SPIEGEL: What was it then?

Kissinger: One has to ask one's self this question: Putin spent tens of billions of dollars on the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The theme of the Olympics was that Russia is a progressive state tied to the West through its culture and, therefore, it presumably wants to be part of it. So it doesn't make any sense that a week after the close of the Olympics, Putin would take Crimea and start a war over Ukraine. So one has to ask one's self why did it happen?

SPIEGEL: What you're saying is that the West has at least a kind of responsibility for the escalation?

Kissinger: Yes, I am saying that. Europe and America did not understand the impact of these events, starting with the negotiations about Ukraine's economic relations with the European Union and culminating in the demonstrations in Kiev. All these, and their impact, should have been the subject of a dialogue with Russia. This does not mean the Russian response was appropriate.

SPIEGEL: It seems you have a lot of understanding for Putin. But isn't he doing exactly what you are warning of -- creating chaos in eastern Ukraine and threatening sovereignty?

Kissinger: Certainly. But Ukraine has always had a special significance for Russia. It was a mistake not to realize that.

SPIEGEL: Relations between the West and Russia are tenser now than they have been in decades. Should we be concerned about the prospects of a new Cold War?

Kissinger: There clearly is this danger, and we must not ignore it. I think a resumption of the Cold War would be a historic tragedy. If a conflict is avoidable, on a basis reflecting morality and security, one should try to avoid it.

SPIEGEL: But didn't the annexation of Crimea by Russia force the EU and US to react by imposing sanctions?

Kissinger: One, the West could not accept the annexation; some countermeasures were necessary. But nobody in the West has offered a concrete program to restore Crimea. Nobody is willing to fight over eastern Ukraine. That's a fact of life. So one could say we don't have to accept it, and we do not treat Crimea as a Russian territory under international law -- just as we continued to treat the Baltic states as independent throughout Soviet rule. [my emphasis in italics]
Doctorow also observes of Kissinger's 2001 book Does America Need a Foreign Policy?:

In his specific remarks on how America should conduct its foreign policy towards Russia, he urged moderation, continued readiness to assist the country with its transition to democracy and free markets, and attentiveness to Russia’s voice in international forums.

Note especially his comment on prospective NATO expansion into the Baltic States, which Kissinger believed in 2001 would be provocative, saying it would put NATO forces within 30 miles of St Petersburg, one of Russia’s largest population centers. He correctly foresaw that “Advancing the NATO integrated command this close to key centers of Russia might mortgage the possibilities of relating Russia to the emerging world order as a constructive member.”
Doctorow also describes what he calls "the soft underbelly of Realpolitik: realism can be only as useful as the expertise and judgment of its practitioner." Although that broad characterization could be made of any foreign policy approach, it's useful here in calling attention to the fact that the pragmatic calculations that the Realist school of foreign policy offers to provide can be highly misleading and even dysfunctional if the key information and assumptions are insufficiently grounded.

Eric Levitz takes a look at some of the anti-Russian hawkish sentiments among some foreign policy figures associated with the President-elect's incoming administration, Trump Allies Argue That Obama’s Sanctions on Russia Are Too Weak New York 12/30/2016:

The Heritage Foundation — which has played a central role in staffing Trump’s White House — argues that Obama’s sanctions are “too little, too late.” Is this the conservative think tank’s sly attempt to pressure Trump into adopting an even more hard-line stance against Russia?

Meanwhile, the man who was one mustache away from becoming Trump’s deputy secretary of State offered similar talking points on Fox News.

“I don’t think they will have much impact at all,” John Bolton said of the Obama administration’s sanctions on Friday. “The Russians have walked all over the Obama administration for eight years. It’s really been a pathetic performance. So what this last burst of activity has to do is hard to say. I do think it’s intended to try and box the Trump administration in. I think it will fail. This is simply an executive order. If President Trump decides to reverse it, it’s easy enough to do.”

Bolton went on to accuse the Obama administration of having “politicized” the process of intelligence gathering — a claim that’s belied by the president’s decision not to impose sanctions or release detailed intelligence reports until after Election Day. Nonetheless, Bolton suggested that Trump was correct to treat public intelligence reports with some skepticism.
Of course, it remains to be seen which of the major foreign policy factions in the incoming administration (neocons, America Firsters, Islamophobes) becomes the most significant.

International relations scholarship uses a term that doesn't seem to have become very common in the public discussions of Russian policy with neighboring states, "de facto states," to describe situations like South Ossetia in Georgia. Sergey Markedonov writes in De facto statehood in Eurasia: a political and security phenomenon Caucasus Survey 3:3 (2015):

... new internationally recognized states are not the only result of the Soviet Union’s dissolution. Another major consequence was the appearance of new formations also declaring their sovereignty. Known variously as “unrecognized states”, “quasi/pseudo-states” or “breakaway republics”, they play a significant role in geopolitical rivalries, conflict resolution processes and post-Soviet nation-building development despite a lack of formal-juridical recognition. In this article, we use the academically and politically neutral term “de facto states” to describe them.

De facto statehood is not, however, a phenomenon or product exclusively associated with the Soviet (or, to include the former Yugoslavia, socialist) disintegrations. Entities emerging as a result of revolutions, various practices of national self-determination (which was post-factum called liberation), or foreign policy games, but which did not gain broad or even limited recognition, had existed long before 1991. Even some European countries, such as France (after the French Revolution), the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium and Ireland, were not recognized for some period of time in the past. The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and the USSR existed for some time without international recognition (e.g. the USA recognized the “new realities in Eurasia” only in 1933). The People’s Republic of China had no representation in the United Nations (UN) from 1949 to 1971. China’s interests were represented by the Republic of China (Taiwan). The situation changed only after the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 2758 (“Restoration of the Lawful Rights of the People’s Republic of China in the United Nations”) on 25 October 1971.

Nevertheless, the Soviet Union’s disintegration produced an impressive list of entities that exist in reality but lack recognition by UN member countries. At present, there are six such entities: Abkhazia, South Ossetia, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), the Transnistrian Moldovan Republic and the two alleged People’s Republics of Donbass (in south-eastern Ukraine). Two of these, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, have received limited recognition by individual countries. [my emphasis]
Crimea does not count as a "de facto state" in the same sense as those entities, because Crimea has been integrated into the nation of Russia itself, despite the widespread lack of international recognition of that annexation.

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