Fwd: NATO loves Russia

Doug Henwood dhenwood at panix.com
Wed Mar 22 11:59:17 PST 2000

[Elena asked if it was ok to post this; I reformatted it & did. Originally from Johnson's Russia List. What about the "conspiracy" to destroy Russia economically to plunder its natural resources for a song, while snuffing a potential rival?]

From: IRASTRAUS at aol.com (Ira Straus) Subject: Re: the capitalist conspiracy, and the real motivations of the West

Dan Cisek (JRL 4187) has, by comparison with the cases of Poland and Ukraine, amply disproved the "capitalist conspiracy" theory advanced by several writers on JRL: that Western advice and policy toward Russia are determined by business interests, and the results (the decline of the Russian economy and society) correspond to the real intentions and interests of the Western capitalists.

For the sake of intellectual hygiene, one point needs to be added:

If the goal of US policy has been to make Russia useful for Western trade and investors, then it has been a miserable failure, not the success that it is assumed to be in the conspiracy theory.

Russia is not a very good place for Western trade and investment today. Little trade or investment has been taking place. Western investment and trade have been flowing instead in massive quantities to China.

If the West primarily wanted trade and investment in Russia, it would have followed the path of its anti-capitalist critics on JRL and advised Russia to take a more gradual, Chinese-style, state-administered path.

Western governments and Russia-advisers have pleaded with our own business class, unsuccessfully, to invest in Russia. Our governments have pleaded for this almost as a charity effort. While they have tried to appeal to the profit motive, too, this being the only thing that is expected to influence businessmen and financiers (although George Soros seems pretty often to defy the rule), the fact that they have had to plead so hard, and so unsuccessfully, shows that the profit motive is not what was at work in state policy. The real motive -- usually mentioned explicitly in the next breath -- has been the foreign policy interest of the West in a solvent, successful, stable, friendly Russia.

Market ideology may well have something to do with the advice the West gave Russia, but not the business interests of capitalists. There has certainly been a widespread belief that a market Russia would be a democratic Russia, and therefore geopolitically friendly or at least never at war with the West. It is this belief that is the ideological basis of the "economism" or "reverse Marxism" or "market Bolshevism" of which Western advisers and Russian liberals are accused. The goal-reference point of this ideology is democracy and the foreign policy orientation toward pax democratica, not money.

The only conspiracy theory that makes any sense at all is one that is built on a postulated Western geopolitical interest in a weak Russia. It at least makes some sense when Russians point to a correlation between the weakening of their country and the former strategic interests of the West, that is, the strategic interests of the West as they used to be defined in Cold War days. Obviously this old definition of the Western interest still has its influence in the minds of important bureaucrats and strategists, since nearly everyone admits the possibility of the relationship going bad again. It also has its influence in old entrenched military programs and client relations around the world. (The same points are all true, mutatis mutandis, on the Russian side.)

It is not hard for Russians to believe that this continuing inertial factor has on the whole overriden the conscious top-level policy of change and of friendship toward Russia. From this it follows that anything that has gone bad in Russia has fit in with the Western strategic interest as defined in some Western minds. From this in turn it is easy to believe that anything has gone bad has corresponded to Western intentions and has been a result of conscious or semi-conscious Western policies.

I think that this conspiracy theory is also wrong, but at least it makes some contact with reality. Russian conspiracy theorists, after all, are living on the edge and have to deal with reality, even if they are prone to mistake the fragments they touch for the whole elephant. This forms a contrast to some Westerners who are more concerned with spinning out their ideologies.


P.S. If we can get away from single-cause, single-motivation, conspiracy-style thinking, the logical think to do for explaining US policy is to combine: (1) the economism-ideology that a healthy market Russia is the main criterion for a friendly Russia, (2) the corresponding negligence of political factors and of the pro-Western sentiment of Russians circa 1989-91 as a reserve force and criterion for a friendly Russia, (3) the justifiable pessmism about Russia from a purist-economism perspective, i.e. the belief that Russia was unlikely to make it to a high-quality healthy market economy in this era, (4) the mistrust of Russia, and unwillingness to take the risk of investing much assistance in a country that might in the future be an enemy again, (5) the temptation of putting Russia to the test of whether it is going to become "healthy" or not by economism-ideological standards. This amounted to gambling on Russia with the thought that "if it succeeds, all the better; if it fails, it only shows it wasn't going to be a friend anyway". And to virtually gambling Russia away in this manner.

No conspiracies here; just the foolishness of an either-or, black-white way of thinking, and an unwillingness to take the moral and political risks of helping Russia. Gambling on extreme options meant ignoring all the more relevant probabilities on which we ought to have been building. It created a simplified two-possibility universe in which the gambler could argue that, logically, s/he was taking no risks at all. Meanwhile in the real world we were risking all of Russia. The results do indeed correlate to the logic of the policy, in the sense of coming close to one of its two foreseen possible outcomes, but do not correlate to the preferences and intentions of its authors.

One might add to the fifth point, a corresponding sixth:

(6) the temptation of putting Russian pro-Westernism to the test in foreign policy.

Again this was done in an extremist, either-or manner that ignored the messy problematic work of the real world. It took the form of asking Russia to always follow after the Western lead and ignore its own interests and dignity, in the faith that the West would eventually protect any valid

Russian interests anyway. NATO expansion was the most striking case, although far from the only one. The West told itself that, since a 100% healthy, non-imperialist, democratic Russia couldn't be harmed by NATO expansion and might even eventually get in on NATO, therefore no Russian who intended his country to be a non-imperialist democracy could be against NATO expansion. Therefore it was a fair test of Russian intentions to go ahead and expand NATO. And if we lost Russia's friendship by it, it only showed that Russia wasn't intending to be a friend anyway.

We've been gambling recklessly on Russian pro-Westernism in this manner. And here, too, we have been gambling it away.

The common thread of both forms of gambling, economist and democratist, is the ideological overconfidence of the West after its bloodless victory in the Cold War. It has acted as its ideology were the universal solvent, a kind of guaranteed solution for problems, risk-free and cost-free. The actual stakes were enormous in its gambling, but the West didn't put any big money or chips of its own on the table, it simply left Russia on the table to be gambled away. Cheap gambling served as a substitute for all the effort and risk and initiative that would have been needed for working through a real strategic rapprochement and economic reconstruction.

Ira Straus U.S. Coordinator, Committee on Eastern Europe and Russia in NATO


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