Why It’s Time For US, Russia To Leave Cold War Past Behind And Start Anew

by Tushar Gupta - Jul 17, 2018 06:34 PM +05:30 IST
Why It’s Time For US, Russia To Leave Cold War Past Behind And Start AnewRussia’s President Vladimir Putin (R) offers a ball of the 2018 football World Cup to US President Donald Trump during a joint press conference. (YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • It is time for the United States and Russia to come together in this new dynamic world and leave the Cold War to history.

    We discuss the fruitful possibilities that emerge from a potential US-Russia collaboration.

“I would take a political risk in the pursuit of peace than risk peace for the pursuit of politics.” - United States (US) President Donald Trump on the prospect of better relations between the US and Russia.

Close to three decades after the end of the Cold War, critics in both US and Russia have found it hard to look beyond the ideologies that constrained the relations between the superpowers for 45 years. Addressing a group of reporters after their brief summit in Helsinki, Finland, US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasised how much their nations could achieve by working together.

As Putin said, the era of the Cold War is a thing of the past. Russia, even with its increased defence expenditure, autocratic leadership, and annexation of Crimea, cannot attain the same stature as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The US, claiming to be the victim of fraudulent globalisation practices, has willingly given up its role as the world leader in the last couple of years, adopting a protectionist stance.

During the Cold War, the US and USSR were the only economic and political superpowers. The foundation of the conflict was in the ideologies propagated by the respective nations. While capitalism survived the tide of time, USSR’s experiment with socialism ended with an empire broken into many nations.

Across Europe, South America, and Asia, there were allies for both countries. However, all that is a thing of the past, for now allying has become more of an ad-hoc arrangement. Given the intricacies of the current world order, the US and Russia have a lot to achieve by collaborating on numerous fronts.

Moving Towards a Syrian Solution

First, Russia and the US must come together to solve the crisis in Syria. The US has openly assisted the rebel groups fighting against the dictatorial regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad through weapons and monetary aid. Trump also opted for a military response when Assad authorised the use of chemical weapons on his own citizens. Russia, however, has been backing the Syrian president, thus creating a ground for a proxy war between former adversaries.

Earlier this year, there were reports of American forces being attacked by Russian mercenaries, but any chances of escalation were thwarted due to timely diplomatic engagements.

However, Russia and the US have found a common enemy in the Islamic State (ISIS). While there have been several instances of a blame-game between the two nations, the focus must be on eliminating ISIS in Syria, and eventually, across the world. Even with the loss of territory, ISIS, with its global underground network, remains a formidable force.

In the last seven years of the Syrian crisis alone, over 550,000 lives have been lost, in excess of seven million displaced. With the crisis in its final stages, US and Russia must up the ante to ensure a stable government in Syria with a rehabilitation programme that caters to Syrian citizens. For the US, removing Assad may not be the best option, as it could create a power vacuum for another extremist group to take over, as was seen in Iraq in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s removal.

Working closely with Russia to resolve the Syrian crisis, the US must engage its military intelligence and forces. Talking to the reporters at the joint press conference, Trump said how the military forces of both the countries had gotten along better in comparison to their political leadership. In addition, France, Germany, Italy, and other European states in the vicinity of the Mediterranean must be involved to ease the migratory pressure. The presence of both US and Russia is inevitable to the Syrian resolution, reform, and rehabilitation.

No, Germany Is Not Controlled By Russia

Critics of Russian leadership and fanatics of the Cold War on both sides must realise that neither nation can bully a third-party on the economic front any more. In addition, for Trump, calling American allies ‘captives’ of Russia does not go down well with the long-term objectives of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

As Trump rightfully stated, it is time for Russia and the US to act as competitors in the economic realm. Germany, the case in contention, cannot be bullied into giving up the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Even if the pipeline starts functioning tomorrow, Germany would still have additional energy requirements. Trump may claim that the US is the ‘best’ in oil and gas exploration, but for Germany or any other state in Europe, the final decision would be based on pricing. In the pursuit of short-term political goals, no third party can be forced to embrace long-term economic consequences.

Talking of NATO, Trump is not entirely wrong in asking his allies to spend more. After winning a brief war in Georgia in 2008, the revival of Russian military was affirmed after its annexation of the Crimean peninsula. At the NATO summit last week, Trump reassured US support for its allies. However, the objective of NATO must be to contain any threat to the Baltic States from Russia, not to provoke one. Russia, too, must be engaged actively on this issue, for any close shave between Russian and NATO aircraft and warships could escalate quickly into a geopolitical disaster.

Denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula

The Helsinki summit also offers hope for a quicker resolution in the Korean peninsula. While the six-party talks comprising the US, China, South and North Korea, Russia, and Japan are not a priority as of now, having Russians on board aligns with the long-term objective of peace.

As the second-largest economic partner of North Korea after China, Russia can certainly engage with the US to ease any nuclear tensions within the Korean peninsula. Additionally, collaborating with the Russians who wish to develop the far-east region in the vicinity of North Korea, it would be ideal for the US to offer security assurances to North Korea Chairman Kim Jong-un. Again, the presence of both the US and Russia would be inevitable, along with that of the other three parties if denuclearisation is to be achieved in North Korea.

Investigating Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions, and The War in Yemen

In an uncertain global order, Iran, with its nuclear ambitions, poses another challenge. Today, Saudi Arabia, one of the allies of the US, and Iran, backed by the Russians with a promise of $50 billion investment in its oil and gas sectors, find themselves engrossed in a proxy war in Yemen, where famine has ravaged the lives of over 22 million people. If left unchecked, the conflict could escalate into a crisis worse than what has been witnessed in Syria.

In this scenario, US’s walkout from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or the Iran Nuclear deal has not been received well, given that other parties, which include France, Russia, China, Germany, and the United Kingdom, have affirmed their support for the deal. Earlier this week, a report from the New York Times discussed how Israel had managed an elaborate espionage operation to reveal Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Given that Israel is working closely with both the US and Russia on multiple fronts, it would be ideal if a solution can be worked out to salvage the JCPOA.

If Russia and the US come together to save the JCPOA, not only will they prevent another potential nuclear state from going rogue, but will also offer North Korea another incentive to pursue denuclearisation. Any diplomatic process and security arrangement with North Korea will not yield results while a similar process is being dismantled elsewhere.

Fighting Crimean Annexation With Economic Sanctions

The next question is that of Ukraine and the sanctions that came along with it for Russia. First, Russia's annexation of Crimea cannot be seen as a reason for ceasing diplomatic engagements entirely. In the same way that China has continued its overly aggressive pursuits in the South China Sea against US’s wishes and yet continues to be a thriving US partner in trade, the objective should be to find a resolution.

While annexation of Crimea can be seen as a part of Putin’s grand puzzle to reclaim the territories lost after the break-up of USSR, it should not cause a diplomatic paralysis. As it has been proved, economic sanctions only work in a multi-nation deal, like the JCPOA in the past. Also, some of the US sanctions alienated companies in Europe, and hence had to be diluted, confirming their inefficiency and pointlessness in the entire process.

As per Trump, relations between the US and Russia have not been worse. Assuming he is right, the first step is for both the countries to cut down on sanctions and engage business groups in a legitimate manner. While a legislation from the US Congress makes it impossible for Trump to repeal the sanctions, they constrain the diplomatic process for the next few years. With Putin in power till 2024, it makes sense for the US to find a way out of sanctions, engage business groups, and break the diplomatic deadlock caused. The Cold War mentality must go.

Russian Interference In US Elections

Then, there is the question of Russia meddling in the US election of 2016. While the US had indicted 12 Russian agents in the case, the findings must be made public. Besides, independent agencies must be brought on board in order to reveal the truth with respect to the Russian involvement. Ironically, the US backlash does not discuss how the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has toppled governments in foreign lands, rigged elections, or even created dictators like Osama bin Laden to further its cause across decades.

Moving forward, the collaboration could offer an opportunity for cybersecurity alliance between both the nations, and including other democracies across the world, to prevent any such prospect in the future.

Nuclear Disarmament, One Treaty At A Time

Finally, one of the biggest takeaways of the summit in Helsinki is the commitment from both sides towards arms control. While Trump’s idea of a ‘Space Force’, similar to President Ronald Reagan’s ‘Space Defense Initiative’ launched in 1983, was always a no-starter, the two sides must work on extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) that expires in 2021. Also, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) must be discussed. INF, signed in 1987, was adhered to by both the parties, enabled successful inspection and elimination of all ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles falling within the 500-5,500km range.

The importance of collaborating on INF, which many experts on both sides term as outdated, cannot be stressed enough. If the INF collapses due to a lack of engagement, it could rattle the NATO arrangement. Economic sanctions aside, military engagement must make up for the lack of diplomacy when it comes to nuclear weapons on both sides.

US and Russia in the New Global Order

The world today is going through a phase of reluctant transition. While China strives to increase its influence through moves like the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative, and through economic aggression as witnessed in Sri Lanka, its economy, slowing down for the second consecutive year, raises doubts if it can displace the US as the next global superpower.

There is more incentive for the US and Russia in engaging with each other than pursue conflicts. The Cold War mentality can no longer be sustained to appease the fans of bipartisan politics. The US and Russia can no longer bully their allies or any other state into submission through economic or political pressure, for it’s not the 1960s anymore.

The world order today is multipolar in nature. Alliances are formed on the basis of economic ties rather than political ideologies. Russia may not be the formidable force it once was in the form of USSR, and the US may not carry the same power it did in the 1990s, but they continue to remain integral to the world order.

Thus, it is time for them to come together, for it’s a brave, new dynamic world where the Cold War is best left to history.

Tushar is a senior-sub-editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @Tushar15_
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