On Point: It's a Cold Snap, No Cold War

by Austin Bay

The good news for Russia: Oil and natural gas prices are on the uptick. Thatmeans cash for a debt-ridden nation.

The bad news for Russia: That's the rest of the news. OK, Mir crashedsafely. The Russian economy, armed forces, justice system -- they've simplycrashed.

Despite Russia's obviously chronic condition, the tit-for-tat expulsions ofRussian and American diplomats following the Robert Hanssen spy scandalresurrected Cold War memories. In the eyes of Russian President VladimirPutin, TV cameras caught a glint of old-time Stalinist glare.

Grab your trench coat and take a chilly stroll through Berlin?

Forget it. This is a cold snap in U.S.-Russian relations -- at the verymost -- and certainly no Cold War.

Obviously, Hanssen's peculiar treachery hurts. Perhaps he is the last of the"deep" Cold War Moscow moles. One can pray and hope, and kick the FBI totighten up counter-intelligence operations. For that matter, the Bushadministration needs to re-emphasize the importance of intelligencesecurity.

Spying, of course, is a perennial state activity. In the spy game if you getcaught you lose players. Icy glares and frosty diplomatic notes are part ofthat ritual process.

Washington's Russia policy, however, has been due for an injection ofrealpolitik, and the Hanssen arrest provides a sharp opportunity to deliverthe dose.

  • Realpolitik point one: Russian power has declined precipitously (smell thecoffee, Moscow). Yes, Russia's thousands of nuclear weapons matter, buttheir existence doesn't translate into decisive power.

    The Russians know they've dropped out of the bipolar big league, but oldexpectations linger. Perhaps it's a kind of "muscle memory," but Moscow hasconsistently demanded Washington grant it "special status" within anycooperative defense and foreign policy consultative arrangement. Up to apoint, the Clinton administration accommodated that demand, as part of aU.S. strategy of engaging a democratizing Russia in a "web" of economic,political and cultural relationships.

    NATO expansion and the Kosovo War, however, proceeded over strong Russianobjections. Russian nationalists gripe about American "arrogance."Complaining about American arrogance is easier than getting to work andaddressing the causes of Russia's economic and military deterioration.


  • Point two: The Clinton administration's attempt to use personalrelationships, loans and rhetorical rah-rah to nudge Russia toward domesticreform simply has not worked. The fault lies not so much with U.S. policybut with the Russians' own failure to make essential structural changes totheir system.

    Several U.S. programs designed to foster judicial reform and encourageentrepreneurial creativity were well-intended and looked great on paper. Atbest, however, they have produced marginal results. Russia's problems weresimply too big for rah-rah. Without the foundation of law, the economybecame a mafia morass.

    In 1991, Russia faced a 30-year-long process of change. In 2001 Russia facesa 29-year-long process. Whose fault? Russian leaders. Systemic corruption.It's not Cold War when the Bush administration correctly fingers Russia'spost-Cold War culprits.


  • Point three: Russia's weapons sales to Iran, technology transfers to Chinaand Iraqi policy are harmful to U.S. interests. The Russians pursue thesedeals based on their own national interests. However, it's no Cold War actfor the United States to assert its own interests when they collide withRussia's.

    Any nation that pursues policies which harm U.S. interests should riskpolitical and economic consequences. That's not Cold War, that's statecraft.


  • Point four: Russia is in a political bind of its own creation, specificallyover the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty. Moscow's objections to missiledefense are Cold War fossils. If Moscow wants to fundamentally improve U.S.relations, missile defense is the place to do it. The Russians know it andso does the Bush administration.


  • Point five: There are many areas ripe for U.S.-Russian cooperation. Theseinclude space exploration and counter-terror operations, as well asstabilizing Central Asia and the Balkans. The Cold War's over, this is theMillennium Era. Get with it.
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To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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