By Jonathan Power*
That bar, the Red Star, on the far side of eastern Europe was closed—until the Ukraine war started. So why did the White Moon bar on this side of the street decide to stay open, even extending its drinking hours?
Once the Warsaw Pact closed shop there was no good or honest reason for keeping NATO going. The threat that NATO was created to deter disappeared when the Soviet Union collapsed. Many Europeans thought that. The Americans didn’t.
The European Union’s influence on the new post-Cold War order has been by trade, investment, diplomacy and political intimacy, the hallmarks of a successful union that has mastered the art of expansion and influence by clever use of the carrot, whilst America has led its quest for influence by application of the doctrine of overriding military strength.
As Mark Leonard, the director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform wrote in his clever, little book of some years ago, “the contrast between the two doctrines is stark. Present US doctrine attempts to justify action to remove a ‘threat’ before it has a chance of being employed against the US. It is consequently focused very closely on physical assets and capabilities, necessarily swift in execution and therefore short term in conception, and unavoidably entirely military in kind.
The European doctrine of pre-emption, in contrast, is predicated on long-term involvement, with the military just one strand of activity, along with pre-emptive economic and legal intervention, and is aimed at building the political and institutional basis of stability, rather than simply removing the immediate source of threat.” This is why after the Cold War ended the European countries should have announced that NATO was no longer needed in Europe.
Passive aggression—the outward expansion of the Eurosphere—is what Europe has done well. For countries such as Turkey, Serbia or Bosnia, the only thing worse than having the Brussels bureaucracy descend on its political system with its multitude of new rules is to have its doors closed to them.
The US has a very different viewpoint on how to keep the world in the Western camp—but there are important dissidents.
Ignoring the pledge made to Gorbachev
At the time when the expansion of NATO was first being discussed by the Clinton administration, it was none less than a group of conservative experts, led by Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to former president George H.W. Bush (the father), who wrote in the New York Times, “antagonism is sure to grow if the alliance extends ever closer to Russia…We will have misplaced our priorities during a critical window of opportunity.”
George Kennan, the eminent grise of the Cold War era, described it as, “the most fateful error of the entire post-Cold War”.
Dimitri Simes, president of the Nixon Center, wrote in Foreign Affairs, “Washington’s crucial error lay in its propensity to treat post-Soviet Russia as a defeated enemy”. (Very different from how a defeated Germany and Japan were treated.)
Washington’s attitude, he argued, was totally at variance with that of both presidents Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin who expected to see developing a common strategic partnership.
Washington missed the great opportunity offered for large scale nuclear disarmament and took the fatal step, partly for electoral reasons at home, of provocatively expanding NATO up to Russia’s doorstep, ignoring the pledge made to Gorbachev by the administration of George W. H. Bush (and by the large European states.)
The rational conservatives and the left-liberals were not listened to, not by President Bill Clinton, who started the ball rolling, not by George W. Bush (the son), not by Barack Obama and not by Joe Biden today.
If America’s former president, Richard Nixon, the erstwhile red baiter, wasn’t safely in his grave, most probably he would have written an op-ed in the New York Times to say that “we are in danger of losing Russia”.
Despite leading a cruel, murderous and unnecessary war in Vietnam, he became the originator of detente with the Soviet Union and at the same a respecter of its history and Russia’s massive contribution through the arts, its culture and its Orthodox religion to the great civilization we call the Western world.
His former secretary of state Henry Kissinger says this today and adds that Ukraine should have been encouraged to renounce its aim to join NATO and instead follow the then Finish and Austrian lead of remaining neutral.
In his own words Nixon was a Russophile. Once communism was defeated, he used to argue, Russia could assume its rightful place as a powerful European nation.
US sets the pace in NATO
The US has outrun the EU in matters Russian. It sets the pace in NATO. It corals the ex-Soviet dominated nations who now are members of the EU to support the US line.
American politicians and, to a lesser extent, European ones forget how “Western” Russia is.
Bolshevism and the Cold War was a period of only 70 years in Russia’s long history. It is a thousand years since Prince Vladimir, its ruler, accepted Orthodox Christianity for himself and for his people. The moment Communism, the Cold War and its entire works were over it quickly revived.
It is 500 years since Byzantium Orthodoxy handed over the torch of the Church’s leadership to Russia. When Constantine in AD 326 moved the throne of the Roman emperor to Constantinople and took his newly adopted Church with him the city became the headquarters of the Christian faith and its patriarch.
When it was overrun by the Ottomans in 1453 the only place for both the spirit and the headquarters of the Church to move to was Orthodox Russia and the Slavic lands. The “legitimate Church” was now the heritage of Russia.
The consequences for Europe have been immense. The cushion of Orthodoxy in Russia saved Europe from the full impact of the eastern nomads and of Islam. A Muslim Russia would have meant a very different history for the West.
In 1767, the Empress Catherine categorically stated that “Russia is a European state”. In his ambitious study of Europe, Norman Davies wrote that in the 19th century the “Fears of the ‘Bear’ did not prevent the growth of a consensus regarding Russia being part of Europe. This was greatly strengthened by Russia’s role in the defeat of Napoleon in 1812, and by the magnificent flowering of Russian culture in the age of Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Chekov and so many others. Indeed, it is clear that when it comes to the proficiency in all the arts Russia has no peer in Europe.
When some years ago I interviewed the late Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Russian scholar and former National Security advisor to President Jimmy Carter, he told me that “I have given speeches about a Europe that extends from Portugal on the Atlantic to Vladivostok on the Pacific”.
He told me that he thought that within 20 years Russia would enter the European Union. I’m sure he wouldn’t be so optimistic now that the US and the EU have ramped up their hostility and got into a big fight in Ukraine.
Never mentioned in this debate is Japan’s relationship with Russia. It is a totally peaceful one. Admittedly, at the end of World War II, Japan never signed a surrender agreement with Russia, ending the state of war, because of a dispute over the ownership of some small islands north of the Japanese mainland.
But the two powerful countries live in peace with no sign or preparedness for military confrontation. The rhetoric is pitched in the tone of soft power. Their trade relationship is blooming. Although Japan joins in with Western sanctions against Russia, its actual sanctions are mild. If Japan can make peace with Russia, despite the conflicts and enmity of the past, why can’t Europe and the US?
Europe should be taking the lead on this, not trailing behind America. America needs to be shown the value of the EU method. The EU is cut out for making the world more peaceful. Its present-day collective hostility towards Russia is inexcusable.
* Jonathan Power was for 17 years a foreign affairs columnist and commentator for the International Herald Tribune, now the New York Times. He has also written dozens of columns for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times. He is the European who has appeared most on the opinion pages of these papers.