Salzburg Diary: ‘There’s no tradeoffs, period’
VLADIMIR RODIONOV/AFP/Getty Images It’s been one of the recurring themes of the Bush administration: a rejection of the traditional concept of diplomacy as a game of give-and-take in which trading away concessions allows you to get what you want on your top priorities. Nowhere is this more evident than in U.S. policy toward Russia. Allow ...
VLADIMIR RODIONOV/AFP/Getty Images
It’s been one of the recurring themes of the Bush administration: a rejection of the traditional concept of diplomacy as a game of give-and-take in which trading away concessions allows you to get what you want on your top priorities.
Nowhere is this more evident than in U.S. policy toward Russia. Allow me to explain what I mean. The United States and Russia differ starkly on a few discrete issues: NATO enlargement in former Soviet republics such as Ukraine and Georgia, the ABM Treaty and the proposed U.S. missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, the Conventional Forces Europe (CFE) Treaty, Kosovo, the Nabucco trans-Caspian pipeline, and democracy and human rights. Meanwhile, the United States has sought cooperation from Russia on Iraq, Iran’s nuclear program, the six-party talks with North Korea, and a host of other issues large and small.
Normally, you might think that the United States would prioritize these issues and make tradeoffs to achieve its most important objectives. But, as President Bush made clear in Ukraine last week, when he said, “There’s no tradeoffs, period,” U.S. officials don’t believe they have to make any concessions. Each issue should be viewed separately and on its merits, they argue, rather than linked. Ukraine and Georgia should be admitted to NATO because it’s the right thing to do. Russia should not feel threatened by U.S.-backed “color revolutions” in former Soviet republics or by American defense installations in Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Bulgaria. Russia should accept Kosovo’s independence. Russia should cooperate in preventing Iran from going nuclear because a nuclear Iran is not in Russia’s interests. And so on.
The only problem is, the Russians have a vastly different view of their own interests. They see U.S. moves, such as trying to convince Turkmenistan to sell its gas to Europe or pushing to bring Georgia into NATO, as extremely hostile acts reminiscent of the cold war. It makes them less willing to cooperate on other issues; it heightens their paranoia and feeling of besiegement, and it strengthens the elements within the Russian strategic class who see geopolitics as a zero-sum game with the United States as their chief adversary. (By the way, these are the same guys who aren’t so into the whole democracy thing.) For many years, a failure to take Russian interests into account wasn’t an obvious problem because the Russians were weak and took their lumps. But as we’re seeing nowadays, they are willing to make provocative moves such as pulling out of the CFE treaty or threatening to split Ukraine when they don’t get their way.
Now, maybe Russia is still a paper tiger and its bluster shouldn’t dissuade the United States from strongly backing pro-Western governments in Ukraine and Georgia or trying to cut Gazprom off at the knees in Central Asia. Maybe some degree of democratic backsliding was inevitable after the chaos of the 1990s. I tend to think, though, that the United States underestimates how these issues interrelate at its peril. In the real world, there are tradeoffs, and we can’t wish them away.
Blake Hounshell is Web Editor of ForeignPolicy.com. He has been blogging this week from the Salzburg Global Seminar session on
Russia: The 2020 Perspective
Blake Hounshell is a former managing editor of Foreign Policy.
More from Foreign Policy
America Is a Heartbeat Away From a War It Could Lose
Global war is neither a theoretical contingency nor the fever dream of hawks and militarists.
The West’s Incoherent Critique of Israel’s Gaza Strategy
The reality of fighting Hamas in Gaza makes this war terrible one way or another.
Biden Owns the Israel-Palestine Conflict Now
In tying Washington to Israel’s war in Gaza, the U.S. president now shares responsibility for the broader conflict’s fate.
Taiwan’s Room to Maneuver Shrinks as Biden and Xi Meet
As the latest crisis in the straits wraps up, Taipei is on the back foot.