To establish a dangerously volatile relationship between the US and Russia will be extremely difficult, but it must be done for the sake of U.S. national security. The current mutual hostility can lead to a dangerous confrontation that could destroy the American (and Russian) civilization in the form we know it. In addition, Russia can do much more than it already does today, in order to damage American interests and values, not going at the same time on excessive risk. Therefore, the USA must find ways to normalize relations with Russia. Washington should do it, abandoning the illusions and from a position of strength.
Today, America and Russia are opponents who hold different approaches to key international issues, different systems of governance and in many respects different values. Both America and Russia face internal obstacles to relationship-building. These obstacles are particularly serious in the United States, where Congress, the mainstream media and most of the American public believe that Vladimir Putin’s Russia a dangerous enemy, which can be compared with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq or Hitler’s Germany. Unlike China, Russia has been very limited economic relations with the United States, so few Americans see contacts Russia a kind of a positive way.
President Putin has much greater freedom in the formulation of foreign policy of Russia, including in finding ways to improve relations with Washington. However, in times of economic difficulties, and in anticipation of the presidential election in 2018, Putin will not want to someone decided, if he shows weakness under the pressure of foreign countries.
At the same time, Washington and Moscow have to constantly calculate how their relationships affect their closest partners. For example, Russia can not take into account the fact that China and Iran might react, if they think Russia lost to USA in the issue of North Korea, Syria and a number of other issues, especially if the flexibility of Moscow may negatively affect the realization of their interests.
However, the inability to break the vicious circle in Russian-American relations entails real risks. Most dramatic, though, and most unlikely option is a direct military confrontation, which could lead to uncontrolled escalation and, possibly, to a global catastrophe. Many people ignore this danger, arguing that neither the US nor Russia want to commit suicide and therefore, they will exercise restraint. However, it is worth Recalling that the same belief — that the enemy will pull back at the last moment, has made a considerable contribution to the outbreak of the First world war. The truth is that no one knows what might happen if the American and Russian planes start shooting at each other or if American cruise missiles hit Russian bases in Syria. Russia can respond asymmetrically — probably in the East of Ukraine — then there is an escalation of hostilities that will make NATO invoke Article 5. While the Obama administration may have believed nuclear weapons are too terrible means that have no practical use, the Russian military doctrine suggests that Russia could use tactical nuclear weapons in the case, if she is seriously in danger. What is the result?
If not to take into account the nuclear Apocalypse, the refusal of diplomatic relations with Moscow due to the fact that she supports the evil regime and its evil conduct, may lead Russian officials to the conclusion that they have nothing else to lose and that, therefore, they are required to weaken and oppose their point of view, hostile America. The intervention in the presidential elections in 2016 may fade in comparison with the serious ongoing attacks on infrastructure, financial system and other institutions of American society, which is now extremely vulnerable to cyber attacks. A crushing retaliatory strike, the US will not help the millions of affected Americans, and in reassuring those who managed to avoid harm for the first time. In addition, there is a big difference between inability to help the US in preventing nuclear proliferation in North Korea and other countries, as it is today, and active assistance to Pyongyang and other enemies of America to build their nuclear capabilities. If the Russian authorities deem that they are cornered, they may even consider entering into agreements with ISIS (a terrorist organization banned in Russia — approx. ed.) and other entities, against which they act today.
In addition, Russia can with a vengeance to strengthen ties with China. In relations between Russia and China remains quite strong, mutual suspicion, and in many ways, China is a much stronger country. Although both Moscow and Beijing are interested in normal relations with Washington and is unlikely to want to go too far, provoking a serious conflict, they are afraid of Washington, and his actions annoy them. They continue to converge in economic and military senses and to coordinate its foreign policy. Both Moscow and Beijing are concerned that they are surrounded on all sides by US allies, and that America continues to strengthen its missile defense system, which threatened their capacity to launch a preemptive strike. At least, the worse that Russian-American relations, the more the rising China can count on Russia’s support in case of any disagreements with the United States. Such whipping of China can not contradict the national interests of the United States.
To avoid these costs, any responsible us government must seek to normalize relations with Russia. The goal should be not to become friends if allies is impossible. Instead, Washington should establish a dialogue to avoid unintended military confrontation, to try to more effectively handle disagreements and from time to time to cooperate in those areas where interests and priorities overlap.
To follow such an approach, it is necessary to clearly explain to Congress and the American public, what the national interests are now at stake. It also requires that the President was constantly focused on this issue close attention and appointed to posts of people who support such an approach and who are able to stick with it. The positive chemistry between the two presidents is important, but it should not serve as a basis, but rather a tool of American policy.
Obstacles to find a new approach to relations with Russia are so numerous and impressive that many may deem that the President of Trump should not waste their time, energy, and quite limited political capital. However, if the situation will develop under the worst scenario, all may end nuclear conflict. From America it would be extremely foolish to spend so much effort on fighting imaginary nuclear cloud in Iraq and to ignore the much more serious risks associated with discord in its relations with Russia.
The main goal of any American administration is the protection and security of the American people. That is why any responsible administration should seek more stable relations with Russia. That is why every new administration since the end of the cold war, he tried to achieve. No matter how meaningless can seem these attempts, the US cannot afford to shrug off diplomatic relations with Moscow. If they don’t do it, it can turn into an extremely destructive self-fulfilling prophecy that can undermine the foundations of U.S. national security and the process of implementing their foreign policy objectives around the world.
Dimitri Simes is President of the Center for the national interest, publisher of The National Interest.