Monday, December 10, 2007
The Angry Bear Awakening
If you've found yourself wondering lately whether Russia's a real threat, a paper tiger, or just plain old grumpy, click through to this Army War College monograph and skip to p. 35, where you'll find Dmitri Trenin's enlightening analysis of just what's driving Russian strategic thinking these days.
According to Trenin, starting in 2003 and culminating in 2005, Russia definitively decoupled its foreign policy orientation from the West. But rather than representing a return to a Cold War mentality, as many have conjectured, Trenin argues that Russia's posture more closely resembles a pre-WWI Great Powers rivalry mentality, where realpolitik is the name of the game and military power its currency. According to this "highly pessimistic worldview", the game of geopolitics is a lonely, cutthroat affair: professed alliances mean little, and everyone can be considered a potential threat.
As significantly, Russia considers that its security environment has deteriorated in the post-Soviet era, with its loss of influence and the resulting insecurity in Eurasia outweighing the threat-reduction effect of its improved Western relations. And while it considers the EU to be "incoherent", and expects NATO to be occupied for the time being in Afghanistan, it regards the US as a "dangerous nation" and its principle security concern.
From the Russian point of view, the West proved itself to be untrustworthy by taking advantage of Russia's post-Soviet moment of weakness. So the expansion of America's willingness to wage war, beginning with the 1990's humanitarian interventions and culminating in a war of choice in Iraq, combined with its increasing unwillingness to abide by the constraints of arms control treaties, has been viewed with great alarm. Russia's current military planning is based on modernizing its force structure, both conventional and strategic, in order to present a more robust deterrent, primarily to American airpower, which Russia sees as the main component of American military planning.
As the monograph's preface points out, it's easy to dismiss another country's threat perception as bizarre or ill-conceived based on our own ideas of what motivates our policy. But that's irrelevant if the country's national security strategists have become convinced of their assessment and have based strategic thinking on it. As an example, consider how bizarre America's obsession with the Iraqi threat must have seemed to the folks who made up the Iraqi policy-making establishment. That didn't keep most of them from ending up as face cards in the Iraqi Most Wanted deck.
The obvious and striking parallel to Russia's lonely posture is that of America at the time of the neocon ascendancy, where any potential rival to America's hegemony qualified as a target for neutralization, where there were no more alliances, only coalitions of the willing, and where the legitimacy of a mission was determined by its success or failure. In light of which, the Russian strategists don't seem so far offbase.