In the Russian-U.S. dialogue, metaphors often communicate more than
long, drawn-out discussions. At their news conference Monday in
Kennebunkport, Maine, Presidents Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush
spoke at length about the openness and trust that characterized
Then Putin, in the course of outlining prospects for
cooperation, made the unexpected remark, saying, «The cards have
been dealt and the game can begin. … Let’s hope we are playing
the same game.» This cast much of what had been said earlier in a
It is unlikely Bush intended to draw a historical analogy by
choosing his father’s estate as the site for the talks with Putin.
But the location is full of symbolism all the same. It was there
that the senior Bush discussed the new world order so closely
associated with his presidency. During the first years of his term,
which ran from 1989 to 1993, the 41st president sought to determine
whether he could trust the ideas and suggestions offered by Soviet
leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Gorbachev first mentioned a new world order at a United Nations
session in December 1988, exactly one month after the senior Bush
was elected to office. Gorbachev’s talk of removing ideology from
international relations, of disarmament, of settling regional
conflicts through the joint effort of the superpowers, and of
Russian-U.S. cooperation in the United Nations Security Council for
the sake of resolving humanity’s most urgent problems, came across
as either highly cunning or excessively idealistic.
As a supporter of pragmatic realism in foreign policy, the first
Bush was in no hurry to trust the Soviet leader’s unexpectedly
peaceful overtures. He saw in Gorbachev’s new world order not so
much an offer as a Soviet effort to push the United States into a
less favorable light for the rest of the world. At the U.S.-Soviet
summit in Malta in December 1989, Bush tried to flesh out the new
world order concept by adding some of his own ideas.
Gorbachev proposed a complete restructuring of international
relations. Bush in his turn spoke of the need to end confrontation,
to preserve the world’s «architecture,» and to strengthen Western
institutions. The new world order took its early form during the
first Persian Gulf War, when the United States led almost the
entire global community in opposing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
From that moment on, the United States became the leader of the new
world order and the idea originally put forward by Moscow ended up
as Washington’s calling card. With the collapse of the Soviet
Union, it became a moot point as to whose version would end up
gaining the broadest acceptance.
But the new international system so many had dreamed about in
the 1980s and 1990s never came to be. The burden of single-handedly
providing leadership proved too much for even the United States.
International relations are now suffering through a period of
instability, and relations between Moscow and Washington no longer
dominate the agenda at international forums. The developing world’s
political awakening, transnational terrorism, the appearance of new
centers of production and the increasing political clout that goes
with it, the growth of resource nationalism and competition for raw
materials, the influence of population migration and a renaissance
of religious ideology — all of these constitute another set of
But for the United States and Russia it’s as if the clocks have
been turned back. The most popular question is whether a new Cold
War is looming on the horizon. Seeing Bush and Putin fishing at
Kennebunkport seems to confirm that we have returned to a time in
which Moscow and Washington are attempting to define their roles in
relation to each another.
It is much like the question faced by the elder Bush. What is
the meaning of Putin’s call for mutual cooperation between the two
countries — whether he is talking about the Treaty on Conventional
Armed Forces in Europe, reforms to the Organization for Security
and Cooperation in Europe or anti-ballistic missile defense in
Azerbaijan ansd now even in Russia? Are these tactical moves
designed to strengthen the Kremlin’s position on the geopolitical
playing field, or are they motivated by a serious effort to move
toward a new international order?
The difference between the end of the 1980s and today is that
the interim period has witnessed a great many disappointments.
Russia is convinced that its attempt to achieve a just and
equitable world order has been thwarted by the egotistical
countries of the West, particularly the United States. For its
part, the United States believes Russia is unable to reject its
age-old expansionist thinking or its inherent tendency toward
This lack of trust is in some ways worse than that of 20 years
ago. Then, although there was no experience of recent cooperation
between the two nations, there was hope that this would be
achieved. Now the two sides have a shared common experience that
they both view as negative. This makes it even more difficult for
them to trust each other, as they feel the other will use such
trust to its own advantage.
It is remarkable to what extent Russia and the United States are
currently at odds. Wherever Russia sees areas for possible
bargaining and compromise, such as missile or conventional weapons
treaties or NATO expansion, Washington refuses to engage in talks,
defining them as issues of U.S. national security. And wherever
Washington identifies secondary problems that can and must be
resolved quickly, such as Kosovo’s final status, Russia sees them
as questions of principle that need to be considered in an
international legal context, fearing serious consequences could
Restoring trust is a long and painstaking process that cannot be
accomplished during a single summit, no matter how cordial and
informal it may be. Unfortunately, neither president is currently
in a strong position to undertake long-term strategic projects.
Bush and Putin have their own problems to cope with which, although
different in nature, have left of them with little political room
in which to maneuver. Nonetheless, the Kennebunkport summit has
sent at least one encouraging signal. Putin’s suggestion that the
United States make joint use of Russia’s radar station in Gabala,
Azerbaijan, has not limited the effective diplomacy he displayed at
the recent Group of Eight summit in Heiligendamm, Germany. Moscow
is developing and fine-tuning its offer, providing a basis for the
start of a strategic dialogue between Russia and the United States
— something that has been sorely lacking in their relations of
Even with that start, it will be difficult to build a
cooperative system of global policy. But it is already possible to
formulate agreement on the rules of the game, or more precisely, a
common vision of the perceived threats to both countries. This
alone would be a significant step, since cooperation is otherwise
impossible in such a delicate arena as strategic security.
All of this means that the construction of a new world order is
still a necessity. But now neither Russia nor the United States can
claim to have a monopoly on its design. And the cards for that game
will be dealt not to two, but to many players.