In the first half year of the new Trump administration, United States-Russian relations sped through a series of phases only to end suspended basically where they were on Election Day, 8 November 2016—badly damaged, friction-laden, and immobile. Whatever muddled hopes Russian President Vladimir Putin and his entourage may have had for better times with Trump in the White House and whatever obscure intentions President Trump may have had of improving relations, the two sides remain mired in the new Cold War into which they had plunged in the last years of the Obama administration. Their leaders were like figures in straitjackets: the more they struggled, the more their straitjackets tightened. Straitjackets, it might be noted, of their own manufacture, although each was of a different design. Trump was hamstrung by a Congress angry over the Russians’ interference in the presidential election and the possibility that Trump’s people had helped them, and in any event, persuaded that he meant to ‘go soft’ on Putin. Putin’s constraints were self-imposed. Much as he may have wished to ‘normalize’ the U.S.-Russian relationship, his jaded view of what drives U.S. foreign policy left him unwilling or, worse, unable to do his part to make progress possible.
Tag: Russia/Soviet Union
The American political class has been working itself into a lather over the hacking of a number of email accounts, evidently by Russian intelligence, and the subsequent leaking of information from those emails during the recent presidential election campaign. Those leaks, it is said, hurt Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and might well have cost her the election.
No one is sure what effect Russia had on the 2016 presidential election. The U.S. intelligence community and private sector cybersecurity firms are confident that Russian intelligence agencies sponsored efforts to steal and release information from the Democratic National Committee, and from Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta. The stolen emails were mostly banal, but the Trump campaign used them as evidence that Clinton and her party were corrupt and untrustworthy. This may have had the effect of increasing support for Trump, or at least depressing the turnout among would-be Clinton voters. Even small shifts might have changed the result, given the razor-thin margins in key states. But the election was so peculiar in so many ways that it is difficult to attribute the outcome to a single cause. Alleged Russian ‘doxing’–the term for stealing and revealing private information–may or may not have been terribly important compared to other factors in a historically strange campaign.
On the night of November 9, 1989, it was apparent to everyone on the scene in Berlin, and to spectators across the world, watching on TV, that history had reached a turning point. The ramifications of the opening of the Berlin Wall, as was also widely understood at the time, would not be limited to central Europe, but would reverberate around the globe. A little less than a year later, U.S. president George H.W. Bush, addressing Congress, articulated this understanding in calling for a ‘new world order.’ Separating this phrase both from its rhetoric of Cold War triumphalism and the various conspiracy theories that have grown up around it, I would suggest that the 1990s actually did see the development—tentative, hesitating, contradictory and incomplete—of a new world order, one reflecting the turbulent events of 1989 across the Eurasian land-mass, as well as the aspirations that propelled these events, the promises of 1989. But by the end of that decade and the beginning of the new millennium, a reaction to that order was beginning to emerge, which would strengthen across the early years of the twenty-first century. The two political upheavals of 2016, the Brexit vote, and the election of Donald Trump as American President, are major signs of the triumph of that reaction, the end of the new world order, and the failure of the promises of 1989.
As President Donald Trump’s administration begins, relations between the United States and Russia make the headlines almost every day. No one seems able to agree on what Russian President Vladimir Putin did or did not do to try to influence the 2016 U.S. elections, much less on what his ultimate aims are. Trump’s own cabinet picks, not to mention the U.S. Congress and Senate, are split on whether the U.S. should try yet another ‘reset’ with Russia, or instead punish Putin further for his actions. Meanwhile European countries allied with the U.S. in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are undergoing their own wrenching debates about Russia, with some leading politicians believing that Russia intends to break NATO or perhaps even invade the Baltics, while other European political parties openly cooperate with Putin. Business interests in both North America and Europe seek an end to the Western sanctions imposed on Russia after its seizure of Crimea and intervention in eastern Ukraine in 2014, but human rights groups argue to the contrary that even stronger sanctions are warranted.
Making sense of the present is a difficult undertaking at the best of times. It seems more especially so at the current moment. The tumult of 2016 was of a kind not seen since the ‘spring of the peoples’ in 1848. Power no longer seems to be what it was and where it was thought to be. In the West, a wave of anti-establishment populism threatens to bring down the given order, and, in part, has succeeded in upending established verities. Elsewhere, the world seems in turmoil, too. Migratory movements along Europe’s soft Mediterranean underbelly are placing unprecedented strains on European societies and the continent’s political structures; a restless Russia is intent on a policy of imperial reconstitution, however partial; in East Asia, the rising power of China and a defensive United States are eying each other warily; and Islamist terrorism continues to widen the internal and geopolitical fault lines of the Middle East and to export violence abroad. The speed and spread of change has left commentators perplexed at how what, until very recently, appeared firm and unshakeable has proved brittle and shallow-rooted. Some see Western democracy imperilled and point to parallels with the 1930s. Others draw analogies with the inquietude of Europe on the eve of the First World War. Whether any such parallels exist today, we shall know for certain in a hundred years’ time. Perceived analogies are never exact. Often, indeed, they are misleading, and reveal more about contemporary sensibilities than about ‘objective’ realities. But rather than look back wistfully at the simpler times of the post-1945 world, it is worth remembering that instability and impermanence are the hallmark of international affairs. They are, as German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck once observed, “a fluid element, which will coagulate temporarily under certain circumstances but which, at a change in the atmosphere, will revert to its original aggregate condition.”
If intelligence has now received sufficient attention so that it is no longer the hidden dimension of international politics, Soviet intelligence still fits this categorization. Our three reviewers welcome Jonathan Haslam’s lively overview of the subject and commend him for drawing on so many of the documents which, although revealing as far as they go, remain tantalizingly limited. As Paul Pillar, a career government official with excellent scholarly qualifications, notes, “Near and Distant Neighbors deserves to be read as a standard work on Soviet intelligence.”
The International Security Studies Forum (ISSF) of H-Diplo is very pleased to provide a roundtable discussion of Dr. Jessica Weeks’s book, Dictators at War and Peace. The book offers an important answer to the centuries-old international relations question as to how the politics within states affect the politics between states? Since at least the Enlightenment, most observers have tackled this question by focusing on the differences between democracies and dictatorships, Immanuel Kant and others famously arguing that democracies are more peaceful. Realists have been skeptical of this claim, contending that all types of political systems conduct foreign policy similarly. Especially since the end of the Cold War, international-relations scholars have been consumed with the scientific exploration of the democratic peace proposition.
How long will the United States remain the world’s sole superpower, uniquely capable of commanding the commons and projecting sustained military power to overseas regions? Why has the United States been so prone to use military force in the years since the Soviet Union collapsed? And how might answers to these questions hinge on strategic choices made in Washington? These are the questions Nuno Monteiro set out to answer in his rigorously argued Theory of Unipolar Politics. They have been at the center of intense debates for a quarter century—and not just in the ivory tower but also among pundits, politicians, intelligence analysts, policymakers and even leaders of major powers. Monteiro’s arguments have attracted a lot of attention, and deservedly so. Not only does he develop them with great care and express them in clear, forceful prose, he does not shrink from tackling tough problems. In contrast to Kenneth Waltz’s seminal Theory of International Politics, for example, Monteiro’s book deals head on with the interaction between strategic choice and systemic outcomes and the influence of nuclear deterrence on classical balance-of-power thinking.
How political leaders and their intelligence agencies assess the long-term intentions of their adversaries in international politics, how their assessments change in response to changes in the adversary’s capabilities or behavior, and the extent to which political leaders rely on their intelligence agencies are old questions in the study of international relations. The assessment of long-term intentions is an extraordinarily difficult task, and the development of generalizable theory about the process is equally difficult. Keren Yarhi-Milo’s recent book, Knowing the Adversary: Leaders, Intelligence, and Assessment of Intentions in International Relations, is an enormously valuable contribution to our understanding of these questions. Unlike many studies of intelligence, it is well-grounded in international relations theory, and it effectively builds upon theories of social psychology, cognitive science, and organizational theory. Yarhi-Milo distinguishes herself from many other theorists by emphasizing that the assessment processes of political leaders may differ from those of state intelligence organizations, but at the same time she integrates both within a single overarching theoretical framework. Yarhi-Milo tests her theoretical arguments against leading alternative interpretations in three sets of important and revealing historical cases: British assessments of Germany’s intentions from 1934-1939; and U.S. assessments of Soviet intentions during the years leading to the collapse of détente (1976-1980) and during the end of the Cold War (1985-1988). Yarhi-Milo’s in-depth comparative studies utilize historical archives, published documents, and, for the U.S.-Soviet cases, interviews with key participants.