TCS Daily

To Russia, With Love

By Dale Franks - July 29, 2002 12:00 AM

It's hard to break the habits of a lifetime. We become too used to them, and so engrossed in their comforting familiarity that change strikes us as abnormal, even frightening. This is true whether the habit is physical or mental. For most Americans now living, one of our habitual ways of thinking was to regard Russia as our foremost adversary. Two generations of Americans have been raised in the shadow of fear of Soviet aggression and perhaps even global nuclear annihilation.

But, just as smokers have learned to do without the physical habit of tobacco in recent decades, we must begin to break the mental habit of regarding Russia as an aggressive totalitarian empire and our chief adversary.

The changes in Russia over the past fifteen years have been nothing short of astounding. While some would argue that Russia is not yet a fully "normal" nation, there are few who can deny the depth or significance of the changes that have been made since Mikhail Gorbachev disbanded the USSR. Russia has, on the whole, become far more tolerant, far freer, and far more democratic than at any time in its history. Political power has been transferred peacefully and democratically between successive governments. Radical parties on both the right and the left have begun losing their attraction. In foreign affairs, the Russian government has rejected the old Soviet notions of power politics and confrontation, and has replaced them with policies of negotiation, cooperation and compromise.

This new willingness to cooperate has been clearly shown by the ease with which the Moscow Treaty, which radically reduces both US and Russian nuclear arsenals, was negotiated. As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pointed out in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Moscow Treaty was negotiated in six months, and is only three pages long. By contrast, the START I treaty, signed in 1991, was 700 pages long and took 9 years to negotiate. Only nations that are unwilling to trust each other require protracted negotiations and carefully worded agreements that try cover all contingencies. Both the United Kingdom and France maintain significant nuclear arsenals, yet we do not spend long, tortuous months negotiating with each other about them. Normal nations have no need to engage in such activities.

There are those on both sides, of course, who seem unable to give up their habits of thought. In the US, many critics believed that President Bush's initiatives on Ballistic Missile Defense, and even the Moscow Treaty itself, would strain our relationship with Russia. Such analyses are the results of viewing Russia as an adversary, rather than as normal member of the community of nations.

After decades of conflict with the Soviet state, it is clearly in our best interest -- as well as Russia's -- to do what we can to ease their passage into the modern community of nations, and to break the old adversarial habits.

We must assist them in their integration with the larger European-Atlantic community, especially through trade and economic ties. The transition from a state-planned economy to a free-market economy has been difficult, and in many ways disillusioning for the Russian people. Providing Russia with the proper assistance in building a strong free market under the rule of law will increase the wealth of their people, and reduce the economic instability that has proven so troubling.

To the extent we can, we should encourage economic reforms that implement free-market, pro-growth economic solutions. The Government of Russian President Vladimir Putin has already started to implement some of these types of policies, most notably the far-reaching tax reform implemented last year. As a result, the tax burden has been significantly reduced, while at the same time, treasury revenues for the Russian Government have ballooned. An austerity-based program of reform, such as is commonly endorsed by organizations like the World Bank, should be rejected.

In addition, providing them assistance in strengthening the rule of law, and in creating fair and impartial judicial and administrative procedures will reduce the impact of corruption and racketeering.

We should also assist the Russians with the safeguarding or disposal of their remaining nuclear arms. Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to hostile governments or terrorist organizations from Russia's poorly secured nuclear, biological, and chemical arsenal has long been a fear within the arms control community. It is in our best interests to assist the Russians in securing this arsenal and preventing those weapons from ending up in the wrong hands. Strengthening Russia's economy by encouraging pro-growth policies would be helpful in this area as well, since it would tend to reduce the incentive among both cash-strapped local authorities, or even the central government, to exchange such weapons for hard currency.

Additionally, we should examine what role Russia can play in Europe's new security environment. Russia should be made to feel as if it has a common stake in security issues with its former NATO adversaries. NATO countries should, as they are already doing, investigate how to build a "special relationship" with Russia that will satisfy both Russian and NATO-member security interests.

There is, of course, much that is still problematic about Russia. Forsaking the habits of the USSR is no easier for them than it is for us, and in many ways, it is far harder. But there are many ways in which we can assist them in breaking with the past. Doing so will advance Russia's economic progress and national security, as well as speeding its passage into diplomatic normality.

It also, of course, serves our security interests as well.

The author is a former career soldier, and is the publisher of "The Review".

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