The recent invasion of South Ossetia by the U.S.-trained and -equipped Georgian army turned into a debacle for both Tbilisi and Washington. It also demonstrated that, for the U.S. government, the fall of the Soviet Union on December 8, 1991, did not mean the Cold War had ended. Washington simply shifted focus to the newly independent Russian Federation and continued its Cold War policy of “containment.” Because of Russia’s size, both geographic and demographic, and her natural resources and nuclear weapons, Washington believed that Russia had to be kept politically and economically weak through containment or she would again emerge as America’s rival and a constraint on U.S. foreign policy. The Soviet regime had translated containment as strangulation. Given the nature of the policies pursued by the Bush administration toward Russia over the last seven years, the latter is perhaps a more appropriate term.
The most dramatic evidence of this strategy came after September 11. Through its declared Global War on Terror, the Bush administration used military alliances and military bases (ostensibly to fight Islamic jihadists) to surround Russia, even though Russia had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks on America and was, herself, fighting an Islamic insurgency in Chechnya.
The intellectual justification for what became the Bush administration’s post-September 11 policy of containment was articulated in 1997 by Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski in The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives. Dr. Brzezinski, who has served Democratic and Republican presidents, is described by the mainstream media as a political realist. Yet the ideas expressed in his book formed the basis of the neocon agenda pursued by the Bush administration toward Russia.
Brzezinski assumed that, following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Washington gained effective control over Eurasia. Thus,
how America “manages” Eurasia is critical. A power that dominates Eurasia would control two of the world’s three most advanced and economically productive regions. A mere glance at the map also suggests that control over Eurasia would almost automatically entail Africa’s subordination, rendering the Western Hemisphere and Oceania geopolitically peripheral to the world’s central continent. About 75 per cent of the world’s people live in Eurasia, and most of the world’s physical wealth is there as well, both in its enterprises and underneath its soil. Eurasia accounts for about three-fourths of the world’s known energy resources.
The last two sentences are key.
Brzezinski is also advisor to several major corporations and believes control of Eurasia’s wealth, especially its oil and natural-gas reserves, should be a focus of U.S. policy.
The world’s energy consumption is bound to vastly [sic] increase over the next two or three decades. Estimates by the U.S. Department of Energy anticipate that world demand will rise by more than 50 percent between 1993 and 2015, with the most significant increase in consumption occurring in the Far East. The momentum of Asia’s economic development is already generating massive pressures for the exploration and exploitation of new sources of energy and the Central Asian region and the Caspian Sea basin are known to contain reserves of natural gas and oil that dwarf those of Kuwait, the Gulf of Mexico, or the North Sea.
Brzezinski conflates the interests of the U.S. government and U.S. corporations with those of the international community. “It follows that America’s primary interest is to help ensure that no single power comes to control this geopolitical space and that the global community has unhindered financial and economic access to it.” Essentially, this is gunboat diplomacy.
Despite being a policy proposal for the new 21st century, The Grand Chessboard simply echoed the thoughts of Woodrow Wilson. As president of Princeton University, Wilson wrote about U.S. foreign policy as a symbiotic relationship between the federal government and American businesses.
Since trade ignores national boundaries and the manufacturer insists on having the world as a market, the flag of his nation must follow him, and the doors of the nations which are closed against him must be battered down. Concessions obtained by financiers must be safeguarded by ministers of state, even if the sovereignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process.
After taking the Oval Office, Wilson’s foreign policy toward Asia and Latin America reflected these beliefs. A shared commitment to this feature of Wilsonianism unites Brzezinski and the Bush administration.
The primary objective of The Grand Chessboard was to promote the containment of Russia. Implementation began in 1999 when the Clinton administration supported NATO membership for the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. This was in violation of the 1990 understanding between President George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. In exchange for Soviet backing for the “Two Plus Four Agreement” on German reunification, Washington had promised Moscow that NATO would not be expanded.
By 2004, the nature of Russian containment could be seen in the policies pursued or supported by the Bush administration. Russia had been denied membership in the WTO and was told she could never be a member of NATO or the European Union. Even the 1974 Cold War Jackson-Vanik trade sanctions imposed by Washington on the Soviet Union remained in force against Russia. While fighting Islamic insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq and saber-rattling before the regimes of North Korea and Iran, the Bush administration still energetically lobbied for NATO expansion—its own Drang nach Osten. For while Washington would accept neutrality for Ireland, Switzerland, Sweden, and Finland, it would not accept neutrality for former Warsaw Pact countries. Thus, in 2004, seven former communist Eastern European countries were admitted into NATO, including, for the first time, three former Soviet republics: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
These seven represented what U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld termed a new “center of gravity” in NATO. They were needed in NATO to achieve six policy objectives of the Bush administration. The first was to ensure the continued existence of an organization whose justification had ended with the disbandment of the Warsaw Pact. The second was to preserve U.S. dominance of NATO. The third was to transform NATO from a defensive military alliance into an offensive one. This is an ongoing process, which began 12 days after the admission of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland in 1999, when NATO launched a war against Yugoslavia over Kosovo. The fourth was to redefine the mission of NATO from one limited to Europe to one with a global mandate. This was achieved at the 2002 Prague Summit, which declared that “NATO must be able to field forces that can move quickly to wherever they are needed.” The fifth was to have NATO countries provide bases and troops for current and future U.S. wars. And the sixth was to have allies in NATO willing to use NATO to “contain” Russia. The Bush administration is pursuing this objective by proposing that a missile-defense system (allegedly to protect Europe from Iranian missile attacks) be placed in Poland and the Czech Republic—near Russia, not Iran. As Prof. Keir Lieber noted in Foreign Affairs (“The Rise of U.S. Nuclear Primacy,” March/April 2006), “the sort of missile defenses that the United States might plausibly deploy would be valuable primarily in an offensive context, not a defensive one—as an adjunct to a U.S. first-strike capability, not as a stand alone shield.”
George F. Kennan, U.S. ambassador to Stalin’s Soviet Union and father of the containment doctrine, declared that this expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe was “the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era.” Yet if NATO membership were limited to “Old Europe”—France, Germany, and the United Kingdom—the Bush administration’s goals would be difficult to achieve. In its final months, the administration is actively pursuing membership for two additional former-Soviet republics: Ukraine and Georgia. As a member, Ukraine would pose national-security concerns for Russia. A pro-American government in Kiev would likely be encouraged to expel the Russian Black Sea fleet from Sevastopol in the Crimea, in order to disrupt and diminish the effectiveness of the Russian navy. And all of western Russia, except for its territory with Finland, Belarus, and Moldova, would border a U.S.-dominated and nuclear-armed NATO.
Since 2002, the Bush administration has unilaterally withdrawn from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and has asserted the right of the U.S. government to launch “preventive” wars, to employ tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield, to militarize outer space, and to use force to prevent the rise of any rival power. Professor Lieber remarks that “Today, for the first time in almost 50 years, the United States stands on the verge of attaining nuclear primacy. It will probably soon be possible for the United States to destroy the long-range nuclear arsenals of Russia or China with a first strike.” The new national-security strategy adopted by the Bush administration constitutes a clear and present danger for both the United States and the rest of the world.
As I write, the 2008 election remains undecided. As president, Sen. John McCain would only intensify the Bush administration’s policy. On some issues (such as those involving Russia), he is more of a hawk than President Bush. He has repeatedly called for Russia’s expulsion from the G-8. His neoconservative foreign-policy advisors include William Kristol, the founder and editor of The Weekly Standard and son of Irving Kristol, the founder of neoconservatism; Robert Kagan, identified by the New York Times as “a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace” and “a leading architect of a muscular and expansive American policy”; Max Boot, whom the New York Times called “an influential neoconservative author and policy expert as well as a military historian . . . an Olin senior fellow in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a contributing editor at The Weekly Standard and The Los Angeles Times”; John R. Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; and Randy Scheunemann, founder and president of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq and a former lobbyist for Georgia’s President Saakashvili.
Following the admission of Ukraine and Georgia into NATO, McCain would likely seek the overthrow of President Lukashenko of Belarus in another color-coded “revolution,” followed by the admission of Belarus into NATO. From Vadso, Norway, to Tbilisi, Georgia, a new “iron curtain” would then stand between Russia and the West. (Barack Obama’s “me too!” reaction to the Russian response to Georgian aggression indicates that a similar scenario might play out in an Obama administration.)
The Bush administration has been attempting to cordon off Russia from the south as well. In his 2002 Report to the President and Congress, Secretary Rumsfeld wrote that the Pentagon was realigning its “defense posture” to gain strategic control of what he described as “a broad arc of instability that stretches from the Middle East to Northeast Asia.” This arc corresponds to Russia’s entire southern border, stretching from the Black Sea to the Sea of Japan.
In 2001, the Bush administration established military bases, or negotiated the use of airbases, in all five former Soviet Central Asian republics, in the name of the “War on Terror.” In Kazakhstan, Washington was granted the use of airbases at Shymkent and Lugovoy. In Kyrgyzstan, it established a military presence at Manas Air Base. In Tajikistan, it established emergency-refueling points for the U.S. military. Turkmenistan, under President Turkmenbashi, unofficially allowed Washington use of her bases to provide “humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.” In Uzbekistan, the Bush administration established the most important U.S. military base in Central Asia (“Stronghold Freedom”), at Karshi-Khanabad. It lost this base in July 2005 when the Uzbek government of President Islam Karimov, believing Washington was conspiring to overthrow it through another color revolution, terminated the October 2001 agreement.
In addition to military bases, the Bush administration has been attempting to buy a pro-American foreign policy from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and, until recently, Uzbekistan by giving these states hundreds of millions of dollars, principally through bilateral treaties and the Central Asian Border Security Initiative. For instance, between October 2001 and 2004, Uzbekistan received approximately $300 million in economic assistance.
Russia’s southern border also includes the Caspian Sea. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the demarcation of this body of water has been disputed by Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Iran, Russia, and Turkmenistan. From a geo-strategic perspective, the Caspian Sea is extremely important, as it possesses vast reserves of oil and natural gas. Existing pipelines transecting the sea bring natural gas from Central Asia to an energy-hungry Europe. Moscow has benefited from its control of most of these pipelines. The income and influence they afford have strengthened Russia’s economy and invigorated her foreign policy. In response, the Bush administration has sought to undermine Russia’s claim to the Caspian region. Washington has provided training and funding for the navies of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan in order to “improve security on the Caspian Sea,” which, in turn, has established a physical presence for them in the disputed zones, thereby improving their respective claims under international law.
The Caucasus, including the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, have been a part of Russia for longer than Texas has been part of the United States. There, the Bush administration supported a color revolution that overthrew what it viewed as the pro-Russian government of Eduard Shevardnadze and installed pro-American, U.S.-educated Mikheil Saakashvili. On November 24, 2003, the Wall Street Journal credited the success of the “Rose Revolution” to “a raft of non-governmental organizations . . . supported by American and other Western foundations.” Among the American foundations were such Cold War agencies as the National Endowment for Democracy and Freedom House.
Despite Georgia’s failed invasion of South Ossetia, the U.S. government continues to pursue its containment policy by reaffirming Washington’s support for Tbilisi in its dispute with Russia over the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and pressing for Georgia’s membership in NATO. Under the guise of the Georgia Train and Equip program and the Georgia Border Security and Law Enforcement program, the Bush administration claimed it was simply helping Georgia’s military to fight Chechen rebels hiding in the Pankisi Gorge. As recent events have shown, the real reason was to provide President Saakashvili with the military capacity to defeat the pro-Russian forces in the two breakaway regions and reintegrate them into the Georgian state.
Washington has applied its containment policy to Russia’s eastern and northern borders as well. In Russia’s far east, the U.S. government has a string of military bases extending from Alaska and the Aleutian Islands to Japan and South Korea. Despite official statements by Washington that these bases are needed for the defense of South Korea and Japan from any attack by North Korea, they also confine Russia to the Sea of Okhotsk and the Sea of Japan. Vladivostok, Russia’s largest port on the Pacific Ocean, is effectively surrounded by U.S. bases located to its southwest, southeast, and northeast.
Meanwhile Russia’s northern border is contained by a series of U.S. bases and facilities that nearly surround the Arctic Circle. They stretch from Alaska (which, now famously, is two miles from Russia at their closest point), through Winnipeg (headquarters of the Canadian NORAD Region) to Greenland. These, in turn, link up with NATO.
An economic dimension has recently been added to this northern containment. With the shrinking of the polar ice cap, arctic oil and gas fields have become exploitable. Under international law, Moscow has laid claim to large sections of the resource-rich Arctic seabed, as they are an extension of Russia’s Lomonosov Ridge. Given the enormous profits this region could garner, the Bush administration has dismissed Russia’s claim, while simultaneously encouraging rival claims by NATO members Canada, Denmark, and Norway.
Despite seven years of strenuous efforts, the Bush administration’s continuing Cold War with Russia is unsustainable. The pursuit of Russian containment has led to a decline in America’s military and economic strength. By pushing for an enlargement of NATO, the Bush administration has only succeeded in increasing strains within the organization, undermining its cohesion and effectiveness. New member-states will likely see political fallout as their governments opt to spend money on integrating their militaries into NATO instead of social programs. Political tensions within NATO already exist, between Greece and Turkey, Spain and the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom and Iceland. Washington has added new conflicts to NATO involving the Czech Republic and Germany, Hungary and Slovakia, Hungary and Rumania, Rumania and Bulgaria, and Bulgaria and Greece. Future attempts to deploy NATO troops to conflicts outside of Europe will likely destabilize Europe, as some member-states refuse to participate, viewing such missions as a threat to their national security.
Thus, it is in the interest of all parties for the U.S. government to end the Cold War by turning away from its policy of containment and establishing normal bilateral relations with Russia.