Within the context of a speedily devolving geopolitical roller coaster ride shaped by renewed Cold War era hostilities, an Aug. 5 Politico open letter authored by 103 American foreign policy experts calling for a reset to U.S.-Russia relations appeared to be just what the doctors of reason prescribed.
Admittedly, the spirit of the letter, “It’s Time to Rethink our Russia Policy,” appeared to start off on the right step. The authors began with an acknowledgement that “U.S.-Russia relations are at a dead end” and that “the risk of a military confrontation that could go nuclear is real again” and “we believe that a careful dispassionate analysis and change of our current course are imperative.”
All points were very apt and true. At the same time, the letter as a whole was surely lacking in any principled understanding of causality or functional solution that’s so desperately needed. This failure in thinking was made quickly visible when the authors asserted that all the blame for the sad state of affairs can be pointed toward Russia, which, the letter claims, “challenges our role as a global leader and the world order we helped build” and “interferes in our domestic policies to exacerbate divisions and tarnish our democratic reputation.”
These days, this kind of introduction might be a must to avoid appearing on Vladimir Putin’s stooges list for having the temerity to call a “serious and sustained strategic dialogue with Moscow.” Still, it’s not the best invitation to a serious conversation.
An additional problem for me is that some of the signers are my friends and colleagues, and I hope they will not take my criticism personally.
First and foremost, before any trust-based dialogue can truly begin, it must be admitted that, while Russia is definitely no angel, America should share the blame for the new Cold War that Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev brought to the end.
To begin with take a look at the hot wars in the Middle East and North African nations that are smoldering under the rubble of “democracy-building” operations and military-led regime changes. Is that what the authors meant by “our role as a global leader and the world order we helped build”?
Comparing with the devastating results of such global leadership meticulously presented in the “Cost of War” report by the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs of Brown University all Russia‘s misdeeds do not look so frightening.
The authors of the letter repeat the standard list of these misdeeds that Washington used to impose an avalanche of U.S. sanctions, but ignore the opinions of well-known Western experts who disprove many of these accusations. Take, for example, Russia‘s hacking of the DNC servers. Former NSA Director Bill Binney has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the data from these servers were downloaded onto a thumb drive internally but not hacked from the outside. Besides, since no one disputes the authenticity of the content of the stolen materials published on Wikileaks, it is most likely that the culprit was a whistleblower who wanted to disclose mega-corruption practices taking place at the DNC.
As for the Skripals’ poisoning, there is a long list of experts, like a former British Ambassador Craig Murray who spent a lot of time researching this case and pointed to possible other non-Russian perpetrators of this crime. A recent Austrian government investigation came to the same conclusion.
It is now well known that Christopher Steele’s discredited Russia dossier was actually a product of a Clinton Campaign/DNC/British Intelligence/Brookings institution collusion. But people close to the Kremlin have continued to be blamed anyway.
Unfortunately, all these facts have been largely ignored by the authors but, nonetheless, they should be commended for at least recognizing the present danger and calling for some specific actions like signing a new START treaty, starting a new phase of arms-control discussions and preserving the Open Skies treaty.
They could have gone further in that regard, though by including New Silk Road infrastructure projects across Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East, where the Arab and African worlds are crying out for reconstruction, long-term planning, stability and hope. Space exploration and lunar/Mars resource mining also provide a fruitful field of creative discovery and are embodied brilliantly in NASA’s Artemis Accords, which call for international partnerships while keeping space free of military affairs. The Arctic remains a final frontier on Earth which both Russians and Chinese are intent on developing via Mr. Putin’s Eastern Development Strategy and the Polar Silk Road. Other policies of COVID-19 response coordination under a “Health Silk Road,” new energy breakthroughs, climate change mitigation such as massive scale tree-planting already pledged by President Trump and more await America’s participation alongside Russia and China, which have restated their view that the multipolar system is open to all participants.
The quality of thinking needed to attain these goals requires a courageous embrace of uncomfortable truths that acknowledge both America’s errors and misdeeds in recent years. It also means abandoning grandiose unipolar ambitions in favor of genuine American national interests. A constructive mode of thinking must be based less on Cold War “deterrence” or “balance of power diplomacy” and more on points of mutual interest and win-win cooperation.
Finally, in the absence of U.S.-Russia government dialogue it is important at least to have such dialogue between foreign policy experts and scholars from both sides. As ironic as it may sound, it was the COVID-19 pandemic that prompted important online discussions that do not require travel, visas and, no less important, money. The only things we need are people’s dedication to the cause and their time.
My message to all 103 American signers of the letter: Do not wait for the government; use public diplomacy, identify Russian experts who are willing to talk, break into interest groups and start building a positive agenda for U.S.- Russia relations. Please do it soon — before Doomsday arrives.
Edward Lozansky is president of American University in Moscow.