Much of the country seems to be in near hysteria over recent developments in U.S.-Russian relations. While there is certainly cause for concern, we have neither entered a new Cold War nor revived one that was merely slumbering. The current frosty relations between the U.S. and Russia are significantly warmer than relations were during the Cold War.
It is important to realize that developments between Russia and the U.S. play out over many decades with smaller thaws and freezes occurring as we consistently move toward détente. As such, smaller freezes must be recognized for what they are, not heralded as the brink of destruction.
Those who consider our current diplomatic situation an extension of the Cold War falsely treat the Russian Federation and the Soviet Union as the same entity. They claim that Russia has pursued the same goals and used the same tactics she has had since the end of World War II.
While it is true that Russia did not embrace western ways of capitalism and liberalism in 1945 and has yet to do so fully, the active goals of Russia have evolved. Russia’s policy during the Cold War was not only rejection of western ways, but also attack upon the West. When the USSR dissolved, Russia’s ability to undermine the West was drastically diminished. As such, Russia’s current goals are not so much to undermine the West but to regain past power and prestige.
Thus, while Russia’s prevailing goals do not currently align with the West’s, neither is she likely to be actively crafting a plan to definitively undermine the West. It is more likely that Russia’s immediate goals are to regain the power and prestige lost at the end of the Cold War. Such goals are a threat to the West because a gain of power by Russia generally involves a decline in the West’s power. However, Russia’s current machinations are not on the same order of magnitude as a renewal of the Cold War. For now, the West is more than capable of containing Russia.
Just as those who claim we have re-entered the Cold War fail to distinguish between the Russian Federation and the U.S.S.R., they also fail to suggest effective means of reaching a more stable relationship with Russia. Indeed, some claim that any attempt to reach a normal relationship is tantamount to appeasing a tyrant and will drag us into an unsustainable diplomatic situation. Even when we were engaged in the Cold War, the goal was to eventually achieve normal relations with Russia.
In order to move toward normal relations there must be some sort of common interest, even if it is a basic desire for survival. Those who claim that the U.S. and Russia have no common interests might just as well say that there is no hope of ever having a peaceful, stable relationship with Russia. If this is so, then what is the point of pursuing a diplomatic solution to tensions between the East and the West?
While the U.S. and Russia aren’t going to see eye to eye anytime soon, the common interest of survival has kept us from global conflict thus far. I am hopeful that eventually we may achieve a normal relationship with Russia without acceding to a tyrant’s demands.
While we may not have reentered the Cold War, there is definite cause for concern as a new administration enters the White House with new ideas on what direction U.S.-Russian relations should take. The U.S. has to decide how to respond to Russia’s actions in Syria, allegations of interference in our presidential election, and other ways Russia has been seeking to undermine our position. While we are faced with an important international policy decision, we are not yet on the brink of global conflict.
In order to avoid a larger conflict we not only have to stand up to these threats, we must recognize them for what they are. Russia has not renewed the continuous pressure upon the West that characterized the Cold War. While Russia is certainly interested in regaining lost power and status, the country has yet to achieve that goal. What’s more, Russia is unlikely to take the same path to power that failed last time. In order to effectively counter political danger, the U.S. must do the same.