The unveiling of the latest version of the White House’s National Security Strategy and the Kremlin’s sharp reaction to the blueprint laid bare the growing divergence of American and Russian understanding of each other’s role in the world.
The U.S. administration’s updated playbook on national security, published on March 16, states as Washington’s principal foreign policy objective the support of democratic movements and institutions around the world and spells out concerns about the Russian leadership’s commitment to democracy. Both international and Russian commentators note that the current U.S. security document pays larger attention to the spreading of democracy and ending tyranny in the world. Indeed, the elements of a democracy-centered strategy were present in previous U.S. security doctrines. However, some top U.S. officials have underscored, today Washington understands much clearer than it did before that the protection of freedom and democracy is becoming its central task.
The document’s section concerning Russia leaves little doubt that the White House perceives the role that present-day Russia is playing in the world as a major obstacle hindering America from reaching its global goals. Without mincing words, the strategy report bluntly says that stifling democracy inside Russia and preventing democratic transformation in the post-Soviet lands will have a negative impact on Moscow’s relations with the European Union and the United States.
One fundamental idea appears to be behind the U.S. strategy blueprint: a world composed of democratic states would be a safer place to live, as democracies do not wage war against one another. There is a relationship, most Western pundits hold, between levels of democracy at home and the tendency to engage in adventurism abroad. Thus, the Bush administration appears to be growing increasingly unhappy about Russia’s behavior on two interrelated counts: first, Moscow is seen to be curtailing democratic reforms in favor of an authoritarian regime; second, it is allegedly resuming a more muscular and aggressive policy globally and particularly toward the former Soviet republics.
Symptomatically, the strategy document was published on the eve of two important elections in Russia’s neighboring countries: the March 19 presidential elections in Belarus (the results of which the White House has refused to recognize) and the March 26 parliamentary poll in Ukraine. As one high-profile Russian commentator notes, “The sphere of our confrontation with the United States has moved to the CIS — to Ukraine, the Caucasus, and Central Asia.”
Not surprisingly, the Kremlin has expressed its deep dissatisfaction with the updated U.S. security policy. A statement made by the Russian Foreign Ministry on March 20 said that the new edition continues to put ideology first in U.S. foreign policy. “From now on the main criteria in the development of relations between the United States and other countries will be their conformity or otherwise to American notions of democracy and to Washington’s requirements for the fight against unwelcome regimes,” the ministry said. The most controversial aspect of the “ideologization” of U.S. policy, Kremlin leaders believe, is that “No one has or can have any monopoly on interpretation of what democracy means. Attempts at an artificial or even forced propagation of democracy in other countries not only cannot succeed, but might even discredit the main idea.”
Most Russian pundits believe the true reason behind Washington’s irritation over Moscow’s policies is its inability to adjust to Russia’s growing weight in global affairs — particularly after more than a decade of indisputable U.S. dominance. They also see the U.S. democratic proselytism as a policy tool used to further Washington’s strategic interests in various parts of world. Furthermore, the U.S. administration’s response to the recent election victories of Hamas in the Palestinian territories and Islamists in Iraq, some Russian analysts say, suggests a view of democracy less principled than it sounds.
At the same time, some liberal-minded Russian pundits point to the emerging contradiction between America’s security strategy and its economic policies. While Washington seeks to “spread democracy,” its global economic strategy leads to the growing economic might of a group of countries that cannot be considered paragons of democratic governance. The policy of “cheap money” that helps sustain economic growth under conditions of huge trade and budget deficits coupled with dramatic price hikes for raw materials have boosted economic development in a number of undemocratic countries including the energy-rich nations of the Middle East and Russia. The latter’s drift toward authoritarianism based on state control over extractive industries is directly connected with the sky-high energy revenues it is currently receiving, some independent experts argue.
Naturally, as they become more powerful economically, the undemocratic countries blessed with hydrocarbons seek to enhance their geopolitical clout as well. In fact, the present situation is marked not by just one global conflict — that between the Western world and militant Islam — but also by acute competition between two capitalisms: a democratic capitalist system and undemocratic one, according to one recent commentary. This confrontation, the commentary warns, might lead to the return to the full-blown bi-polar global architecture that existed during the Cold War.
(Politcom.ru, March 23; RFE/RL, March 21; RIA-Novosti, March 22; Mid.ru, Mosnews. com, March 20; Kommersant, March 17)