Wednesday, September 24, 2003

The forthcoming Russian-U.S. summit at Camp David will already be the ninth between the current Russian and U.S. presidents. The fact that these meetings are held so regularly is obviously beneficial, not only for the development of bilateral relations, but also for international stability as a whole.

Undoubtedly, the reduced threat of a nuclear war is the positive result of interaction between Moscow and Washington in recent years. It is also comforting to note that, owing to the improved climate in bilateral relations, the younger generation, which is now actively joining economic and political life, is no longer influenced by memories of the Cold War.

The joint declaration on new strategic relations between the Russian Federation and the United States, signed at the summit of May 2002, stresses that the era when both countries viewed each other as enemies and a strategic threat has ended. It is common knowledge that Vladimir Putin and George Bush have called our countries partners.

Nevertheless, Russia-U.S. relations are not completely trouble-free. In the 1990s, when Russia started on the road of developing a democratic society and a free market, the reality did not live up to the Russians’ expectations. The Russian political elite was then counting on support and assistance of the economically developed nations, including the United States. However, the Russian leadership’s paternalistic mood soon faded when it became clear that contradictions in international politics did not go away after the fall of the communist system. They simply took on a new quality.

The issue is not that Russia and the United States are unable to eliminate confrontational thinking. For example, anti-American sentiments are far less widespread in Russia today than in Europe. Differences caused by national interests and geopolitical ambitions are inevitable when countries are historically destined to influence the global political process. The leaders’ task is to discuss these disagreements openly and honestly for the good of the world and international security.

The logic of the need to develop allied relations between Russia and the United States was bound to prevail. Sadly, the turning point in this process was the terrorist attacks of September 11. Perhaps this development was to a certain degree natural, for the threat of international terrorism is the greatest danger facing the international community today. The tragedy of September 11 resonated with the Russian people, as Russia had already suffered at the hands of terrorists. Accordingly, Mr. Putin’s decision to support the anti-terrorist coalition was dictated not only by compassion, but also by the objective need for combining efforts to face this new challenge to international security.

The experience of interaction between Russia and the United States to eliminate the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and the recent joint efforts between the Russian, American and British secret services to stop an attempt to acquire and deliver to the United States hi-tech anti-aircraft missile systems, demonstrates the mutual good will shared by the leadership of the two countries and the opportunities to cooperate effectively in the fight against international terrorism.

However, the strategic aim of anti-terrorist policy is not only the mechanical elimination of terrorists, but also the formation of reliable and stable international security systems that can work independently of the human factor and any current domestic problems of the parties involved. Military operations alone will not create these mechanisms. In particular, this is why Russia opposed the war in Iraq, especially when the then leadership of that country yielded to co-operating with the United Nations, and international inspectors were consistently conducting their searches for weapons of mass destruction on Iraqi territory.

Although the military phase of the operation in Iraq was completed brilliantly, its political consequences can now be viewed as very negative. North Korea shows why.

It would seem that after the success of Shock and Awe in Iraq, all the so-called rogue nations would back off and declare their intentions to embark on the path of democratic reform. However, the opposite is true. The Iraqi example showed that the modern world does not have the power to influence in reality the military plans of a giant like the United States. Therefore, for some countries, the Iraqi experience only confirmed the correctness of the principle, “if you want peace, prepare for war.”

This is the position that North Korea has adopted, officially declaring the resumption of its nuclear programs. And it should be treated with the utmost seriousness. North Korea is not the Persian Gulf. A military operation in the region could become protracted. Therefore, countries participating in the grueling wide-format negotiations are facing a difficult task of convincing the North Korean leadership to end its nuclear and missile programs. One can expect Kim Jong-Il to put a very high price tag on his compliance.

The issue of coordinating efforts to counteract international terrorism is becoming ever more urgent on the agenda of Russia-U.S. relations. Some time ago, the United States put forward the idea of forming a coalition to fight terrorism. Now, it is crucial to revert to this absolutely correct idea. The United States and Russia could also cooperate more in combating organized crime and drug trafficking. The two countries have a formidable potential to improve trade and economic relations. In this sphere, the famous American pragmatism is currently lagging far behind the business activity of European Union countries, which account for more than half of Russia’s foreign trade turnover.

Based on the experience of previous meetings between the Russian and American presidents, one would like to hope that positive shifts in solving the modern world’s fundamental problems will be made at the forthcoming Russian-U.S. summit.

Dmitri Rogozin is chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Russia’s Duma.

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