The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Cold War III? The state of Russian-US relations

August 16, 2008

I received a very thoughtful email on the current chill in US-Russian relations:

The timing certainly makes a clear statement, but haven’t we basically told the Russians that we are deploying these systems whether they like it or not? At least in public statements, it hasn’t seemed like this was even remotely negotiable.

Given Lavrov’s comments Thursday about WTO membership, it seems like they are willing to write this stuff off–we weren’t going to budge anyway, so what’s the difference? The carrot can only be snatched out of reach so many times before the donkey decides he’s never going to get it so why budge another inch.

We can certainly argue that Russia is a bad actor (and I don’t disagree that they are often up to no good), but we haven’t treated them with much respect either. In a genuine partnership, there’s give and take, and mutual sacrifice. We seem to expect them to constantly fold to our policy goals whenever there is divergence. In other words, we had a big hand in creating this angry, bitter power with revisionist goals. When they were weak, we bossed them around and treated them like a Third World country (which, in 1992, they kind of were). They have always resented this tutelary relationship, and we seem to have done little in the last eight years to shift our attitude as conditions in Russia have changed.

Sure, we were all buddy-buddy after 9/11 on terrorism, but we are only interested in partnerships that serve our needs. Obviously, we shouldn’t accede to policies that are completely contrary to our interests, but “our way or the highway” seems to be our mantra.

So, if missile launchers in Poland seemed inevitable, what’s the big loss for Russia? The Poles seem like the big winners, as we folded on the Patriots. But as much as the Poles hate and fear the Russians, they aren’t totally stupid, and they ARE protected by Article V. Russia may monkey with their oil and gas supplies, but there will not be Russian tanks in Warsaw or Krakow, no matter how you slice it. I am very interested, though, to see how the Stans will react to all of this. The only thing I’ve seen so far is that the Kazakhs have been generally supportive of Russia.

Robery Farley has a nice preliminary analysis of the military dimensions of the conflict. And Donald Douglas thinks talk of a new Cold War is premature (I agree).

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.