In his final book Beyond Peace —published posthumously— President Nixon wrote:
“Throughout the Cold War, we looked forward to a time when we might live in a peaceful world, with harmonious international relations, prosperous economies reaping the benefits of unlimited global trade, the expansion of freedom and human rights, and the opportunity to enjoy life. These promises of peace crystallized into an idealized version of a post-Cold War future. The fact that it has not been realized has produced a pervasive, enervating sense of anticlimax. The reality of peace is that it is only the foundation upon which a more prosperous and just world can be built. This effort will require just as much determination, vision, and patience as the defeat of communism required.”
“The United States must lead. We must lead to open the eyes of those still blinded by despotism, to emboldened those who remain oppressed, and bring out from the dungeons of tyranny those who still live in darkness. The question remains whether the United States will meet its responsibilities of leadership beyond peace as it did to defeat the communists in the Cold War. History thrusts certain powers at certain times on to center stage. In this era, the spotlight shines on the United States. How long it stays with us – – and how brightly it shines – – will be determined by us alone.
“Peace demands more, not less, from a people. Peace lacks the clarity of purpose in the cadence of war…. Our contact at home and abroad will determine how well we improvise beyond peace.”
In a thorough twist of irony, the world has seen despotism and violence come to fore in spades these past two weeks, on what was the fiftieth anniversary of President Nixon’s historic trip to China, as the forces of tyranny turned hot; Russia invaded Ukraine and the Western world united with an aggressive response.Multipolarity —a word not uttered since the fall of the Soviet Union— has once again entered the geopolitical lexicon. And America’s role as the world’s superpower comes under examination once again from forces outside and in.
Excerpts from Richard Nixon’s Beyond Peace, published in 1994
The concept of “assertive multilateralism” being advanced by some U.N. supporters can only be described as naïve diplomatic gobbledygook. A collective body cannot be effective unless it has leadership. As de Gaulle told André Malraux shortly before his death, “Parliaments can paralyze policy. They cannot initiate it.”
Yet Russia remains vulnerable to extreme nationalists and reactionaries intent on reversing free-market and democratic reforms. The European Community has stalled in its effort to achieve economic and political integration, and Europe is falling victim again to parochialism.
In a world without a dominant enemy, we must consider each situation on its merits. Will our involvement be consistent with our values? Will it serve our interests? Will it serve the interests of our friends? Will it serve the interests of those directly involved? During the Cold War, the answer to each of these questions, where our efforts to oppose communist expansionism and Soviet aggression were concerned, was yes. The answer to each question should also be yes regarding our efforts to help bring about the victory of freedom in the former Soviet Union. No other single factor will have a greater political impact on the world in the century to come than whether political and economic freedom take root and thrive in Russia and the other former communist nations. Today’s generation of American leaders will be judged primarily by whether they did everything possible to bring about this outcome. If they fail, the cost that their successors will have to pay will be unimaginably high.
Any attempt to reestablish the Russian empire by force, coercion, or destabilization of its neighbors would be contrary to U.S. interests. To avoid any possible misunderstanding, the American government should make this clear to the Russian leadership at the outset. In addition, the other newly independent states need to be reassured that America’s desire for partnership with Russia does not imply neglect of their security interests.
Often the demise of old adversaries leads to the emergence of new, sometimes more dangerous challenges rather than to peace and harmony among nations.
The failure of freedom would also have a profoundly negative global impact. The reestablishment of a dictatorship and a command economy in Russia would give encouragement to every dictator and would-be dictator in the world. Since an authoritarian Russia would be far more likely to adopt an aggressive foreign policy than a democratic Russia, freedom’s failure would threaten peace and stability in Europe and around the world. If Russia turns away from democracy and economic freedom and we have not done everything possible to prevent it, we will bear a large measure of responsibility for the ominous consequences.
Our justifiable satisfaction with the end of the Cold War must not obscure the urgent need to address the extremely difficult and contradictory transition in the post-Soviet region. Until this transition culminates in irreversible political and economic freedom and nonaggressive foreign policies, there is the danger that the remnants of the shattered Soviet empire will strike back at the world, with devastating consequences.
In developing a policy toward the new Russia, we must begin by recognizing that the Russians did not lose the Cold War. The communists did. We should therefore treat the Russians not as defeated enemies but as allies who joined with us in defeating Soviet communism in its heartland—Russia.
We now have a vital interest in promoting a stable and nonaggressive Russia and in consolidating the independence of the non-Russian republics of the former Soviet Union.
The most dangerous mistake we could make would be to ignore our differences or attempt to drown them in champagne and vodka toasts at feel-good summit meetings. Rather than papering over differences with diplomatic gobbledygook, we must find ways to disagree without damaging one of the world’s most important strategic relationships. The second most dangerous mistake would be to neglect our responsibility for assisting Russia in its transition to freedom, or arrogantly to scold or punish it for every foreign or domestic policy transgression, as though it were an international problem child.
Its seemingly overwhelming problems will not last forever. Its human and natural resources, and thus its capacity to recover and ultimately to excel, are virtually unlimited. The United States and the West should develop a collaborative, businesslike relationship with Russia today so that when we meet these Russians again, we will do so as friends, if not necessarily as partners, rather than as potential adversaries.
The Russian armed forces do not now represent a serious threat to the United States. Russia lacks any serious nonnuclear force projection capability. Its conventional forces are grossly understaffed and underpaid. Military manpower has fallen below the 1.5 million authorized by the former Supreme Soviet and continues to shrink.
At the same time, the West must take note of warning signs on the horizon. Russian military thinking is becoming more nationalistic and more assertive in defense of Russia’s interests in the other former Soviet states bordering on Russia, and more supportive of the use of military force as an instrument of foreign policy. Russian policy toward other post-Soviet nations represents the greatest dilemma for the United States. A new attempt by Moscow to rebuild its empire would be a tragedy for Russia and its neighbors alike. In view of the Russian-Soviet historical legacy, it is understandable that Russia’s neighbors are sensitive to any signs of new assertiveness on Moscow’s part.
All this does not mean that the United States should not be concerned about heavy-handed Russian actions in the “near abroad.” We should be realistic about our limited leverage in Russia’s backyard and should avoid creating the impression that the United States wants to proceed with a new encirclement of Russia. It would be contrary to our interests to give Moscow the impression that we are prepared to help only as long as Russia remains on its knees. Russia is a great country that deserves to be treated with appropriate respect. U.S. leverage depends upon the perception in Moscow that America is a friendly nation that wishes it well and takes it seriously as a major power. At the same time, Moscow has to be told unequivocally that there is a line beyond which unscrupulous conduct in the “near abroad” will be incompatible with good relations with the United States. In this context, it should be explained in particular that Ukraine and the Baltic States occupy a special place in the American heart and—because of their location in the center of Europe — strategic thinking. The Russian government is entitled to be made aware that encroachments in that region would seriously damage U.S.-Russian relations.
Russia and Ukraine have a number of complex issues to settle, ranging from Ukraine’s need for Russian energy supplies to the status of Crimea. What matters to the United States is not so much the particular outcome of their disputes as that they are settled amicably. Over time, our involvement in this relationship will be as important in ensuring regional peace as was our role in bringing about improved relations between Israel and the Arab states. Two diametrically opposite possibilities loom along the Russian-Ukrainian border. They could develop a flourishing partnership such as the one between the United States and Canada, or they could find themselves behaving like India and Pakistan, two superarmed scorpions trapped in a bottle. Ukraine’s history of domination by Moscow would seem to make the unhappier prospect the more likely one. United States policy should be designed to ensure that both sides realize that the happier prospect is in their interests.
If Russia were to revert to authoritarianism, a strong Ukraine would be a vital deterrent to aggression. A prescription for disaster in Europe would be a weak, vulnerable Ukraine joining forces with a newly imperialist Russia. Also, Ukraine is far more likely to follow through on its disarmament commitments if our relations with it remain strong. We should move forward on the full range of cooperative policies, including military-to-military contacts, economic assistance, and wide-ranging educational exchanges. Once Ukraine adopts real economic reforms, every assistance program open to Russia should be open to Ukraine. Moscow may question our efforts to build up Ukraine. Its concerns will be understandable. We can ease them by finding ways to be pro-Ukraine that do not appear anti-Russian and by stressing that our policy is based on the manifestly correct view that our interests and those of Moscow and Kiev will benefit from both nations’ being strong, open, and free.
We should not expect Russia to adopt American-style democracy. Serge Schmemann reported in The New York Times that the Russians are really looking for a third way—a blend of the Soviet welfare state with the prosperity of capitalism and some “dollops” of Christianity. “Communism was a grand failure, but it is hard to overstate how deeply it inserted itself into the hearts and minds of the nation,” he wrote. “Russia is locked in a fateful race between the collapse of its inherited structure and the growth of new ones; between nostalgia for the enforced security of its past and the promise of freedom only vaguely understood.”
Instead of developing a long-term policy with specific goals, the United States and the West have reacted crisis by crisis. Almost half a year elapsed after Yeltsin launched his economic reforms before the West announced a major aid program, and most of that aid has yet to be delivered. Ignoring the problems in Russia may have been convenient because of short-term domestic political considerations, but it was disastrous for our long-term security interests.
Our aid should be targeted to Russia’s emerging private business sector, not dying state-owned enterprises or government boondoggles. We should particularly channel more funds into loans to new small businesses, which will not only hire unemployed workers but also begin the essential accumulation of domestic capital. These principles too often have been honored only in the breach. Our efforts so far have been scattershot, uncoordinated, and ineffective. In 1994, not a single Russian leader had a positive word to say about the U.S. aid program. A recent Senate report said millions had been squandered. After World War II, the West created what became the Organization for Economic Development to oversee and coordinate the Marshall Plan. A similar organization should be created for Russia and the other former Soviet states. These mechanisms will assure the people of the West that their resources are not being wasted.
In the long run, however, Russia’s chances for success will increase as other former Soviet republics succeed. In light of their historic ties and economic interdependence, neither Russia nor the other former Soviet states can succeed on their own. Only by adopting a “one for all, all for one” approach to reform can these countries overcome the massive obstacles before them. Russia and the other newly independent states have a choice between a future of conflict or a future of progress. The United States and the West should help them make the right choice.
We should make clear to Russia and the other post-Soviet states that Western assistance will be fruitless if they engage in counterproductive economic warfare among themselves. Any amount of aid we could provide would be insignificant compared with the costs they will inflict on one another if they sever all their economic ties and try to go it alone.
In our relations with Russia, Ukraine, and the other newly independent states, we must keep one point foremost in mind. There is no time to lose. General MacArthur once said that the history of failure in war could be summarized in two words: “Too late.” The same two words summarize the history of failure to win the peace after victory in war. In the wake of the collapse of communism, the United States and the West have failed to seize the moment.
I am convinced that the Russian people will not turn back to communism. But if they have no choice, they will turn to some kind of political dictatorship, which will at least promise the safety-net guarantees that were supposed to have been delivered by the communist regime.
For seventy-five years, the Soviet Union tried to export the ideas of communism to the rest of the world, using propaganda, subversion, and naked aggression. Now democratic Russia can offer the rest of the world an example of a great people enjoying economic and political freedom. The profound unanswered question will be whether democratic capitalism in Russia can compete with communist capitalism in China. If it fails to do so, and if Russia turns to reactionary leaders, the hard-line leaders in China and other dictators in the world will be heartened. If it succeeds, political and economic freedom will be the wave of the future in the twenty-first century.
How the post-Deng struggle will end depends mainly on what happens within China. But developments outside China, including those in Russia, can affect the result. If the Russian experiment in economic and political freedom succeeds, China’s moderates will benefit. If Russia’s reforms fail, this will encourage the reactionaries.
Similar sensitivity must govern our policies toward the other post-Soviet states. Of these, the one requiring the most subtlety and finesse is Ukraine. The United States must become much more active in reducing tensions and rivalries between Ukraine and Russia, encouraging political and economic reforms in both, and always taking care to be perceived as neither anti-Russian nor anti-Ukrainian unless either adopts policies that threaten our interests.