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Two Perspectives on Western Security and Russia

America’s NATO Problem:  We’ve Forgotten Why We’re a Member, Jeffrey Rathke, Center for Strategic & International Studies (csis.org), May 24, 2017

What Does Russia Want? Commentary by Kadri Liik, European Council on Foreign Relations (ecfr.eu), May 26, 2017

How have conditions in the West allowed the current low point in relations between Russia and the West to develop?  Two perspectives are offered in these two articles.  Jeffrey Rathke is a Senior Fellow and Deputy Director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.  Kadri Liik is a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) and former director of the International Centre For Defence Studies in Tallinn.  Please see their organizations’ website for the full articles; summaries of each are provided below.

Rathke proposes that “American leaders in both parties have failed in recent decades to explain the strategic benefit of NATO to the United States.”  Much of the American public no longer appreciate the link between European stability and U.S. economic and national security.  Given that the economic relationship between Europe and the West is the largest in the world, the importance of this relationship needs to be clear.

Rathke emphasizes that the military relationship with Europe is also vital to U.S. security and interests.  NATO’s roles in deterring any conventional or nuclear threat from Russia, assembling allied forces in security interests on both sides of the Atlantic, and protecting and advancing Western interests and democratic values require “that the European continent not be dominated or destabilized by any adversary.”

Liik provides a thorough look at the evolution of Russia’s status from the Soviet era to the current international order.  Today’s Russia craves great-power status and is offended that the West has not granted it.  While the Kremlin seeks influence over the non-EU/non-NATO countries along its border and to prevent close ties between those counties and the West, therein lies a fundamental clash between the desire for spheres of control and the post-Cold War liberal order that emphasizes human rights and democracy.  Russian meddling in Western domestic politics aims to establish a new order, or at least create new rules.

The environment that allows Russia’s interference beyond its borders is rooted in “the disaffection of Western populations, and the widespread confusion about the Western model.”  The West must first restore the credibility of its own system and values if Russia is to accept the West’s version of the world order.  There is currently no incentive for Russia to do so.  “The West thinks of Russia as of a person stuck in a geocentric worldview…And Russia views the West as a New Age crackpot, trying to cure cancer with homeopathy, and creating catastrophes in the process.” 

Both authors agree that platitudes and moral high ground are no longer sufficient arguments for convincing those who doubt the Western model of democracy and peace.  While it may still be valid to affirm that NATO and the EU, along with the principles they stand for, are indispensable to global security, until the Western system gets better at presenting realistic, workable solutions to the world’s problems, Western and Russian goals will remain fundamentally at odds.