My think tank, the American Security Project, has teamed up with The Atlantic to run a 12-article series I edited about U.S. foreign policy 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, which happens on Christmas. There have been some really interesting essays in there that aren’t directly relevant to what we write about here, such as the fate of the U.S. defense industry under austerity conditions, how today is actually the most peaceful period in recent history, and even about the global scramble for energy. Former Senator Gary Hart, the chairman of ASP’s board, wrote a fascinating rumination on U.S.-Russian relations over the last two decades that’s worth sharing.
Alexis de Toqueville’s famous prediction in 1835 that America and Russia, two great continental powers, would someday play leading roles in the world was predated by Russian exploration of the Western American continent as far south as today’s California and thereafter qualified by the landing of a small U.S. expeditionary force in Siberia during the Russian Revolution. But throughout the Cold War, de Toqueville seemed prescient indeed.
The shared global leadership between America and Russia ended two decades ago. The 74 year Russian detour into communism can be viewed only as if rapidly retreating in a rear-view mirror. But the end of the Cold War revealed a curious anomaly in U.S. foreign policy thought. Much to the surprise of Russians and many Americans, including myself, instead of rushing to embrace Russia and drawing it closely into Western economic, political, and security circles, we have resorted to reliance on personal relationships between American and Russian presidents as the basis for our bilateral relationships. And we continue to hold Russia suspiciously at arm’s length.
There has been little, if any, explanation of this suspicion toward Russia and its roots in the American mind, or at least in the minds of certain foreign policy experts. Arguably, we have better relations with China than Russia and spend a great deal more effort in tending to that relationship. In gauging how close or how distant to remain regarding another nation or power, the measure ought to be whether there are more interests in common than in opposition. By that measure, our relationship to Russia ought to be among our closest.
And yet. I hinted in the previous post that I’d have some more about what we can think of in reaction to Kazakhstan’s two decades of independence. Soon my contribution to this collection will be out, which will chart the U.S.’s fraught policy in the region over the last 20 years, and wonders where it’s really going in the future (and if that matters). But for now, I’ll draw your attention to the great work our contributors here at Registan.net did in discussing such an important milestone about specific countries.
- “Kyrgyzstan at 20: What Now?” — Noah Tucker
- “Happy Birthday, Uzbekistan” — Sarah Kendzior
- “Kazakhstan — 20 Years After Independence” — Michael Hancock
- “Tajikistan At 20” — Christian Bleuer
Read those to get a sense of what sort of issues we’re dealing with.