The Sources of American Conduct

9 february 2005

Alexei Bogaturov is professor and First Deputy Principal of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Russian Foreign Ministry. He holds a Doctorate in Political Science.

Resume: What are the motives behind American foreign policy decisions? To date, when the U.S. completely dominates the international arena, it is critical to understand the political, psychological, ideological and cultural sources of American conduct in order to formulate an adequate policy of relations with the U.S.

In March 1946, the U.S. chargО d’affaires in Moscow, George F. Kennan, sent a famous ‘long telegram’ to Washington. That document remains to this day one of the most exemplary attempts in the U.S. to analyze the motives behind the foreign policy of Josef Stalin and his administration. In July 1947, Foreign Affairs published that document in a somewhat modified form in an article entitled The Sources of Soviet Conduct. Kennan exerted much influence on America’s political thought by formulating the key concepts of ‘deterrence’ toward the Soviet Union. For decades, those concepts largely determined America’s relations with the Soviet Union.

Kennan’s analytical undertaking is of interest as one of the first successful attempts to expose the political, psychological, ideological, and cultural determinants of a nation’s foreign policy. Without such an understanding it is as difficult to formulate an effective foreign policy today as it was half a century ago, especially when it involves the largest international partners, such as Russia and the U.S. This article aims to mirror Kennan’s attempt and expose the specific motives that the U.S. elite follows in its relations with the outside world.

DEMOCRACY OR AMERICAN DEMOCRACY?

Confidence in their own superiority is probably the dominant attribute of the American. It is observed among different economic classes, as well as among the U.S.-born and recent migrants. It is observed in the educated and not particularly educated. It is observed in the various political affiliations, such as the liberals and conservatives, and even among those who are politically indifferent. The entire pyramid of American patriotism stands on the idea of superiority. Manifestations of patriotism may be variegated, but they are always reduced to the common denominator: there is much to be improved in America, but still it is the best country in the world. A feeling of superiority has worked its way into the American consciousness in much the same way that injured pride (self-resentment) has worked itself into the consciousness of the contemporary Russian; in that sense, Americans are the reversed reflection of Russians.

For about two centuries, Russians have been obsessed with questions of intellectualism or anti-intellectualism, while vacillating between the standards of democracy and xenophobia. Representatives of both camps complain about the horrors of living in Russia; such self-torture is incomprehensible to the average American mind. Citizens of the U.S. can pass the harshest judgments on any president, but to call into question America’s essence is inconceivable. To the American mind, to debase one’s country even by words is to place oneself beyond morals. Americans love their country and understand how to love it. They have developed a ramified culture of love for their homeland that admits of criticism, while at the same time rules out irreverence – even toward its vices.

There are many things that make the U.S. worthy of respect; however, the average American ignores the true statistics of his country’s achievements. I believe that America’s conviction that it “is the best” would be its key characteristic even if the U.S. were not the wealthiest and most powerful country. Why, you ask? Is it because new immigrants continue to arrive at its shores, while few are in line to leave? This argument is incontestable in mass consciousness. Why are Russians loath to admit that hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom are healthy and educated, are streaming to Russia from Ukraine, Moldova, Kazakhstan, China, Vietnam, Central Asian countries, and the South Caucasus?

American patriotism has yet another side – a genuine, sometimes blind and frightening, conviction that the U.S. has a calling to “set an example to the world” and to “help” it adopt their notions of good and evil. This is the second most important trait of the American character. The American people typically have a serene belief that their conceptions are good for everyone since they embody the superiority of the American experience and the successes of affluent American society.

It is commonly believed that the system of American values relies on the idea of freedom, yet Americans tend to intertwine the abstract notion of freedom with the more specific notion of democracy, although the two notions differ from each other.

True, the white colonizers to the new continent succeeded in defending their freedom against encroachments from the Old Continent. Their efforts were assisted by the democratic organization of the North American colonies. That is why deep in the American mind the idea of personal freedom is organically linked with the idea of national freedom. Furthermore, in the American consciousness, the notion of ‘nation’ fuses with that of ‘state.’ Since the Americans have never known (and never actually sought to know) any other forms of statehood but their own, a specific triad of Freedom–Nation–(American) State emerged. Americans perceive democracy as something embodied in the United States of America, not as a type of social and political structure of a state per se. Democracy for them is a combination of U.S. state institutions and practices. Leading U.S. politicians forward the logic that their country is a democracy, while the European Union countries, for example, possess presidential or parliamentary republics. For the American mentality, these things are not identical.

Paradoxically (from the liberal point of view), the American conception of freedom fuses with the idea of state. The concept of the individual’s emancipation from the state did not take root on American soil at once. Since the 8th century, the Europeans have regarded the tyrant state as the antipode of a free individual. In the U.S., the state seemed to be more of an instrument for acquiring freedom, since it was solely due to the state that the inhabitants of the North American colonies won their freedom from the British monarchy.

The idea of the liberation of the individual from the state secured a place in the American mentality only at the time of John F. Kennedy’s presidency, i.e. by the 1960s. This concept was tentatively linked to the commencing emancipation of Afro-Americans. Partly because of that, the idea of liberty (as a combination of freedom and democracy) has a somewhat more unstable ground in the American mass consciousness than the idea of patriotism and vocation which refer directly to freedom (for details see N.A. Kosolapov’s commentary on “Illiberal Democracies and Liberal Ideology” in Mezhdunarodniye Protsessy, No. 2, 2004).

Commitment to such a combination of freedom and democracy is the third crucial feature of America’s political vision of the world. In practical foreign policy, ‘liberty’ quite easily translates into ‘America’s freedom,’ which implies that the U.S. is permitted the ‘freedom of unrestrained actions.’ The administration of President George W. Bush is conducting foreign policy that perfectly conforms to this understanding of freedom, witnessed by the ideological policy of unilateral actions.

The Americans are confident of the self-value of liberty and cherish it as the supreme universal asset. The concept of the freedom of action, combined with a belief in its historic calling, is embodied in America’s mission, which is to carry the ‘light of democracy’ to all corners of the globe. The conviction that America’s supremacy is justified permits it to ignore any doubts concerning the legitimacy of U.S. ‘rights’ and global ‘responsibility.’ The chemistry of all the three above-mentioned properties of America’s political nature produces the fourth property, which supports the idea of global democratization along American standards.

The Americans’ “proprietary” attitude to democracy may provoke an ironic smile, but it is necessary in order to distinguish the U.S. administration’s arrogance from the particular inner feature of America’s national consciousness. The American peoples’ rather bizarre belief in the almost magic omnipotence of democracy is equally as common for the Russian people’s  inborn preference for a ‘strong but merciful’ government and ‘order.’ It is hard for Americans to understand why other countries show a reluctance to replicate on their soils the practices and institutions that have proven effective in the U.S. Their almost morbid desire to ‘democratize’ other peoples against their wishes (as is the case with Iraq and Afghanistan) is a strong characteristic of the U.S. vision of the world. Ironic remarks about this desire produce astonishment or a cold detachment in Americans.

In many ways, America’s approach to democracy has a religious tint. It is partly explained by the high moral authority that preaching enjoys in the U.S. in general. The Protestant missionary preaching to the African slaves, for example, played a huge role in integrating them into American society through their conversion to Christianity. Thus, in the American mentality, the democratization of the world has acquired sacred significance, since its aim resembles the customary forms of religious conversion.

There is reason for sarcasm here. It should be noted that what the Russian people believe to be part of their cultural and emotional self-identity, Americans define as ‘natural totalitarianism.’ Russia was formed on the huge open space of Eurasia, and the Russian state would not have survived without it maintaining a high degree of readiness for military mobilization. This readiness has molded a particular mode of Russian behavior, in which greater accent is placed on subordination than on personal freedom.

Interestingly, the global Communist brotherhood and the global democratic community are the only secular utopias; their power and span can compare with the main religious ideologies of Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. However, Communism has been thwarted, while religion can only harbor dreams of partially restoring their previous positions. Democracy remains the only universal ideology aspiring to a historic victory worldwide.

The mentality of the political elite in the U.S., like in any other country, has elements of cynicism, yet the average Americans’ belief in the usefulness of democracy for other countries contains much sincerity. This explains the intrinsic energy, a genuine pathetic element, and even romantic heroism, which enables the Americans to convince themselves that they are working to enlighten the world as their warplanes are dropping bombs on Serbia or Iraq.

Democratization is, in fact, a peculiar supra-ethnic state interpretation of American nationalism. The U.S. successfully poses democratization as an ideology of multinational solidarity. This is a rebuke addressed to U.S. politicians and intellectuals, as well as a footnote about the character of the average American. An ordinary American has only partial responsibility for the policies of a power group he votes for. His vote, refracted by the electoral machinery, brings a particular group to power, but leaves him with limited opportunities for influencing its decisions on an everyday basis. However, his opportunities of influence are greater than are the average Russian’s chances to influence his government.

An ordinary U.S. voter who does not have enough opportunities to influence his country’s foreign policy easily shakes off any notions that he may be somehow guilty for it. Economic policy and domestic issues evoke debates, but foreign policy is an area of consensus. Despite the seeming split in American society over the war in Iraq, the actual polemic concerns the tactics of securing a victory – whether the U.S. should achieve this goal by relying solely on its own forces, or cooperating with allies; should it ignore the UN or engage in some sort of token cooperation with this international body. When it comes down to the question of winning the war, the Democrats and the Republicans display unanimity.

This type of attitude toward war with an obviously weaker enemy is no novelty in American history. Nor is it new in the history of the Soviet Union (the war in Afghanistan), France (Algeria), Britain (the Boer War), or China (the 1979 war with Vietnam). In the 1960s, the Americans began changing their attitude toward the Vietnam War only with the approach of the 1968 presidential election. At this time, the Republican Party staked its electoral victory against the Democrats on popular antiwar sentiments. The Republicans poured money into the news media and released formerly unknown facts concerning U.S. losses in Vietnam. Journalists, and the owners of the news channels, had this information beforehand, but they waited for the opportune moment to make it public.

“ENDLESS” AMERICA

The fifth feature of America’s unique vision of the world can be witnessed through its Americanocentrism. Placing one’s own country into the center of the universe was typically a feature of the Chinese; this may have been so in the past.

Nations of the small and condensed European continent could hardly develop a “centric” psychology. All of them invented an ancestry based on the legacy of two (Western and Eastern) Roman Empires– the empire of Charlemagne, and the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. The Europeans perceived themselves as ‘parts of a whole’ as opposed to actual centers. It was quite common for the political center of Europe to shift from one country to another.

Russia never quite succeeded in developing the idea that it was the ‘center of the universe’ either. Throughout its history, it cast its gaze on Byzantium, then the Golden Horde, and then Western Europe, investing all of its strength in overcoming marginality rather than positioning itself as the center of the universe.

The U.S. did not develop Americanocentrism for quite a long time. Its policy had elements of isolationism and a tendency to enclose the Western hemisphere into a kind of ‘American home,’ according to the Monroe Doctrine. These concepts did not imply aspirations on a global scale. The idea of Pax Americana budded in the minds of American intellectuals only after World War II, but for America to play the role of the world’s center still remained a fantasy then. Americanocentrism was kept in heavy check by the Soviet Union, and this idea only bloomed after the Soviet Union collapsed.

Americans do not think that the spread of their controls to Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, and then again to Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2000s, is synonymous with expansionism. However, this is not the way that peoples in Russia, Germany, Japan, or China, for example, view it. The Americans think they are tidying up their own house – a peculiar house where the walls “pulsate” and the floor space repeatedly shrinks and then expands. The external walls of this house serve as sanitary cordons and visa checkpoint sieves. From the inside, however, the walls tend to increasingly expand when it comes to U.S. interests.

Any U.S. foreign policy document confirms that Washington includes the whole world in the sphere of its interests. The Americans have the conviction that no other country may have military or political interests in the Western Hemisphere, North America, and even in the Middle East. They have to tolerate the presence of Chinese and Russian strategic interests near their borders, and they view Moscow’s and Beijing’s attempts to set up zones of exclusive influence as encroachments on their interests. The principle of an ‘open door policy’ in the field of security embraces the whole world, except, that is, for regions where the Americans believe it is inappropriate.

U.S. interests represent three partially overlapping zones. The first zone matches the contours of the Western Hemisphere; it is a courtyard of sorts for the U.S. The second zone encompasses the oil-producing regions of the Middle East and the Caspian Sea with outreaches into Central Asia. The third zone sweeps Europe and borders the threshold of European Russia in the West, engulfs Japan and Korea in the East, and envelops China and India. The first zone embodies U.S. security interests, the second – demands for economic security, while the third comprises old and new spheres of actual U.S. strategic responsibility.

International events seem to be the last thing that interests Americans these days. They are immersed in what is happening on the domestic front – everyday social problems, crime, and entertainment. Next, the economy, availability of jobs, elections, political intrigues, and scandals demand attention. Developments abroad, except for situations like the Iraq war, have secondary importance for them. But the Americans view even such stories as Iraq on a purely domestic level; the woes of the Iraqi people do not matter much to them. What matters is the influence that the war has on America’s life – how many more soldiers will die or how much the price of gasoline will rise.

Geography, history, and culture beyond their borders do not especially pique the interest of the Americans. They are only really interested in all things American, while the rest may be of concern only if it poses competition to U.S. products. America pays particular attention to those foreign states with which relations are worse than with others. Fears about Chinese power, for example, prompt government organizations, private companies, and public associations to spend heavily on Chinese studies. An outburst of contradictions with France over the war in Iraq saw the rise of new centers concentrating on French studies. Kim Jong Il’s threatening nuclear program brought about 20 poor (and not so poor) books on the subject of North Korea in 2003 alone – more than all the books written about Russia over the past three years.

The fact that the U.S. media mentions Russia infrequently, and that spending for Russian studies is being slashed, only proves that Washington does not take the ‘Russian threat’ seriously. Meanwhile, U.S. political schools that focus on Russia are going through a crisis, comparable only with the crisis of North American studies in the Russian Federation.

The analysts’ vision will hardly become clearer. The geographic notions of Russia’s counterparts in the U.S. (except professional geographers) writing about Eurasian developments are growing even more obscure than in the past. Since real distances may be deceiving on a world map, one occasionally hears the argument during “scientific” discussions in the U.S. that deploying military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan will increase the reliability of crude supplies to the West. The “scientists” are not dismayed by the vast distances separating the oil fields in Kazakhstan’s Caspian area, which is in the extreme west of the region, and the U.S. bases in Central Asia, located near the border with China. Westerners find all of this unimportant. They imagine Central Asia as a continuous oil pool stretching from Xingjian in northwest China to Abkhazia on the Black Sea – a huge Tibetan-Black Sea oil province with the local people being ecstatic about forthcoming democratization from the West.

RUSSIA AND THE U.S.: A UNION OF THE DISCONTENT

U.S. officials prefer to hold talks from the position of strength, projected overtly or covertly. They also reckon with force and use it in one form or another as an instrument of diplomacy. This mode applies to both versions of U.S. policies, whether they be Democratic and Republican.

And yet there is some difference between the two parties. The Democrats believe the use of force is a measure of last resort, while the Republicans are ready to use it without any hesitation, unless they know that the other side may retaliate with a proportionate destructive power. In the 1950s, this willingness was cooled by the fears of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. However, the absence of apprehension with regard to Russia adds a certain degree of audacity to the George W. Bush administration.

What is the way then to handle a partner like the U.S.? The answer is problematic. If Russia really plans to become a partner/ally of the U.S., it must seek to become stronger without posing a threat to the Americans at the same time. Otherwise, cooperation with America will not be considered in earnest. Washington will never see sense in an alliance with a weak Russia, an idea popularized by the ‘defeatists’ of the infamous Yeltsin era. As for the role of a satellite, Russia is simply too heavy for the U.S. to keep in its gravitational field.

Russia must begin the second phase of its economic reform in order to make the economy less dependent on oil and gas exports. At the same time, this will allow it to modernize its defense potential, reform the armed forces, rationalize and consolidate the government, and simultaneously foster democracy. A refusal to build a viable democratic model would be an argument for subjecting Russia to more pressure.

Meanwhile, the place that a moderately strong (and ‘moderately democratic’) Russia has in the American picture of the world is a different story.

The U.S. has known dozens of instances of partnerships with other nations – from Britain, France, Canada and Imperial Russia to China (between the two world wars), the Philippines, Australia, Japan, and Thailand. However, there have been only two cases of a truly equitable partnership. First, there was the U.S.-Russia alliance during ‘the armed neutrality’ under Catherine the Great in the second half of the 18th century. The second occurred during the Soviet-American cooperation during World War II.

No other cases are known. Historical examples of partnerships with America are that of a powerful boss and a less powerful dependant. Such notions of friendship do not match the Russian understanding of unions between equitable parties or between a more powerful party and a less powerful party, where Russia has the role of the former. We have too many similarities with the Americans, and our friendship cannot be an easy one. Russia is trying to gain more power and hoping to speak more confidently with its foreign partners. The U.S. would like to view Russia as a moderately strong and not menacing country, but it strongly objects to Moscow carrying as much weight as Washington.  

There are several versions of special relationships that may exist between two countries. The first, which can be named Greater France, is being partly implemented today. Just like France during Charles de Gaulle’s presidency, Russia supports the U.S. on major issues, like fighting terrorism, nonproliferation of WMD and respective technologies, and even working to prevent a nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan. Like Paris in the era of de Gaulle, Moscow does not share U.S. approaches to regional conflicts, such as the ones in the Middle East and Northeast Asia. Unlike France, however, Moscow is bound to Washington by an allied treaty and is building its defense strategy on the basis of theories that do not rule out an armed conflict with the U.S.

The second version, Liberal China, has no parallels in reality, yet it may come into the spotlight should estrangement between Russia and the U.S. arise from any American unilateral steps in Central Asia or the South Caucasus, which Moscow may consider unfriendly. This will not automatically mean a new confrontation, but will obviously force Russia closer to China.

The latter is certainly concerned about the dubious U.S. military presence along its western borders, as well as the uncertainty about Taiwan. Neither Moscow nor Beijing want a standoff with the U.S., but their mutual suspicions about the unclear American strategies in Central Asia force them to build a closer relationship. Russia’s implementation of the ‘Liberal China’ version will not scare the U.S.; moreover, Washington may find it to be an acceptable scenario, if not attractive, provided that Beijing and Moscow do not team up in a full-scale alliance against it.

Quite possibly, the U.S. might favor the Russia in the role of a more powerful Britain option. On the one hand, it would be a friendly country and a supplier of crude oil. On the other, it would be powerful enough to support America’s foreign policy initiatives in the deep inland zones of Eurasia. But no one can say whether Russia’s leadership would find this version acceptable, given that Britain conducts a subordinate policy that tends to undermine its authority even among its European neighbors.

As a compromise solution, Russia might consider a combination of the first and third options. Like Britain, Russia would develop relations with the U.S. separately from its relations with the European Union. At the same time, it would be less yielding than Britain and more persistent in defending its positions, like France.
The most rational policy line under such a scenario would be to escape from the embrace of the EU and NATO. Forcing a friendship with the former seems irrational in light of the EU’s attempts to impede Russia’s rapprochement with the U.S. As for NATO, the prospects for cooperation with this organization are not very good. Its old function as an instrument of security, restricted to the Euro-Atlantic area only, does not have value for the U.S. any longer. A transformation of the alliance from the American point of view implies a greater role than simply a European defense structure. It must acquire military and political functions in Central-Eastern Asia and the Broader Middle East, that is, in the former Transcaucasia and the former Central Asia. Should NATO transform in such a way, Russia will get more favorable conditions for joining the bloc as a key geopolitical power of the region. Should there be no such transformation, NATO will be playing an even more marginal role and there will be no sense in Russia attaching significance to it.

Why does the U.S. need Russia? Russians are accustomed to sizing themselves up as a nuclear power, but shy away from mentioning its “oil identity” – standing in line, together with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Venezuela, and Nigeria, gives Russians an awkward feeling.

The Americans recognize Russia’s nuclear essence in theory and have no intention of denying it, but practical politicians – middle-aged and younger ones in particular – view Russia as the world’s leading exporter of energy resources that also has a nuclear capability. For them, Russia is not simply “an Upper Volta with missiles,” but rather a country with a coupled potential in energy resources and nuclear technologies.

Arms control is destined to get back on the agenda of the Russian and U.S. leaders. However, it will only happen with the participation of China. If the breakdown of the old nonproliferation regime continues unabated, other countries will have to join in, as well. When that happens, Russia and the U.S. will have new opportunities for joint maneuvering on defense/strategic issues.

This does not mean, of course, that there is no need for Russia to upgrade its nuclear arsenals. It means that in the foreseeable future, any attempt to persuade the U.S. to view its relations with Moscow through the prism of arms control talks will doom Russian diplomacy to stagnation. Russia’s nuclear potential ensures its passive strategic defense, while the future of active diplomacy requires a combination of offensive instruments in the energy sector, as well as defensive nuclear arsenals. No other country in the world has the status of being an oil exporter with a nuclear shield, and the only nation that may get it in the future is the U.S.
The Americans are pondering Russia’s oil and gas prospects from different points of view. First is Russia’s export reserve, that is, crude from the Republic of Komi in the northeast of European Russia and natural gas from Sakhalin. Next, focus is being given to Russia’s ability or inability to hamper U.S. imports from deposits close to its borders – on the Caspian Sea shelf, in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. Third, the U.S. is pondering the opportunity to affect new importers of East-Siberian oil and gas through China and Japan. The nuclear factor may instigate U.S. suspicions with regard to Russia, while the oil factor generates a constructive interest toward it.
Other factors that focus America’s attention on Russia can be classified into ‘alarming’ and ‘encouraging’ categories. The alarming category would include Moscow’s capability to destabilize those states that are vital for the production and export of crude oil to the West – Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Georgia. Another is Russia’s ability to regain domineering positions in Ukraine, which is a new transit territory allowing NATO to extend its military and political functions to new zones of responsibility outside Europe. Among the encouraging factors, the U.S. lists Russia’s ability to support it in combating extremists in Broader Central Asia (from Kazakhstan to Afghanistan to Pakistan) or, perhaps, to become a partial counterbalance to Chinese power in the future.

REFRACTED PERCEPTION

The caricature of Russia in the U.S. is one of a “failed democracy” and authoritarian. Or it is thought to be a faltering democracy that may either be useful for the U.S. or will damage its interests. Both prospects make Russia worth noticing. American politicians retain an arrogant view of Russia as a beating post, and there are incessant calls “to demand something from the Kremlin,” “to tell Putin,” “to remind that the U.S. will not tolerate (allow, permit);” these are the typical figures of speech both Democrats and Republicans resort to. They use the standard pretext – Chechnya, the Kremlin’s political moves, Moscow’s unwillingness to support the reckless operation against Iraq, or its possible replays in North Korea or Iran.

It is true that other countries come under similar attacks from the U.S., as witnessed in the recent controversies with France or Japan. The difference, however, is that the Japanese have one of the most powerful lobbies in the U.S.; France, too, has many sympathizers. On that background, there are few movements working for Russia’s benefit in the U.S. The Russian government does not spend money on this, and Russia’s big business lobbies its interests in Russia by fanning an anti-Russian hysteria abroad. This is in glaring contrast to how the Japanese, Taiwanese, Korean, or French businesses behave.

Did any of Russia’s oil companies invest money in Russian research at, say, the Harriman Institute, New York, or the Henry Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle, or the Russian and Eurasian Studies Program of the Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C.? It is not surprising then that speakers at American conferences on Russia keep mentioning “authoritarian and neo-imperialist tendencies.”

One thing, however, has changed. In recent years, American political experts in Russian studies have begun reading more often in Russian (Blair Ruble noted it in “Sincerity Is Not Always Bad” [in Russian], Mezhdunarodniye Protsessy, 1/2004). But the contrast between the Russian and American approaches is obvious. A Russian manuscript on the United States will never be recommended for publication if it has few references to American sources. Academic councils will not approve a post-graduate’s paper on U.S. studies if at least two-thirds of the footnotes do not refer to American publications. Not in the U.S. During the Soviet era, Americans had a suitable excuse for not reading Russian books, arguing that the Soviets only published propaganda. Rare U.S. works on Soviet social and political thinking of that time epitomized analytic impotence. Before the mid-1980s, U.S. researchers of Soviet mentality would typically quote the resolutions of congresses of the Soviet Communist Party and the works of official Soviet ideologists, leaving unheeded the shifts that were clearly taking shape in Soviet political science in the form of cautious but quite revisionist books. As a result, U.S. political scholars overlooked Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika and the subsequent disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Dozens of new books and hundreds of articles have been published in Russia since then. They offer a broad array of opinions of new-generation writers – and so what of it? But for rare exceptions (Robert Legvold, Bruce Parrot, Blair Ruble, Fiona Hill, Gilbert Rozman and, partly, Andrew Kuchins and Clifford Gaddy) U.S. political writers on Russia read Russian publications but occasionally. Footnotes quoting Russian materials are an exception, not a rule, in such works. They barely comprise one-third of the authors’ total references.

What does a U.S. political scientist refer to? First, Americans enjoy quoting one another. Second, they use the English-language newspapers coming out in Moscow. They close their eyes to the fact that these articles are addressed to readers abroad, while the Russians themselves ignore them and do not experience their influence. Third, they use English-language books written by Russian authors by the orders of U.S. institutions. The latter category of books is also intended for the American audience, and they characterize only the smallest percentage of Russia’s political and intellectual situation. In other words, Americans pay Russian authors for the conclusions they need. What the ratio of refraction in those scholastic prisms amounts to is an easy guess.

Had the Americans read more Russian works in the original, they would have learnt something about the prospects for their own country from the history of the lost Soviet Union. It might have cautioned them against certain moves.

***

The U.S. uses historic chances to fix its supremacy in international relations for as long as possible. This is a clue to understanding U.S. policies. The danger is that the Americans feel free to use any instruments for achieving this end, including the very riskiest. It would seem that no external force – countries or their coalitions – can halt the Americans’ advance along this road. However, the international environment, which has evidenced marked changes under the impact of multinationalization, may often complicate efforts toward the realization of American global leadership.

The essence of debates in Russia around the prospects for Russian-American rapprochement is the need to work out the best possible stance not so much toward the U.S. but toward the historically overburdening task that it has chosen – proudly or imprudently – for itself.

America’s global strength cannot be considered outside the context of egotism in its foreign policy. At the same time, the world obviously benefits from America’s readiness to bear the burden of global problems, like nonproliferation, fighting drug trafficking, weeding out of multinational crime, normalization of the global economy, solutions to the problems of famines and pandemics, and finally, the slashing of national governments’ authoritarian potentials.

Will the world benefit from a situation where Washington’s “liberal despotism” gives way to a different and still opaque version of fighting for new hegemony? A rise of global harmony does not seem very likely if the international grandeur of the U.S. collapses. In light of this, what is the better option? Should the world wait for a “revolutionary overthrow” of the leader, or should it pool the collective wit and squeeze the leader’s ambitions into a format compatible with the U.S.-designed constitutionalism?

When George Kennan, the inventor of deterrence, wrote his article half a century ago, he despised the Soviet system of government, and tried to feel compassion for the Russian people. That is why his text abounds in cold judgments interspersed with lyrical metaphors. I like the Americans and I cannot hate their system for one simple reason: Russia’s present state order, seemingly seething with anti-American sentiment, imitates the basic features of the American order. This is not accidental and not at all bad, I think. Such is the most significant feature of life in present-day Russia, where political debate continues unabated.

Last updated 9 february 2005, 13:18

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