There were reasons why I was happy to see that Robert Gates would continue on as Defense Secretary in the incoming Obama Administration. This article touches on one of them:
A longtime Russia analyst during his years with the CIA, Gates today sees Moscow as less of a threat than do many inside and outside the U.S. military establishment. On PBS’s “Charlie Rose Show” Dec. 17, he spoke of the historical insecurity of Russian leaders, recalling how Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev was embarrassed in Geneva in 1955 that President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s plane was bigger than his. “I mean, this is pretty deep-seated stuff, and so trying to avoid touching on one of Russia’s insecurities is almost impossible,” Gates concluded.
He cautions, in the January-February issue of Foreign Affairs, that before the United States starts to think it must rearm for another Cold War after Russia “crushed Georgia’s tiny military,” it must realize that Moscow is seeking to “exorcise past humiliation.” And although the Russian army has recently improved its conventional forces, it is “a shadow” of what it once was, he says, and “adverse demographic trends in Russia will likely keep those conventional forces in check.”
But Gates told Rose that he sees opportunities in new dealings with Moscow. “Russia, for example, supported the renewal of the U.N. resolution on Afghanistan,” he emphasized. “Russia is very worried about the drugs coming out of Afghanistan and has been supportive in terms of providing alternative routes for Europeans in particular to get equipment and supplies into Afghanistan.”
What does Gates see next for U.S.-Russian ties? “One of the challenges facing the new administration is figuring out kind of where you push back on the Russians and where . . . there are opportunities to build a closer relationship.”
Now, I’d like to see more from Gates concerning this issue; especially with regard to Russia’s increasing authoritarianism at home and how that authoritarianism may be lending a sense of opacity to Russia’s decision-making apparatus; which in turn would increase the chances that we might make some sort of serious error in calculating Russian interests and intentions and acting in error accordingly. Given Russia’s recent bellicosity overseas, this would be an especially undesirable event.
But at least Gates is thinking about this issue and doing so seriously. That’s a good thing. It’s also a good thing that General James Jones is heading up the NSC and will likely play a strong role in ensuring that the rubber meets the road bureaucratically when national security decisions need to be made and implemented.
I’d feel better, however, if the President-elect, the Vice President-elect (isn’t he supposed to be some kind of foreign policy maven?) and the Secretary of State-designate would spell out their thoughts on Russia. Too bad they haven’t yet and the fact that they haven’t is more than a little worrisome. It might indicate, after all, that they don’t have a Russia policy worthy of the name to articulate.