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Keshav Prasad Bhattarai
“Two millennia of experience and mountains of knowledge have not made us much more
capable of managing our affairs than stone age people.”
According to Parag Khanna, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Bin Mohamed has said
the quote mention above.
Unfortunately, the recent crisis in Ukraine, Crimea’s integration with Russia, West’s sanctions
against it and further disturbances in Russian speaking Eastern Ukraine, has again validated
what Mahathir has said.
The Ukraine crisis and Crimean annexation in Russia has exhibited how powerful countries may
intimidate less powerful neighbors at their will and force them to surrender their independence.
However, this has raised many questions – that seeks immediate response from the United
States, Russia, European Union and from other major powers including China and India.
According to NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the crisis in Ukraine is a geo-
political “game-changer” for NATO Allies and hence they must strengthen their economic and
military ties in wake of Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine.
Rasmussen, during his tenure as NATO Secretary General has been trying hard in reinventing
and repurposing NATO and pleading to reaffirm the Allied commitment to collective defense,
and re-strengthening transatlantic bond. Under Rasmussen, NATO has gained a new
momentum in advancing his military strategy vis-à-vis Russia and indubitably he has now much
more serious subscribers among NATO member countries after Ukraine crisis.
On the other hand, Gordon Adams in Foreign Policy has recently termed American and
European policy towards Russia as “an emotional investment in a different answer than reality”.
Adams admits, that there is nothing about democracy, annexation, aggression or a new return
to the Cold War but “centuries-old Russian paranoia about the states on its borders and what
Moscow think the Europeans, the Chinese, or the Americans are up to in its near abroad.”
As quoted in The Atlantic the eminent Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis says “NATO
enlargement as ill conceived, ill-timed, and above all ill-suited to the realities of the post-Cold
War world.” Peoples like George H.W. Bush’s national security advisor Brent Scowcroft and Bill
Clinton’s defense secretary, William Perry were skeptical of the idea of such expansion.
From the present crisis in Ukraine, one thing is obviously clear- the expansion of NATO and its
return to a confrontational and divided European policy further alienating Russia could not bring
stability and security in Eastern Europe.
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Undoubtedly, freedom and democracy are inalienable right of every people in this world, but
they have to build it for themselves. They have to develop it to suit to their culture and
traditions. In addition, no country in the world has the moral, legal, and political right to
prescribe the dose of freedom and democracy while offering tacit support to groups and parties
to incite and organize agitations and stage coups against the elected governments – however
with dubious record.
The idea of Freedom and democracy, when used as strategic tools to advance the strategic
interests of the bigger, richer, and powerful countries against the less fortunate and weaker of
their neighbors - the greatest ideas that have revolutionized people from time memorial, loses
its worth and meaning.
Take example, after World War II, China and Soviet Union used some heavy loaded words,
ideas, and principles - as weapons to expand and export their sense human freedom and
dignity through communist revolution. Their efforts mocked national independence of the
respective countries and all major global treaties, provisions, and reasons. However, when time
completely rejected the illogic of their aggressive revolutionary zeal, they suffered the heaviest
loss to their political morale and ideology. Millions of people who have sacrificed their blood and
energy for their kind of political and socio- economic system, turned into a terrible catastrophe.
Unfortunately, now, the West - in this or that way, is following the footmarks of former Soviet
Union and China under Mao. For their role – the undisputed values of freedom and democracy
is being mocked in many societies - as the mere propagandistic agendas are moved to advance
their strategic interests vis-à-vis other competing powers.
Because of this, the democratic movements whether with open or tacit support of Western
countries from Iraq to North Africa and from Thailand to Ukraine, have received heavy setback.
The West instead of building, developing and strengthening democracy in these countries, have
weakened its roots.
The way a state and group of states control themselves when their stars are high - defines their
character -- political, moral, and cultural. When the Berlin Wall fell, communism extended from
Berlin to the Far East collapsed. Even in the Middle Kingdom, China – representing largest
population of the world, adopted western economic model. The values of democracy, freedom,
and capitalism soared high in the sky with its inborn human values and moral authority - but
with diversities to suit their cultural roots and national experiences, had gained the strength and
authority to rule the world and create a stable global order.
But, when democracies in major countries whether the U.S., EU or India could not resist from
the temptations to use their over burgeoning political, economic and strategic power to use as a
tool to advance their strategic goals, the cause of democracy has suffered in many countries. In
the same way, when unilateral perceptions of national interests and self-defense became the
law of major powers - democracy in developing countries and in return national interests of
powerful countries have gone through heavy losses.
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Relations between and among nations according to a leading American scholar of the 20th
Century Hans J. Morgenthau - demands certain amount of rationality that “minimizes risks and
maximizes benefits”- complying both with “moral perceptions of prudence and the political
requirement of success”.
Morgenthau has also moved a theory of political realism in international relations that seeks
convergence between rationalism and realism in defining national interests of any country -
“universally valid” but relevance to changing time.
This is the point where major powers when are in high tide, find ease in ignoring.
Prominent personality - no other than Henry A. Kissinger, himself a student of Morgenthau, has
stated in his recent article in The Washington Post that says, “I have seen four wars begun with
great enthusiasm and public support, all of which we did not know how to end and from three
of which we withdrew unilaterally. The test of policy is how it ends, not how it begins.”
Unfortunately, the US has failed in most of the tests after World War II.
Three and half decade ago, Henry Kissinger in one of his books wrote, “If history teaches
anything it is that there can be no peace without equilibrium and no justice without restraint . .
. no nation could face or even define its choices without a moral compass that set a course
through the ambiguities of reality and thus made sacrifices meaningful. . . History knows no
resting places and no plateaus.” Earlier to this he has written, “History is not . . . a cookbook
offering pretested recipes it teaches by analogy, not by maxims.”
What Kissinger learnt from history and what he accomplished in the making and shaping of
American foreign policy – has always stand tall in the annals of world history.
In his books - Ending the Vietnam War and Years of Renewal, Kissinger has vividly described US
withdrawal from Vietnam. Recounting, “The Last Day” of that withdrawal, Kissinger has written
-“. . . neither Ford nor I could any longer influence the outcome; we had become spectators of
the final act. So we each sat in our offices, freed of other duties yet unable to affect the
ongoing tragedy, with serenity rarely experienced in high offices.”
As Kissinger noted, many of the top-level people in Ford administration were deeply moved with
tears in their eyes – for all the sacrifices American soldiers and their allies made in Vietnam, but
all the huge sacrifices made by thousands of Americans were not only ignored but also treated
Robert M Gates – the only person in American history, who has served two presidents, has
recently come with a commendable book as his “Memoirs of a Secretary at War”. In his book
titled - Duty, Gates admits that - had he been the Defense Secretary during the winter of 2002-
2003, he would not have recommended the president to invade Iraq. The Iraq War (2003), not
only grinded down the US global credibility, it also eliminated “Iran’s worst enemy and resulted
in a significant strengthening of Teheran’s position in the region – and within Iraq itself”. One of
the most discredited wars that US fought with “monumental cost” killed the equilibrium in the
region and invited a geo-political debacle for American interest in the region.
It is a matter to note that the Iraq War was not an example it was a general trend being
adopted by American administrations.
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There was always some international mechanism created by major powers to maintain status
quo - to control the irrational behavior of only smaller power, but unfortunately, no such
instrument have been developed to check such activities on the part of major or super powers
themselves. They have their privilege to define their national interests in the region they belong
to and apply any means in defending them in their own terms – what so ever might be the case
of weaker or smaller power and inviolability of their national sovereignty.
A theory has come into existence in international relations termed as “Monroe Doctrine” since
1823, when US president James Monroe in his annual message to Congress warned European
powers not to interfere in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere. This means no other power
can extend its political or military influence in a region that is in close proximity to other major
Following the Monroe Doctrine, after World War II, United States unilaterally has used force in
dozen plus countries: from Mexico to Chile and from Dominican Republic to Haiti. The most
recent was in Iraq and Libya.
Similar was the case with former Soviet Union. It had intervened in dozens of countries and the
most notable was Czechoslovakia. Central and Eastern Europe suffered ruthless domination and
intervention during the Soviet Era. Role of China in annexing Tibet, intervening in Korea, and
attacking on Vietnam and exporting communism in many countries of the world during Mao era
are known examples. The way India annexed Sikkim as Russia has occupied Crimea and India’s
role in the creation of a new independent nation - Bangladesh does not tell some different
Undeniably, major global or regional power demands bigger prudence, sincerity, responsibility,
rationality and commitment in managing global or regional peace and order. Nevertheless,
when power – mainly in terms of military, economic and geostrategic, begin to speak louder
and is used as the weapon against the weaker countries and when even some small amount of
moral component seems missing in their behavior, ultimately its effects do not get confined in
cross border relations, but goes global. Evidences are seen everywhere – from Egypt and Syria
to Ukraine. This in turn is reflected in managing the domestic politics of such intervening
Therefore, what have failed in international politics are - diplomacy, dialogue, and the delivery
of justice. It is reason that must prevail in relations between and among the major powers
including the United States and Russia. Equally, they have failed in respecting geo-politics in
managing conflicts among nations in the recent past. This has caused the present standoff
between the West and Russia on Ukrainian crisis.
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The usurping political bureaucracy of the monolithic communist party, run in the name of poor
and deprived but working in contrast to their dignity and long-term security, could not compete
with the values of individual freedom, representative democracy, and state accountability.
Therefore, western political model gained high tide - unprecedented in human history. The
leader of this greatest historic event was the United States. The world with their political
values, most innovative ideas, and economic principles was mainly Americanized and
At no time in history, any country had succeeded in building the greatest moral empire with
values of freedom and human dignity. Indubitably, it was “The End of History”.
Undoubtedly, the communist world could not prove its moral superiority against western
democracy. It might have studied the hundreds years of human history and drew its conclusion
- but it failed to read the basic nature of human beings, their inner drive for freedom and the
socio-economic and political system that can address their natural inclination.
Failures to prove moral superiority caused the collapse of Communist World. It was one of the
greatest achievements in its account. But, unfortunately, America – the undisputed moral
leader of democratic world carrying the values of freedom and democracy as tools to expand itd
strategic interests, has turned out to be a trader than a leader of the greater democratic world.
Thereafter, the uncontested global leader of freedom, democracy, and human dignity followed
a path to collect strategic benefits as much it can, after the collapse of communism.
What was more painful for Russian people was that throughout the communist rule – America
had stood as their moral leader in their fights for freedom and democracy. After the demise of
Soviet Union, they looked at the United States with the high hopes and regards as their savior.
The Russians had a huge reservoir of goodwill and trust for the American government and
people. Flowingly, Russia discarded communism, dissolved Warsaw Pact, and played rather a
facilitating role in the independence of Eastern European and Central Asian countries.
But, but, but, America failed to return the good will exhibited by the Russian people. The great
country with ancient civilization, a country that had always played a crucial role in shaping the
course of world history and had helped Europe remain safe from almost all imperial wars fought
to dominate Europe, suffered untold humiliation at the hands of America and its European
America preoccupied with anti- Soviet mentality of the Cold War, did make every effort to
humiliate the national pride of the Russian people. They did not help Russia in a substantial way
to emerge as a fully democratic country - that was much eager to adopt western values. Had
America and NATO family been some more cautious and sympathetic to Russian national pride
and refrain from extending NATO and its military installation eastward to the Russian border,
Russians by now could have developed a vibrant democracy friendlier to America and Western
The behavior Russians received at the hands of American and NATO strategists forced Russians
become nostalgic to old Soviet days. The result of this has been power, and prominence that
Vladimir Putin has earned in Russia today.
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States as a certain territory do not exist with national and international laws or negotiations
with national and international parties - but they survive with shared hopes and shared efforts
of its people to create a nation for them with a shared history with their shared sacrifice for the
nation hood. If such territory has number of honest, visionary and competent political leaders
that can translate peoples’ hope and inspiration into effective national policies and programs
through a government elected by fairly and commonly accepted democratic values and
procedures, then states as nations exists and prosper.
Moreover, with the existence of a sound international system that can effectively protect them
against any geo- strategic, political or military interests of nations or group of nations and
with the independence of its actions inside its territory, a nation survives and thrives.
But, if states within a defined territory do not have the terms and conditions as mentioned
above- there will be many Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, and Syria. Although they
cannot exist successfully as a national unit, they can pose threat to major powers for their
security and other vital national interests.
Geostrategic interests always clashes among nations and are confined to some geographical
periphery of some major countries – including Russia. Victor Sebestyen in The New York Times
says Ukrainian Crisis is not the beginning of a new Cold War, or any global military challenge,
clash of civilizations or ideological threat to western democracies.
After Soviet Union collapsed, Russia was in urgent need of a strong leader - with vision,
courage, and conviction with ability to offer them a nation with honor. In this endeavor, Russian
people invented Vladimir Putin - probably fitting well in their mind. He has a unique opportunity
to deal with three American presidents from Bill Clinton to Barack Obama and as a KGB officer
has seen how the mighty Soviet empire collapsed under the pressure of its internal weakness –
an unaccountable government followed by its inevitable outcomes: economic failures and
people’s ire against an unrepresentative monolithic communist state.
If he can manage the political course of his country, Vladimir Putin will be presiding the
world’s largest country with massive nuclear capacity only next to the United States - for about
a quarter of this Century.
However demonized by Western media for his role in knocking down political dissent and
annexing Crimea, all the three US presidents from Bill Clinton to Barrack Obama have found
some outstanding qualities in him. For example, former US president Bill Clinton in his book MY
Life (2005) has admitted that Putin “had the skills and capacity for hard work necessary to
manage the turbulent political and economic life” and “tough enough to hold Russia together”.
Similarly, Clinton’s successor President George W. Bush in his book – Decisions Points, while
answering a question if “Putin was a man that Americans can trust”, he answered “Yes” and
further elaborated “I looked the man in the eyes . . . was able to get a sense of his soul.” Bush
has further acknowledged, “Putin was the first leader to call the White House on September 11”
and in a rare gesture of solidarity Putin agreed, “To open Russian airspace to American military
planes and use his influence with the former Soviet republics to help get our troops into
Afghanistan. Putin even ordered Russian Generals “to brief their American counterparts on
their experience during their Afghanistan invasion in the 1980”.
Even President Obama in a press conference in August last year said that Putin was blunt,
candid, and often constructive.
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Had the NATO and EU realized the moral strength of freedom and democracy and could have
resisted themselves from the temptation of collecting the narrow-minded strategic advantage
from the collapse of communism, and had they allowed democracy run its course in the Eastern
Europe - the whole Eurasian region would have turned their moral empire. A new face of socio-
political and economic culture could have emerged that could ultimately validate Francis
Fukuyama’s “End of History”.
Clearly,the West could not honor with this excellent opportunity. Spiegal, a German online
newspaper and The Atlantic , an American magazine has recalled an event that will continue to
define future course of European history. According to Spiegel, on February 9, 1990, in St.
Catherine's Hall at the Kremlin, during the negotiations over German reunification - the US
secretary of state James A Baker made a promise with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that if
the Soviets allowed Germany to reunify, NATO would not even move “one inch” further east
and not even into the former East Germany itself.
Next day in a similar a meeting between Gorbachev and West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl,
German Chancellor also assured the Soviet leader that “naturally NATO could not expand its
territory” into East Germany. In a parallel meeting between West German Foreign Minister
Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, Genscher reassured
Shevardnadze that they stand firm - “NATO will not expand to the East.”
However, none of the assurances were in written form and as the Soviet Union began to
implode, the agreement was ignored and NATO forces moved into the old East Germany.
Russian President Boris Yeltsin complained that NATO’s eastward march had violated the
assurances given by the American and German leaders, but a weakened Russia was in no
position to do anything about it.
There are claims and counter claims about it. Spiegel says the documents have proved the
Russian position. James A Baker denies of any such deal between him and Gorbachev but the
U.S. Ambassador in Moscow during that time - Jack Matlock admits that the U.S. had made a
clear commitment of this kind.
After Soviet Union collapsed, NATO extended its membership to former Soviet bloc countries
bordering the Soviet Union - Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia, in 1999. In 2004, it
extended its membership to seven other countries: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania,
Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia and among them Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were part of
former Soviet Union. Again, in 2009 Albania and Croatia were admitted as NATO member
countries. During the Soviet Era when Moscow was more than 2700 kilometers away from a
NATO country, today it is just about 800 kilometers away. Moreover, Ukraine, Georgia,
Moldova, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Azerbaijan in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have
developed close military relations with NATO and among them; Georgia and now Ukraine are
two aspiring NATO member countries with chilling relations Russia. This way Russia has found
itself surrounded by a group of countries hostile to its interests. According to Russian analyst,
these countries are heavily provoked by the United States and Europe against Russia. In
Central Asia too, Russia has a feeling of a strategic encirclement by the United States and to
some extents by China.
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In principle, any sovereign country deserves the right to join any political or military groupings.
Nevertheless, the question remains - while the United States has denied such rights to any
country in Western Hemisphere – throughout history, how can it claim such rights extended to
the Russian border?
The Russians had compromised with the fate of their country and had accepted all this as
helpless spectator. It emboldened the NATO to move further eastwards. Naturally, Russians
considered this as a part of the comprehensive strategy of the West to ignore and humiliate
Russian national honor and undermine their vital security interests – even to destabilize Russian
Federation. The move to award NATO membership to Georgia and Ukraine has the ended
Russian patience and the present crisis emerged.
Undoubtedly, if countries like the United States and powerful European countries are tempted
to encourage dissatisfactions against governments anywhere from Egypt and Syria and from to
Ukraine and Russia, it is hard for any country to maintain law and order within its territory. The
governments naturally use security forces to control them and if foreign powers are engaged in
supplying even arms and ammunition against an elected government – even under a
controversial situation- it will only open Pandora’s Box and then only chaos rules.
Without any love for communism, similar to Vladimir Putin, huge majority of Russians seems to
have common feelings that fall of Soviet Union was a great geo-political disaster of history.
However, the analysts say that they do have no ambition to reestablish old Soviet order and
they clearly know it is against the basic rationale of 21st Century statecraft. But, as a proud
nation from the ancient time, they want to live within a secured border – with peace and
stability of their socio-political system.
In history, Russians fought many wars. They were also attacked by European powers like
France and Germany under Napoleon and Hitler. They had fought against the powerful Ottoman
Empire that was in alliance with major European powers like France and Great Britain known as
Crimea War (1853-56). It was also assaulted by Japan and China.
Russia considers the West wants to encircle it and break into pieces. It also fears China in its
South that had seceded the territory left of bank of Amur River from Russia in 1858. Russia still
has some territorial disputes with Japan. It knows it cannot fight with NATO and other
European powers and therefore will not confront them directly - unless threatened against its
vital security. Russia as well as the West also know that there remains no permanent hurdle
between Russia and the West that could not be mended.
Similarly, Peace with Russia is in the best interests of Central and East European countries from
Poland and Czech Republic to Georgia and Ukraine. Likewise, it is in the best interests of major
West European powers like Germany, France, and Britain. Even to fight with the army of a
minor power Libya under Muammar Gaddafi, France and Britain were in urgent need of
American backup – while Russia is the second most powerful country in terms of military power
after the United States - especially in nuclear arsenals. Therefore, to win in an all-out war
between the West and Russia for the countries east of Poland is next to impossible.
But, this does not mean that Russia is major power that can decide the course of events in
Eastern Europe. Its economy and defense capabilities are no match with that of NATO and
other European powers. A major conflict between Russia and NATO may bring devastating
results for Europe, but undoubtedly, it will force Russia to see more dreadful days than the fall
of Soviet Union.
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It is harder for America to get involved in any other major conflict in Europe after Iraq and
Afghanistan. America knows it much better than any country that Russia is not Iraq, Libya, or
Syria. With Russia, it does have no ideological, religious or cultural differences. It also needs
Russian help to resolve the Syrian crisis and nuclear build up of Iran.
European Union needs Russia for its huge oil and gas reserve and Russian market for its
productions. Partnership with Russia in trade and defense will be highly beneficial for its crisis
torn economy. Russia will also be a huge job market for EU. Therefore, any strategic ploy to
beat Russia, air geopolitical rivalry and destabilize it may backfire EU - with the emergence of
extremist power in Russia – that have not yet reconciled with the fall of Soviet Empire.
Therefore, taking confidence of Russia by respecting its national concerns in promoting internal
cohesion in Eastern European countries, and deepening trust between Russia and former Soviet
Union and Soviet bloc countries will have tremendous positive impacts in building democracy
and building nations in the region. Russia in return will also be heavily benefitted by the
multiple economic opportunities available for it in Eastern and Western Europe.
The United States has to play a lead role here. More conflicts and more U.S. involvement will
not only erase its defense power capability, its economic cost will be execrably high and beyond
its national capacity. It will also weaken its lead role on global affairs –it has been playing for
more than six decades. The worst sufferer will become the values of freedom and democracy
and its supporters worldwide. With a weakened America, they will have to live with weakened
Here it becomes worthwhile to share an interesting meeting between newly elected French
President Nicholas Sarkozy and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as reported by Adam
Gopnik in the New Yorker on August 2007. Besides other things, Gopanik has said that Sarkozy
was among the few people in Élysée Palace with deep regards for America. Encouraged with
Sarkozy coming to power, and to exhibit a gesture of good will - U.S. President George W. Bush
immediately sent Secretary Rice to France.
According to Gopanik, when Sarkozy met Condoleezza Rice, she asked, “What can I do for
you?” And Sarkozy replied, bluntly, “Improve your image in the world. It’s difficult when the
country that is the most powerful, the most successful-that is, of necessity, the leader of our
side-is one of the most unpopular countries in the world. It presents overwhelming problems for
you and overwhelming problems for your allies. So do everything you can to improve the way
you’re perceived-that’s what you can do for me. I think it’s entirely possible; the reservoir of
good will has been drained somewhat, but it is far from dry. Look how much the image of
France has changed in the United States in eight weeks.”
Sarkozy was speaking not only his mind but he was representing all those who love America
and want America remain strong, powerful but also highly popular so that the baton of freedom
and democracy stand tall and go taller. And perhaps Sarkozy was speaking for Russian people
and its leader Vladimir Putin too.
Eurasia Review, April 8, 2014