EU, Europe, France, latest, multipolar world, Russia
Comments 23

A multi-polar world has emerged

Remarks by Stephen F. Cohen Professor Emeritus Princeton University and New York University At San Francisco Commonwealth Club, November 18, 2015

Some of you may know that the small group of us who have been protesting against the American policy since the Ukraine crisis began two years ago have been described in harsh and derogatory language as “Putin’s apologists, Putin’s useful idiots and Putin’s best friends in America.”

Paris should have changed everything but for these people it hasn’t. I clicked on the Internet this morning and there it was again.  So let me begin with a word about myself.

My answer to these charges is that, “No,  I …. not you, am a patriot of American national security,”  And I actually have been since I started studying Russia about 50 years ago.

I started out in Kentucky and then went to Indiana University, and old friends here today can testify that I was doing this many years ago.  Along the way I came to a conviction, exactly how and why doesn’t matter that American national security runs through Moscow.  It means that an American President must have a partner in the Kremlin— not a friend, but a partner.  This was true when the Soviet  Union existed, and this is true today.

And it is true whichever existential or grave world threat you may emphasize. For some people it is climate change, for others it is human rights, for some it is the spread of democracy.  For me, for quite a while, it has been the new kind of terrorism that afflicts the world today.  These terrorists are no longer “non-state actors.”  These guys are organized, they have an army, they have a self-professed state, they have ample funds and they have the ability to hurt us gravely in many parts of the world.  Everyone seems to have forgotten 9-11 and Boston, but Paris should have reminded us of what’s at stake.

So for me, international terrorism is the threat in the world today that should be America’s national security priority. And I mean it should be the top priority for the President of the United States whether he or she is a Republican or Democrat.  It is the existential threat represented by a combination of this new kind of terrorism, religious, ethnic, zealous civil wars––and, still worse, these guys desperately want the raw materials for making weapons of mass destruction.  A cup of radioactive material in those planes on 9-11 would have made lower Manhattan uninhabitable even today.

Terrorists today are using conventional weapons, bombs, mortars and guns.  But if they had cup of this radioactive material in Paris, Paris would have needed to be evacuated.  This is the real threat today.  This kind of threat cannot be diminished, contained, still less eradicated unless we have a partner in the Kremlin.  That is the long and short of it; note again I didn’t say a “friend,”  but a partner.  Nixon and Clinton went on about their dear friend Brezhnev and their friend Yeltsin;  it was all for show.  I don’t care whether we like the Kremlin leader or not; what we need is recognition of our common interests for a partnership––the way two people in business make a contract. They have the same interests and they have to trust each other–-because if one person violates the agreement, then the other person’s interests are harmed.

We don’t have this with Russia, even after Paris, and this is essentially what I’ve been saying we need for the past several years.  In return people say that my view is “pro-Putin” and unpatriotic, to which I say, “No, this is the very highest form of patriotism in regard to American national security.”

So I will make a few points today, very briefly and rather starkly, rather than give a lecture.  I’m less interested in lecturing than in finding out what others here have to say.

My first point is this:  The chance for a durable Washington-Moscow strategic partnership was lost in the 1990 after the Soviet Union ended.  Actually it began to be lost earlier, because it was Reagan and Gorbachev who gave us the opportunity for a strategic partnership between 1985-89.  And it certainly ended under the Clinton Administration, and it didn’t end in Moscow. It ended in Washington — it was squandered and lost in Washington.  And it was lost so badly that today, and for at least the last several years (and I would argue since the Georgian war in 2008), we have literally been in a new Cold War with Russia.  Many people in politics and in the media don’t want to call it this, because if they admit, “Yes, we are in a Cold War,” they would have to explain what they were doing during the past 20 years.  So they instead say, “No, it is not a Cold War.”

Here is my next point.  This new Cold War has all of the potential to be even more dangerous than the preceding forty-year Cold War, for several reasons.  First of all, think about it.  The epicenter of the earlier Cold War was in Berlin, not close to Russia.  There was a vast buffer zone between Russia and the West in Eastern Europe. Today, the epicenter is in Ukraine, literally on Russia’s borders.  It was the Ukrainian conflict that set this off, and politically Ukraine remains a ticking time bomb.  Today’s confrontation is not only on Russia’s borders, but it’s in the heart of Russian-Ukrainian “Slavic civilization.”  This is a civil war as profound in some ways as was America’s Civil War.

Many Ukrainian antagonists were raised in the same faith, speak the same language and are intermarried. Does anyone know how many Russian and Ukrainian intermarriages there are today?  Millions. Nearly all of their families are intermixed. This continues to be a ticking time bomb that can cause a lot more damage and even greater dangers.  The fact that it is right on Russia’s border, and in effect right in the middle of the Russian/Ukrainian soul … or at least half of Ukraine’s soul …. since the half of Ukraine yearns to be in Western Europe, this makes it even more dangerous.

My next point and still worse:  You will remember that after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Washington and Moscow developed certain rules-of -mutual conduct.  They saw how dangerously close they had come to a nuclear war, so they adopted “No-Nos,’ whether they were encoded in treaties or in unofficial understandings. Each side knew where the other’s red line was.  Both sides tripped over them on occasion but immediately pulled back because there was a mutual understanding that there were red lines.  TODAY THERE ARE NO RED LINES.  One of the things that Putin and his predecessor President Medvedev, keep saying to Washington is:  You are crossing our Red Lines!  And Washington said and continues to say, “You don’t have any red lines. We have red lines and we can have all the bases we want around your borders, but you can’t have bases in Canada or Mexico.”  Your red lines don’t exist.”  This clearly illustrates that today there are no mutual rules of conduct.

In recent years, for example there have already been three proxy wars between the United States and Russia;  Georgia in 2008, Ukraine beginning in 2014, and prior to Paris …. it appeared Syria would be the third.  We don’t know yet what position Washington is going to take on Syria.  Hollande made his decision; he declared a coalition with Russia.  Washington as they understand in Russia, “is silent or opposed to a coalition with Moscow.”

Another important point:  Today there is absolutely no organized anti-Cold War or Pro-Detente political force or movement in the United States at all––not in our political parties, not in the White house, not in the State Department, not in the mainstream media, not in the universities or the “think tanks.”  I see a colleague here, nodding her head, because we remember when, in the 1970s through the 1980s, we had allies even in the White House, among aides of the President. We had allies in the State Department, and we had Senators and Members of the House who were pro-detente and who supported us, who spoke out themselves and listened carefully to our points of view.  None of this exists today.  Without this kind of openness and advocacy in a democracy, what can we do?  We can’t throw bombs to get attention; we can’t get printed in mainstream media, we can’t be heard across the country.  This lack of debate in our society is exceedingly dangerous.

My next point is a question: Who is responsible for this new Cold War?  I don’t ask this question because I want to point a finger at anyone.  I am interested in a change in U.S. policy that can only come from the White House, although Congress could help. But we need to know what went wrong with the U.S.-Russia relationship after the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, and why…. or there won’t be any new thinking.  And there will be no new policy. At this point, there is no new thinking in the American political-media establishment.  There is a lot of new thinking in the European Parliament.  There is a lot of angst in the French media and in Germany and in the Netherlands and even Cameron in London is rethinking.

The position of the current American political media establishment is that this new Cold War is all Putin’s fault––all of it, everything. We in America didn’t do anything wrong. At every stage, we were virtuous and wise and Putin was aggressive and a bad man. And therefore, what’s to rethink? Putin has to do all of the rethinking, not us.

I disagree.  And this is what has brought the outrageous attacks down on me and my colleagues.  I was raised in Kentucky on the adage,  “There are two sides to every story.”  And these people are saying, “No, to this story, the history of Russian and American relations, there is only one side.  There is no need to see any of it through the other side’s eyes.  Just get out there and repeat the “conventional mainstream establishment narrative.”  If we continue doing this, and don’t address the existing situation, we are going to have another “Paris” and not only in the United States.

This is why I say we must be patriots of America’s national security and rethink everything.  For whatever reason, the Clinton Administration declared a “winner-takes-all policy” toward Post-Soviet Russia.  It said,  “We won the Cold War.”  This isn’t true.  Jack Matlock , former Ambassador to Moscow during the Reagan-Gorbachev era, explains in his books what happened as he stood by Reagan’s side at every step of the negotiations with Gorbachev.  The reality is that the Clinton administration adopted unwise policies in its winner-take-all approach. What were the consequences of these policies?  There were a lot of consequences.  The worst was, it blew the chance for a strategic partnership with Russia at a turning point moment in history.

The four U.S. policies that have most offended Russia and still offend them today are obviously the following:

1)  The decision to expand NATO right to Russia’s borders:  It’s nonsense when we say Putin has violated the Post-Cold War order of Europe. Russia was excluded from the post-Cold War order of Europe by NATO’s expansion.  Russia was pushed “somewhere out there” (beyond a zone of security).  Russia kept saying, “Let’s do a Pan European Security Arrangement like Gorbachev and Reagan proposed.”  The NATO-expanders said, “This is not military, this is about democracy and free trade, it’s going to be good for Russia, swallow your poison with a smile.”  And when the Russians had no choice in the 1990s, they did;  but when they grew stronger and had a choice, they no longer stood by silently.

Russia started pushing back, as any Russian leader would have done who was sober and had the support his own country.  I don’t say this as a joke.  By the end, Yeltsin could barely walk.  He was pushed out of the presidency, he didn’t resign voluntarily.  But the point is, anyone could have predicted this situation back in the 1990s––and some of us did so, often and as loudly as we were permitted.

2)  The refusal on the part of the  United States to negotiate on missile defense: Missile defense is now a NATO project.  That means missile defense installations, whether on land or sea (sea is more dangerous) are now part of NATO expansion and its encirclement of Russia.  Missile defense is part of the same military system.  Russians are absolutely convinced that it is targeted at their nuclear retaliatory capabilities.  We say, “Oh no, it’s about Iran, it’s not about you.”  But go talk to Ted Postel at MIT.  He explains that latter-stage missile defense is an offensive weapon that can hit Russia’s installations.  It also violates the IMF Agreement because it can fire cruise missiles. Meanwhile we are accusing Russia of developing cruise missiles again; and they have begun doing so again because we are back in an unnecessary tit-for-tat arms race for the first time in many years.

3)  Meddling in Russia’s internal affairs in the name of democracy promotion:  In addition to funding the National Endowment for Democracy’s “opposition politics” programs across Russia and Ukraine––are you aware that when Medvedev was President of Russia and Ms. Clinton and Michael McFaul had their wondrous “reset” (which was a rigged diplomatic game if you looked at the terms of it), that Vice President  Biden went to Moscow State University and said that Putin should not return to the presidency. He then said it directly to Putin’s face.  Imagine, Putin comes here in the next few weeks and tells Rubio or Clinton they should drop out of the U.S. presidential race!

Are there any red lines left anymore when it comes to our behavior toward Russia.  Do we have the right to say or do anything we wish?  This extends to everything, and it certainly extends to politics.  The White House simply can’t keep its mouth shut, being egged on by vested anti-Russian lobbies and mainstream media.  We all believe in democracy, but like it or not, we will not be able to impose democracy on Russia; and if we could, we might not like the democratic outcomes that might result.

So ask yourself, is there a Russian position that needs to be carefully thought through in the aftermath of Paris?  And does Russia have any legitimate interests in the world at all?  And if so, what are they?  What about their borders?  Do they have legitimate interests in Syria?

4)  My last point is a prescriptive hope (until Paris, I didn’t think there was much hope at all). Now there is still a chance to achieve the lost partnership with Russia, at least in three realms.

  • Ukraine:  You know what the Minsk Accords are. They were formulated by Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande,  Ukraine’s President Poroshenko and President Putin.  They call for a negotiated end to the civil war in Ukraine.  They recognize that the conflict has been primarily a civil war and only secondarily a matter of Russian aggression.  I don’t care what American mainstream media says––this has been basically a Ukrainian civil war.  To put an end to that civil war would be exceedingly security-building today.
  • Syria: before Paris I thought there was almost no chance for an American coalition with Russia.  Part of it …. and I’m not big on psychological analyses, but at least in part it was due to Obama’s mind-fix about Putin.  He resents him and speaks out about him in ways that are not helpful.  But with Paris and Hollande announcing that there is now a French-Russian coalition, with Germany agreeing, and I would say almost all of Western Europe is on board, there is a chance, but only if the White House seizes the opportunity.  We will see very soon.
  • The false idea that the nuclear threat ended with the Soviet Union:  In fact, the threat became more diverse and difficult. This is something the political elite forgot. It was another disservice of the Clinton Administration (and to a certain extent the first President Bush in his re-election campaign) saying that the nuclear dangers of the preceding Cold War era no longer existed after 1991. The reality is that the threat grew, whether by inattention or accident, and is now more dangerous than ever.

Last year, in an unwise pique of anger, Russia withdrew from the Nunn-Lugar Initiative which you may remember was one of the wisest pieces of legislation that Congress ever passed.  In the 1990s, we gave Russia money to lock down and secure their materials for making weapons of mass destruction. In addition we paid salaries to their scientists who knew how to make and use these materials and who might otherwise have gone to Syria, Yemen or the Caucasus to sell their knowledge in order to employ themselves. Russia did withdraw but said it wants to renegotiate Nunn-Lugar on different terms.  The White House has refused.  After Paris, one hopes that Obama picked up the phone and said, “I’m sending someone over, let’s get this done.”

Unfortunately, today’s reports seem to indicate that the White House and State Department are thinking primarily how to counter Russia’s actions in Syria.  They are worried, it was reported, that Russia is diminishing America’s leadership in the world.

Here is the bottom line:  We in the United States cannot lead the world alone any longer, if we ever could.  Long before Paris, globalization and other developments have occurred that ended the mono-polar, US-dominated world.  That world is over.  A multi-polar world has emerged before our eyes, not just in Russia but in five or six capitals around the world.  Washington’s stubborn refusal to embrace this new reality has become part of the problem and not part of the solution.  This is where we are today …. even after Paris.


23 Comments

  1. Putin is one of us. He took Snowden in. He accused Muslims of carrying out 9/11. It’s another highly profitable Punch and Judy show like the Cold War. The CIA took down the soviet Union for the oil, gave Gorbachev a platinum American Express card and put a clown (Yeltsin) in charge. Now they have Putin.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Nuclear Threat is scary as ever.
    I feel some comfort that Obama has John kerry.
    But i hope it is not a US plane shooting down a Russian plane
    in Syria or visa versa.

    Like

  3. reinertorheit says

    The yankee Cold Warriors (both Democraps and Repugnicons) are doing their best to dredge-up the Crimea issue – to strengthen the case of their gutless puppets in the EU (Drunky Juncky, and Moggy Mogherini) for prolonging their illegal sanctions on Russia.

    The reality, as we all know, is that the Ukrainian Junta in Kiev (based on the methodology of the Third Reich) came to power with American funding and weaponry, and has murdered more than 8000 unarmed civilians in Donbass. Their latest jolly escapade was to pull down the power pylons running to Crimea – a stunt carried out by US puppet Yarosh and his jackbooted goons. Yarosh is a weekly dinner guest of the US Ambassador in Kiev.

    Meanwhile, Norwegian imbecile Jens Stoltenberg has been quick to claim that NATO “stands by its member Turkey in shooting down the Russian warplane”.

    Like

  4. William Maliha, MD says

    Agree with all points with one major caveat: Russia, or more correctly the USSR enslaved all of Eastern Europe for 45 years. Do we just forget, the invasions of Hungry, Czechoslovakia, and the Berlin blockade? Do we forget that Russia continued the war with Japan for two weeks after Japan surrendered so as to occupy Manchuria. Do we simply ignore the Korean war? Dr. Cohen is suggesting that we treat Russia as a partner. This is the same mistake that Stalin made when he signed a non aggression pact with Hitler. Yes, the US has made many, many mistakes. Yes we have been arrogant. and often selfish. Yes, I agree that Viet Nam was a horrendous tragedy and that the second war in Iraq was a mistake at best, and potentially a war crime at worst. BUT we have done nothing that compares with the Russian behavior in Europe after WW 2. As for declaring that Ukraine is essentially a civil war: Russia now owns Crimea. That is not the manifestation of a civil war. That is simple naked aggression, and this, after the Russians guaranteed Ukrainian sovereignty after Ukraine turned over its nuclear weapons. This is the same nonsense that Hitler used when he invaded Czechoslovakia; he was liberating his German comrades. Russia has a very long expansionist, imperialistic history. To think that this would end simply because its experiment with communism failed is fairy dust. I don’t see Dr. Cohen as an apologist for Putin. I think it is something else, but I don’t believe a public forum is the place to voice such concerns. I would only add that it was this same kind of rationalization that led the Jews in Germany not to recognize the the existential threat that Hitler was to their survival. At that time, some tried to raise the alarm, but they ultimately were silenced by the self deluding rationalists who were in the majority at that time.
    When I lived in Saudi Arabia, I came to believe that the Islamic culture of that region was several hundred years behind the Western world in its thinking and beliefs and thus represented a threat to world peace. Similarly, I believe Russia is many decades behind the West in its thinking and beliefs, and thus also represents the same threat to world peace.

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    • i think you’ll find the Japanese were the occupirs of Manchuria. After Russia routed them Manchuria was given back to it’s rightful owners the Chinese

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Maliha, why do you have selective memory, why go back only to 1945? Many of eastern European nations (Lithuania, Poland, plus few western European like Germany and France) occupied pieces of Russia in the last few centuries as well, why don’t you mention that? Because it doesn’t fit your agenda? Many european nations were in war or occupied each other, I think it’s time to get over. Soviet Union does not exist for 25 years now, maybe it’s time to let it go instead of constantly bringing up SU occupation of eastern Europe. Regarding Crimea, why do you western propagandists continue to lie about it? Crimea had a referendum, they democratically decided to join Russia, period. That’s no occupation. Many international observers were invited to follow that referendum and most of them refused to go, because it was Crimea. But few went (even one European MP from Austria) and nobody reported anything wrong with it, nobody was forced to vote at the gunpoint, that’s just another western lie. Crimea’s seccesssion was as democratic as it gets.

      Liked by 1 person

      • reinertorheit says

        Because Dr Maliha is a paid-to-post troll for the Plan For The New American Century.

        Like

    • AnExpat says

      What about democracy do you fear most? The people of Crimea overwhelmingly selected to join their historic home by culture and ethnicity The vote was observed by international observers and declared a fair representation of popular opinion and desire. The autonomous region was not or ever a Ukraine oblast and it’s parliament voted to end their relationship with Kiev after the US funded coup ended the Ukrainian democracy. 2/3rd of the oblasts rejected the coup and demanded the democracy be restored. Very few in Crimea are regretting their choice and their economy is is in better shape than Ukraine. The people decided and Crimea is not going back to Kiev rule. Europe accepts that, it is only the neocons who created the mess who advise Obama who created the meme of Russian aggression.
      The ignorance of the people and history of the lands we invade and change regimes in makes the crimes even worse. Now we have ground troops in Ukraine and they are shelling civilian towns and villages, 9,000 have been killed. The new US supported Kiev government is less democratic and 10 times more corrupt than even the last US organized Orange Revolutions that installed very corrupt US leaning presidents, each time thrown out by the voters. The radical far right group the US install this time had no popular support before the coup. The loans have made more billionaires but the people are impoverished with an 80% drop in GDP. US policy in Central Europe and the Middle East has been extremely I’ll advised and brings the world to the brink of WWII.
      Europe is rethinking the situation since Washington’s behavior and lack of honesty has made them very nervous. They are the ones hurt by US commanded sanctions that has caused rising unemployment and loss of trade. Read the press and comments by people in France and Germany for example. The calls for exiting NATO are getting louder and being heard by leaders. Obama giving policy to the neocons can’t be blamed on Bush anymore. He has an even weaker case for regime change in Syria than Bush did in Iraq yet is blowing up alliances, backing out of control rogue states like Turkey and KSA. Leaders in Europe see their poll numbers drop a lot as they are seen as blindly following horrible policy that makes war inevitable. Merkel will be replaced if she continues to cave to Washington and extends the sanctions that are very unpopular in Germany.
      She and the parties involved negotiated the cease fire in Ukraine but US resistance and flooding Ukraine with weapons and money plus ground troops has scuttled the whole settlement and made war there guaranteed. Kiev has not done a single thing they agreed to as conditions of the agreement. Yet Obama blames Russian “aggression” . The bad actor in Ukraine and Syria is not Russia ; it is the US

      Liked by 1 person

    • Did you go to the same medical school as Ben Carson. You appear to have the same tenuous grasp on reality as he does.
      At the end of WWII, the Soviet Union and eastern Europe were totally devastated. In contrast the US, relatively unscathed in the war, lavished bribes on western Europe in the form of the Marshall Plan to occupy and colonise those countries as vassal states, states that remain occupied by the US army 70 years on.
      The USSR and eastern Europe did not have the benefit of being able to loot third world countries of resources to sustain the superior consumer lifestyles compared to USSR and eastern Europe.
      All the while the US and its puppets via NATO suppressed any signs of democratic disagreement to rapacious consumer capitalism via dirty tricks such as Iran, Chile and elsewhere in Latin America, Gladio, IMF, to name just a few.
      American capitalism and imperialism has been responsible and continues to be responsible for the massacre of millions and enmiseration of countless more millions.
      European leaders are in the pocket of the US and work against their constituents. Just this week former chancellor Darling is the latest to get a cushion directorship with a Wall St bank as thanks. Cameron and Osbourne will tread that route in years to come.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Winifred Kiddle says

      You need to do some more research buddy. Most of your suppositions are based on a false premise. Vietnam isn’t the only disgusting event America has actively pwrpetrated and beeen involved in. Find out the others. Find out why Putin enabled Crimeans to vote to become part of Russia. Find out what Putin really, really wants. Find out what actually happened in Ukraine and why it happened. Start with Nuland and her now famous quote “f#$k the EU”. Dear oh dear. A lot of work to do on your part before you even get to the crux of the matter ie the impact of US hegemonic agression throughout the world. Sigh…..

      Like

    • passerby says

      “We have done nothing that compares with the Russian behavior in Europe after WW 2.”
      Just one example: Kostas Tsalikidis.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. A very interesting analysis but I take issue on just one point.
    I do not believe that the forces of global terrorism are beyond the control of super powers like the US.
    My understanding is that the USAAF still has more than 70 working B52 bombers.
    If they wanted to, they could bomb Daesh completely off the map – just like they did with Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
    I also believe a whole lot more could be done to interdict supplies of personnel, weapons and financial resources.
    So why does the US insist on sitting on its hands where the so-called terrorist “threat” is concerned?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Shelly says

      Personally I think to stop Wahhabi terrorism we would need to sanction Saudi, Turkey, Qatar and the UAE. To do this without destroying Western economies would require agreements with Russia, Iran and Venezuela to prevent oil getting too expensive. ISIS now control significant areas of Afghanistan and al-qaeda are still a problem in Pakistan (a nuclear power) so force alone doesn’t seem to work – we need to stop their funding.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The US controls all global payments involving US Dollars.
        They can bring senior FIFA executives to book, as well as foreign-owned banks and other financial institutions.
        Why are they are apparently incapable of interfering with funding and payments to terrorist organisations?
        Or is it that they choose to allow the funding arrangements for terrorism to remain in place?
        I suspect in the situation we are currently in that it is the latter.
        Where else can all those pallet-loads of missing 100 dollar bills that went missing in Iraq have ended up?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Eric_B says

          the pallet loads of dollars sent to the illegal US Provisional Coalition Authority in Iraq were Iraq’s previously frozen US assets.

          Where did all those dollars go? Certainly not into improving Iraq.

          Like

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