By Jan Parys in Polish weekly Do Rzeczy, July 23-29 2018
The author is a politician, publicist and sociologist, former Minster of Defense (1991-92), former chief of the political office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs (2015-16).
English translation by Ted Mirecki. Used with permission of the author and publication.
What is the true policy of Washington regarding Moscow? Diplomats should consider the firm international policy of the US President, and not depend on opinions of the media.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, in a statement in early 2017, made it clear that the current US administration will conduct global politics in the triangle of USA, Russia, China. In addition, after several weeks of reflection last year, the administration realized that Russia, though its policies of expansionism and arms buildup, poses the greatest military threat, while China is a threat to the global economic interests of the US. This defined the priorities of this presidency.
In 2017 and early 2018, it became apparent that, contrary to the accusations published in the media that the current administration is pro-Russian, Donald Trump has increased the military budget and increased resources for the defense of Europe, including its eastern flank. In September 2017 he signed the bill imposing unprecedented sanctions on Russia. In his speech in Warsaw and his State of the Union address to Congress in January 2018,he clearly outlined the security policy of the US, mentioning the threat posed by Russia. He undertook military operations in Syria, military exercises near North Korea and on NATO’s eastern flank, all attesting to the fact that Washington regards the military as an important tool of diplomacy. Trump also imposed additional sanctions on the military and petrochemical spheres, and upon Russian oligarchs, effectively impairing their economic and political interests. In addition, he is striving for increased outlays for defense by the European allies, meaning he is trying to strengthen NATO.
READY FOR CONFRONTATION
The above-mentioned circumstances lead to a serious consideration of the true policy of the US regarding Russia. Despite the opinion of much of the media, this US President is not conducting a policy of concessions to Moscow.
Because our security depends primarily on the stance and policy of the US, especially the politics regarding Europe and Russia, it seems appropriate to discuss the conditionalities of American diplomacy. One thing should be obvious to European politicians – the US President’s information about Russian intentions and arms buildup is such that, despite problems with budgetary deficits, he decided to increase defense spending and is conducting a policy of strengthening American military capability in Europe. What is more – American military operations in Syria are proof that the current administration is ready to confront Russia in areas where Moscow is being expansionist. It is from this firm international policy, and not from the opinion of the media, that diplomats should draw their conclusions.
The question “What to do with aggressive Russia?” – is a question which American diplomacy has been asking constantly, at least since the end of World War II. It appears that the current policy of the US over the past half-century regarding Russia derives from the concept of containment formulated by George Kennan, and many experiences in its application during the time of Truman. We do not have access to actual documents of the State Department, nor current directives of the National Security Council, which are the basis of the current diplomatic strategy. Therefore it is useful to turn to an analysis of US policies from earlier years, because certain modes of thinking among American diplomats and military men, who are far removed from the naivete of the proponents of reset, are fairly constant. Today’s directives are akin to efforts which, with various degrees of success, were formerly applied to international dealings with Moscow.
THE DOCTRINE OF CONTAINMENT
George Kennan was one of the first diplomats who did more than express skepticism about the possibilities of cooperation with the Soviet Union. He was the author of the famous “Long Tele¬gram” containing eight thousand words, sent from Moscow on February 22 1946. It became the basis of the so-called doctrine of containment, which was operative in Washington until the time of Reagan, and maybe even until the present. It is not merely a historic document. It contains questions which affect every administration, including the current one. The telegram proposes solutions whose effectiveness have been tested over the course of several decades.
Later, in 1947, Kennan published in Foreign Affairs an article on the same subject, concerning the underlying causes of Soviet behavior.
Kennan was the one who plainly stated that the foreign policy of the US during the Second World War ended in fiasco – in other words, it was totally wrong. That policy postulated that Moscow wanted to cooperate with the US, and the extent of that cooperation depended on the degree of flexibility of American diplomacy. Kennan believed that first of all, one had to recog¬nize the disparate aims of the US and the Soviet Union, and that these differences could not be ignored or passed over. He considered in essential to strengthen the military potential of the US – a requirement for conducting an effective diplomacy. He further proposed that the US oppose Moscow’s territorial expansion. At the same time, Kennan wanted Washington to accept the status quo of national borders – in other words, to avoid the policy of liberating territories occupied by the Soviet Union.
He believed that negotiations with Moscow were possible, but agreement could occur only on the West’s conditions, and not on new concessions. America was to wait until Russia by itself matures into reforms, or until the time that critical situations there will lead to the collapse of the system.
It was, de facto, a strategy of opposing expansion and waiting for a collapse of the Soviet system. Kennan believed that although the Soviet Union was engaging in an arms race, it would not dare to strike militarily at the US, that despite its imperialistic intentions, Russia will not dare to start a world war with the Western powers. Russian expansionist methods consisted of psychological warfare, building of political influence through local Communist parties and so-called “progressive circles.” At the same time, Kennan stressed that the goal of the US must not be the Americanization of the world, meaning the construction of a monolithic order based on American values. Such common values do not exist for all countries on earth. America should strive to prevent any country attaining the capability of dominating the world or a strategically vital region.
THE IMPORTANCE OF ALLIES
Kennan realized that America needs allies. He saw them in such countries as Great Britain and Germany, but also in other regions, e.g. Japan. Today, there are differences in the nature of relations between European countries and the US. In many of them, both the majority of the populace and a huge portion of the political elites is anti-American. Recognizing the overriding importance to the US of alliances, Kennan directly stated that America foreign policy should not interfere in the politics of allies, nor be conditioned by them. Relations among allies are meant solely to enhance security, and cannot be utilized as an instrument of pressure in any other matter (George Kennan, Memoirs 1925-1950, and many other publications).
It is worth noting that Kennan regarded European countries as an entity; he felt that Europe as a community could better defend itself against Russian interference or aggression. As a realist, he believed that Europe could not be integrated without Germany. So he proposed that the policy of occupation be replaced, as quickly as possible, with a policy of reconstruction of Germany, and to include that country in the Marshall Plan.
Although appreciating the importance of military forces, Kennan proposed the use of economic, technological and psychological methods of pressure. He excluded war as a means to attaining peace, but he allowed for certain destructive methods while waiting for the Soviet system to auto-destruct. American diplomacy should wait, even several generations, until the powers in the Kremlin realize that, without the cooperation with Washington, they will never achieve that which is necessary for the survival of their system. But at the same time, Kennan says, military defenses against Russian expansionism are necessary and must embrace all threatened territories and all allies.
The fact that upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union the Communist state disappeared does not mean that concept of containing Russia has become irrelevant. As in the past, the vital interests of the US and its allies are and continue to be threatened by Russian expansionism.
THE PROBLEM OF GERMANY
Even today, these questions are germane: How to exert influence on Russia? How to lead to a change in its aggressive foreign policy, to have it recognize the principles of cooperation? What to do to make the citizens and elites of Russia interested in modifying the current foreign policy? Is it possible to convince the leaders of the Kremlin that the domination of the world by Moscow is not possible? Is the Kremlin prepared to recognize that the world is made up of almost 200 countries which will continue to have differences, that Russia – if it wants to be a partner – must accept and adhere to the principles embodied in the UN Charter?
It seems that even today there is no method to convince the Kremlin of our point of view other than through positive stimulus toward cooperation and negative ones toward aggressive behavior. The behavior of Trump’s team, and his talks with Putin, are proof that this is the active strategy regarding Russia that has been adopted by the current administration.
As seen over the past several years, ever since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, some European countries often conduct their own policies vis-à-vis Moscow, ignoring matters of security, often only symbolically accepting the common declarations of the North Atlantic Alliance.
In Kennan’s memoirs, he repeatedly returns to the issue of Germany. After the war, a strong feeling of menace from this country was prevalent in many European states. Kennan saw the solution to this problem in strongly binding Germany to the United States in all aspects, so that American would have a permanent control over the situation in that country. That was to prevent Germany from falling within the Russian sphere of influence. American has played that role ever since German reunification. Later, Berlin’s politics became less pro-Atlantic and in fact more friendly to Moscow. Today, the strong economic and political ties between Berlin and Moscow are a threat to the security policy of NATO. Hence Trump’s harsh words to Merkel during the last summit meeting of the alliance. Hence the charge that by importing Russian hydrocarbons, Berlin is financing Russian armaments.
The current international situation is shaped by the foreign policy of the Putin era. Moscow’s various actions in the international arena in that time lead to the conclusion that, given the aggressive behavior (such as the aggression in Georgia and Ukraine, interference in the elections of several Western countries, the attempt to assassinate Skripal, use of chemical weapons by Moscow’s satellites in Syria), compromising with Russia in the area of international cooperation is virtually impossible. Therefore, in order to return to attempts of reaching agreement, sanctions must be used to force a change in Moscow’s foreign policy.
Given the unpredictability of Russian political elites, any sort of equilibrium or equality of the two sides is an unrealistic goal, because it threatens the security of Western countries. This means that, as in the time of Reagan, there must be a departure from agreements with Moscow when Moscow violates them. As Reagan indicated, the policy of détente does not end the Cold war, but lengthens it, nuclear arsenals continue to exist. The world will be safer when the Soviet Union undergoes change, and not as long it remains in its current totalitarian form with an aggressive foreign policy. Changes in Russian internal and foreign policies can be achieved by an arms race, and military, economic and technological superiority. Reagan believed that the policy of the Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”) could mitigate the nuclear threat. Because the system of anti-missile defenses can render nuclear weapons ineffective, and make the world safer. This is also the approach of the current administration.
The destructive behavior of Russia in the international sphere in the Putin era poses for European politicians the same questions as in Kennan’s time: If we reject war and reject concessions, how do we react to the destruction of the international order caused by Moscow’s policies? How to proceed when the rivalry between the US and Russia intensifies, and certain countries, such as Poland and Romania, become the pressure points in the lines of defense of the alliance?
In 2017, Europe underwent changes having huge geopolitical significance. In that period, US troops have moved, in a peaceful fashion, several kilometers to the east and today are stationed where, 40 years ago, stood the Soviet army. That has completely altered the balance of power in Europe. It ensures a stronger position for the US on the continent, gives the countries of the Three Seas Initiative a stronger sense of security, and gives Poland a stronger position vis-à-vis Moscow, Brussels and Berlin.
The era of Putin’s reign inclines rational politicians to again regard Russia as a threat. In the same way, the strong position of the US is today regarded differently – more and more often as a necessary support, not dangerous domination. If it is possible to unite America’s might with Washington’s respect for the sovereignty of smaller allied countries, America’s position in the world will improve. This means that the US must reject both the lure of isolationism and the role of a power exercising hegemony over various states, and assume the role of guardian of the security of the Western world. The US cannot simply reject every proposed principle and be guided by ad-hoc interest or ideologies. America must be a proponent of new ideas and a co-creator, along with its allies, of a new world order. Regardless of Moscow’s attitude.
The summit in Helsinki was a step in that very direction. It did not result in a second Yalta, nor a new reset. There is the possibility of cooperation of superpowers on a point-by-point basis, but that does not mean a change of Washington’s policy regarding Moscow. The US continues to implement vis-à-vis Russia the concept of containment worked out by George Kennan.