THE U.S. AND RUSSIA AND THE OVERHANGING RISK OF NUCLEAR WAR
It is difficult for an individual or indeed a Nation to view a particular situation through the eyes of another person or nation.
I have never seen this more true or more dangerous than what is transpiring now in the relationships between the United States and Russia.
As a former CEO of Procter & Gamble and a student of history, I have followed the relationship between the U.S and Russia (and before that the former Soviet Union) for half a century. From a peak of hope in the early 1990's in the possibility of our joining together in the vision of a Greater Europe,
I have become increasingly and alarmingly concerned by the deeply polarized perceptions of the intentions of our two nations.
Fueled by Russia's annexation of Crimea and its (as well as our own) involvement in Syria, this fever has boiled and become intensely personal as the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin has become demonized.
The situation has become further politicized as Donald Trump, whose views I disagree with on almost all counts, advocates , rightly, cooperation with Russia in fighting ISIS, even as he outlandishly (facetiously or not ) calls on Russia to hack the DNC's and Secretary Clinton's e-mail accounts. For me, Trump is the apposite of someone you want to be advocating your point of view because he encourages his opponents to reflexively adopt or double down on contrary views.
Why am I so concerned about this situation? Because I believe the failure of Russia and the U.S. and West to work together threatens the security and indeed
the very existence of the world because of the overhanging and very related risks of nuclear annihilation and terrorism.
There is a great and common danger in the affairs of humans and of nations in self-fulfilling expectations. These self-fulfilling expectations can be for the better or they can be for the worse. The expectations held by Russia toward the United States and those the United States holds toward Russia today are all “for the worse.”
Contrary to what was promised as Germany was reunited and became part of NATO as we entered the 1990's, NATO continued to expand to Russia's doorsteps. The belief that Ukraine might be next, was a precipitating cause of the Ukrainian crisis. As a colleague of mine has said, whether NATO is a benign or a malign force is irrelevant from a geopolitical perspective if one of Europe's great powers (Russia, a country which has been subject to multiple invasions over the course of history) considers it a threat. The dismissal of these concerns has deeply exacerbated Russia's mistrust.
And that mistrust has been matched on our end by the impact of Russia's annexation of Crimea and presence in Eastern Ukraine, entry into Syria supporting Assad and the alleged (though unproven) involvement in our electoral process.
We hear veiled and sometimes bald assertions that Russia intends to enter countries previously part of the Soviet empire--the Baltics, Poland and all of Ukraine. Putin describes such a notion as “insane.” He is right.
Can you imagine the suicidal idiocy of Russia's undertaking to move into those countries? Why would they do this? They don't need land. They would find very few friends there. They would become the pariah of the world. There is no driving ideology as there was in the days of Soviet Communism.
Of course, there are legitimate concerns about President Putin, just as there about many leaders with whom it is in our interest to work. Some of them are serious. In terms of encouraging a positive relationship with the United States, he is in some ways his own worst enemy. His distrust of our motives now borders on paranoia.
However, we should not forget that he was the very first President to call President Bush to offer his nation's unbounded support following "9-11".
Whatever, my concerns are existential.
I worry deeply that most people are so far removed from the reality of war today that we have forgotten its horror. We should all go back and look at the film showing the instantaneous annihilating devastation resulting from the atomic bomb at Hiroshima. It won't be pleasant but we should watch movies like “Platoon” or “Saving Private Ryan”. We should read Michael Herr's devastating front line reports on the war in Vietnam. We dare not forget the horrific cost of war on human life and civilization.
We cannot address this overhanging threat unless we are working with Russia. That is the plain and simple truth.
We are at a historical precipice. I am extremely worried by the unfettered “propaganda,” and that’s what it is, on both sides of the issue. This has had the insidious effect of bringing the people of Russia and of the United States to view the “other” as “evil.” And in fact they are not. They are committed to their own national interests. The concerns of the Russian and American people are fundamentally the same. . They yearn for a peaceful, economically stable life for their children and themselves
Every nation, every person, wants to be treated with respect. There is no way that will happen if we are not able to view the current situation through each other’s eyes. That doesn’t mean we will compromise and tolerate people taking away the freedom of another nation or people. We need to draw a bright line on the support we will provide to countries to which we pledge support--and mean it.
However we should not make the mistake of attributing motivations and nefarious intent to other nations which, in fact, they disclaim and which, as we examine the reality of the situation, we see no persuasive reason to assume.
We need to stop carrying out diplomacy and negotiations through the media and "anonymous" third parties, seeking sharp headlines that show we “mean business” and are "tough". We need to establish what the bright lines and bases for cooperation are. We need to rebuild trust-based relationships. This will be very hard; many will say there is no point in trying. It will require courage and stamina, but it is what we must do. We should do so privately through credible leaders, starting with our Presidents and foreign service secretaries, just as we did in the later years of the Reagan Administration and that of George H.W. Bush.
I pray for the wisdom and courage of these leaders.
I believe the future of our Nation and the world depends on it.