Modern Diplomacy
Leadership and Strategic Thinking in the Long-Term Peace Era

The choice is not between good and bad, but between different versions of bad. There are fewer and fewer people in Europe who understand this, which is why Europe finds itself on the margins of the current discussions going on between Russia and the United States on the issue of European security, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.

Beginning in 1992, the prevailing idea in the US was that it had won the Cold War against the Soviet Union. Despite the reality — the Soviet Union did not suffer a military defeat and did not admit defeat in the Cold War — this logic prevailed on the European continent as well. To describe it in detail, it is enough to give an example of the negotiations between Russia and the United States of that time. When discussing the issue of the US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty and their plans to deploy defence systems in Europe, President Vladimir Putin asked if Washington understood that these steps would provoke Russia to take counter-steps. In turn, the US President responded with a three-part formula: Russia and the US are no longer enemies; the US will not deliberately violate Russia’s interests; and the parties are free to do what they see available. In fact, it has become the leitmotif of unilateral American dominance.

Modern Diplomacy
Can Russia Deliver on Its Threats?
Andrey Sushentsov
The lack of attention to Russian proposals and objections was the result of a distorted perception in the West about the goals of Russian policy. The main assumption in such a speculative scheme was that Russia cannot behave rationally, that it is just an ever-expanding expansionist power without logic or pragmatism. Such an assessment is very comfortable, but it is inadequate even when analysing the simplest questions, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.
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Gradually, this logic resulted in the maximisation of the Eastern Europe interests for the United States and a misunderstanding of Russia’s claims. “We are not enemies,“ the American establishment believed. The importunity of Russian claims was deliberately ignored, and the idea that Russia was becoming unimportant — even irrelevant — gradually began to prevail in the expert community as a component in the system of US strategic interests.

This perception of modern reality is based on the apathy caused by the absence of a real threat of armed conflict after the end of the Cold War. Why, for example, did the Cuban Missile Crisis set up a world-shaping experience for decades to come? Because it took place amid certain conditions: a lack of information near the American border, the absence of a direct means of communication, the ambiguity of the intentions of opponents, and catastrophic potential consequences for the whole world. The stress experienced by both the Soviet and American systems was very important in terms of understanding the risks and understanding the cost of that crisis.

Today this experience is lost on the world, which persists in falsely perceiving threats.

For decades, NATO’s strategic interests have been hostage to the situational demands of “security consumers” — the countries of Eastern Europe that do not ensure their security, but only broadcast their phobias to the West.

These countries relied on American guarantees, and in principle it was unpleasant for them to even imagine a situation where security issues had to be addressed independently.

Germany’s experience pursuing strategic behaviour has also been completely lost. Actually, what are the threats facing this state today? The issue of migration is relatively minor. Climate change — this threat remains still abstract. For Germany, there is no risk of a military invasion from bordering countries. After the Second World War, when Germany actually received not only demilitarisation and denazification, but also “moved” several hundred kilometres westward, the German elites lived with the feeling that all the key issues had been resolved for them; they could not develop in military terms anymore, which meant that they could start looking for a proper identity.

For West Germany, relations with Russia were connected with the dream of the unification of the two German states: it could not be realised without good and constructive relations with the Soviet Union, and then with Russia. At that time, a generation of German elites was in power who were brought up with the dogma that it was necessary to find a common language with Moscow, at least in order to reunite with East Germany. Now Germany does not have such a major strategic project toward Russia. Standing aside from this is Nord Stream, which is feasible in purely economical terms. Gradually, a generation is coming to power that has grown up in the long peace of an already-united Germany: they no longer have a sense of threat, nor the need to ensure their own security.

In Europe, a generation of elites who thought strategically and understood the basis of peace in Europe is fading into history. The new generation is incapable of tough negotiations with big stakes: they are spoiled by peace and very short-sighted in their assessments, which are based on the “crystal grid” of US military guarantees.

Persuading such elites to return to realism is much more difficult than, say, doing so where senators and members of the House of Representatives are still alive who participated in Cold War conflicts, in détente and in disarmament negotiations. Previously, the political agenda of the US Capitol was still determined by Richard Lugar and Karl Levin, who seriously discussed the drafting of a common missile defence architecture with Russia and the reduction of the number of strategic weapons below what had been specified in the New START treaty. The intellectual discourse of Americans is still being formed, among other things, by people who know what a real war is: not from their history books, but from the forests of Vietnam, the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan.

Leadership always implies sacrifice, a willingness to lose, and a willingness to accept responsibility. This quality becomes inaccessible to those who are accustomed to shifting their responsibility for well-being and security to others. And certainly, leadership is irreducible to moralising and hypocrisy. On the contrary, it is a firm awareness that the decision you make may not please everyone. Here the choice is not between good and bad, but between different versions of bad. There are fewer and fewer people in Europe who understand this, which is why Europe finds itself on the margins of the current discussions going on between Russia and the United States on the issue of European security.

Modern Diplomacy
Modern Diplomacy in an Unstable Global Order: Emotions, Obstruction and Coercion
Gregory Simons
This contemporary deeply undiplomatic form of diplomacy that is being waged by the US-led West is not done so from a position of strength, but rather from a position of declining influence and power.
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Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.