Monday, January 5, 2015

Russian-American Relations 2014: Mistakes Repeated

George Kennan in discussing American foreign policy and democracy notes that we made two big boo-boos during the cold war.  (1) to attribute to the “Soviet leadership aims and intentions it did not really have; in jumping to conclusion that the Soviet leaders were just like Hitler and his associates…” with the same aspirations, timetable, and who could only be dealt with in the same manner as Hitler was. [1]  (2)  The second postwar mistake was to embrace the nuclear weapon “the mainstay of our military posture, and the faith we placed in it to assure our military and political ascendancy in this postwar era.”[2] 

"It is from these two great mistakes that there has flowed, as I see it, the extreme militarization not only of our thought but of our lives that has become the mark of this postwar age. And this is a militarization that has had profound effects not just on our foreign policies but also on our own society… And this habit—the habit of pouring so great a part of our gross national product year after year into sterile and socially negative forms of production—has now risen to the status of what I have ventured to call a genuine national addiction. We could not now break ourselves of the habit without the serious of withdrawal symptoms. Millions of people, is addition to those other millions who are in uniform, have become accustomed to deriving their livelihood from the military-industrial complex. Thousands of firms have become dependent on it, not to mention labor unions and communities. It is the main source of our highly destabilizing budgetary deficit. An elaborate and most unhealthy bond has been created between those who manufacture and sell the armaments and those in Washington who buy them. We have created immense vested interests in the maintenance of a huge armed establishment in time of peace and in the export of great quantities of arms to other peoples—great vested interests, in other words, in the Cold War. We have made ourselves dependent on this invidious national practice; so much so that it may fairly be said that if we did not have the Russians and their alleged iniquities to serve as a rationalization for it, we would have to invent some adversary to take their place—which would be hard to do.[3][My highlight]"

In 2014 it appears that the United States repeated these mistakes (1) to attribute to the Russian leadership aims and intentions that it does not really have; in jumping to conclusion that Putin is just like Stalin and communists. (2) The second mistake it to embrace military instrument of national power as the mainstay of our politico-diplomatic posture despite its limitations in a geopolitical heartland largely outside our strategic reach and capabilities to affect political outcomes.

Question for policy makers: “Is it possible that we may be expecting of Russia [or an other country] higher standards of international conduct than our own?” (Vera Micheles Dean, “Is Russia Alone to Blame?” Foreign Policy Reports, Vol. XXV, March 8, 1946).[4]

[1] George F. Kennan,  At a Century’s Ending.  Reflections 1982-1995 (New York:  W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1996), p. 130.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Idid., pp. 130-131
[4] Direct cite from Kenneth W. Thompson, Interpreters and Critics of the Cold War.  Wash. DC: University Press of America (1978), p. iv