The New Cold War: The United States, Russia, and China from Kosovo to Ukraine 9781642599404

A leading international relations expert uncovers the key stages that led from the end of the Cold War to the War in Ukr

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The New Cold War: The United States, Russia, and China from Kosovo to Ukraine

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© 2023 Gilbert Achcar

Published in cooperation with The Westbourne Press in London Published in 2023 by

Haymarket Books

P.O. Box 180165

Chicago, IL 60618


[email protected] ISBN: 978-1-64259-940-4 Distributed to the trade in the US through Consortium Book Sales and Distribution ( and internationally through Ingram Publisher Services International ( This book was published with the generous support of Lannan Foundation and Wallace Action Fund. Special discounts are available for bulk purchases by organizations and institutions. Please email [email protected] for more information. Cover design by Matt Avery. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data is available.


List of Figures Preface Acknowledgments  








Notes Index


List of Figures Introduction 1: US Military Expenditure in Constant 2019 US$, 1950–1990 2: US Military Expenditure as a Share of GDP, 1950–1990 Chapter One 1: US Defense Spending in Constant 1995 US$, 1953–1997 2: World Defense Spending by Share Chapter Three 1: The Russian Federation’s Military Expenditure as a Share of Government Expenditure, 2000–2020 2: The Russian Federation’s Military Expenditure in Current US$, 2000–2020 Chapter Four 1: China’s Military Expenditure in Current US$, 2000–2020 2: China and USA, Military Expenditure as a Share of GDP, 2000– 2020 3: China’s Military Expenditure as a Share of Government Expenditure, 2000–2020 Conclusion 1: The United States, Russia and China: Military Expenditure as a Share of GDP, 1992–2020 2: The United States, Russia and China: Military Expenditure in Constant 2019 US$, 1992–2020 3: US Military Expenditure in Constant 2019 US$, 1950–2020



Unsurprisingly, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine triggered a deluge of comments on the shape of international relations along the geopolitical East–West divide, which is still ongoing. The reference to a New Cold War has inevitably been dominant in these comments. At a time when animosity in relations between Russia and the geopolitical West has reached a peak matching the most worrying moments of the Cold War, it is a striking paradox that many commentators have heralded the beginning of a New Cold War. Others shied away from going so far, contenting themselves with warnings against the potential advent of a New Cold War—as if it was not already in full swing. Since the turn of this century, there have been myriad announcements of the start of a New Cold War, or warnings against its potential occurrence, intermittently surging after each period of East–West tension, like mushrooms after the rain. The chaotic state of the debate about this seemingly elusive notion of a New Cold War points to a lack of clarity about what “cold war” means in the first place. This book’s introductory chapter is therefore dedicated to the exploration and clarification of that concept—a prerequisite for any meaningful discussion of its uses. My own understanding of it, combined with my assessment of the 1999 Kosovo War, led me to diagnose the beginning of what I have called a New Cold War since that tense end to the twentieth century. In the wake of the Kosovo War, I wrote in French a piece titled “Rasputin Plays Chess: How the World Stumbled into a New Cold War”, which I published—along with a previous article of mine titled “The Strategic Triad: The United States, Russia and China” written in 1997 and first published in English translation the year after, in the New Left Review—in a little book titled La Nouvelle Guerre froide: le monde après le Kosovo (The New Cold War: The World after Kosovo), which came out in 1999.1 This was probably the first post-1990 book whose title referred to the start of a New Cold War, a twenty-first-century variant that involved the two central players of the previous one—the United States and Russia (previously as the dominant nation of the Soviet Union)—along with a new major player inclined to team up with the latter: China. I had wished 9

that little volume to come out in English as well, but Tariq Ali, then director of the NLR’s associated publishing house Verso Books, insisted on including the new piece along with the previous one as two chapters in a collection he was editing, which came out in 2000 under the title Masters of the Universe? NATO’s Balkan Crusade.2 I have always regretted acquiescing in that decision, which buried my book and its original thesis in a compilation of contributions of over 400 pages. I have therefore been intending ever since to reissue my two pieces separately in English, in order to bring forward their thesis about the New Cold War—which I believed to be vindicated by subsequent events —and to seize this opportunity to update my analysis. Various circumstances have conspired to distract me from that project. However, I was finally convinced to put other projects on hold by the new crisis over Ukraine that started to unfold in the spring of 2021, which I saw as a culmination of the process that had gestated in the 1990s. The exponential increase in references to the New Cold War both in the media and in titles of books and journal articles since the previous crisis over Ukraine in 2014, and deteriorating relations between Washington and Beijing, especially after Donald Trump became president in 2017, were an additional incentive. The present book is the result. The two previous chapters of which my 1999 book is comprised are reproduced hereafter as Part I of the present book, without alteration except for copyediting homogenization and a few translation fixes. The purpose of this is not to deliver an “I told you so” but to demonstrate that it was possible to recognize two decades ago that the world had been put on a course that could lead to the present highly explosive situation. It is my firm belief that those two chapters have lost none of their relevance and that their detailed consideration of the events of the 1990s is crucial for the understanding of the present world situation, which is indeed why I decided to make them available to today’s readers and consequently submit them to their critical judgment. They are preceded by the introductory chapter already mentioned and followed by a longer section of this book (Part II), which comprises two new chapters: the first on Russia’s evolution under Vladimir Putin, and the second on China—both countries being primarily considered from the angle of their foreign policy and relations with the United States, 10

including an assessment of the interaction of these policies with domestic factors in each country.3 London, 14 July 2022



Ilya Budratskis and Au Loong-yu have read and commented on Chapters 3 and 4, respectively. Ashley Smith did likewise for the whole manuscript on behalf of Haymarket. Charles Peyton edited the book very thoroughly and usefully. Chapter 1 (1997) had benefited from comments by members of the CIRPES (Centre interdisciplinaire de recherches sur la paix et d’études stratégiques, École des hautes études en sciences sociales– EHESS, Paris), especially those of its director Alain Joxe and of Maurice Ronai. I extend my gratitude to all of them, while remaining solely responsible for the views and any errors included in this book. I am also thankful to Presses Universitaires de France for their reversion of the rights to my 1999 work and to Verso Books for their permission to use the English translation that is reproduced in Part I of this book.



On Cold Wars and the New Cold War

The designation New Cold War—along with Second Cold War—was used before 1990 to describe the flare-up of tensions between Washington and Moscow that followed Ronald Reagan’s accession to the US presidency in 1981. It was actually a misuse of the concept, for the rather obvious reason that the policy of détente initiated by Richard Nixon in 1969 had in no way brought the Cold War to an end. It was only a decrease in tension in a protracted confrontation, short of direct belligerence, between the two Cold War superpowers. Historians rightly refer today to the Cold War as a single period that goes from the aftermath of the Second World War to the sequence of events from the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the unification of Germany in 1990 and the subsequent disintegration of the USSR by the end of the following year.

Early Warnings of a New Cold War

In the year 2000, in the wake of the Kosovo War, one of the towering figures of the study of international relations, Kenneth Waltz—the foremost advocate of “structural realism” or “neorealism”, essentially a version of “balance of power” theory—published an important article in the Harvard University journal International Security, in which I saw a confirmation of the views that I had expressed in my 1999 book. On the most fateful decision that precipitated the deterioration of international relations at the end of the twentieth century, namely the post-1990 decision to expand NATO eastward, Waltz commented: The reasons for expanding NATO are weak. The reasons for opposing expansion are strong. It draws new lines of division in Europe, alienates those left out, and can find no logical stopping place west of Russia. It weakens those Russians most inclined toward liberal democracy and a market economy. It strengthens Russians of the opposite inclination. It reduces hope for further large reductions of nuclear weaponry. It pushes Russia toward China instead of drawing Russia toward Europe and America … To alienate Russia by expanding NATO, and to alienate China by lecturing its leaders on how to rule their country, are policies that only an overwhelmingly powerful country could afford, and only a foolish one be


tempted, to follow. The United States cannot prevent a new balance of power from forming. It can hasten its coming as it has been earnestly doing.1 By this time, apart from my 1999 book, the only assertion that the world did actually enter a New Cold War, leaving aside episodic warnings against its hypothetic advent2—the only such assertion that I am aware of in a Latin-script language (such claims may very well have existed in Russian, in particular)—was made in 1998 by none other than George Kennan, one of the best-known architects of the Cold War at its onset. Kennan, then ninety-four years old, declared to Thomas Friedman, the famous New York Times columnist, that the US decision to expand NATO constituted in his opinion “the beginning of a new cold war”.3 The next such categorical assertion I know of was made six years into the new century by the late Stephen Cohen, the well-known Russia specialist. Against the background of the palpable cooling of US–Russian relations under George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin, Cohen published in the Nation in June 2006 an article titled” The New American Cold War”, in which he convincingly argued that relations between Washington and Moscow had deteriorated to a level of hostility equal to that of the Cold War, and even more dangerous in some respects.4 He also noted in passing: “Moscow is forming a political, economic and military ‘strategic partnership’ with China”. In the same year, a seminar paper was issued as a booklet in German, heralding a New Cold War in its title.5 The author discussed the triangular relations between the United States, Russia and China as constituting a New Cold War, primarily in light of Waltz’s neorealism. In 2007, Canadian journalist and former Moscow bureau chief for the Globe and Mail, Mark MacKinnon, published what was probably the second book to be titled The New Cold War after my own.6 MacKinnon provided a vivid description of the contest between Washington and Moscow over the former Soviet sphere: Just a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Washington and Moscow were back at odds, again fighting tooth and nail in an undeclared battle … Unlike the Cold War, which was fought on such far-flung battlefields as Angola and Vietnam, this one would be fought far closer to the Kremlin’s


doorstep, reflecting the new reality of Russia as a re-emerging power. This battle would also have an ideological overtone, the US once again donning the cloak of defending “freedom” and individual liberties … But this modern struggle would be as much about competing commercial interests —and the control of the old USSR’s vast energy resources—as it would be about political systems or ideologies.7 While underestimating the extent to which this New Cold War would eventually resort to the same “weapons” as those of the previous one, MacKinnon aptly described the new features: The weapons of this war would be different, too. Nuclear standoffs and proxy armies were gone, replaced by rigged elections, stage-managed revolutions and wrangling over pipeline routes. But it was still Washington versus Moscow. And the peoples of the old USSR—Ukrainians, Georgians, Russians, Belarusians and Central Asians—were the ones caught in the middle.8 In 2008, British journalist and senior editor at the Economist, Edward Lucas, published a further book titled The New Cold War.9 Focusing on US–Russian relations, Lucas misjudged the fundamentally triangular character of the new global confrontation. He mistakenly ruled out the prospect of Beijing’s alliance with Moscow.10 The year after, the Austrian Study Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution organized a conference on East–West tensions that resulted in a publication in German under the title, On the Way to a New Cold War?11 Then, in 2010, Cohen’s abovementioned article was reprinted as the opening salvo in a collection that included fifteen articles by various authors, expressing contradictory views under the title, Is There a New Cold War?12 Not long after, dramatic quakes in international relations generated two major waves of publications on the theme of the New Cold War: one focused on Russia’s relations with the West in the wake of the 2014 Ukraine crisis, and another on China’s relations with the West, boosted three years later by the bitter turn these relations underwent under Donald Trump, who aired rabidly anti-Chinese rhetoric from the White House. Each wave brought onto the market several books in various languages, focusing on US relations with either Russia or China, or both, as well as an abundance of articles of all types, both journalistic and academic.


Halfway between these two genres stands Foreign Affairs, the venerable journal of US foreign policy published by the Council on Foreign Relations. In 2018 it issued a voluminous selection of articles on US relations with Russia under the title, A New Cold War? Russia and America, Then and Now.13 In their introduction to this anthology, the editors, referring to “Westerners”, observed that “many of them contend we are entering a new Cold War”.14 This same contention had in fact been made more frequently and for a longer time in the two countries at the opposite end of that new confrontation: Russia and China—laying the blame on Western behavior, of course. Thus, what is perhaps the earliest warning on record against a New Cold War was expressed in 1994, less than three years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, by Georgi Arbatov—formerly a member of both the USSR’s Supreme Soviet and its ruling Communist Party’s Central Committee—who is credited with having played a key role as advisor to Michael Gorbachev in devising the pro-peace policies of the last Soviet president.15 In an article titled “A New Cold War?”, published in Foreign Policy, Arbatov warned American readers in polite and friendly terms against the consequences of the “disastrous” economic reforms dictated to post-Soviet Russia by the United States, along with its G7 allies and the IMF and World Bank, combined with Washington’s vexing policy toward Russia relating to the latter’s “near abroad”. The economic policy that Arbatov referred to is discussed in Chapter 3, below. For now, here is his warning in the realm of foreign policy: When America plays the game of “lone superpower”, Russians feel frustrated and start to be very critical of their own foreign policy; Russian nationalists take the offensive … One hears among [them], for instance, some emerging political ideas about Russia’s “special” or even exclusive rights and responsibilities to care about “law and order” in the former Soviet Union. That area, at times including some countries in Eastern Europe, is declared a zone of special interest for Russia. Proposed is a kind of a “Monroe doctrine” (or, as some joke, “Monrovski doctrine”) for Russia. Such a policy, were Russia to accept it, would open the way to new conflicts and maybe even civil war over the whole territory of the former Soviet Union. And that struggle in turn would revive the Cold War. Such a policy would bring an end to democratic reforms in Russia …


Though Russia is in a deep crisis today, it is difficult and counterproductive for America to ignore us even now. Sooner or later we will overcome our crises and our strength and influence will return. Meanwhile, it is important not to permit relations between our two countries to sour. We already have signs that this is beginning to happen … America must include us not out of pity but with clear understanding of Russia’s present and future role. The United States must do this also with an understanding of the fact that Russia is a great power with legitimate national interests.16 If a Western-friendly Russian such as Arbatov could sound so alarmist in the early 1990s—and rightly so, as the future proved—one can presume that by then many, if not most, Russians were perceiving relations between their country and the West as marked by a continuation of the Western aversion to Russia that characterized the Cold War era. Likewise, in the “unipolar moment” opened by the USSR’s death agony, there has been no lack of Chinese pronouncements against “hegemonism” that were no longer targeting Moscow, but instead Washington.17 The inexorable rise of China’s power and the partial recovery of Russia’s power in the twenty-first century were met with US animosity and a surge in attitudes belonging to the panoply of “containment” policies practiced against the USSR during the Cold War. In both countries, this inevitably nurtured a strong and widespread belief that the world’s hegemon wanted to clip their wings.

State of Denial

In Western countries, on the other hand—particularly in the United States—there has long been a widespread denial of the reality of the New Cold War, although this denial has considerably receded since the most recent round of confrontation over Ukraine. Kenneth Waltz’s 2000 essay was republished two years later, in an edited volume debating the future of post–Cold War international relations, titled America Unrivaled: The Future of the Balance of Power.18 In his introduction to the collection, G. John Ikenberry defined its topic in terms indicating how much he underestimated the developments described in the next two chapters of this book, originally published around the same time. “Why has the unprecedented concentration of American power today not triggered balancing responses from other major states?” asked Ikenberry.19


The range of responses to this question offered in the collection demonstrated the degree of self-delusion among think-tanks and in academic foreign policy circles. They included assertions of belief in the durability of the overwhelming US economic and military superiority— despite the fast rise in China’s economic power, as well as the limits and constraints on American military power that were revealed in Vietnam (and were soon confirmed in Iraq and Afghanistan). The collection also displayed belief in the Kantian postulate of peace based on political liberalism and trade, as well as in the global acceptance of US hegemony assumed to be benevolent and indeed desired by “other major states” to protect them from each other. This was, in other words, an expression of faith in the long-lasting success of the hub-and-spokes strategy, in which the United States is the hub and Europe, Japan, Russia and China are the spokes of the global wheel, each needing the United States more than they need each other—a strategy described at the end of this book’s next chapter. By the end of the 1990s, the crucial decade of transition from the Cold War, Washington had blatantly failed to manage this hub-and-spokes strategy. That is because it included an inherent contradiction: Washington needed to emphasize a post-ideological threat still represented by Russia and China in order to incite its major established partners in Europe and East Asia to renew their allegiance to US overlordship. But doing so— revamping and upgrading Cold War alliances that had been formed against Russia and China, instead of discarding them in recognition of their obsolescence, as most of world public opinion, Western countries included, hoped for in the immediate aftermath of the USSR’s demise— made it impossible to convince either Moscow or Beijing to regard Washington as a guarantor of their own security, since none of them faced a threat remotely comparable to that represented by Washington itself. The post–Cold War world was not a return to the multipolar condition that preceded the First World War—not only because the United States was for many years much more powerful than the rest, a point well captured by the term “unipolar moment”, but also because the global power potential of either Russia or China, and even more so their combined potential, exceed by a considerable margin the potential of every other power but the United States. Unlike Japan and the European powers, which fundamentally accept their subordinate condition (even if


the French are eager to enhance EU autonomy), both China and Russia aspire to the status of global peers of the United States, and know only too well that the paramount global power is striving to keep them down— which is precisely why they need to join forces in countering it. Self-delusion reached its peak in the United States in the aftermath of the attacks of 11 September 2001 (“9/11”), when the American giant was crying out for revenge. Both Russia and China weathered the outburst of American rage that immediately followed 9/11, when US forces went into Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban regime. A key principle of judo, the Japanese martial art of whose mastery Vladimir Putin is so proud, is to offer no resistance to the assault of a powerful opponent, but instead use the energy of the assault to destabilize the assailant. In the wake of the huge shock of 9/11, at a time when Russia was only beginning to recover from the extreme asthenia that had struck it during the 1990s, while it remained mired in the Chechen war within its own federative borders, Putin, then president for less than two years, conspicuously followed his “judoka” instinct. He put a brave face on the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and—far worse from Moscow’s perspective—on Washington’s securing of various military facilities, including the lease of Soviet-era bases, in all five former Soviet Republics of Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. This historically unprecedented push by the United States in this part of the world was accomplished thanks to the opportunity offered by the “war on terror”. Putin nodded to all this. Happy to see his own purported “war on terror” in Chechnya thereby validated, and probably hoping that Afghanistan would turn into a quagmire for the United States as it had for the USSR, he deferred his opposition to US deployment in Central Asia until more propitious circumstances emerged. So did China, which was in the midst of Jiang Zemin’s charm offensive toward Western countries—an approach that soon came to be known as the “peaceful rise” policy. China was no doubt worried by the deployment of US forces on its north-western flank, dangerously completing a vise around its landmass, along with the longstanding concentration of massive US and allied forces on its eastern flank. The only possible silver lining was that the Taliban had been a source of worries for China: it was thus on balance preferable from Beijing’s standpoint that Washington fight Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia rather than fan it, as it had done for many


years in opposition to the Soviet Union, with spillover effects within China’s own territory—Xinjiang in particular. The momentary mood of collaboration with Washington in Moscow and Beijing in the wake of 9/11 was shown in the remarkable unanimity displayed at the UN Security Council, which adopted a series of resolutions on the situation in Afghanistan that bestowed international legality on the US-led military presence in that country. Illusions about a lasting acceptance of US preeminence by Russia and China, and about the durability of this preeminence itself, reached a peak during this period of heightened US hubris. Such illusions were articulated in some of the contributions to the volume edited by Ikenberry, mentioned above. The gradual buildup of evidence to the contrary as this century’s first decade unfolded was met by widespread denial in the United States. A striking instance was the keynote speech that then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delivered on 23 January 2008 at the Word Economic Forum, held every year at Davos, Switzerland. Rice, whose career in US foreign policy was due to her expertise in Russian affairs, had read the day before in the Financial Times an interview with Lithuanian president Valdas Adamkus. Pointing to aggressive gestures by Moscow toward the Baltic states, and alluding to the effect of sharply rising oil prices on the Russian economy, the Lithuanian president wondered if “a very strong financial recovery in Russia is a stimulus for the new Russian leadership to return to the cold war”.20 Rice’s rebuttal was quite stunning. Asserting that “perhaps nowhere is it clearer that we have no permanent enemies than in our relationship with Russia”, she continued: “Ladies and gentlemen, the recent talk about a new Cold War is hyperbolic nonsense”, before blatantly contradicting herself after only a couple of sentences: Our relations today are fundamentally different than they were when all we shared was the desire to avoid mutual annihilation. The fact is that the United States and Russia are working constructively today on many issues of mutual interest—from counter-proliferation, to counterterrorism, to the pursuit of peace in the Middle East. And we are determined to remember this, even when we hear unwise and irresponsible rhetoric from Russia itself that harkens back to an earlier time.21


Rice’s state of denial became even more manifest when, later in the same speech, she described NATO’s mutation in terms that, to Russian ears, could only sound like those of a Cold Warrior par excellence—a fact of which she could not possibly have been unaware: I remember when NATO saw the world in two parts: There was Europe, and then there was “out of area”—which was pretty much everything else. So who could have imagined seven years ago that our alliance today would be training troops in Iraq, providing air lift in Darfur, and rooting out terrorists in places like Kandahar? These are increasingly the challenges of the 21st century, and I am optimistic that NATO will meet them, just as it met the challenges of last century … And who would have thought that NATO and the European Union would erase old divisions of East and West, that they would unite democratic nations across Europe, and that the Alliance would hold its 2006 Summit in Latvia? Once, that seemed impossible. Now, it too seems inevitable.22 The fact that the US government, at this moment, remained so vehement in its denial of the New Cold War with Russia—a reality regarded as rather obvious by the Russian side—could be seen as symptomatic of Washington’s responsibility in having brought about this situation. Culprits are naturally more inclined to deny their deeds than are their victims. Just a few months later, in August 2008, a war broke out in Georgia following a scenario very similar to that which would unfold in Ukraine six years later. Both wars were instances of a Russian fightback against further NATO expansion into former Soviet republics.

Confusion about the New Cold War

The confrontation over Ukraine that began in February 2014 was so serious that it made the persistence of denial very difficult. Indeed, in the voluminous anthology of articles, starting from 1947, that Foreign Affairs issued in 2018, the first piece that asserts the existence of a New Cold War was that penned by Robert Levgold, originally published in the summer of 2014. A prominent member of the large US academic–diplomatic community that had dealt with the USSR during the Cold War, and now continued to deal with its successor states, Levgold called upon his peers to acknowledge what had become too flagrant to be denied: No one should casually label the current confrontation between Russia and the West a “new Cold War”. After all, the current crisis hardly matches


the depth and scale of the contest that dominated the international system in the second half of the twentieth century. And accepting the premise that Russia and the West are locked in such a conflict could lead policymakers to pursue the wrong, even dangerous strategies. Using such a label is thus a serious matter. Yet it is important to call things by their names, and the collapse in relations between Russia and the West does indeed deserve to be called a new Cold War.23 As acknowledgment of the reality of a New Cold War proliferated in the United States, the blame for it tended more and more to be laid squarely at Russia’s door, as illustrated by the introduction to the Foreign Affairs collection. The editors described the process of this growing acknowledgment in their opening paragraph, partially quoted above. Here is the entire paragraph: On March 18, 2018, Vladimir Putin was elected to his fourth term as Russia’s president, a position he can hold until 2024—and possibly beyond that, if he finds a way to circumvent the constitution. During the campaign, Putin stressed to Russians that he was just the kind of strong leader who could, as his supporters often put it, “raise Russia off its knees”, and he spent much of his time bashing his critics in the West, particularly in the United States. Putin’s hostility toward the West has been met in kind. In fact, so concerned have Westerners grown with his political meddling, regional aggression, and general efforts to play international spoiler that many of them contend that we are entering a new Cold War.24 While recognizing the obvious truth with regard to Russia, Levgold continued to turn a blind eye to the informal alliance between China and Russia in countering US global supremacy—an alliance that had been widely expected early on, whether from a “structural realist” perspective or through sheer common sense. “Unlike the original”, Levgold commented, the new Cold War “won’t encompass the entire global system … significant regions and key players, such as China and India, will avoid being drawn in.”25 What continued to be overlooked, mostly out of wishful thinking, was that Beijing had good reason to feel it was in the same boat with Moscow as a target of continued containment, and therefore tended to side and collaborate with Moscow on various issues. This was despite the fact that China’s government had to maintain a friendlier attitude than


Putin’s toward the United States, for obvious economic reasons of greater export dependence and technological need. Blindness to China’s rapprochement with Russia allowed some analysts to continue denying the reality of the New Cold War by pointing to the indisputable fact that present-day Russia is weaker than the former Soviet Union—a specious argument indeed. An example in the same Foreign Affairs collection is Stephen Kotkin’s 2016 article, in which the Princeton historian asserted: “In certain places and on certain issues, Russia has the ability to thwart US interests, but it does not even remotely approach the scale of the threat posed by the Soviet Union, so there is no need to respond to it with a new Cold War.”26 Kotkin had been making the same argument for years: his contribution to the 2010 anthology Is There a New Cold War? was an article published in the British magazine Prospect in April 2008 under the unambiguous title “Myth of the New Cold War”. Its argument is well summarized in the preamble to its republication in the book: “Russia is no new menace to the world, partly because its economy isn’t strong enough to support a new cold war and an accompanying arms race.”27 Levgold certainly came closer to the truth in giving proper weight to Russia’s impact and potential and in describing its relations with the United States as a new Cold War—even though he was late in doing so. If, on top of this, collaboration between the two major contenders for US supremacy, Russia and China, is properly taken into account, the continued downplaying of the challenge that those countries together represent to Washington’s hegemony, and to its Western alliance, in order to deny the reality of a New Cold War, verges on magical thinking for the sake of reassuring oneself. What other argument could the deniers still invoke? Their last resort was to stress that neither Russia nor even China continued to wave the banner of “communism”, nor strove to expand its global reach. This argument is made by Yale University professor Odd Arne Westad, author of a book on the Cold War that emphasizes the role of ideology, and in which the Cold War is defined as “a confrontation between capitalism and socialism that peaked in the years between 1945 and 1989”, a confrontation whose antecedents are therefore to be found in the history of Marxism, of which Westad’s book provides an overview.28 In the closing


article of the Foreign Affairs anthology, written in 2018, the year when the collection was published, Westad argued again, rather simplistically: “Ideology is no longer the main determinant. China, Europe, India, Russia, and the United States disagree on many things, but not on the value of capitalism and markets. China and Russia are both authoritarian states that pretend to have representative governments. But neither is out to peddle their systems to faraway places, as they did during the Cold War.”29 Here the debate comes full circle. The emphasis on ideology as the key aspect of the Cold War was a central argument of the Cold Warriors of yesteryear, including George Kennan, whom we encountered at the beginning of this chapter. Kennan authored what is arguably the bestknown document of the onset of the Cold War, the famous “X Article”, published anonymously in the July 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs and reproduced as the opening piece in the journal’s 2018 anthology.30 Walter Lippmann had vigorously refuted this argument in his critique of the “X Article”—a series of newspaper articles published in the late summer of 1947, and reprinted in that same year in a little book that popularized more than any other the term Cold War, since it was the first to include it in its title: The Cold War: A Study in US Foreign Policy.31 Lippman’s refutation of the ideologization of the Cold War is worth quoting at some length here, as it sheds a light on the underlying continuity in the pattern of Russian state’s behavior from the time of the czars to that of Stalin—and, by extension, to the Putin era: [W]hat has to be explained by a planner of American foreign policy is why in 1945 the Soviet government expanded its frontiers and its orbit, and what was the plan and pattern of its expansion. That can be done only by remembering that the Soviet government is a Russian government and that this Russian government has emerged victorious over Germany and Japan. Having omitted from his analysis the fact that we are dealing with a victorious Russia—having become exclusively preoccupied with the Marxian ideology, and with the communist revolution—it is no wonder that the outcome of Mr. X’s analysis is nothing more definite, concrete and practical than that the Soviets will encroach and expand “at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points” …


The westward expansion of the Russian frontier and of the Russian sphere of influence, though always a Russian aim, was accomplished when, as, and because the Red Army defeated the German army and advanced to the center of Europe. It was the mighty power of the Red Army, not the ideology of Karl Marx, which enabled the Russian government to expand its frontiers.32 Lippmann was thus criticizing the interpretation of Soviet behavior as determined by ideology, from a standpoint asserting that it was in fact much more determined by the tangible interests of the Russian state and by factual historical circumstances—in other words, by rather ordinary Machtpolitik (power politics). Such methodological refutation of the “idealist” view of international relations is common to both the “realist” school and Marxist historical materialism, the latter emphasizing rulingclass interests as key determinants. The same methodological objection applies to China as well, although it is run by a party that still retains the label “Communist”. Only the crudest expressions of hostility to Beijing might earnestly describe its behavior in foreign policy, including global trade, as being determined by “communism” rather than by Machtpolitik.

Term and Concept of Cold War

The best indication that the ideological opposition between the USSR and the United States did not constitute the bottom line in the post-1945 Cold War is that the concept of “cold war” existed before the Soviet Union was born—though not too long before, as in the account of those who trace the designation back to the fourteenth century.33 At that time, Don Juan Manuel, son of the Infante Manuel of Castile, did use the expression “tepid war”—mistakenly transcribed as “cold war” by a nineteenth-century editor.34 But he was only pointing to a low frequency and intensity of engagement in an ongoing war between Christians and Muslims in Spain, a quite unexceptional situation. The first recorded use of the term “cold war” in its contemporary meaning was made by the German socialist leader and Marxist “revisionist” Eduard Bernstein. His coining of the concept is rarely acknowledged, however.35 In fact, the term appears twice in print under Bernstein’s name. The first time was in 1893, in an article in Die Neue Zeit, the theoretical review of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD).


Bernstein was living in exile in London at that time, in close political contact with Friedrich Engels, Marx’s closest friend and co-thinker. Remarkably, Engels had foreseen the march toward world war and the horrendous shape that it would acquire.36 In that same year, he published in Vorwärts, the SPD’s central organ, a series of pro-disarmament articles, reprinted soon after as a pamphlet.37 Bernstein’s article, for its part, included a sharp critique of German militarism in a similar vein, and used the formulation “cold warfare” (kalte Kriegsführung) to describe Germany’s pursuit of massive armament: Germany is considered to be the country of militarism above all, and with this or because of it as the real permanent threat to peace. It is easy to say that Germany is arming itself only to maintain peace. First of all, this continued armament, which forces the others to imitate Germany, is itself a kind of warfare, so to speak—I don’t know if the term has already been used, but one could say it is cold warfare. There is no shooting, but there is bloodsucking. Then, however, everyone actually knows that this bloodsucking—which, like the Japanese hara-kiri, takes place in such a way that each nation attaches the blood pump to itself and thereby causes the other to imitate it—leads by virtue of its inner logic to prey, at a favorable moment, on the opponent who is less favorably situated.38 The next recorded occasion on which Bernstein used the term “cold war” (kalte Krieg this time, as in the modern expression) was at the Reichstag, the German parliament, of which he was a member for several years between 1902 and 1928. The term appears in the Reichstag’s minutes, in the verbatim report of a speech that the Social Democratic leader delivered to the house on 14 May 1914, barely a month and a half before the outbreak of the First World War: “[T]he peace that we have in the German Reich is only a non-war, but it is not yet a true peace. All invitations that the German Reich has received from other quarters, if not officially then at least from an official source, to pursue a policy of disarmament, of slowing down armament—all of these were simply rejected by the German side. We keep this silent war going, this cold war, as it has been called, the war of armament, of outdoing in armament.”39 This is indeed a much more useful and appropriate definition of the concept of “cold war” than its equating with the ideologically motivated “confrontation between capitalism and socialism”. The cold war is a


concept of the age of industry and total war, when military technology developed in parallel with increasingly rapid general technological progress leading to an ever-increasing cost of the “arms race”—a concomitant concept belonging to the same historical age. In that specific meaning, “cold war” designates the active preparation for a real war, with the economic implication of maintaining war readiness with a constant effort either to secure potential superiority over the adversary or to preserve an equilibrium of military force. The reason why the term became dominant after 1945 resides not in the ideological confrontation between Moscow and Washington—the ideological hostility between the Soviet Union, on one hand, and Nazi Germany and its Axis allies, on the other, and between each of those parties and the liberal powers, was certainly no less acute before the Second World War, if not in fact more so—but in an utterly different factor: the atomic bomb. Indeed, it is a truism that a paradoxical effect of the nuclear weapon was to make highly unlikely the prospect of a real war between states possessing it, for the obvious reason that such a war would entail “mutual assured destruction”—an expression whose acronym, MAD, summarizes very well the state of mind that it would take to initiate a war of that kind. The “balance of terror” that prevailed between the two rival postwar superpowers after the USSR carried out its first atomic test in 1949, four years after the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is the main, if not the only reason why the zero-sum global Great Game between the two superpowers lasted four decades without escaping the confines of a “cold war”. In Raymond Aron’s 1951 definition, the latter is “a limited war, whose limitation is not about what is at stake, but about the means used by the belligerents”.40 The famous French theorist of war in the nuclear age formulated that same year the hypothesis that this “limited war” would translate in “the clash of two attrition strategies” that could lead to “a show of strength extending over a generation”.41 After the Second World War, the first known use of “cold war” was in a 1945 article by George Orwell in which the famous writer gave the term a meaning conforming with Bernstein’s notion of a situation whereby a state would be “at once unconquerable and in a permanent state of ‘cold war’ with its neighbours” due to its possession of the atomic bomb, since the


latter is likely “to put an end to large-scale wars at the cost of prolonging indefinitely a ‘peace that is no peace’”.42 However, Orwell did not mention the arms race that would prevail under such conditions other than indirectly, by pointing to the cost of fabricating the nuclear weapon. The first full elaboration of the “cold war” concept in the postwar context was by Bernard Baruch, the Wall Street broker who played a key role in the organization of the US war industry during the two world wars of the twentieth century. In a book of memoirs published in 1960, he asserts that he was the first to use the phrase, in a speech he delivered in April 1947—while acknowledging his debt to his speechwriter, the publicist Herbert Swope, who had suggested the term to him the year before. Interestingly, Baruch claims that he did not use it at first because he was “anxious not to excite Russia’s almost pathological suspicion and fear of us”.43 Bernard Baruch is certainly—at least on the Western side of the Iron Curtain—the main theoretician of the “cold war” in the sense of an arms race seeking to maintain a state of readiness to wage a full-scale war. His master-word was “preparedness”.44 His views on this issue long preceded the post-1945 Cold War. During the First World War, Baruch had headed the War Industries Board (WIB), which spectacularly redirected US industrial potential toward serving war needs, displaying in the process a level of centralistic efficiency that impressed all other belligerents. In a letter he wrote to US President Woodrow Wilson in 1919—which he reproduced in the final report that he submitted to the President on behalf of the disbanded WIB in 1921, on the penultimate day of Wilson’s presidency—Baruch stressed that the impressive war machine built up in the United States had been crucial in dissuading Germany from continuing the war. He therefore emphasized the need to maintain an organizational and material readiness for a new major war.45 His advice was not heeded at that time, in the context of the post-1918 “isolationist” backlash that prevailed in the United States. The First World War experience of industrial organization was repeated in the Second World War with the War Production Board, created in 1942, which was subordinated the year after to the Office of War Mobilization, headed by one of Baruch’s close friends, James Byrnes. Meanwhile, Baruch himself played a key role in advising President


Franklin D. Roosevelt. He felt again that his advice was not heeded after that second global war ended, when Cold War tensions were beginning to emerge under Harry Truman’s presidency. As Jordan Schwarz puts it, “The cold war should have been that surrogate for war Baruch envisioned as a justification for organizing industry for the real thing.”46 But the American government estimated that the massive amount of armaments accumulated during the war would suffice for a while. Baruch complained about this in his 1960 book: [A]s the ice jams of the cold war piled up, for the third time in my life America was faced with a threat to her peace and security. And once again, for the third time, I took up the banner of preparedness … This call for preparedness was heeded no more in 1947 than it had been in 1937. And in 1947, as earlier, it was our weakness which invited aggression. Not until we were caught in the Korean War, in 1950, did we begin to rebuild our armed strength.47 Baruch’s complaint that his advice was not heeded in 1947 was in fact exaggerated. Prompted by another friend and fellow of Baruch’s, Ferdinand Eberstadt, who had been vice-chairman of the War Production Board and was to play a key role in the postwar creation of both the National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency, in 1947 Congress set up a National Security Resources Board, whose mission was to monitor the country’s preparedness for a major war. But it is true that the “rearmament” that Baruch had been calling for since 1947 was not launched until the Korean War (1950–53). Only after that war had begun did US military expenditure pick up again from its sharp post-1945 drop. Thereafter it remained, for the long haul, at levels far exceeding those of the interwar years of the twentieth century (see Fig. 1).


Figure 1: US Military Expenditure in Constant 2019 US$, 1950–1990

Source: SIPRI Military Expenditure Database

Permanent War Economy and Military–Industrial Complex

This high-level plateauing of military expenditure became a feature that has characterized the US economy ever since, constituting what the first economist who theorized it, in 1944, Edward Sard—a Marxist who at that time worked for the War Production Board—called a “permanent war economy”.48 The phrase appeared in an article Sard published—under a pseudonym, of course—in Dwight Macdonald’s journal Politics.49 The permanent war economy became the basis upon which thrived what President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a top army commander himself until he ran for the presidency in 1952, famously called the “military–industrial complex” (MIC). This was in his farewell address to the nation on 17 January 1961, three days before leaving office. In 1990, at the very end of the Cold War, Robert Higgs provided a good overview of the importance of the nexus between the permanent war economy and the MIC in the United States, in a book published that year under his editorship: Over the entire period 1948–86, real military purchases of currently produced goods and services cumulated to a total of $6,316 billion (1982 dollars), averaging about $162 billion per year or 7.6 percent of GNP.


While real military outlays increased over the long run, the GNP increased somewhat faster, so the trend of the military share was downward. Substantial fluctuations occurred in military spending, as major buildups took place during 1950–53, 1965–68, and 1978–87. Cumulative military spending during 1987–89 alone came to more than $1 trillion (1982 dollars). Such immense spending generated considerable employment, a matter of great concern for generations whose attitudes had been shaped by the mass unemployment of the Great Depression. Total Defense employment (uniformed military personnel plus Department of Defense [DOD] civilian jobs plus defense-related jobs in industry) stood at about 3 million during the postwar through the late 1940s. The Korean War buildup pushed the total to 9.5 million, of which more than 4 million were in industry. Defense employment declined after the Korean War but remained in the range of about 6–8 million during 1954–71, with 2–3 million of the total in industry. Defense jobs hit their post-Korean War low during the 1970s, when they remained fairly steady at about 5 million total, with somewhat fewer than 2 million in industry. The defense buildup after 1978 pushed total employment to some 6.6 million in 1986, divided about equally between DOD (uniformed personnel and civilians) and defense-related industry.50 Sixteen years later, Higgs summarized the major mutation that the “Cold War Economy” represented in the historical evolution of US capitalism in the following terms: The Cold War era witnessed a new relation of military activity to the political economy of the United States. Before World War II, the allocation of resources to military purposes remained at token levels, typically no more than 1 percent of GNP, except during actual warfare, which occurred infrequently. Wartime and peacetime were distinct, and during peacetime —that is, nearly all the time—the societal opportunity cost of “guns” was nearly nil. The old regime ended in 1940. The massive mobilization of the early 1940s drove the military share of GNP to more than 41 percent at its peak in 1943–44. Despite an enormous demobilization after the war ended, in 1947, at the postwar trough, the military sector still accounted for 4.3 percent of GNP, three times the 1939 share. Following the Korean War, military purchases reached an unprecedented level for “peacetime”


and, while fluctuating, remained at or above this elevated level ever afterward. During the period 1948–89, military purchases cumulated to more than $7 trillion (1982 dollars), averaging about $168 billion annually, or 7.5 percent of GNP. The trend tilted slightly upward for absolute real spending and slightly downward for spending as a share of GNP … The high base level of defense spending during the Cold War resulted from the dominant ideology of global anti-communism, which called forth various foreign policy doctrines (e.g., the Truman Doctrine, massive retaliation, the Reagan Doctrine) and military commitments (e.g., NATO, bilateral defense treaties, US military “advisers” in Latin America). The ideology alone, however, was an insufficient prop, and episodic crises played an essential part in maintaining public support for vast military expenditures.51

Figure 2: US Military Expenditure as a Share of GDP, 1950–1990

Source: SIPRI Military Expenditure Database. Since the aftermath of the Second World War, the United States has become addicted to the permanent war economy as a key feature of its overall economy, and a crucial tool for what has been dubbed “military Keynesianism”—a designation often attributed to left-wing Keynesian (post-Keynesian) Cambridge economist, Joan Robinson, with reference to a lecture she gave for the American Economic Association in 1971.52 However, if Robinson did indeed sharply criticize those Keynesians who favored military expenditure, she did not use that term in the written


version of her lecture, but instead blamed “so-called Keynesians” for betraying what John Maynard Keynes had advocated: When there is unemployment and low profits the government must spend on something or other—it does not matter what. As we know, for twenty-five years serious recessions were avoided by following this policy. The most convenient thing for a government to spend on is armaments. The military–industrial complex took charge. I do not think it plausible to suppose that the cold war and several hot wars were invented just to solve the employment problem. But certainly they have had that effect. The system had the support not only of the corporations who made profits under it and the workers who got jobs, but also of the economists who advocated government loan-expenditure as a prophylactic against stagnation … It was the so-called Keynesians who persuaded successive presidents that there is no harm in a budget deficit and left the military– industrial complex to take advantage of it. So it has come about that Keynes’ pleasant day-dream was turned into a nightmare of terror.53 This policy should have been named after Bernard Baruch, who is its first major proponent, instead of Keynes who expressly repudiated it.54 The author of the General Theory emphasized that the economic policy he advocated would help reduce militarism and avoid wars, as he reiterated at the end of his magnum opus: War has several causes. Dictators and others such, to whom war offers, in expectation at least, a pleasurable excitement, find it easy to work on the natural bellicosity of their peoples. But, over and above this, facilitating their task of fanning the popular flame, are the economic causes of war, namely, the pressure of population and the competitive struggle for markets … But if nations can learn to provide themselves with full employment by their domestic policy (and, we must add, if they can also attain equilibrium in the trend of their population), there need be no important economic forces calculated to set the interest of one country against that of its neighbours.55 In the postwar United States, the use of public military expenditure in keeping the economy buoyant became a major tool for the very visible state intervention in the quintessential homeland of the mythical “invisible hand” and “free market”. American addiction to the permanent war economy, and its main beneficiary—the MIC—were to weigh heavily in


determining the US power elite’s post–Cold War choices, assessed in the following chapters. The USSR’s MIC was even more important compared to the country’s economy, since it was forced to compete in war readiness with its much richer adversary. The MIC soon emerged from the initial post–Cold War chaos in Russia as the main, if not only, manufacturing sector inherited from the defunct Soviet Union for which there were readily available buyers and a captive export market. The MIC’s centrality grew yet larger in the post-Soviet Russian economy than it had been in the USSR—not only because the former is considerably smaller than the latter, but also because military power became the principal vector of Russia’s political influence abroad, and in particular of its opposition to overbearing US dominance. By contrast, the USSR, like China today, had also made intensive use of its economic power, as well as of the ideological appeal (“soft power”) that it enjoyed until its final decade. A latecomer in the race, China was inevitably motivated to build up its own MIC by the legitimate sentiment that US supremacy stood in the way of its rise to the first rank of global powers—manifested, for example, in its being kept out of the G7 despite the size of its economy, while Russia had been included in the group from 1997 until the 2014 Ukraine crisis, when it was called the G8. Although it has taken place under economic conditions very different from those of the fully state-owned and state-led industrialization of the USSR, China’s accelerated development has come to offer a further illustration of the pattern that Alexander Gerschenkron associated in 1951 with the Soviet Union: If all the forces of the population can be kept engaged in the processes of industrialization and if this industrialization can be justified by the promise of happiness and abundance for future generations and—much more importantly—by the menace of military aggression from beyond the borders, the dictatorial government will find its power broadly unchallenged. And the vindication of a threatening war is easily produced, as is shown by the history of the cold-war years.56 Here, in a nutshell, are the basic ingredients of the dynamic that produced a new global cold war just a few years after the end of the old one. The elements of the New Cold War fell into place during the first decade after the first Cold War. As the following chapters should make clear—and as was obviously determined by the huge gap that existed


during that fateful “unipolar moment” between the power and wealth of the United States and those of its two potential contenders at the global level, China and Russia—the chief responsibility, by far, for the sorry state of international relations that was to develop thereafter in the twenty-first century lay with the only remaining superpower at the Cold War’s end, the one that retained sole power to “shape the international security environment”, as its strategic documents boasted at the time.57 This book explores the transition from Cold War to New Cold War, and the latter’s evolution up to the 2022 Ukraine war.






The Strategic Triad: The United States, Russia and China*

The official end of the Cold War, marked by the growing incapacity and then the collapse of the Soviet Union, inevitably meant a reduction of US military expenditure. This had long been regarded as essential from a strictly economic point of view: the extraordinary prodigality of the Reagan years, with a military budget that at its peak in 1985—after adjustment for inflation—beat all post-1945 records, including those during the Korean and Vietnam wars, had been a major contributing factor to an enormous budget deficit, inflating an astronomical and everincreasing public debt. The return of the United States to the status of debtor nation in 1985— for the first time since the First World War—was one major result of this out-and-out fuite en avant, whose apparent economic irrationality was explained by a political objective that looked more like an adventurous gamble than a rational calculation. Against all expectations, however, the bet was won: with hindsight, the expenditure of the Reagan era resembles a final sprint in the arms race, one that brought about the collapse of an exhausted competitor. Since 1990–91, despite the Gulf crisis followed by the Gulf War—the latter, it is true, providing a profitable way of liquidating some of the surplus or obsolescent Cold War weaponry—the George H. W. Bush administration announced the objective for 1995 of a Base Force reduced by 25 percent from the level of the late 1980s. This first downward revision was accentuated under the Clinton presidency by a further reduction of forces and expenditure, following the Bottom-Up Review (BUR) carried out in 1993 by Defense Secretary Les Aspin, aided by his deputy and future successor William Perry. The BUR—conceived, as its name suggests, as a thorough revision of US military strategy and programming at the “unipolar moment” that succeeded the defunct “bipolarity”—was based on a theoretically radical renewal of American grand strategy.1

I. Official and Implicit Postulates of the American Defense Budget 37

The ultimate scenario of the Cold War implied a state of preparedness enabling the United States to wage simultaneously a limited regional war and two-wars-in-one against the USSR (a major conventional war and a nuclear war); this would supposedly dissuade Moscow from trying to take advantage of US involvement in a regional war (like Korea or Vietnam), or even a bigger conflict with China. For this idea of a “major (world) war and a half ”, the BUR substituted the scenario of two simultaneous “major regional conflicts” or MRCs (limited wars or “half-wars” in Cold War terminology), supposedly taking account of the new element introduced by the absence of a “global peer competitor” (or rival power of equivalent military weight) and at the same time dissuading any potential regional adversary from trying to take advantage of an American conflict with another, similar-sized regional enemy. The two sample adversaries named in the BUR, like cut-out figures on a shooting range, were Iraq and North Korea. The American armed forces were supposed to hold themselves in readiness to fight these two states at the same time. In addition, to allow for the rapidly changing nature of international relations, the principle of a quadrennial review of military programming—corresponding, in fact, with each new presidential term—was adopted by Congress. The new arrangement envisaged a Target Force for 1997 that would be smaller than the 1995 Base Force. The objective was broadly achieved with a 1997 Department of Defense (DoD) budget of $250 billion, plus the defense expenditure undertaken by other agencies—for example, the Department of Energy’s contribution to nuclear armament—amounting to about $10 billion. The (five-yearly) Future Years’ Defense Program covering 1998–2002 envisages keeping defense spending at this level in terms of constant value until the year 2000, after which there would be a very slight real annual increase of about 0.5 percent until 2002—when it would reach $288 billion at current values. This budgetary programming was not questioned by the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) announced by the Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, in May 1997. The QDR continues to subscribe to the BUR scenario of two MRCs (renamed Major Theater Wars), while “placing greater emphasis on the continuing need to maintain continuous overseas presence to shape the international environment and to be better able to respond to a variety of smaller-scale contingencies and asymmetric threats”.2


Otherwise the QDR is based on the modernization plan for the armed forces, Joint Vision 2010, centered on the use of new technologies whose implications have given birth to the somewhat pompous title Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA).3 As the administration has chosen to subject military spending to the constraints of the total reabsorption of the American budget deficit—contrary to the wishes of many Republicans in Congress, who would like a smaller reduction in military spending at the cost of social spending—the QDR envisages a major redefinition of priorities accompanied by a redirecting of military expenditure, to achieve the supreme objective of modernization. Against this background, the choice of a Republican for the post of Defense Secretary in 1997 was a skillful move by the Clinton administration. William Cohen was given the difficult task of making Congress swallow the bitter pill of new base closures in the US, along with other reductions and cancellations of orders, deemed necessary to find the extra $15 billion that the DoD proposes to spend annually on the modernization of the armed forces. That expenditure is designed to bring the armed forces procurement budget to $60 billion a year after the year 2000. The contradictory requirements posed by a strictly limited budgetary envelope combined with the techno-strategic “revolution” imply some difficult choices, with the qualitative needing to be strongly favored over the quantitative while still coming under the heading of “grand strategy” in the order of the day.4

Options for Modernization

The basic options allowing for both the indicated parameters have been well summarized in the 1997 Strategic Assessment, a particularly enlightening document from the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) that predates the publication of the QDR.5 It identifies three possible “Force Structure Options”: • The “Recapitalization Force Model”; modernization of the existing armed forces by slow degrees. This conservative option is easy to manage but could “miss the opportunity provided by the present lack of a global peer to experiment with information technologies”. • The “Accelerated RMA Force Model”, aiming to “accelerate the integration of system-of-systems technologies” while adapting


to steep quantitative reductions in the armed forces. This “revolutionary” option has the advantages of being cheaper and more futurist, but the implied violent break of continuity produces an area of vulnerability, being just as liable to disorient friends as enemies. • The “Full Spectrum Force Model”, combining the maintenance of all existing effective forces with the slow and prudent integration of the RMA in such a way as to avoid all disorganizing side-effects. This is the costliest model but also the “most consistent with the challenge of the emerging strategic environment”. The last of these options is the one favored by the QDR, which also refers several times to the formula of a range of forces designed to deal with the full range of possible problems (“Full Spectrum of Crises, Full Spectrum Force”). Under the heading “Where we are going?” in his preface to the report, William Cohen defines three possible options, identical to those in the 1997 Strategic Assessment, then rejects the conservative and futurist options to settle on the middle way, the one that “retains sufficient force structure to sustain American global leadership” while also moving toward the RMA at a reasonable speed.6 As the report is meant to be “fiscally responsible”, it announces that the inevitable cuts in the armed forces will affect the “tail” (logistics and support) rather than the “tooth” (fighting force), and promises to make the best possible use of the reduction in the cost of military equipment brought about by another “revolution”, the “Revolution in Business Affairs” (RBA), which includes measures to rationalize procurement procedures, restructure military industries, bring competitive liberalization to the defense market and import more technologies from the civil sector.7 This military option, the financial limits of which are determined by budgetary constraints, and which is officially based on the BUR scenario of two simultaneous MRCs, is expressed by the Clinton administration— hardly suspected a priori of having militaristic leanings—in an annual national defense budget totaling approximately $260 billion (at 1997 value) from now until the beginning of the next century. However, to indicate that America really has “responded to the vast global changes”—the end of the Cold War and the “peace dividend” it was


supposed to produce—William Cohen’s preface to the report on the QDR explains that the DoD budget has decreased from $400 million (at 1997 value) and 7 percent of GDP in 1985, to $250 million and 3.2 percent of GDP in 1997. This radical drop suggests that the US has really turned the page of the Cold War. But the reality is that the choice of annual figures which supports this deduction is of a somewhat tendentious nature. The Defense Secretary refers specifically to 1985 which, far from being a year typical of the period 1950–91 (from the Korean rearmament, already announced in NSC-68, to the disintegration of the USSR), actually came at the peak of the extraordinary expenditure of the Reagan era. If we compare the 1997 figure with those for the whole period (see Fig. 1), a very different conclusion emerges: defense spending for 1997, which the administration wants to maintain at the same level in terms of constant value until the end of its term in the year 2000, is higher than in most of the Cold War years before 1980—the year in which it rose steeply in reaction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, presaging the runaway growth under Reagan. Over the previous three decades this level had only been exceeded at the height of the Korean and Vietnam wars, when the costs of a large-scale regional war were added to those of maintaining a posture of global deterrence against the Warsaw Pact and China.

Figure 1: US Defense Spending in Constant 1995 US$, 1953–1997

Source: Calculated from data in The Military Balance, 1987–88, 1991–92,


1997–98 (London: IISS), and also in SIPRI Yearbook 1968/69 (Stockholm) for 1953 and 1960. The $260 billion of current military spending represents more than 85 percent of the average annual military expenditure of $304 billion (at 1997 value) for the 1948–91 period.8 So President Clinton’s “centrist” administration is really seeking to stabilize military expenditure until the beginning of the next century at what amounts to a Cold War level.9 Running adjustments to defense spending since 1991 have been much more like internal adjustments during the Cold War period (in moments of “détente” following phases of high tension) than like the steep fall that immediately followed the Second World War. It is true that American defense spending fell by 27.6 percent between 1985 and 1996, compared to 18.4 percent between 1953 and 1955, and 16.3 percent between 1970 and 1975. But, as we have seen, 1985 spending had reached an altogether extraordinary level, 25.2 percent higher than in 1970 and 36.6 percent higher than in 1953. It is also true that comparisons at constant values do not integrally allow for what Adelman and Augustine call “techflation”.10 The growing technological sophistication of military equipment means that its unit costs increase more rapidly than the general level of inflation. The difference, according to the two authors, ranges from about 2.5 percent for tanks and ships to about 10.5 percent for planes. They calculate that the average difference for the whole defense sector is of the order of 3.4 percent. “Techflation” explains the established fact that a zero-growth defense budget in real dollars does not correspond to a static level of armed readiness, but implies an annual quantitative reduction so long as the equipment is kept up to date. It is no less true, however, that the quantitative reduction due to “techflation” is largely counterbalanced by the formidable qualitative leap in the destructiveness (the term “productivity” being grotesque in this context) of modern weapons in the information-technology era, a leap that Adelman and Augustine also describe very well.11 To illustrate it, they relate one of the earliest uses of “smart” bombs, during the Vietnam War. American aviation had flown 873 sorties, dropped 2,000 tons of conventional bombs, and lost eleven aircraft in the attempt to destroy the Thanh Hoa bridge in North Vietnam, without hitting a single span. When


laser-guided bombs were used, the bridge was demolished in a single raid by eight aircraft, without losses. The authors add, however, that the first “smart bombs” were not all that smart, and were prohibitively expensive, unlike the true “fire and forget” target-seeking weapons now available. This hardware, the so-called “second generation”—as opposed to the first generation used in Iraq in 1991—combined with stealth technology for air dominance, satellite battlefield surveillance and computerized logistics organization, are the key elements in the predominance of American forces (“Force Dominance”) according to the chief overseer of the QDR, William Perry, writing in 1996 as Defense Secretary.12 These elements, along with the professionalization of the army, form the kernel of the “offset strategy” with which the United States sought to “compensate” for the greater numbers of the Soviet forces. Perry added: “Precision-guided munitions will also indirectly affect logistics because ratios of one or two shots per kill (instead of dozens or hundreds) mean that old estimates of weapons supplies go out of the window. If a target can be hit on the first few shots, the military can achieve huge savings in costs and manpower, since there is little need to build, store, transport and guard massive supplies of weapons.”13

A Poor Peace Dividend

So why is the “peace dividend” so meager? And in what respect does the American military budget take account of the end of the Cold War? Only one of the arguments seems incontestable: reference to the size of military expenditure in relation to the rest of the national economy. The military share is considerably smaller in percentage terms in 1997 than the proportion it represented in the Cold War years, when it almost never fell below 5 percent of GDP; according to the administration’s forecasts it should fall to the equivalent of 2.8 percent of GDP in 2001–02 (less than the present shares of GDP of French and British military spending), with the United States drawing further and further away from the “permanent war economy” that characterized it during the Cold War.14 But if the destructiveness of the weapons largely compensates for “techflation”, and since the American GDP is by far the biggest in the world, then it follows that there is no point in measuring the strategic significance of the American defense budget in terms of the proportion of


GDP it represents. The only valid criterion, in all logic, is the size of the budget in comparison with the military spending of states that are actually or potentially competitors or adversaries of the United States.15 And the conclusions that emerge from this comparison are more edifying than those emerging from the absolute scale of the spending and its qualitative content. Even if we go along with William Cohen this time and take 1985 as the year of reference, it is to be noted that, according to IISS figures, US defense expenditure in that year was only 7 percent more than Soviet expenditure.16 Since the collapse of the Soviet empire, American defense spending is equal—even slightly superior since 1996—to the combined spending of the six other countries with the biggest military budgets in the world: Russia, Japan, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and China! American expenditure in 1996 reached $265,823 million (at 1995 value) against $265,260 million for the other six countries in the same year, according to the IISS.17 So America’s share of world military spending is larger now than it was in 1985, at the peak of American Cold War spending (see Fig. 2). Under these circumstances, the claim that the US military budget is tailored to the BUR scenario of two simultaneous MRCs—with prototype enemies like Iraq (or Iran) and North Korea, two debilitated countries with backward military capacities—looks very much like a mystification.18 In any case, even before Iraq was destroyed in 1991, the myth of the “fourth biggest army in the world” already seemed as exaggerated as George Bush’s pompous comparisons with the Second World War. The American deployment against the Iraqi army in 1990–91 was in fact very disproportionate, even in terms of the requirements of Colin Powell’s and Dick Cheney’s doctrine, which posited crushing superiority and minimal risk as essential preconditions for any military intervention.19


Figure 2: World Defense Spending by Share

Source: Percentage calculated from data in The Military Balance 1997/98 (London: IISS, 1997). US critics of the high level of American defense budgets never fail to reproach the Pentagon, with good reason, for leaving allied forces out of its military calculations. Of course, this is a deliberate and explicit political choice, and one that speaks volumes about the nature of the American government’s hegemonic ambitions. But discounting the allies also gives useful help in camouflaging the disproportion between available means and declared ends. Thus, for the two official prototype enemies under the BUR scenario, the picture of the balance of forces is greatly modified if the


ally most directly involved—far more directly, in fact, than the United States itself—is considered: the defense spending of the US military protectorate Saudi Arabia alone is currently about four times that of Iraq and Iran combined, while the spending of the Republic of Korea, another US protégé and firm ally, is nearly triple that of its neighbor to the north. As for NATO, the main military alliance in which the United States participates and which it controls, its military spending is greater than that of the rest of the world combined—a majority of which also consists of allies and protégés of the Western countries. America alone spends nearly 60 percent of the total spent by the Atlantic Alliance, and a third of the entire world’s defense spending (see Fig. 2). Contrary to a widespread superstition, however, the United States has absolutely no intention—if only for internal political reasons—of playing world policeman (or “globocop”) by intervening in every crisis anywhere in the world. In the deployment of its forces overseas, its policy is essentially conservative, with troops being kept notably in the European and East Asian theatres. Its “national security strategy of engagement” only envisages limited and selective participation in “operations other than war” (OOTW: peacekeeping, enforcement, and so forth). Although American participation in OOTW has increased noticeably since the end of the Cold War, nobody, even in the Pentagon, tries to claim that the one is somehow a substitute for the other.

Who Is the Real Enemy?

With these considerations in mind, one does not have to be particularly suspicious to imagine that the scenario of two MRCs of an Iraq/Korea type might be an artifice meant to conceal the strategic postulate that really dominates America’s military options. In any case, suspicions of this sort were inevitably going to arise in the United States itself, in the circles in which international relations and strategy are discussed. Two examples of this were published at the same time, but in two journals of widely differing political sensibility, the World Policy Journal and The National Interest. Ronald Steel, writing in the World Policy Journal, notes that US military expenditure goes far beyond the country’s real defense needs, tracing American prodigality in this area back half a century to the National Security Act promulgated in 1947 by Harry Truman. This


document, which ended by setting up the strategic institutions of the Cold War, conceived “national security in terms of global security”. The author adds that, from then on, it would have been more accurate to call the Department of Defense the “Department of National Security”. He vigorously rejects such implicit attitudes, favoring a moderate form of isolationism—pursuing global balance rather than worldwide military control—as more appropriate to the prevailing socio-economic priorities of the country.20 In the other journal A. J. Bacevitch, in a striking coincidence, also feels that DoD is a misnomer, since in reality “the Pentagon is in the business of projecting American power in order to undergird American influence around the world”.21 The author deplores the recent deterioration in civilian–military relations in the United States, judging it damaging to the interests of the grand strategy which, for his part, he supports. In his opinion, the problem lies in “the unwillingness to acknowledge openly the strategic enterprise to which the United States has tacitly committed itself. American leaders will not say out loud what they know American purposes to be.”22 Steel and Bacevitch both correctly underline the manifest discord between the avowed ends of American strategy and the means the United States maintains. But they define what they believe to be the real objectives of Washington’s grand strategy in rather vague terms. The fact is that “world domination” as a concept, although obviously inherent in American strategy, is too general to inform a military strategy that needs to be translated into techno-strategic, logistical and tactical options, as well as budgetary choices—all the more so as the US has no wish, still less the means, to intervene militarily in all zones of conflict worldwide. “All horizons” is a possible option in the area of deterrent nuclear strategy, the nature of nuclear weapons even making deterrence “of the strong by the weak” possible—two concepts which were closely connected in the French strategy adopted by de Gaulle. But it would not be feasible to establish an active strategy of world domination, subject to the imperatives of economizing on means, on an “all horizons” basis: “one against all” is an impossible military choice in either rational or practical terms. To dominate the world, it is essential to pursue a strategy of alliances and to maneuver politically to separate potential competitors and rivals, winning


the allegiance of some in order to make the balance of forces work effectively on others. Military strategy for global hegemony has to be adapted to the strongest possible or imaginable hostile military alliance under existing or foreseeable political conditions. It has to establish a firm distinction between strategic allies and the powers it wishes to keep in line —while at the same time the political executive seeks to persuade them to collaborate by economic means.

Planning for the Worst-Case Scenario

The options of the DoD are based on scenarios that identify the actual adversaries to whose capabilities its military strategy has to be adjusted, and on the minimum military capability that has to be maintained to deal with the maximum possible risk, in the American tradition of “worst-case analysis”. These extreme hypotheses fix the objective to which the configuration of the armed forces is tailored. Hence the ultimate Cold War scenario of a double war, a major war against the USSR waged simultaneously with a limited war of East Asian type (China, Korea or Vietnam). Hence, too, the official BUR scenario of two limited wars or MRCs waged simultaneously against Iraq/Iran and North Korea. It is the case, however, that the military capability currently maintained by the United States seems altogether out of proportion with this latter scenario. What then is the scenario that really underlies Washington’s military options? Some American critics answer this question by referring to a representation of the world currently in fashion, the one centered on the economic triad of the United States, Germany and Japan. The two Axis powers conquered in 1945 are held to be the central obsession of Washington, which is thought to fear that their present status as economic competitors of the United States could find military expression. Versions of this theory generally refer back to the Pentagon’s famous draft policy text from George Bush’s time, Defense Planning Guidance, parts of which were “leaked” to the press in 1992. It will be recalled that this text called for “the industrially advanced countries” to be discouraged not just from trying to put the United States in the shade, but even from “aspiring to a wider global or regional role”. This formulation—which scandalized America’s allies—is too clumsy and irrational to be wholly credible as a Pentagon draft for a document intended to be made public. The dominant ideology in Washington, as in


all the advanced countries, views the natural combination of neoliberal economics and representative liberal democracy as a solid and durable basis for political collaboration, which can only be strengthened by the increasing liberalization of trade. Nothing has occurred in the development of relations between the United States, Japan and Germany (or the European Union, for that matter) to confirm Washington’s alleged fear of any increase in their military role. Indeed, given the repeated American refrain of “burden sharing”, it seems clear that such an increase is actually favored—always on condition, of course, that it remains under American supervision. There is good cause, therefore, to ponder the status of this draft document, and also to wonder whether—as has so often been the case— the “leak” might have emanated intentionally from the Pentagon or the president’s office. What was its real context? The Pentagon had been working on quantifying the “Base Force” defined by President Bush as the “minimum essential military force” just after the signing of START I (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty I), in its National Security Strategy document of August 1991, the month in which the communist regime collapsed in Russia. At the time of the “leak” in 1992, the START II treaty was being negotiated—it was to become the object of an agreement between presidents Bush and Yeltsin in June 1992, before being signed officially in January 1993. The military scenario to which the Base Force had to be adequate, and which inspired the document on National Military Strategy published by the Pentagon in January 1992, included the capability to “deal with regional contingencies—including possibly a limited, conventional threat to Europe”. In this context, the “leak”, which caused an outcry among traditional US allies, had the effect of reassuring Moscow by suggesting that American armed force was not specifically directed against Russia, contrary to the apparent meaning of the earlier formulation. The leaked draft text planted the idea that the American military posture as envisaged in Base Force—in reality not very different from the Cold War posture— was part of a new American “all horizons” strategy, not very rational to be sure, but comforting to the Russians. It made America seem to be the guarantor of an interdict on all regional ambitions for the newly reunified Germany and for Japan, the two neighbors Russia fears the most. So the “leak”, whether intentional or not, made it much easier to persuade


Moscow to accept the maintenance of American military power, at the cost of a temporary ruffling of allied feathers—soon allayed by energetic denials that the leaked draft really represented official opinion.23

The Real Opponents

In the context of a rational formulation of US strategy, there are only two declared opponents of American hegemony whose behavior is unpredictable in the middle and long term and whose physical scale places them on comparable footing with the United States; only two “competitors” against which a military confrontation would definitely be more than a live-ammo “war game” like the Gulf War. These are, of course, Russia and China, each a formidable power on its own, all the more so together or simultaneously. Only these two potential adversaries can justify a hypothesis that explains the level of military readiness maintained by the United States. This gives some cause for believing that, under the current BUR scenario, Iraq is in some sense a codename for Russia, and North Korea a codename for China. From this angle, the hybrid category of MRC, a conflict both “regional” and “major”, designating in nominal terms a limited regional war, would take on the real value of a major (unlimited) war with a power like today’s China or Russia, unable to project its forces worldwide but already (or still) capable of projecting them regionally. The overall level of the American armed forces corresponds much better with two simultaneous wars of this type than with two limited regional wars. Of course, the reasoning behind this codification is not difficult to understand. A final factor constraining the scenario space examined by the DoD is the desire to avoid embarrassing the governments of so-called “enemy” countries. For now, Iraq and North Korea are well-suited to playing the role of aggressor in the DoD’s scenarios because of their acknowledged status as hostile states. Iran, Libya and Cuba could also be used as scenario adversaries. But the big questions regarding the future geopolitical landscape concern China and Russia. For obvious reasons, the administration would like to avoid having to explain why it regards these countries as potential adversaries in its defense analyses, even if it is quite likely that the Chinese military is doing the same in reverse. Scenarios involving these powers have therefore been ruled out of bounds.24


II. The United States Versus Russia and China

William Cohen’s report on the QDR only raises “the possibility that a regional great power or global peer competitor may emerge” for the period after 2015, adding in somewhat euphemistic fashion: “Russia and China are seen by some as having the potential to be such competitors, though their respective futures are quite uncertain.”25 More explicit texts on current strategic thinking in American defense circles have to be sought among parallel, semi-official documents. The INSS’s 1997 Strategic Assessment, quoted earlier, has the great advantages of frankness and clarity, authorized by its status as unofficial discourse. It is worth quoting again at some length: The short period of great-power cooperation may be coming to an end. While ties among the United States, Europe and Japan are growing stronger, despite some strains, the other great powers, Russia and China, are increasingly suspicious of longer-term US intentions. They also feel they are not being treated as great powers, and both are concerned about their peripheries: • Russia—about the near abroad, populated by 25 million ethnic Russians. • China—about areas it regards as part of its sovereign territory: Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Spratly Archipelago in the South China Sea. Both are well aware of residual military deficiencies; both are focused on domestic priorities; both wish to avoid conflict for fear of jeopardizing economic development. Therefore, rather than opposing the United States directly during the next decade, China and Russia are more likely to mount a low-intensity strategic competition with the United States designed to reduce or offset US influence in the regions they regard as their special spheres of influence. Each, however, has nationalist movements, so the possibility of conflict, however unlikely, cannot be discounted. If conflict erupts, it is likely to involve specific issues related to sovereignty and to be limited in scope, scale, and duration. For the next decade at least, neither China nor Russia will be a globalpeer competitor of the United States capable of mounting broad strategic challenges. However, either one could become a theater peer with the US,


possibly presenting graver problems than could a regional power. Both China and Russia are: nuclear powers with ICBMs, space powers with access to overhead imagery and global communications, nations of enormous size with considerable strategic depth, and important leaders of international institutions, well positioned to block UN actions against their interests.26 In consequence, the document continues, the United States should use persuasion with these countries, but also “dissuade China and Russia from settling disputes by force by maintaining a US military capability that will discourage them from investing the resources to become future opponents, a force that is at once highly capable but not threatening”. Later it adds: To deal militarily with a theater peer, the US would have to thwart its ambition by deterrence, both nuclear and conventional—that is, by maintaining an adequate forward presence in concert with regional allies. The US would also have to prepare to conduct limited operations on the periphery of the theater peer. Those operations would be: • Designed to raise the political and economic costs of military operations to an unacceptably high level, not to achieve total victory. • Carefully controlled to avoid escalation to nuclear warfare. • Managed to maintain superiority in information warfare capabilities. The key is to prepare for such an eventuality without creating a selffulfilling prophecy. This will require skillful diplomacy as well as a degree of strategic restraint.27 This unvarnished version explains—far more convincingly than the BUR scenario of the two MRCs with Iraq and North Korea—the Full Spectrum Force Model option advocated in the same document and adopted by the QDR. For there is a real proportion between the ends described in the 1997 Strategic Assessment scenario and the means kept ready by the Pentagon.28 And it is not at all difficult to understand how this grand strategy scenario articulates with the American will to power; how it corresponds to the imperial imperative of world domination, to that “essence of the de facto US grand strategy” which consists, in A. J.


Bacevitch’s careful phrase, of “establishing a benign imperium conducive to American interests and values”.29 President Clinton’s report on national security strategy—which complements the report on the QDR and was published at the same time, in May 1997—starts its introduction by defining the “strategic priorities”: “a peaceful, undivided, democratic Europe” including an enlarged NATO and dependent on NATO–Russia relations; and “a stable, prosperous Asia Pacific community”, depending on relations between the United States and China.30 It so happens that the two traditional wings of American “national security”, the Atlantic and the Pacific, have Russia at one extremity and China at the other. Toward both countries the United States deploys deterrence as well as persuasion, Theodore Roosevelt’s “big stick” along with William Taft’s “dollar diplomacy”, embellishing the combination with a few tasteful Wilsonian grace-notes.31

Mother Russia—Old and New

In the case of Russia, “dollar diplomacy” comes up against limits of two types: firstly, America cannot afford to run a Marshall Plan for Russia— along with Central and East Europe—and at the same time sustain a $260 billion defense budget. Of its two richest allies one, Germany, is struggling with the costs of reunification and has still not emerged from its economic recession; and the other, Japan, apart from having economic problems of its own, has little inclination to invest massively in Russia. This reluctance affects both the public and the private sectors: the Japanese government has politico-military reasons for restraint, centered on the territorial dispute over the four islands between the Sea of Okhotsk and the North Pacific, while the private sector is influenced by Russia’s history of dishonored debts and the chaotic state of its national market.32 Secondly, and by contrast, all three countries—the United States, Germany and Japan—are confronted with the same dilemma: they all fear a strong Russia for obvious historical and geopolitical reasons, and they all know perfectly well that the economic reconstruction of Russia can only help to make it strong. This is recognized openly in the QDR report: “Russia is also expected to continue to emphasize its research and development program, with modernization of its strategic nuclear capabilities and their continuous operational effectiveness a top priority.


However, bringing a significant number of conventional weapons systems into production will depend on the success of its economic recovery.”33 The 1997 Strategic Assessment’s observation on the growing distrust affecting relations between the United States on one side, and Russia and China on the other is one that strikes all observers. In Russia’s case, the honeymoon of the immediate post-communist period swiftly declined into a bittersweet relationship. Russia’s dreams of Western economic aid dissipated very quickly: Boris Yeltsin’s proposed alliances with the United States, Europe and Japan were received loftily, and only yielded a tiny part of the billions of dollars he had hoped to obtain for the gravely damaged Russian economy. Since 1992, under pressure from an increasingly disappointed and embittered population, Yeltsin has simultaneously played on two registers in his dealings with the West: that of alliance and that of hostility, with frequent and systematic recourse to political and military blackmail. The milestones in this intractable deterioration of relations with the West included the new turn in Moscow’s relations with Beijing since 1992; the Russian Security Council document of April 1993 underlining clear differences with the United States and demanding that Russia be treated appropriately to its rank as a great power; and the replacement of Andrei Kozyrev by Evgeny Primakov as foreign minister in January 1996 after the strong Communist showing in elections to the Duma the previous month. On the American side, the major turning point was the Clinton administration’s decision in 1993, at the behest of Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Helmut Kohl, to go ahead with the enlargement of NATO into East Europe.34 Humiliated at seeing itself demoted to the rank of a second-or even third-class power on account of its economic weakness, Russia naturally sought to make the most of its two main strengths, both linked to factors of power in the most classical sense: its armed force and military– industrial complex, the only major sector of Russian manufacturing industry that is still competitive in world market terms; and its internal energy resources, along with those on its marches in the Caucasus and Central Asia. It is quite naturally at the intersections of these two categories, at the points where strategic interests concerning energy and


security are interwoven, that the main thrust of Russian policy has taken shape in recent years. The most obvious example is the Russian activity in the Caspian Sea region, where Moscow resorted to the most bare-faced expedients of imperial policy—from Machiavellian techniques to “divide and rule” to the brutal exercise of armed force, via every form of blackmail and armtwisting and the inevitable switches of alliance—in an effort to reestablish or tighten its grip on the sprawl of former Soviet republics (including the so-called “autonomous” republics) across the Caucasus and Central Asia. The scope of this article does not extend to a detailed account of these activities. Their transparent purpose, however, is a combination of economic strategy, to establish direct or indirect control (through supply routes) of Caspian Sea hydrocarbons resources, and military strategy, to dominate the imperial marchlands that command Russian access to the vital Middle East zone.35 The grossly imperial policy of the new Russia has evoked, more justifiably than at any time since 1917, numerous analogies with Tsarist policy—most strikingly the revival of the old refrain about access to the “warm seas”, much repeated during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. And the very fact that people continue to insist on the continuity of Russia’s imperial policy through radical changes in its socioeconomic structure and ideological options clearly shows how this argument from the Cold War has helped establish a perception of Russia as an atavistic enemy of the West.

The Rush for Oil

Of course, such views are only the ideological justification, in historical terms, of a rivalry dictated wholly by current interests. For the last four years or so, the zone around the Caspian Sea has been the setting for an out-and-out “black-gold rush” by the American oil companies. The companies have chosen to deal with Russia by setting themselves up as champions of the independence of the republics concerned, striving to create conditions for breaking their effective encirclement by Russia, notably by trying to establish oil export routes outside Russian control.36 But they have come up against two major obstacles. First, Armenianinspired restrictions imposed by Congress on government aid to Azerbaijan have prevented the American oil companies from obtaining


loans guaranteed by Washington. It is thus not surprising that in the front line of those calling for the removal of these restrictions are eminent members of the Bush administration, by far the most oil-business-infested government team of recent decades.37 They are supported by the administration of President Clinton, who has personally striven, along with Vice President Al Gore, to form close links with his Azerbaijani opposite number, Heydar Aliyev, and the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev.38 The other obstacle concerns Iran. The same circles that are working in the United States for the lifting of obstacles to relations with Azerbaijan have been campaigning for months to restore American links with Iran and abandon the policies of “containing” and isolating that country. This policy has rebounded against the United States and is increasingly damaging to its interests. This is not just in the matter of exploiting Iranian hydrocarbons—as the replacement of the American company Conoco, compelled by its government to withdraw, by the French company Total for the exploitation of the Iranian Sirri oil field, had already shown in July 1995—but also because Iran, as a stage on the route to the Mediterranean via Turkey, is essential if hydrocarbons are to move from Central Asia to the West without passing through zones under Russian control.39 For its part, Russia has not been standing still but, profiting from the American “dual containment” of Iraq and Iran, has been striving to restore its ties with both countries. While Moscow concluded a treaty of peace and friendship for ten years with Tehran—the two countries having common interests concerning the exploitation of Caspian Sea oil, and in the juridical quarrel over the status of the Caspian—and signed (in January 1995) a contract for the reconstruction of the nuclear reactors at Bushehr in southern Iran, on the Gulf, the Russian oil giant Lukoil in March 1997 concluded a contract giving it a 51 percent share of production from the Iraqi Qurna oil field, which could eventually amount to a million barrels per day. The well-known concordance of the Russian and French positions on the United Nations embargo against Iraq is based on the harmony of interests between these two countries, with which Baghdad maintains privileged relations. There are now common interests in Iran, too: the contract signed in Tehran on 28 September 1997 concerning exploitation


of the giant offshore gas deposit South Pars Field, in Iranian territorial waters, by Total in association with the giant Russian company Gazprom and the Malaysian firm Petronas—in defiance of American extraterritorial legislation in the form of the D’Amato law, passed by Congress in 1996 in reaction to the Conoco/Total incident—confirmed in striking fashion that the American oil lobby’s warnings to its government had been well founded. So there is an increasing contradiction between American political rulings hostile to Iran and Azerbaijan—rulings many believe to be dictated by internal electoral considerations (the Armenian lobby for Azerbaijan, the pro-Israel lobby for Iran) rather than rational foreign policy—and US economic and strategic interests in the region.40 But contrary to its flexibility on Azerbaijani matters, the Clinton administration has so far remained intransigent where Iran is concerned, spurred on by Israel, which is worried by Iranian efforts to achieve strategic parity by acquiring long-range missiles and nuclear weapons.41

NATO Vise and Nuclear Blackmail

Nevertheless, American armed forces are covering this eastern extremity of the southern flank of Europe more and more closely, in the Russian sector as much as the Iranian. When Russia pulled its squadron out of the Mediterranean, it probably hoped the United States would do the same, but to Moscow’s great disappointment the Sixth Fleet remains there in force. Worse still, the United States and its NATO allies, after ignoring Russian warnings in carrying out air strikes on Bosnian Serb forces, then deploying their troops in Bosnia, clearly indicated since 1995 that “NATO’s southern flank”—from 1990, extended de facto southeastwards as far as the Gulf—now stretches north-eastwards to the Caspian Sea, taking in the Black Sea. The fleets of the Atlantic Alliance are more present than ever before in the Black Sea, that vital Russian maritime outlet. As a sign of protest, the Russian fleet has boycotted the naval exercises organized there since 1995 under the Partnership for Peace, all the more irritating to Russia because they followed the decision to associate Bulgaria and Romania, both excommunist countries bordering the Black Sea, with the Western European Union, closely linked to NATO. Under the circumstances, it is not all that


astonishing to learn that Russian military men have been known to call this rampant eastward lunge by NATO a Drang nach Osten.42 The inevitable upsurge of exasperation in Russia as the NATO vise tightens is redoubled by the accompanying feeling of impotence. The lamentable failure of Russian troops in Chechnya—so complete that Moscow had to back off in 1996 and negotiate a modus vivendi to prevent further damage to its imperial oil policy in the Caucasus—cruelly confirmed the advanced state of decay of the conventional forces of what is officially the world’s second-most-powerful army. Another illustration of this decay is the condition of the Russian Black Sea fleet, which cuts a deplorable figure in comparison with the splendor of the US Sixth Fleet. This generally degraded state also explains more than anything else why the Russian Duma, with the tacit complicity of the executive, has still not ratified the START II accords of January 1993. In effect, the greatly weakened state of the conventional parts of its armed forces has only given Russia cause to retain its nuclear capability, to maintain Russia’s credibility as a great military power.43 So the ratification of START II has become a means of blackmail, a factor rendered all the more precious by the virtual absence of others. This emerges clearly from a warning delivered by one of the originators of Russian foreign policy, Alexei Pushkov, who outlined Moscow’s conditions and limitations on the expansion of NATO, and added that “Russia’s present conventional military disadvantage would incline it to rely more heavily on nuclear weapons in planning its defenses —just as NATO did in similar circumstances starting in the late 1950s”.44 Thus, the conventional disadvantage of today’s Russia induces it to feature nuclear force more prominently in its deterrent posture and to make the same strategic choices as NATO has in the past when it believed, or claimed to believe, that it was at a conventional disadvantage. This is the context in which the Russian general staff in 1993 abandoned the pledge made in 1982 by Brezhnev’s USSR to make no first use of nuclear weapons, adopting instead the doctrine of graduated response. Inversely, it is now the United States that wants to reduce the importance of the nuclear factor in the strategic balance, owing to the fact that it now enjoys massive conventional superiority. Now it is the Americans’ turn to be resolutely in favor of reducing nuclear arsenals.45


According to Alexei Pushkov, if NATO were enlarged, the Duma would not ratify START II, and any prospect of concluding START III would vanish. The result would be a situation which this member of the Russian Council on Foreign and Defense Policies describes in terms that confirm the analysis and forecast of the QDR quoted above: “As long as Russia’s economy remains weak, no extensive new arms race will resume, but by conserving their huge nuclear arsenals Russia and the United States will enter into a grey zone of heightened strategic insecurity”.46

With Friends Like That …

The fact that Yeltsin’s Russia has been so swift to resume its ancestral imperial practices, along with maneuvers against Washington worthy of the “zero-sum game” of the bipolar era, and the fact that it has not given up its great-power ambitions and refuses to lower its nuclear guard, has made it clear to American strategists that there is no point in counting on the idealistic conviction that the end of ideological confrontation means the “end of history” and the advent of a liberal-pacifist Adam Smith-style utopia. Realists know very well that between states—as the well-known saying goes—there are no friends, only interests. And the interests of a pretender to a share of world hegemony must sooner or later inevitably come up against the interests of the supreme hegemon. This collision of interests, both actual and anticipated, led to a clear change of tone in American analyses of Russia.47 While some commentators try to comfort themselves by pointing to the weakness of the ex-superpower’s present forces,48 a consensus has emerged that Russia is still dangerous. In the internal US debate on the expansion of NATO, those who are trying to persuade President Clinton to give up the idea have argued that one should not provoke the Russian bear without good reason—not that it has turned into a lamb. Richard Pipes, one of forty-six signatories of an open letter to President Clinton against the expansion of NATO that was published on the eve of the July 1997 Madrid Atlantic summit, was asked by Foreign Affairs to write an analysis of Russia for its seventy-fifth anniversary special issue on “The World Ahead”. His article was tellingly titled: “Is Russia Still an Enemy?”.49 The author’s central thesis is that, owing to the widespread decomposition of the structures of Russian state and society, the army is now the vector for the “reintegration” of society and the reconstruction of


the empire. Pipes draws an imposing picture of this army and its imperial activities, giving the impression that its present state of dilapidation is only temporary. The Russian army, he claims, is as independent of the political executive as the military were in Weimar Germany, and has adopted the RMA in imitation of its American rival, following the demonstration of its efficacy in the Gulf War. A reorganization of the Russian armed forces is therefore underway—one that privileges the qualitative over the quantitative. A high level of budgetary priority is given to high-technology research and development, exploiting the substantial knowledge the country has accumulated in this area. Given Russia’s considerable economic backwardness, the military route is the only one open to it if it wants to regain its standing as a superpower—and no one doubts that it does. Contrary to the author’s conciliatory position on the NATO question, this thesis supports the idea of a “window of opportunity” provided by the temporary incapacity of Russian military power; a window that must be exploited before it is too late to achieve irreversible gains on the ground. The very fact that—as everyone agrees—the political future of Russia is highly unpredictable makes it rational to guard against the worst. This thinking is reinforced by a negative “culturalist” vision of the future of Russia.50 To all appearances, it underlies the American government’s decision to ignore the near-unanimous opposition of Russians of all political colors and start the process of NATO expansion.51

Encouraging Russian Hostility

Zbigniew Brzezinski and Anthony Lake, two of the principal ideologues of this expansion, advanced three arguments in the New York Times to justify President Clinton’s position on the eve of the Madrid NATO summit. The first is somewhat perplexing: it suggests that expansion is “a necessary step for keeping the trans-Atlantic link strong”.52 How exactly would the expansion of NATO into East Europe help strengthen Euro-American ties? The argument would seem purely rhetorical if it were not clarified by the one that follows: the two former national security advisers assert without shillyshallying that “an expanded alliance provides a hedge against the unlikely but real possibility that


Russia will revert to past behavior. It must also contribute to the goal of preventing that from happening.”53 These two arguments should in fact be in the reverse order: if Russia is thought of as threatening, then the expansion of NATO strengthens the Atlantic Alliance, whose purpose has always been containment of Russia. In any case, the Clinton administration, taken aback by the very animated American debate on its decision, no longer hides its underlying postulate: “The alliance must be prepared for other contingencies, including the possibility that Russia could abandon democracy and return to the threatening behavior of the Soviet period…”54 This postulate really is a typical example of a self-fulfilling prophecy, since the behavior resulting from it helps to strengthen Russian hostility to the Atlantic Alliance. Richard Pipes’s fellow signatories of the open letter to President Clinton are not mistaken about this: “In Russia, NATO expansion which continues to be opposed across the entire political spectrum will strengthen the non-democratic opposition, undercut those who favor reform and cooperation with the West, bring the Russians to question the entire post–Cold War settlement, and galvanize resistance in the Duma to the START II and III treaties.”55 This is yet another illustration of the famous “security dilemma”, that measures to improve security may have the perverse effect of increasing insecurity. Moreover, the Clinton administration’s decision created a situation which is difficult to reverse without harming America’s strategic interests. Since the best way to encourage blackmail is to give into it, it is obvious that if Washington were now to back down on the NATO question to avoid compromising the ratification of START II, as the critics of expansion recommend, Moscow would happily attempt to extract endless further concessions by the same means. The Clinton administration can claim in all honesty that it was simply unwilling to drop the substance for the shadow. In going ahead, though, it offered various consolation prizes to take the sting out of Russia’s acquiescence, and to limit the negative effects on its former rival: a jumpseat on G7 and the Paris Club, economic concessions, the promise to strengthen the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and to revise the CFE treaty, and above all the NATO-Russia Founding Act.56


This last document, signed in Paris on 27 May 1997, starts by affirming in clause 2 that NATO and Russia do not see themselves as enemies— indicating, if nothing else, that this is not something that goes without saying. It outlines a consultation and cooperation mechanism whose real value will depend on the state of global relations between Russia and the NATO countries, something that is certainly not dictated by SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe), at Mons in Belgium.57 It affirms that NATO has “no intention” of deploying nuclear weapons on the territory of its new member-states, which is not at all the same thing as undertaking never to do it. Lastly, the Founding Act affirms that NATO “in the current and foreseeable security environment” will not resort to “additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces”, a phrase that leaves the maximum scale of permanent deployment vague, and authorizes temporary deployments of unlimited size.58 For good reasons, the Founding Act does not contain the basic clause that might have calmed Russian anxieties: an undertaking to refrain from integrating former Soviet republics into NATO. Russia is in a position where it has to try to halt its loss of territory and strategic depth due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the satellite regimes of its European security buffer. The Russian leadership knows there is nothing much it can do to arrest the emancipation of states in Central and East Europe, or discourage their choice of Western-style trim. But it would like at least to preserve an informal or semi-formal empire in the formal Soviet imperial domain, among the former Soviet republics. Where the Baltic states are concerned, Moscow is resigned to accepting a Finlandized outcome, seeing it as the lesser evil, given the manifest antiRussian feeling in these countries and their proclaimed wish to join Western organizations, NATO in particular. For the other republics, Russian leaders sees the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) as a sort of surrogate USSR, perhaps less centralized but still constricting and incompatible with NATO membership.59 But at no point has the Atlantic Alliance, let alone the dominant American power, agreed to exclude from NATO expansion any former Soviet republics manifesting a wish to join. Quite the contrary. So close an examination of the Founding Act, far from proving that NATO–Russian relations are in a good state, shows that they are in the


“grey zone of heightened strategic insecurity” evoked by Alexei Pushkov. One has only to look at what happened to Ukraine on the day the Founding Act was signed and the two days that followed. On 27 May 1997 the Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma and his Polish colleague Alexander Kwasniewski, speaking in Tallinn, Estonia, supported the request by the Baltic states to join NATO.60 The very next day, taking by surprise the Atlantic Alliance (whose foreign ministers, meeting in Cintra, Portugal, on 29 May, were due to approve a security charter with Ukraine, to be signed at the Madrid Atlantic summit in early July 1997), Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin arrived in Kyiv to sign three agreements on the Black Sea Fleet, creating a political sensation. Broadly, these agreements are based on an extensive and sudden relaxation of the Russian positions—most notably the recognition of Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea—and are accompanied by other economic cooperation agreements favorable to Ukraine. But they also contain provisions which, if implemented, could move Ukraine’s economy— and its substantial defense industry—towards Russia, rather than towards the West’s market economies, and which might complicate closer integration with the European security structures, not to say NATO. Moreover, the mere fact that the Black Sea Fleet … will be present for twenty, if not twenty-five years, raises the question whether Ukraine will find itself hostage to the vagaries of Russian politics—for the next quarter century.61 During the same month Russia also signed agreements with Moldova, and a peace treaty with Chechnya that resulted in the agreement of September 1997 on the transit of Baku petroleum through Chechen territory to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk. It is clear enough that Russia is reacting to the strategic and economic “drive to the east” of NATO and the US by trying to reorganize its traditional imperial domain.62 Moscow is well aware that it does not have a free hand, that it is less and less able to afford the brazen imperial practices of recent years without driving one or other of its dominions irreversibly into the arms of the United States. Superpower rivalry thus remains intense, although altered in nature, even as both states now officially speak the same marketeconomy language.


The New Face of the New China

In Beijing a month earlier, Boris Yeltsin and his Chinese hosts had been protesting in barely veiled terms against American hegemony. The year 1997, marked by large-scale opposing maneuvers between Russia and NATO, with the corollary of an upsurge of hostility to Moscow in the United States, also saw a vast debate on China taking shape in the American publications covering foreign policy and grand strategy. The eloquent title The China Threat appeared on the front cover of the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs, while the Fall number of The National Interest used—also on the front cover—the more neutral headline The China Question. The debate was first stirred up by the publication at the beginning of the year of a book with the alarmist and attention-grabbing title, The Coming Conflict with China, by Richard Bernstein and Ross Munro.63 It spawned numerous articles in these journals and several others. The heightened tone of this debate was a direct consequence of the great tension that accompanied the Sino-American tussle over Taiwan in March 1996: China had chosen to assert its claims on the island, on the eve of the presidential elections due to take place there, by firing missiles in the strait separating the two, quite close to the Taiwan coast. The United States reacted to this dangerous gesture by sending two battle carrier groups to patrol the Taiwanese coastline. Washington had no other choice, as anything less might have tempted Beijing to go even further. Taiwan is at least as important to the United States as the state of Kuwait: not just because of the island’s economic importance and considerable monetary reserves, but because if it allowed Beijing to seize it by force the United States would “lose forever its claim to be the great-power guarantor in the Asia-Pacific region”, as Bernstein and Munro rightly put it.64

The Role of Japan

In April, the month following this Sino-American arm-wrestling bout, President Clinton and Japanese Prime Minister Hashimoto agreed in Tokyo to strengthen the military alliance between their countries, to increase the Japanese defense effort and maintain American forces in Japan at the existing level, but with partial redeployment. In consequence,


Japanese participation in the joint naval exercises in Asia-Pacific regional waters increased. Then, in June 1997, a few days before the retrocession of Hong Kong to China—itself due to take place under inauspicious circumstances, owing to the diplomatic tension provoked by Beijing and the military exercises being carried out by Taiwan—a US State Department report lifted the veil on changes to the framework and modalities of the Japan–US strategic alliance, under revision since the April 1996 summit. It emerged that the governing theme of this revision is a larger role for Japan in the event of US involvement in a regional military conflict. This was confirmed in an agreement reached by the two countries’ governments on 23 September 1997—though still to be ratified by their respective parliaments. Under the new agreement, Japan would lend support to the United States in the event of conflict in the Asia-Pacific region by allowing it to use its ports, air bases and hospitals—a sort of official rear-base role; by cooperating with it in the area of communications and aerial and maritime surveillance; by taking part in minesweeping and rescue missions in international waters; and by making a naval contribution to inspection tasks aimed at enforcing any embargo decreed by the UN. Japanese support is supposed to be limited to areas outside the zone of conflict, but the Japanese defense perimeter is defined in such imprecise terms (“border area”) that it has been possible to interpret the agreement as an extension of the zone of Japanese–American military cooperation to take in not only the Korean peninsula, but Taiwan and perhaps even the straits of Taiwan. The Chinese island can be considered part of Japan’s “border area”, being separated by a scant hundred kilometers from the south-western tip of the Japanese archipelago of Okinawa; current practice is to proclaim exclusive economic zones 200 sea miles wide in the China Sea. As for the strait separating Taiwan from mainland China, it was annexed into the zone of Japanese-US military cooperation by an unfortunate if revealing statement by a Japanese government spokesman. The remarks caused a diplomatic incident between Beijing and Tokyo, eliciting a public apology from the Japanese prime minister, but their basic import has never been formally denied. To understand how these developments are seen by the two great powers of East Asia, one must bear in mind that Japan invaded the island


of Taiwan in 1895, on its way to the invasion of the Chinese mainland, and occupied it until the end of the Second World War. Only American protection, officially proclaimed in 1955, enabled the Kuomintang government to survive there after 1949. It is thus not difficult to see that any manifestation of the Japan–US alliance touching on Taiwan is perceived in China as an aggressive imperialist act, mirroring the way the Chinese attitude is seen in the West and even, increasingly, in Japan itself, which these days is tending to get over its “guilty conscience” for past behavior, and to view China as a menacing power.65 The strategic tension between the two Asian powers is aggravated by the fact that they both depend on energy imports. Behind the quarrel that divides them (along with Taiwan and South Korea) over ownership of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, five coral atolls in the eastern China Sea, lies the issue of possible oil deposits in the economic zones around these islands. Similarly, Japan—although not directly involved in the complicated, apparently endless squabble over the Spratley islands, involving several ASEAN countries as well as China and Taiwan—does have an interest in ensuring that the islands do not fall into Beijing’s hands. This is because, owing to the Spratleys’ strategic position, China would then be in a position to control sea routes vital for Japanese hydrocarbons imports, along with much other regional, interregional and intercontinental maritime traffic and the circulation of warships, with US warships heading the list. To these two disputes must be added all the others involving China in the seas of East Asia, from the one with South Korea in the Yellow Sea to the ones with Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam over the Natuna islands zone, via the Gulf of Tonkin (Vietnam again).66 Bearing in mind also China’s armament efforts, especially in the domain of naval equipment and other means of projecting armed force, at a time when America’s longterm military commitment to the region is perceived as uncertain, it becomes clear why the arms trade and industry are flourishing more than ever in East Asia, unlike most other parts of the world.67 It is not difficult to grasp the key to the apparent paradox that in this part of the world, the end of the Cold War, far from reducing tension, seems to have increased it. The collapse of the Soviet Union caused East Asia to shift from a polarization against Moscow and its Indochinese allies


by most of the forces allied to the United States, jointly with China, to the release of latent tensions between a fast-growing China and the rest of the region, backed by the United States. This reality, which Bernstein and Munro do not fail to mention, counts for a lot more than the anxieties— marginal for the time being in any case—that might be aroused by the other regional power, Japan.68

The Modernization of China’s Forces

The removal of the previous cause of tension had its corollary in Chinese military doctrine, pointed out in an interesting article by an Australian intelligence official, A. D. McLennan: “The collapse of the Soviet Union … liberated the PLA from the Maoist “people’s war” doctrine —defense by depth and density of population in lieu of firepower. China is developing smaller, more professional forces with greater mobility and striking power, both typical goals of force modernization generally.”69 McLennan also points out that China’s minimal nuclear deterrence posture corresponds both to its means and its strategic interests; general nuclear disarmament would suit it even better, given its nuclear inferiority to Russia and the United States, and the fact that in conventional terms it has the advantage of numbers and of greater willingness to expose itself to human losses. China’s demographic mass and density mean that its pledge to make no first use of nuclear weapons conforms to its strategic interests, rather than revealing any pacifist tendency. And even if such a tendency existed, it would not apply to Taiwan, as the no-first-use pledge does not apply to Chinese territory, according to a senior Chinese official quoted by McLennan.70 This shows that the tension between China and the American-protected zone of Asia-Pacific, in which the Taiwan question is the sorest point, is real and dangerous—far more so than the oftmentioned prospect of a new conflict in the Korean peninsula.


On this last eventuality, Leon Sigal has reestablished a number of truths, obscured by media propaganda amounting to caricature against the North Korean regime—which, it is true, lends itself to this distortion as much as the Iraqi dictatorship does: “Ever since the 1970s, some US intelligence assessments have concluded that South Korea has the military


edge, especially in the air, and could repulse a North Korean attack even without throwing US forces into the balance.”71 This advantage has grown continuously, to such a point that it is now reasonable to wonder which of the two Koreas most fears the departure of Uncle Sam’s troops. The fact is that it is the growing conventional superiority of the South, combined with the American nuclear threat and the disappearance of the Soviet nuclear umbrella, that has driven the North to try to obtain atomic weapons.72 So, it is on the opposition between China and the United States, and certainly not on the conflict with North Korea, that the new regional strategic setup, including the revised terms of the Japanese–US alliance, is arranged. The image of China current in the United States has evolved in parallel. The view of Bernstein and Munro is that, since the disintegration of the Soviet empire at the end of the 1980s, “China is seeking to replace the United States as the dominant power in Asia”.73 In somewhat more measured style than the title of their book would suggest, the two authors insist on the possibility—rather than the probability—of a conflict with China provoked by an invasion of Taiwan or a regional conflict in the South China Sea. These allegations—leading to the triple conclusion that the US presence and supremacy in Asia should be maintained and Taiwan and Japan reinforced—are based on an analysis of the Chinese state hinging on the country’s armament effort, whose considerable real scale, they believe, is hidden behind misleading official figures.

Similarities and Differences in US Attitudes to China and Russia

There is an altogether remarkable similarity between American analyses hostile to China and those hostile to Russia, not only because both analyses see the mote in China’s or Russia’s eye while remaining oblivious to the beam in America’s own, but because they both place the emphasis on the army which they believe, along with the related military– industrial complex, to be the all-powerful central institution of the country concerned.74 Richard Pipes, quoted earlier, analyzed the position and role of the Russian army in terms virtually identical to Bernstein’s and Munro’s. And while Pipes draws a parallel between Russia and Weimar Germany, Bernstein and Munro consider the most likely outcome of present Chinese political evolution to be “a kind of corporatist, militarized, nationalist


state, one with some similarity to the fascist states of Mussolini or Francisco Franco”.75 However, unlike Russia, which has few defenders in the United States, China has considerable numbers. The difference is not simply due to the legacy of hostility accumulated against Russia in the Cold War years and cooperation established during the Sino-American alliance over the last two decades of that period. Even more important is the fact that the economic interests that currently bind the United States to China have no common measure with those established with Russia. So that the distrust of China maintained in American defense circles, out of conviction as well as self-interest, is balanced by the favorable attitudes cultivated in the trade and business communities, foreign policymakers being split between the two attitudes. The traditional divisions between hawks and doves, realists and idealists, are every bit as muddled here as they are in the debate over the expansion of NATO. The role of China advocate in American foreign policy journals has fallen on Robert Ross, a Harvard academic.76 He has had little trouble dealing with alarmist exaggerations of Chinese military potential put about by China-detractors: Japan alone is greatly superior to China in both air and naval terms, and will retain this superiority for the foreseeable future, owing to its much more advanced technology and much higher defense budget. The underlying idea is that China could regard the United States as a guarantee against any resurgence of Japanese military imperialism, placing the United States in the ideal position—according to the Kissinger doctrine—of guarantor of the balance of forces. Nevertheless, China could go against American policy in the domain of weapons proliferation. The United States should therefore seek Chinese assurances in this area, as well as those of economic liberalization and human rights. In so doing, Ross insists, it is important to avoid souring relations with China and to pursue a policy of “engagement” with it instead of putting it in quarantine. The visit to the United States of Chinese President Jiang Zemin at the end of October 1997 was a vivid moment and a good illustration of this last policy. In exchange for Chinese assurances on ending deliveries of nuclear materials and missiles to Iran, Washington unblocked the supply of power stations to China, to the great profit of the American nuclear


industry. Beijing also undertook to buy fifty Boeing aircraft for a total of $3 billion and agreed to reduce customs tariffs on American products so as to reduce the large US commercial deficit with China, now nearly $40 billion. But the visit also showed the limits of the policy of engagement when, during a joint press conference with his American opposite number, the Chinese president suddenly adopted a menacing tone on Taiwan: “We do not pledge to renounce the use of force, which is not directed against our compatriots in Taiwan but rather against external forces trying to interfere in Chinese internal affairs, as well as those who try to bring about Taiwan’s independence or separation from the rest of the country.”77 If there were any dreamy idealists among those responsible for US foreign policy, the Chinese president meant to bring them down to earth. Behind the façade for public consumption, in any case, there are very few who nurse illusions. Robert Ross’s declared concern, like that of the American campaigners against NATO expansion, is to prevent the creation of a self-fulfilling prophecy: to avoid setting China against the United States by treating it openly as an enemy. Looking closely at Ross’s views on the American strategic and military presence in Asia, however, it becomes apparent that he hardly differs from Bernstein and Munro, for the good reason that engagement is an uncertain gamble, like the political future of China itself: There is no guarantee that engagement will work … At times, Washington will have to protect its interests unilaterally. It will also have to maintain its current military deployments in Asia. US strategic retrenchment would do far more to alter the Sino-American bilateral balance of power and the regional balance of power than any combination of Chinese military and economic policies.78 The main strategic difference that might arise between the two sides of the American debate on China is more concerned with the Japanese– American alliance. Where Bernstein and Munro argue vigorously for an enlarged Japanese military role, a warm supporter of closer ties between Beijing and Washington like Zbigniew Brzezinski is to be heard warning against any strengthening of Japan–US cooperation.79 This view is far from unanimous among supporters of an appeasement policy toward Beijing. But what they all fear is that a souring of US relations with both Russia and


China at the same time might result in a strengthening of the sketchy alliance that has taken shape between those two countries.

The Sino-Russian “Strategic Partnership”

Comment on the possibility of a Russo–Chinese alliance is difficult, if not impossible, to find in American official or even semi-official strategic literature. Despite the very real progress of strategic and military cooperation between the two countries, the taboo against raising this question seems to be even stronger than the one against naming Russia and China as potential enemies in war scenarios. The collapse of the Soviet Union effectively opened the way for a new era in relations between Moscow and Beijing, the two governments driven by common and reciprocal interests. Their economies are potentially complementary: China can benefit from transfers of Russian technology, especially in the energy sector, including nuclear energy, and in the arms sector. In the latter sector, where Russian technology is at its most advanced, Chinese demand is heavy while Russia has a vital need to export, to help cover the costs of an industry whose losses it cannot afford to subsidize as heavily as it once did. Moreover, China will soon be a net hydrocarbons importer, and seems destined, with Japan, to be a natural customer for the petroleum and enormous natural gas reserves of Siberia and the Russian Far East—fields at Sakha/Yakutsk, Irkutsk, and the offshore field near the island of Sakhalin.80 In exchange, Russia could import great quantities of Chinese consumer goods, whose prices are more in line with its internal market than those of Western products. For the time being, however, these exchanges remain potential rather than real. China continues to favor Western technology whenever it has the choice. Meanwhile Western countries are locked in cutthroat competition for access to the Chinese market with, in the US case, Russiarelated strategic considerations also in mind. For example, one of the reasons persuading Washington to lift the ban on supplying power plants to China is undoubtedly to keep Moscow out of that market, which has direct strategic implications.81 The one domain in which the Western countries, led by the United States, are unable to displace Russia is that of exports of military material and technology, partly because of politico-strategic self-restraint, and partly for reasons related to the quality/price ratio of advanced equipment.


Very soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, China became Russia’s biggest military customer, alone absorbing 26 percent of Russian arms exports, worth a total of around $1.7 billion, in the 1992–94 period. As early as 1992 China acquired twenty-four Sukhoi Su-27 fighter-bombers, and in 1995 ordered another seventy-two Su-27s, costing $2.8 billion, around fifty of which have already been delivered by Moscow. Bigger still is the contract concluded at the same time, in 1995, under which China is to make up to 200 Su-27s under Russian license, starting production in 1999. Beijing also purchased S-300 air defense missile systems from Moscow, along with four Kilo-class submarines, of which two have already been delivered. After the March 1996 face-off in the Taiwan straits, China ordered two Russian Sovremenny-class destroyers equipped with cruise missiles. It is also interested in constructing or acquiring an aircraft carrier —Russia has recently finished building its first—and acquiring in-flight refueling tankers. These Russian military deliveries to China establish strategic links that are more important and durable than the ties resulting from Beijing’s acquisition of fifty Boeing civil aircraft. Beijing now depends on Moscow for the maintenance and repair of the most sophisticated submarines and fighter-bombers it possesses—in other words, two of the mainstays of its regional military power. That is why the quality of relations between the two countries should not be measured solely by the yardstick of the overall volume of their trade, which remains relatively small. It also explains why their political relations are so much more advanced than their nonmilitary or overall trade relations. After the first Yeltsin–Jiang summit in December 1992, the two governments began a procedure to settle their frontier disputes, which the Russian president is now trying to conclude in a way that favors Chinese requests. They also agreed on the principle of limiting the forces deployed on either side of their common frontier. At the second summit, in September 1994, the two countries declared themselves tied by a “constructive partnership”, decided on new reductions of their frontier forces, undertook not to use nuclear weapons against each other, and pronounced themselves in favor of a “multipolar world system”. Then, at the third summit in April 1996, the two countries declared themselves henceforth linked in a “strategic partnership”. The Chinese


president proclaimed his support for the Russian positions against NATO expansion and on Chechnya, while his Russian colleague supported the Chinese positions on Taiwan and Tibet. Further measures showing reciprocal trust along the common borders of China with CIS memberstates were instituted and formalized by treaty. There was of course nothing fortuitous in the timing of this new strategic partnership’s proclamation, just a month after the Sino-American confrontation off Taiwan and in the same month that the Clinton–Hashimoto summit decided on the upward revision of the Japan–US military alliance. In December 1996, Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng joined Boris Yeltsin in Moscow to reject any prospect of a “unipolar world” and defend the principle of a “multipolar international order”. Then, in April 1997, the fourth Sino-Russian summit, held in Moscow, adopted a “Joint Statement on Global Multipolarization and the Establishment of a New World Order”. This document, clearly aimed at the United States without naming it directly, affirms that no country should seek to impose its hegemony on others or assume that it has a monopoly of international relations. The statement also condemned all consolidation of military blocs which, in the political context, could only be taken to refer to NATO expansion and the revision of the Japan–US alliance.82 Needless to say, the Sino–Russian communiqués are not without elements of feint, blackmail and bluff. But the irritation expressed by the two governments is not assumed for the occasion: there is no shortage of reasons for their rancor against the United States, as has been shown. And these protests against a “unipolar world” are taken a lot more seriously in Washington when they come from a Yeltsin–Jiang summit than when they come (for example) from a Chirac–Yeltsin summit. A lot less believable, at least so far, is the so-called Sino–Russian “strategic partnership”, which in fact is not really based on firm and solid foundations of mutual trust. For the time being, both countries use this partnership, each in its own way, as a threat or means of exchange, either to obtain concessions or shifts of position from the American government, or to persuade it to attenuate or desist from its encroachments on their own respective positions.83 American official strategic documents affect to ignore any possible alliance between Russia and China precisely for this


reason: to minimize the weight of blackmail to which the United States can be subjected.

The Hub and Its Spokes

For the time being, certainly, neither of the two “partners” can afford the luxury of an open break with the United States: the fact is that they both need the US more than they need each other. From the economic point of view above all, Josef Joffe is not mistaken in thinking the Sino– Russian “strategic partnership’ anachronistic, and affirming that Boris Yeltsin is not going to look for computers in Beijing and that China will not risk the loss of its main export market.84 In any case, the recent visit by the Chinese president to the United States showed that China knows how to be cooperative, when necessary, to obtain economic advantages. Current American strategy really does seem to contain the Bismarckian dimension that Joffe describes: it corresponds closely to the image of hub and spokes, with the United States as the hub and Europe, Japan, Russia and China as the spokes of the wheel, all needing the United States more than they need each other.85 Even so, the author is being too hasty when he suggests that the United States, simply because of its nuclear weaponry, has nothing to fear from any military alliance against it, even a coalition of Russia and China.86 No one has forgotten that once nuclear deterrence has become mutual it can no longer be used, or that the deterrent effect is greatly reduced when used against enemies whose nuclear destructiveness potential is qualitatively equivalent. As Edward Luttwak so aptly points out, nuclear weapons are “too effective to be effective”.87 It is difficult enough to believe that the United States would really be willing to use nuclear weapons against China, which has a real—if quantitatively limited—capacity for nuclear retaliation, if Beijing were to try to seize Taiwan by force (even less so if the invasion followed a unilateral declaration of independence by Taiwan).88 So it is even more difficult to accept that the United States would take the initiative in resorting to nuclear weapons against a China–Russia coalition in a dispute over a third country. The deterrent credibility of American nuclear capacity against nuclear peers of the United States is restricted to the


protection of American territory against direct aggression. And of course, there is no state that aspires to such an act of folly. Furthermore—in a “post-heroic” era in which the US armed forces, not to mention American public opinion, are not very eager to take risks, even the minimal risks of an intervention somewhere like Somalia or Haiti89—it is far from certain that the United States would even risk a major conventional war in defense of Taiwan, especially as Washington subscribes officially to the principle of Chinese territorial unity. Would not direct US military involvement be even more risky with the American nuclear deterrent neutralized by a coalition of China and Russia, and with Russian military technology available to a Chinese army—still fully manned at present—that remains far more willing to risk human losses than the US army? And might not a military confrontation between the United States and China in East Asia lead to the risk of Russia opening a second front, directly or through proxies, in (say) Ukraine or the Arabo– Persian Gulf? Is this really an unbelievable scenario? Certainly unlikely, but nevertheless not impossible, in Raymond Aron’s celebrated phrase, it is a scenario well in the tradition of “worst-case analysis”.90 The preceding pages have sought to demonstrate that it is this scenario—and not the scenario of two simultaneous wars against adversaries like Iraq and North Korea—that corresponds most convincingly to the global military posture of the United States. A close reading of the QDR report does reveal something rather like an admission: after judging it likely that there will be no “global peer competitor” until 2015, and before proceeding to separate examinations of Russia and China, treated as regional powers for the time being, the report affirms: “it is likely that no regional power or coalition will amass sufficient conventional military strength in the next ten to fifteen years to defeat our armed forces, once the full military potential of the United States is mobilized and deployed to the region of conflict”.91


Starting from the observation of a manifest disproportion between the American defense budget and the official war scenario to which it is supposed to correspond, this article has deduced that the implicit scenario to which US defense expenditure really conforms, but which cannot be made too explicit for political, strategic and tactical reasons, is that of two


simultaneous wars against Russia and China, disguised by the official hypothesis of two “major regional conflicts” against Iraq and North Korea. The image of these two wars should be understood as coming from a school of deterrence through escalation that still persists in the Pentagon and the US administration. To check the plausibility of this reading, relations between the United States, Russia and China have been reviewed. Examination of the Russian and Chinese cases shows that the hypothesis of this implicit scenario in American strategy is in keeping with the concrete development of these relations. In reality, the doctrine and practice of “engagement” is still accompanied by a clear American effort at containment of Russia and China, in the strict sense of the term. In the case of Russia, which, unlike China, is in a state of institutional and imperial deliquescence, it is even possible to talk about an American practice of post-ideological “rollback”, no longer directed against “communism” but simply against Russian imperial hegemony. In seizing the historic opportunity provided by Russia’s dilapidation at present, from which there is no guarantee that it will not recover in the medium or long term, the United States is encroaching much more on the zones of Europe and Asia under Russian influence than it ever has in the days of the USSR, after the Second World War. The current level of the US defense budget corresponds rationally to the US aspiration to imperial expansion and exclusive global hegemony. In full strategic coherence, the United States is prepared for the worst-case scenario: in other words, it has taken the appropriate measures against its two main potential military rivals, the two main candidates for the position of “global peer competitor”, Russia and China. It is all the more plausible to consider them jointly in that they are naturally tempted to form an alliance against the sole superpower of the moment. These strategic choices maintain a level of tension with these two powers that justifies US suzerainty over their neighbors, Germany, Europe, and Japan, and blocks any move toward possible regional alliances—Euro– Russian or Sino–Japanese—that might be able to challenge American hegemony. Yet the expanded military role of Germany and Japan, in the context of an American alliance directed against Russia and China, should have the effect of heightening the anxieties of these two countries and leading them to try, each on its own behalf, to get into the good graces of


the United States. For the time being this seems to be working better with Beijing than with Moscow. But, when all is said and done, this is no more than an ancient and well-tried imperial recipe. * First published in New Left Review 228, March/April 1998, pp. 91–126. Translated from the French by John Howe.



Rasputin Plays Chess: How the World Stumbled into a New Cold War*

At the end of the 20th century, after two world wars and a Cold War, we and our allies have a chance to leave our children a Europe that is free, peaceful and stable. But we must— we must—act now to do that. Statement by President William J. Clinton

on Kosovo, 24 March 1999

With the last year of the millennium only half gone, the tensions that have appeared so far in relations between the three pillars of the strategic triad—the United States on the one hand and Russia and China on the other—seem to bode ill for the twenty-first century. Early in July, not long before these lines were written, two Russian Il76 giant cargo aircraft loaded with military hardware were prevented from taking off for Pristina airport in Kosovo, where Russian troops are positioned. To achieve this, NATO had asked its new recruit, Hungary, and two countries keen to join the Atlantic Alliance, Bulgaria and Romania, to deny their airspace to Russian aviation. These moves caused a sharp increase in tension between Moscow and NATO: so brutal a reminder to Russia that its former satellite zones of Central and Eastern Europe have changed sides and are now aligned with the West—even militarily, even at the risk of enraging their great neighbor and being drawn into conflict—understandably exasperated Russians of all political colors. Moscow seems to have explored the possibility of breaking the interdiction, first securing the cooperation of Ukraine at a meeting between Boris Yeltsin and Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma. (Kuchma is under strong pressure, both from the Russians and internally, to join the union currently being formed between Russia and Belarus. The Serbian parliament also expressed a wish to join during the NATO bombing.) At the same time, Moscow expelled Lieutenant Colonel Peter Hoffman, a member of the American delegation which had negotiated


with the Russians in Helsinki on the conditions for a preliminary agreement to end the bombing of Yugoslavia by NATO.1 A few days earlier, the Russian armed forces had carried out their biggest maneuvers since the end of the Cold War, involving five military regions and three fleets: a total of 50,000 troops, more than thirty surface vessels, four submarines (one nuclear-powered) and an air armada carrying ground-attack and air-to-air cruise missiles. In the course of these maneuvers, two Russian Tu-95 turboprop bombers—codenamed “Bears” by NATO!—approached within 100 kilometers of the coast of Iceland, a NATO member, in the small hours of 25 June. According to American sources, these bombers, carrying long-range missiles, were thus within striking distance of the United States. They were immediately intercepted by Louisiana Air National Guard F-15s based in Keflavik, Iceland, which escorted them on their passage round the island. It was the first incursion into NATO airspace by Russian bombers since 1989.2 While all this was taking place, military relations between Russia and China were being strengthened in spectacular fashion, with meetings on the highest political and military levels, and in particular the sale of seventy-two Sukhoi Su-30 fighter-bombers, the latest thing in Russian military technology, to Beijing. Negotiations were underway on the production of 250 further aircraft under license in China.3 Moreover, the Chinese armaments effort has been intensified in recent months, leading an expert on the military and nuclear potential of the region to comment: “China and others in Asia will soon have arsenals that will make any outside country think twice about moving forces there in a crisis, or for any political purpose that crosses their interests.”4 These signs that Sino-Russian strategic cooperation is being strengthened, along with the increasing tensions on a world scale in general and in the Asia-Pacific region in particular, elicited this anxious comment from a professor of international relations at the Yokosuka National Defense Academy in Japan: “This climate of tension and mutual suspicion in the Asia-Pacific region has produced something similar to the two opposing sides—the US-led anti-communist camp and the Chinese–Soviet camp—that existed during the early Cold War period.”5


Just so: the world seems to be sliding inexorably into a new version of the strategic configuration of the initial phase of the Cold War, with an apparently all-powerful America facing a Soviet–Chinese bloc, arguably in a balance of forces every bit as unequal and unfavorable as the balance of forces between Washington and the Moscow–Beijing axis today. In the definition of this renewed configuration and in the reciprocal “marking” of the forces in play, the war in Kosovo has played—obviously on a smaller scale and mutatis mutandis—a role comparable to that of the Korean war of 1950–53. The most alarmist predictions of the previous chapter, finished at the end of 1997 and published in the spring of 1998, have been amply confirmed.6

The Mutation of NATO

In under a decade, the last of the twentieth century, the pacifist hopes raised by the end of the Cold War have been cruelly dashed. After the fall of the Berlin wall, the collapse of the system of communist states, the unification of Germany along Federal Republic lines, and the collapse of communist rule in the Soviet Union followed by the dissolution of the USSR itself, many were ready to believe, on both sides of the former Iron Curtain, in a prompt exploitation of the “peace dividend” to devise an East European version of the Marshall Plan aimed at reconstructing the countries ravaged by the dotage of Stalinism. Military budgets were going to be reduced (and they in fact were, quite substantially, though much less than the gentle dreamers expected). It would be possible at last to give priority to social budgets and the struggle against unemployment: the best antidote to wars, in Keynes’s view. What had been forgotten was that, during the current great worldwide neoliberal offensive, in which the dominant mode of regulation is deregulation—in other words, a return to unbridled and pitiless capitalism—Keynes has receded to the utopian skyline of the most radical fraction of social democracy. The capitalism that actually exists today is having increasing difficulty, like its socialist rival in the old days, in giving itself a human face. Thus, in reality, between a liberalpacifist option predicated on the social and ecological development of the planet and a neoliberal-militarist option in which “the icy water of egoistic calculation” (Marx) flows between the dikes provided by the 80

forces maintaining social order and the “new world order”, the choice seemed broadly determined in advance. The NATO question perfectly illustrates the nature of the historical options confronting the West’s leaders. The death agonies of the USSR faced the members of the Atlantic Alliance with the same type of choice that always confronts a power that has vanquished an enemy power without either annexing or exterminating it: magnanimity or vae victis (woe to the vanquished)? A celebrated Cold War historian, Professor John Lewis Gaddis of Yale University, admirably summarized the nature of the basic options confronting the West in an article whose initial version was given as a lecture in a seminar at the National Defense University in Washington in October 1997: There are three points of reference here—1815–18, 1918–19 and 1945–48—and historians are in general accord as to the lessons to be drawn from each. They applaud the settlements of the Napoleonic Wars and of the Second World War because the victorious allies moved as quickly as possible to bring their vanquished adversaries—France in the first case, Germany and Japan in the second—back into the international system as full participants in post-war security structures. Historians tend to criticize (if not condemn) the First World War settlement precisely because it failed to do that for two of the most powerful states in Europe—Germany and Soviet Russia. The resulting instability, they argue, paved the way for yet another conflagration.7 The foundering, without direct major conflict, of the Russo-Soviet empire represented a historical turning point at least equivalent in magnitude, in strategic terms, to any of these three references. Even before the final collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the July 1990 NATO summit in London modestly stated in an official declaration: “The North Atlantic Alliance has been the most successful defensive alliance in history.”8 This emphatic triumphalism was nevertheless accompanied by benevolent clauses favoring consolidation of the peace: the statement that security does not depend solely on the military dimension but also on the political dimension, which the Alliance vowed to accentuate in future; the statement that the unification of Germany had ended the division of Europe and should be accompanied by a “European identity 81

in the domain of security”; NATO committed itself to shaking hands with all its Cold War adversaries, emphasizing its purely defensive character: “We have no aggressive intentions and we commit ourselves to the peaceful resolution of all disputes. We will never in any circumstances be the first to use force.”9 Lastly, the Alliance pronounced itself in favor of the institutionalization of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE, which in December 1994 became the OSCE after acquiring the status of an intergovernmental organization): formed in the 1973–75 period, this grouped the members of NATO and the Warsaw Pact together with the other European states in an entity consecrated to pan-European collective security along lines greatly favored by Moscow.10 What this seemed to mean was that NATO, while maintaining its traditional structures as an elementary precaution (“No one, however, can be certain of the future”, the London Declaration cautioned on the heels of its triumphalist proclamation), was giving the impression that it wanted to explore the possibility of strengthening two other elements of collective security: the strictly West European dimension linked to the European Economic Community (EEC) and the extended Euro-Atlantic dimension, with the third dimension—the narrow Euro-Atlantic one represented by NATO—in position to play a pivotal role in the construction of the other two. The question of NATO’s “raison d’être” in the medium or long term was thus being raised, since the statement formulated in London only applied to the short term. German unification, achieved during the Gulf crisis, followed by the attack on Iraq—which the coalition led by the United States celebrated with enormously triumphant swagger, although it had prevailed without the slightest risk of failure—carried out with the assent of a dying Soviet Union, and finally the crumbling of the last supports of the Stalinist state edifice in East Europe, changed the situation radically. Soothing declarations aimed at “Moscow the Dotard” (Aragon) were no longer appropriate. Saddam Hussein who, if he did not exist, would certainly have been invented, had conveniently demonstrated that the end of the “Soviet menace” did not mean that all potential bad guys capable of threatening the West’s vital interests, and whom only the American sheriff had enough clout to repress, had been eliminated. It was during 82

the Gulf crisis that George Bush proclaimed the advent of a “new world order” maintained and controlled by Washington. The final declaration of the Rome Atlantic summit, in November 1991, therefore marked a sharp contrast to the sugary ideas of the previous year: “The military dimension of our Alliance remains an essential factor; but what is new is that, more than ever, it will serve a broad concept of security.”11 There appeared the significant phrase central to the “new strategic concept” adopted by the summit: a broad concept of security. In other words, NATO had decided to stop restricting itself to the defensive posture laid out in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty (1949), and now envisaged intervening outside its own zone of influence as defined by Article 6. In consequence, the Rome declaration announced that the conventional armed forces of NATO member countries were going to “be given increased mobility to enable them to react to a wide range of contingencies, and [would] be organized for flexible build-up, when necessary, for crisis management as well as defense.”12 As from 1991, NATO had responded to the existential dilemma posed by the end of the Cold War, tendentiously summarized in the phrase “out of area or out of business”, by extending its jurisdiction. The “new strategic concept” proposed to set up “rapid reaction forces” modelled on the US Rapid Deployment Force, formed under the Carter administration with a view to American intervention in the Gulf region following the Iranian Islamic revolution.13 NATO was proposing to devote itself henceforth to the delights of “crisis management”, dealing with all situations presenting a “risk” to the security of its members, according to a very extensive definition of possible “risks”: Risks to Allied security are less likely to result from calculated aggression against the territory of the Allies, but rather from the adverse consequences of instabilities that may arise from the serious economic, social and political difficulties, including ethnic rivalries and territorial disputes, which are faced by many countries in Central and Eastern Europe … The stability and peace of the countries on the southern periphery of Europe are important for the security of the Alliance, as the 1991 Gulf war has shown.14 83

At the very moment when the Yugoslav crisis was taking shape just over the horizon, therefore, NATO was undergoing a radical mutation. A year later, with civil war and “ethnic cleansing” already ravaging former Yugoslavia, the Alliance’s ministerial council was able to boast about NATO participation in operations carried out under the aegis of the UN: For the first time in its history, the Alliance is taking part in UN peacekeeping and sanctions enforcement operations. The Alliance, together with the WEU, is supporting with its ships in the Adriatic the enforcement of the UN economic sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro and of the arms embargo against all republics of former Yugoslavia. UNPROFOR is using elements from the Alliance’s NORTHAG command for its operational headquarters. NATO airborne early-warning aircraft—AWACS—are monitoring daily the UNmandated no-fly zone over Bosnia-Hercegovina.15 In that same month of December 1992, George H. W. Bush, on the point of yielding the White House to his victorious Democratic rival Bill Clinton, thus also made him a present of two of his term’s main achievements: the revival of American military interventionism, after the long paralysis that followed Vietnam, and its European corollary, the metamorphosis of NATO. As a bonus, he gave him yet another present, one that would turn out to be fundamental to the deployment of American hegemony: the humanitarian argument, a media trick enabling the image of the US armed forces to be conflated with that of the Salvation Army.16 This is what legitimized, in American and world public opinion, the deployment of 28,000 American soldiers in Somalia, a country whose strategic situation on the horn of Africa, facing the Middle Eastern “crescent of crisis”, had made America for many years covet facilities for establishing a military base there.

The Clintonian Dilemma

However, the end of the USSR was too recent for George Bush—who also had the prospect of presidential elections to worry about during the last year of his term—to be able to determine all the fundamental US choices in dealing with the new Russia clambering out of the rubble of Stalinism. This heavy task was to devolve on Bill Clinton. A man whose best-known campaign slogan had been “The economy, stupid!”, and the 84

bulk of whose political experience had been gained in his home state, Arkansas, was not ideally prepared to confront an international problem of such scale and complexity. In effect, this was the third occasion since the beginning of the twentieth century when an American president had assumed the heavy responsibility of making a decisive contribution to the definition of a new international security system (the first two being Wilson and Truman, after each of the two world wars). For the first time since Truman, but on an even higher, historically unequalled level, a single world power—America—was sole holder of most of the cards needed to shape the world (or “shape the international security environment”, in the recurrent phrase from recent US strategic documents). Madeleine Albright’s taste for grandiloquent phrases (“the indispensable nation” is one of hers) led her to subtitle a recent article in Foreign Affairs, adapting from her predecessor as secretary of state under Truman, the no less emphatic Dean Acheson, the title of his memoirs: “Present, Again, at the Creation”.17 Through elementary prudence, given the scale of the task, Clinton, a relative novice in these matters, began by surrounding himself with representatives of the main tendencies within the Democratic establishment on questions of international relations and strategic options. The result was that the Clinton administration itself became deeply divided on these matters. The international affairs officials of the new administration very soon found themselves at odds over a key question central to the structure of American “grand strategy”: what attitude to adopt towards Russia, the most formidable of what current Washington vocabulary, also used by the Pentagon and World Bank group, calls “transitional” countries. (This term can be seen as an indirect tribute to the Trotskyists who used it to describe the same countries when the “transition” was supposed to be in the other direction.) The quarrel reached dramatic levels of intensity on the issue of NATO enlargement, which was to be the Clinton era’s principal achievement in the domain of global policy. Of course, the new team was unanimous in its adherence to the mutation of NATO’s function undertaken by the outgoing administration. However, this mutation could be understood either within the limits of an Alliance stuck in the same configuration as at the 85

end of the Cold War, or in the context of a NATO open to ex-members of the Warsaw Pact: former satellites of the Soviet Union and even some former Soviet republics, like the Baltic states and Ukraine. This issue was at the center of the split in the first Clinton administration; it was arbitrated by an apprentice president who hesitated for several months before deciding in favor of expansion. The discussion and decision-making process leading to this option is quite well documented thanks to an investigation carried out by Michael Dobbs of the Washington Post, later confirmed by another study by a political analyst at George Washington University.18 It emerges from these essays that two camps were at odds within the Clinton administration in 1993–94 on the future of NATO: on one side what might be called the “doves” (in traditional American foreign policy terminology), whose main concern was to avoid new tensions in relations between Moscow and the West, the better to ease the integration of the new Russia into the concert of world powers; on the other the “hawks”, whose priority was to annex the countries freed from Moscow’s tutelage to the Atlantic Alliance, out of distrust of Russia, seen as a potentially hostile major power. As always in controversies of this kind, each camp took the other’s main arguments into account. The “doves” underlined the need to avoid weakening NATO by dilution, by constructing a sort of outer circle connected with it: the Partnership for Peace (PfP), open to all countries emerging from the dissolution of the Stalinist system, Russia included. The second circle would be a military structure that was less restrictive than the Atlantic Alliance proper, but would enable common practices to be established through regular joint maneuvers, with a view to later adoption of one of two choices: integrating the ex-Moscow satellites if Russia evolved in a dangerous direction, or moving towards full integration of the two structures if Moscow continued with its proWestern liberal-democratic development. The countries of the former Soviet rampart would first be initiated into the Western system by the politico-economic means of recruitment into the European Union (EU), rather than into NATO itself. The “hawks”, on the other hand, preached the immediate expansion of the Alliance to take advantage of the current sclerotic condition of 86

Russia. Since joining the EU would not be possible in the short term, owing to new membership criteria much stricter than those which had admitted Ireland, Greece and Portugal, the integration of countries from the former Soviet rampart into the Western system should proceed rapidly in the politico-military context of the Alliance, before some hostile development in the Russian government made everything much more complicated. To obviate this last development, the (inevitably inflammatory) effects of an expansion of NATO into Moscow’s former private domain should be attenuated by a special arrangement between the Alliance and the destitute superpower. This was called the “parallel track” formula, with the accent on the rapid expansion of NATO (“fasttrack”). The main author of this formula was Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor to the last Democratic president before Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and one of the two most celebrated foreign policy gurus with his Republican rival, Henry Kissinger. The latter also pronounced in favor of NATO expansion, while criticizing any tendency to soften its military profile that might result from a wish to reassure Russia. Against these two leading tenors, several big names from the US defense and foreign policy establishments and think-tanks came out in favor of the doves’ option. They included George Kennan, who tried unsuccessfully to sway the president’s entourage, as well as David Calleo, Edward Luttwak, Michael Mandelbaum, Robert McNamara, Paul Nitze, Sam Nunn, Richard Pipes, Stansfield Turner and others. It was Brzezinski, however, who became the main mentor of the new Democratic administration. The natural spokesman for his point of view inside the first Clinton administration was Anthony Lake, appointed to Brzezinski’s old job of national security advisor. Lake had once worked with Henry Kissinger during the Nixon presidency, but had resigned from the Republican administration in 1970 in protest against the bombing of Cambodia. A few years later he returned to work in the State Department under Brzezinski in Jimmy Carter’s Democratic administration. The Polish-born Brzezinski … discussed his ideas in detail with Lake and other administration officials in late 1993 and early 1994. “From the very beginning, Lake was more sympathetic than other members of the 87

administration,” Brzezinski recalled. “I did not have to do any proselytizing with Tony.”19 As an advisor, Lake was an effective advocate of his predecessor’s views. In autumn 1993, when the argument inside the administration became heated, he found himself up against heavyweights. As is often the case (contrary to received opinion) the “dove” camp was strongly represented in defense circles: in this case it included Defense Secretary Les Aspin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Shalikashvili, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe, and also Polish-born. The State Department was split between “doves” and “hawks”. The adversaries of rapid NATO expansion tellingly included experts on Russian affairs like Strobe Talbott, one of the prominent “Friends of Bill”. Secretary of State Warren Christopher (formerly Deputy Secretary in the Carter administration) was dithering between the two camps. In the end Lake carried the day against this powerful coalition, as Brzezinski had prevailed over Secretary of State Cyrus Vance in the Carter administration. He persuaded Clinton to come out publicly in favor of NATO expansion in January 1994, at a meeting in Prague with Central European heads of state. During a speech on this occasion the US president made a remark that caused much comment: “The question is no longer whether NATO will take on new members, but when and how.” It should not be thought, however, that this result was due solely to the persuasive talents of Anthony Lake and his guru. A number of other pressures had also contributed: those, for example, brought to bear by the two most admired leaders of ex-Moscow satellites, Lech Wałęsa and Václav Havel; the encouragement of Helmut Kohl, eager to push the frontier of NATO outside German territory, hitherto always in the front line; and also, the pressure of vulgar electoral calculation, basic to a president whose eye is always on the poll figures: “The NATO expansion issue has galvanized the ethnic groups into action,” noted the Polish-born Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor, and a strong supporter of enlargement. “If Clinton is going to win the next election, he will have to win in the old industrial belt, which begins in Connecticut and ends in Illinois, where the ethnic groups are very strong.” 88

In late 1993, when the administration appeared to be dragging its feet on NATO expansion, Polish lobbying groups flooded the White House with telegrams and telephone calls. The Polish-American Congress put out a “legislative alert” to its 34 divisions around the country to prevent a “new Yalta,” political shorthand for the “betrayal” of Poland by the Western allies that occurred after the end of World War II. A few weeks later, President Clinton announced in Prague that NATO expansion was no longer “a question of whether … but when and how”.20 But Clinton was still somewhat unsure of himself, and had also just given the go-ahead for the creation in January 1994 of the PfP being promoted by the Pentagon. This institution was in no way contradictory with the “parallel track” system proposed by Brzezinski. But the Prague speech caused Russia to cold-shoulder the PfP for several months, before reluctantly joining the following year. A few weeks after this speech, which marked a turning point in Clinton’s options, Defense Secretary Les Aspin resigned, and was succeeded by his Deputy, William Perry. Perry shared his predecessor’s opinions, and his appointment suggested that Clinton wanted to give the impression that he had not yet made a final commitment. The second phase of the struggle between the “doves” and “hawks”, over consolidation of the presidential option, lasted through 1994. There followed a third phase during the launch of the concrete process of NATO enlargement, the “when and how” phase, lasting until the end of the president’s first term. Strobe Talbott, appointed Deputy Secretary of State in February 1994, made a U-turn on the enlargement question to keep station with his friend the president, who sidled a step closer to the “hawks” during a trip to Warsaw in July 1994.21 Talbott took the initiative of recalling Richard Holbrooke from his post as ambassador to Germany and appointing him Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, where he played a decisive role in preparing for the active phase of NATO enlargement. He won over to the cause another “Friend of Bill”, General Wesley Clark, whom he took as military adviser on his missions to former Yugoslavia in the run-up to the Dayton accords in 1995. When setting up his second administration, Clinton replaced William Perry with the hawkish Republican, William Cohen. He tried to appoint Anthony Lake to the supremely sensitive job of Director of the 89

CIA, but the nomination was turned down by the Senate. To replace him as the national security advisor, he had designated Lake’s deputy for the whole of the first term, Samuel Berger (yet another “Friend of Bill”, responsible for introducing both Lake and Madeleine Albright into the administration).22 A person of somewhat limited outlook, of whom Henry Kissinger once remarked, “[y]ou can’t blame a trade lawyer for not being a global strategist”, Berger was incapable of playing his predecessor’s role of chief strategist (by proxy) to the administration.23 This role therefore devolved, in the second Clinton administration, on Madeleine Albright, the stylish replacement of another uninspired character, former Secretary of State Warren Christopher. Albright had obtained her doctorate at Columbia University with Brzezinski as her doctoral advisor, and had worked for him in the Carter administration from 1978 onward. She took over from Lake as representative of her teacher and patron’s views. And with the nomination of Wesley Clark to the post of Supreme Allied Commander Europe—commander-in-chief of NATO’s armed forces, in other words—the triumph of what might be called the “Brzezinski doctrine” was complete. The new administration was able to move forward on the “parallel track”: at the end of May 1997, the NATO–Russia Founding Act was signed in Paris. A few weeks later, in July, the Madrid NATO summit officially coopted Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into NATO. All that remained was to have this decision ratified by the member-states before sanctioning these admissions during the fiftieth anniversary of the Atlantic Alliance, in April 1999.

Wisdom and Extravaganza in International Policy

Throughout the first Clinton term, then, a struggle of crucial importance to the future of humanity was waged in the corridors of power in Washington (and attracting a great deal less media attention than the president’s erotic cavorting in the Oval Office with a White House intern). Two basic options vied for control over a decisive issue: the configuration of world security. They implied radically different courses of action, to be made on the eve of the twenty-first century, and would broadly determine whether the world “we leave our children” would be 90

“free, peaceful, and stable” or dangerous, unstable and worrying. The overall concepts behind these two options are explained in two books by the two strategists who confronted each other directly during the first years of the Clinton presidency: Brzezinski, the guru of the Clinton administration, and former Defense Secretary William Perry. The book describing the “new security strategy” proposed for the United States by Perry was written in collaboration with his faithful friend and assistant Ashton Carter, Assistant Secretary of Defense during the first Clinton term. The “new strategy” is called “preventive defense”.24 According to its authors, this concept is “fundamentally different from deterrence: it is a broad politico-military strategy, and therefore it draws on all the instruments of foreign policy: political, economic and military”.25 During the Cold War, containment and deterrence inevitably counted for more than prevention in American strategy. In the post– Cold War period it seems appropriate to bring prevention to the fore once again; in other words, first and foremost, to prevent a new “A list” threat from appearing and menacing the very survival of the United States (along with the rest of humanity, one might add).26 To this end, persuasion is more effective than deterrence or coercion; the strategy of preventive defense aims at “influencing the rest of the world, not compelling it”.27 The book’s first chapter, on Russia and NATO, has a title—“Pursuing Marshall’s Vision”—that speaks volumes on the two authors’ orientation: George Marshall, Secretary of State from 1947 to 1949 after being the US Army’s chief of staff during the Second World War, had given his name to the famous Marshall Plan, an aid program for European reconstruction applied from 1947. In this connection, the authors express regret that the aid allocated for the reconstruction and democratization of Russia should have been so limited, “certainly nothing close to the Marshall Plan, which sought to prevent a replay after World War II of the tragic collapse of democratic Weimar Germany”.28 In a similar vein, they criticize the limited vision of European governments apparently incapable of the generosity needed for the admission of post-Stalinist states from East and Central Europe into the EU (which would have been an alternative to NATO enlargement). 91

In pages as explicit as possible given their duty of reserve, Carter and Perry show how strongly they disapprove of enlargement, judging it precipitate and ill-considered at the very least.29 They suggest a policy predicated on keeping NATO going, and approve the broadening of its scope suggested in 1991, but want it to be a NATO working in close collaboration with Russia and its ex-satellites within a “reinvented” PfP. They regard it as fundamental to do everything possible, politically as well as financially (under the Nunn–Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program), to hasten the reduction of strategic nuclear weapons in both the former Cold War superpowers, thus reducing the risks inherent in having so many nuclear bombs in a country as chaotic as today’s Russia. In particular, they think it most regrettable that the course of RussoAmerican relations since the decision to enlarge NATO should have had the effect of making the Russian Duma refuse to ratify the START II accord, thus blocking all progress on START III. Carter and Perry emphasize the importance of good relations with Russia and China in limiting the risk of worldwide proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. On Beijing, the authors shrewdly judged the Sino-American rapprochement reported while they were writing their book “highly contingent and fragile”.30 They favor an open, coherent policy of partnership with China and repudiate any leaning towards containment, while clearly designating the Japan–US alliance as the lynchpin of security in the Asia-Pacific region, like the Atlantic Alliance in Europe. Consequently, the policy of “engagement” with Beijing should be conducted jointly by Washington and Tokyo, just as the Moscow policy should be conducted jointly by Washington and its European allies. They seem to have understood with unusual clarity that any attempt to “divide and rule” in an acutely delicate world situation could have unintended side-effects altogether harmful to world security and stability. Their book is distinguished by its sobriety and the great perspicacity of its authors, experts by training and experience in the psychological background to the political behavior of the Moscow and Beijing governments. It is obviously written partly to challenge Brzezinski’s ideas, but also and primarily because they refused to wash their hands of the 92

matter and were still trying to steer the Clinton administration—and American politics in general—in another direction before it was too late. They therefore proposed to stop for the time being at the three countries newly admitted to NATO, and not to consider any further admissions for a long period. During their time at the Department of Defense, even after losing the enlargement battle, Carter and Perry put themselves out to restore Russo-American relations, notably from the low point they reached after the air strikes in Bosnia in 1995. Insisting that Russian susceptibilities should be considered, and that everything possible should be done to ensure that Russia was treated as a fullyfledged partner, Perry played a determining role in preventing Moscow from being left out of the solution to the Bosnian problem in the form of the Dayton accords. We believed that the reason to include Russia in the Bosnian peace force was bigger than the Bosnian operation and had to do with Russia itself … few others in the US government had much patience for seeking an honorable role for the Russians. To most US and NATO officials caught up in the Bosnia drama, Russia seemed like an unnecessary complication. We believed that they were not seeing the forest for the trees; they failed to recognize that Russia was an indispensable part of the larger European security order of which the Bosnian peace was supposed to be a part.31 Unlike those who cannot see the Russian wood for the trees of former Yugoslavia, Perry and Carter were well aware that what is really at stake is the whole of European and world security.32 After once more evoking the historical precedent of Weimar Germany, the authors came up with the following warning: “The historical parallels give us, this time, the necessary foresight if we are wise enough to heed it.”33 This last clause seems to merit underlining. As the ideas advanced by Perry and Carter were sober and pragmatic, so Brzezinski’s were immoderate, or even extravagant: his tendency to excess was as marked as his undeniable brio. The Clinton administration’s guru hinted broadly at the nature of his thought by choosing for his book the title, The Grand Chessboard.34 Seized with the sort of megalomania that quite often overtakes adepts in grand geopolitical designs, the author 93

envisages the world—or more precisely Eurasia—as a big chessboard on which he explains how to “outplay” the opposition, confident of his own mastery of the game and what he believes to be his genius.35 The very form of this vision of the world is inherently detrimental to the moderate objective of a truly stable international system of collective security, like that proposed by the first two authors. From the start of play, Brzezinski’s game plan (Game Plan, incidentally, is the title of one of his earlier books, retailing substantially similar views) is no more nor less than to preserve “America’s capacity to exercise global primacy” and build “a stable continental equilibrium, with the United States as the political arbiter”.36 “For America, the chief geopolitical prize is Eurasia,” writes Brzezinski, who places his own thought as a sort of updated extension of the fairly crazed views propagated by Harold Mackinder and Karl Haushofer, the latter an influence on Adolf Hitler.37 Hardly bothering to apologize for resorting to the terminology of another era, Brzezinski goes on to list “the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy” as: “to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together”.38 The whole spirit of the book—and the essence of a geopolitical program—summarized in a sentence! The immediate task for the United States, in our chess-player’s opinion, is to “consolidate and perpetuate the prevailing geopolitical pluralism on the map of Eurasia”. To this end it must resort to “maneuver and manipulation in order to prevent the emergence of a hostile coalition that could eventually seek to challenge America’s primacy”.39 Maneuver and manipulation might be recurrent in chess vocabulary, but are seldom cited so openly, or with such Machiavellian relish, in politics. The scenarios seen as most dangerous, to be averted at all costs in this titanic program to divide and rule, are “a grand coalition of China, Russia, and perhaps Iran”, “a Sino-Japanese axis” and “either a German–Russian collusion or a Franco-Russian entente”.40 The vassals to be kept dependent are of course the European and Japanese allies. Europe is “America’s essential geopolitical bridgehead on the Eurasian continent”; so that “with the allied European nations still 94

highly dependent on US security protection, any expansion in the scope of Europe becomes automatically an expansion in the scope of direct US influence as well”.41 The Franco-German axis is given special status, although the author gives France a clip over the ear in passing. Britain is dismissed as “increasingly irrelevant”: “a very loyal ally, a vital military base … its policies do not call for sustained attention”.42 Japan, lastly, is a “world-class power being simultaneously a protectorate”.43 It should not be pressed to assume a larger geopolitical and security role, but confined to the status of “a much more powerful and globally influential equivalent of Canada”.44 The barbarians who must be prevented from coming together are of course Russia and China. Brzezinski’s scheme is spectacularly simplistic: he expects to get away with maintaining the alliance with Beijing against Moscow, inaugurated by Nixon and Kissinger at the height of the hostility between the two communist capitals and later continued by Brzezinski himself as Jimmy Carter’s advisor. His hostility to Russia, evidently far deeper than his aversion to communism, has a visceral quality that has often been linked to the fact of his Polish ancestry; whatever the value of this explanation, the fact is plain enough. Brzezinski is brutally frank on the “dilemma” underlying the restriction of economic aid to Russia: “To what extent should Russia be helped economically—which inevitably strengthens Russia politically and militarily …?”45 What Russia needs is to be put down and made to stop thinking of itself as a superpower. In any case, it seems that, unlike the United States, “an imperial Russia could not be a democratic Russia”.46 The ideal solution would be a “loosely confederated Russia—composed of a European Russia, a Siberian Republic, and a Far Eastern Republic”!47 Revealing that the “parallel track” that he had advocated was more an argument against opponents of NATO enlargement than a basic principle, Brzezinski suggests roundly that the US “either negotiate effectively some accommodation with Russia, if it is willing to compromise, or act assertively”.48 Russian vetoes should be ignored and NATO thrown open to any “qualified” European candidate, including the ex-Soviet Baltic republics and Ukraine: “If a choice has to be made 95

between a larger Euro-Atlantic system and a better relationship with Russia, the former has to rank incomparably higher to America.”49 Brzezinski cannot be accused of carrying subtlety to extremes. Wishing to point out that post-Soviet Russia has not broken completely with its past, notably in the continuation in power of some of the former elite, he comes straight out with an analogy worthy of Ernst Nolte, the German historian known for his likening of Nazi Germany to the USSR: “as if post-Nazi Germany were governed by former middle-level Nazi ‘Gauleiters’ spouting democratic slogans, with a Hitler mausoleum still standing in the center of Berlin”.50 Having also become an advocate for US oil companies wishing to establish themselves in the former Soviet republics of the Caucasus and Central Asia, Brzezinski regards American predominance in this region, which he calls the “Eurasian Balkans”, as a prime objective. With this in mind, apart from alliances with China and Turkey, our champion of democracy takes a positive view both of the strengthening of relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan (with the Taliban acting as cement) and of the Islamic resurgence in Saudi Arabia as well as Iran (with which he favors an alliance).51 China is wooed with a seduction discourse so coarsely woven that anyone expecting the Chinese to be taken in by it must have a poor opinion of them indeed. In passing, Brzezinski warns them off any temptation to form a coalition with Moscow by raising the specter of economic reprisals: “[I]t would be a coalition of the poor, who would then be likely to remain collectively poor for quite some time”.52 And after the stick, the carrot: “A regionally preeminent China should become America’s Far Eastern anchor … helping thereby to foster a Eurasian balance of power, with Greater China in Eurasia’s East matching in that respect the role of an enlarging Europe in Eurasia’s West.”53 China, in a word, is being invited to abandon its barbarian status and join the vassals’ camp (where it would count more than Japan, Brzezinski promises) to help complete the encirclement of the other barbarian power. It is truly astonishing, as well as disquieting to put it mildly, that a character with such extravagant views as President Carter’s former advisor could ever be the leading policy mentor of the most powerful 96

government on earth. In the guru category, Brzezinski comes across more like a Rasputin than a Brahmin sage with real wisdom. The awful thing is that he has found his Nicholas and Alexandra, in the persons of Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright.

NATO Enlargement

Russia’s uncertain future—something that not only is but ought to be genuinely worrying—is the fundamental unknown in the divergent political equations between which the US president has to navigate. It is clear that each equation rests on a basic postulate, like the anthropological postulates that subtend theories of international relations. For example, the “doves” think that Russia, like human nature in Catholic and Kantian thought, is perfectible, and accuse the “hawks” of “self-fulfilling prophecy” in adopting an attitude calculated to elicit a hostile response from Russia; while the “hawks”—self-proclaimed “realists”—display a measure of Russophobic pessimism and reproach their opponents for wishful thinking.54 Apart from all the factors mentioned so far, the evolution of the situation in Russia played a determining role in inflecting the options finally chosen by Bill Clinton. For example, his first pro-enlargement public speech, in January 1994, was undoubtedly heavily influenced by Boris Yeltsin’s confrontation with the Russian parliament in the autumn of 1993, and the subsequent strong showing by nationalist and communist forces in the December parliamentary elections that followed the president’s dissolution of the chamber. The subsequent massive presence in the Russian legislature of nationalists and people nostalgic for the USSR, and the role of these forces in putting off the ratification of the START II accord, certainly counted for a great deal in Clinton’s eventual decision in favor of the “hawks”. And although Clinton assented in public to the Russian intervention in Chechnya at the end of 1994, the brutal campaign waged there by the Russian armed forces can only have confirmed him in that choice. Brzezinski, in one of the quotations given above, mentioned only one aspect of the dilemma over economic aid to Russia. The two real alternatives, as seen from Washington, are these: either non-assistance to Russia would create a risk of dangerous chaos or the rise of “revanchism”; or the rebuilding of Russian economic power would revive Moscow’s 97

regional hegemony and the reappearance of bipolarity.55 Hovering between these two equally undesirable options, Washington is giving Moscow somewhat parsimonious help, just enough to avoid a total collapse of the Russian economy (with its inevitable ripple effect through the world economy). The result is a vicious circle sustained by the selffulfilling prophecy that presents Russia as a bottomless sink. Fundamentally, then, Washington’s Russia policy, although still hesitant, is based on distrust of Moscow. Under the guise of political assistance with the transition in Russia, the Clinton administration has chosen to bet everything on Boris Yeltsin. This is a notably controversial choice that also makes it crystal clear that the reform being pursued has more to do with the economic transformation of the country on brutal neoliberal lines than with consolidating democracy. Where this last is concerned, there is little doubt that “Tsar Boris” is a poor bet. Nevertheless, the economic aid supplied by the IMF is doled out according to a political timetable under US government control, rather than in support of an economic program. Thus in March 1996, during the run-up to the Russian presidential elections, the Clinton administration arranged for Russia to be granted an international loan of $10 billion. The loan played a decisive part in the reelection of Boris Yeltsin by enabling his government to pay pension and salary arrears. The shots in the arm parsimoniously granted to Moscow are used politically in this manner, either to prop the president in place or to reward him for services rendered. Yeltsin adapts well to this kind of horse-trading, at which he is highly skilled, regularly profiting from his political concessions to Washington. But however well they may serve his personal interests, these practices are perceived by domestic critics and adversaries as undignified and damaging to the country’s interests. They help to explain the enormous personal unpopularity that makes Yeltsin ever more dependent on American support. A few months after being reelected, Yeltsin paid his dues by turning up in Paris on 27 May 1997 for the ceremonial signing of the NATO– Russia Founding Act. In the eyes of a large part of the American establishment, as well as the European allies, this pact was an indispensable prelude to the formal decision to enlarge NATO to the East. Once that decision had been adopted, the battle over ratification 98

began. Under most democratic constitutions, international treaties and declarations of war must be ratified by an elected legislative body. The practice is supposed to guarantee democratic control over the decisions of the executive in those areas that affect the destiny of the population concerned to the highest extent. This is largely a mystification: in reality, decisions taken by the handful of people controlling the executive very often commit their state de facto by creating situations that can only be reversed with great difficulty. When, for example, the US Congress—one of the world’s most powerful parliaments—undertook, in 1973, at a time of post-Vietnam trauma, to impose constitutional rule on the executive in this area by adopting the War Powers Act, the effect was to authorize the administration to decide on its own, constitutionally, to conduct war operations for a period of sixty days, extensible by another thirty. In these times of lightning wars, in which the Pentagon expects to crush the enemy with massive air strikes within a few weeks, these arrangements in practice authorize the executive to undertake most foreseeable wars— everything short of a clash with a great power—and bring them to a conclusion without the need for Congressional blessing. The Kosovo war is a perfect case in point: it certainly exceeded the allotted sixty days, but it was hardly likely that Congress would decide to cut it short when it was obviously close to ending anyway.56 The European allies, for their part, resorted to the extraordinary hypocrisy of referring systematically to an indubitable war as an “intervention” or “air strikes”, so that war would not have to be declared in a constitutional manner. The logic was worthy of Lewis Carroll, but the outcome for many was no joke at all. Nor does the conclusion of international agreements on military alliances, which commit states even more deeply and durably than a war, escape the arbitrary unilateral decision-making power of executive government. The best illustration here is the enlargement of NATO, a measure whose importance to the future security of Europe and the world in general is incalculable. Before this decision was adopted at the Madrid NATO summit in July 1997, it had not been debated publicly by the legislature of a single one of the countries represented there. The only discussion of any note before the summit was conducted within the US foreign policy and defense establishments, and in a few publications. It 99

goes without saying that when the Clinton administration made up its mind on this subject and announced the decision publicly, back in 1994, the public debate had been even more limited. With greater or lesser enthusiasm, depending on the individual case, the heads of state and government of the European “vassals” assembled in Madrid rubber-stamped the decision of their American suzerain. And once this had been proclaimed with great pomp by the sixteen, the very terms of the debate were altered at a stroke. It was no longer a matter of deciding whether to enlarge NATO or not, but of deciding whether to disown the sixteen governments which had just voted for the enlargement and officially invited Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to make their arrangements for joining the Alliance: a somewhat different ballgame! Under these conditions, ratification seems to be what its name suggests: the granting of approval post factum, in practice a democratic expedient. When the US Senate ratified the addition of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to NATO, it recognized that to do otherwise would have been a major setback to US credibility and to the US position in Europe. Even the most pessimistic estimates of the risks and costs of expansion portrayed in the vigorous Senate debate preceding enlargement could not justify such a setback.57 The debate in the US Senate preceding enlargement had indeed been vigorous, the administration having been forced to resort to all sorts of shifts to secure the required two-thirds majority. As the debate raged in the establishment and surfaced in the broadsheet press, itself divided on the issue, the administration brought in all the lobbies with an interest in enlargement. Apart from the military and the State Department—now run by a Madeleine Albright, making much of her Czech descent—the leading role was played by the “ethnic” lobbies of Americans of Central and East European extraction and, of course, the defense industries, well placed to get the lion’s share of the military reconversion market in the former Moscow satellites resulting from the principle of “interoperability” needed for NATO to work properly.58 Under the prevailing neoliberal creed, a balanced budget having become a sacred principle, the US Senate paradoxically showed a lot more interest in the costs of this operation than did the Europe of 100

monetary union. With the complicity of the Atlantic Alliance bureaucracy, therefore, the administration strove to reduce the estimated cost of enlargement, in a way that strayed well into the zone of the grotesque. Thus, in 1996, after the Congressional Budget Office had estimated the cost of integrating the four Visegrád countries (the three listed above, plus Slovakia), depending on the options chosen, at between $61 billion and $125 billion over fifteen years, the Department of Defense cut the estimates to a maximum of $35 billion over thirteen years, with the share of this—still considerable—sum falling to the United States not to exceed $2 billion over ten years. The NATO Military Committee then came to the rescue, estimating in autumn 1997 that the additional cost of enlargement to the organization’s budget (of which Washington is responsible for a quarter) should not exceed $1.5 billion over ten years— a ridiculously low estimate which the Department of Defense quickly approved despite the enormous unexplained drop from its own earlier figures.59 The decision was finally ratified on the night of 30 April 1998, by a comfortable majority (80 votes out of the 100 in the Senate), after four days of lively argument. The opponents of enlargement, fighting a disillusioned rearguard action, were broadly defeated, and the Brzezinski doctrine carried the Senate after establishing itself in the administration.60 The ratification was accompanied by a very long (over 7,000 words) resolution containing very detailed and restrictive instructions on the immediate future of NATO and its new strategic doctrine. This document predetermined in effect what the Alliance’s fiftieth anniversary summit was going to decide a year later in Washington, and generally corroborated the “hawkish” line. The salient points of this important resolution are as follows: the main justification put forward for NATO enlargement is “the potential for the reemergence of a hegemonic power confronting Europe” and being tempted to invade Poland, Hungary or the Czech Republic; NATO decisions and actions are independent of all other intergovernmental bodies (the UN, the OSCE, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership, and so on); Russia has no right of veto over Alliance decisions, not even in the NATO–Russia Permanent Joint Council set up under the Founding Act; the Alliance might undertake operations outside its own territory, if there 101

is consensus among its members that a threat exists to their interests; US “leadership” of NATO is reaffirmed, as is the presence of US officers in the main command posts; military and financial “burden sharing” is to be spread more “equitably”, with enlargement not increasing the US share of the organization’s budget; this US share should even diminish, and in any case never exceed the 1998 level; the US president is to consult the Senate in future before any new admissions to NATO.61 One might have expected the ratification of enlargement to generate this much debate, perhaps even more, in the parliaments of the European members of the Alliance, even more directly concerned than the United States in a decision whose main import is to determine the security future of Europe. It did not. Indeed, the contrast between the intensity of debate in the United States (albeit restricted to high establishment circles) and the way ratification was passed, often with furtive haste, by the European legislatures, was quite striking. Only tiny minorities opposed this extremely weighty decision in Europe: outside a few eccentric right-wing parties like the Italian Lombard League, speaking in the name of an independent “Padania”, the main opposition came from the communists, including the French Communist Party, the German PDS and the Italian PRC, along with Green groups, some of which, like the parliamentary fraction of the German Greens, were divided on the issue.62

Collision Course

The US Senate’s resolution, written in a spirit reminiscent of the Cold War, could not fail to exacerbate the irritation felt on the Russian side, by Boris Yeltsin among many others. This annoyance peaked in June 1998, when the IMF, at the risk of aggravating the worldwide effects of the Asian economic crisis, granted Russia—itself hard hit by the crisis—a support package of only $22.6 billion. This sum should be set against the $57 billion granted to South Korea, $50 billion to Mexico, and $40 billion each to Indonesia and Brazil. It is clear that the cause of this parsimony involves more than distrust of the chaotic and gangster-ridden state of the Russian economy, for not all the other countries named are paragons of social and economic “good governance”.


Following the financial crisis in the summer of 1998—the aid obtained by Yeltsin having hardly sufficed to keep the Russian economy afloat, let alone relaunch the president politically—he found himself compelled by opposition pressure to appoint Yevgeny Primakov to the post of prime minister, after vainly trying to reappoint Viktor Chernomyrdin. This appointment of an old KGB hand who had been the last vice-foreign minister of the USSR, a man seen as symbolizing a time when Russian diplomacy still aspired to compete with the United States on a global scale, was not well received in Washington. Relations between the two capitals became so strained that a period of dangerous escalation set in.63 Pressure from the “hawks” increased noticeably. Following their abuses in the Drenica area in February 1998, the Serbian forces in Kosovo were conducting brutal reprisals against attacks mounted by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Bill Clinton in Washington, floundering neck-deep in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, was certainly more concerned with the maneuvers of Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr than with those of Slobodan Milošević.64 Zbigniew Brzezinski and Madeleine Albright, supported by General Wesley Clark, started campaigning for air strikes against the Serbian forces. They found an ally in Bob Dole, Clinton’s Republican rival in the 1996 elections, whose help the president sought in the impeachment struggle so as to have his own hands free to act against Milošević. However, Samuel Berger and the Pentagon were dragging their feet. Given the scale of what was at stake, and Russia’s opposition, unilateral action by the United States was excluded: NATO had to be involved. Early in the summer, the KLA launched a large-scale offensive, answered by a Serb counter-offensive accompanied by massacres and the movement of Albanian populations. The worsening situation incited Washington to threaten military intervention directly by authorizing NATO headquarters to make operational plans for it. At this point Alexander Vershbow, the US ambassador to NATO who had been involved in American diplomatic action in Bosnia, sent a confidential dispatch to Washington titled “Kosovo: Time for Another Endgame Strategy”: 103

The cable spelled out a plan to impose a political settlement in Kosovo with the cooperation of the Russians, longtime allies of the Serbs. Moscow and Washington would then go together to the Security Council. “Kosovo endgame initiative could become a model of NATORussian cooperation,” Vershbow wrote. “No kidding.” The proposed deal called for creation of an international protectorate in Kosovo. The settlement would be policed by an international military presence, or ground force. If a peace settlement was negotiated in advance, as many as 30,000 troops might be required to enforce it.65 Vershbow’s idea was guaranteed a cold reception from the “hawks”, and his dispatch was ignored. The day it reached Washington, 7 August 1998, there occurred the bomb attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, causing great damage and loss of life. It was an opportunity to embrace the opposite line promoted by Brzezinski: American military action free from all consultation with the Russians (and therefore with the UN Security Council, on which Moscow wields a veto). On 21 August, US cruise missiles were launched against targets in Sudan and Afghanistan, a strictly unilateral act devoid of any connection with international legality, therefore a pure and simple act of aggression against two countries not themselves guilty of any aggression. These missile attacks exasperated Moscow, highlighting the lack of seriousness with which its views were treated in Washington. But they did not prevent Russia from voting, a month later, in favor of a Security Council resolution requiring the withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosovo and negotiations between Serbs and Albanians. Backed by this international unanimity, Richard Holbrooke in October managed to get Milošević to agree to the withdrawal of 10,000 members of the Serb security forces from Kosovo and the deployment of 2,000 members of a Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM) provided by the OSCE. (This agreement was rejected by the KLA, however.) In December the United States, with its “very loyal” vassal Britain, launched Operation Desert Fox—four days of air strikes and cruise missile attacks on Iraq—inaugurating an ongoing practice of military action without UN endorsement, like the missile strikes in August, although Iraq was supposed to be the direct responsibility of the Security


Council.66 This body’s three other permanent members, which include the recalcitrant “vassal” France, were blithely ignored. What followed in Yugoslavia is well known: although much reduced in intensity, clashes between the KLA and Serb forces continued in Kosovo, culminating in the “Račak massacre” of January 1999. The Rambouillet negotiations came up short against Belgrade’s rejection, with Russian backing, of the US diktat aimed at deploying a military force in Kosovo entirely controlled by NATO.67 Perhaps the most appropriate commentator on the Rambouillet process is Henry Kissinger, who can hardly be suspected of anti-Americanism: Several fateful decisions were taken in those now seemingly far-off days in February, when other options were still open. The first was the demand that 30,000 NATO troops enter Yugoslavia, a country with which NATO was not at war … The second was to use the foreseeable Serb refusal as justification for starting the bombing. Rambouillet was not a negotiation—as is often claimed—but an ultimatum. This marked an astounding departure for an administration that had entered office proclaiming its devotion to the UN Charter and multilateral procedures.68 At the same time, the United States entertained second thoughts on one of the most important achievements in slowing down the arms race, a measure dating back to the Nixon–Brezhnev period of “détente”: the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty of 1972. This treaty, setting a limit to the coverage of each nuclear superpower’s territory by antimissile defense systems, had been put in doubt once before by Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), perhaps better known by its nickname “Star Wars”. The SDI was eventually abandoned with the end of the Cold War. Now, following a report submitted to Congress in July 1998, the United States embarked on a process leading towards the installation of a National Missile Defense (NMD) network, on the not very convincing pretext that it needed protection against possible attack by “rogue states”: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.69 In February 1999, Defense Secretary William Cohen declared that, to accommodate the new system, the United States was going to require the ABM treaty to be amended; failing that, the United States would abrogate 105

it unilaterally. In March, the Senate made its own contribution by adopting a National Missile Defense Act (S257).70 One does not have to be a Russia expert to imagine that such declarations and measures are widely perceived in Moscow as unquestionable signs of US arrogance and hegemonic designs on Russia. All the more so as the Clinton administration had announced on 1 February its decision to add an extra $112 billion dollars to projected military expenditure under the six-year Future Years Defense Plan 2000–2005, bringing the total to nearly $2 trillion.71 In parallel with this general application of the Brzezinski doctrine to Russia, the Chinese wing of the same doctrine, applied by the Clinton administration with equal zeal, was foundering in lamentable fiasco. The American government’s seductive approaches to the Asian giant were so lumbering and ill-conceived that they aroused adverse reactions from the other regional powers. The “constructive strategic partnership” between Washington and Beijing, proclaimed during the visit by Chinese President Jiang Zemin to the United States in October 1997 and enthusiastically confirmed by Clinton on his visit to China in June 1998, caused irritation and anxiety among China’s regional rivals: India, whose decision to start nuclear tests in May 1998 was made against this background; Taiwan of course; and Japan, at which, despite its very considerable efforts, Washington had pointed the finger as a major causative factor in the Asian financial crisis, while Beijing got a pat on the back for refusing to devalue the yuan at the height of the same crisis.72 It was not long, however, before the Sino-American honeymoon soured in its turn. The contemptuous way in which Washington had brushed the UN aside, first in August and then in December, was very poorly regarded in Beijing, whose attachment to that essential attribute of its power, its veto in the Security Council, is even stronger than Russia’s. Apart from this factor, whose importance to Beijing cannot be too strongly emphasized, there was the unbearable crazed Cold War–style delirium unleashed in the United States by the Chinese nuclear “espionage” affair. But the factor that once again aroused the greatest anger in Beijing was that old bone of contention between the two countries, Taiwan. 106

The American charm offensive had not stopped China from continuing to work on the acquisition of satellite-guided short-and medium-range ballistic missiles, as well as cruise missiles, with technological help from Russia. The Chinese armaments effort is described in a Pentagon report on security in the Taiwan Strait requested by Congress in the context of the appropriations budget for the 1999 fiscal year. This report, destined to be published and therefore written with evident care for diplomatic niceties, is nevertheless essentially intolerable to China, which is jealous of its sovereignty and its right to acquire the military means appropriate to a great power, as well as of Taiwan’s status as part of Chinese territory, recognized in principle even by the United States. The report is especially emphatic on Sino-Russian cooperation on sophisticated weapons, highlighting Beijing’s other “partnership”—and one that more truly merits the epithet “strategic”—with Russia. China, the report reveals, is acquiring from Russia technology and subsystems for land attack cruise missiles (LACMs); anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) to be mounted on the Sovremenny-class destroyers already ordered; sophisticated air-to-air missiles to be mounted on the Su-27 aircraft being built under license in China with the help of Russian technicians; Il-76 transport aircraft; Kilo-class submarines; and satellite images. The report ends, in a highly maladroit manner that could only provoke Beijing, with a call to equip Taipei with symmetrical means: “[Taiwan’s] success in deterring potential Chinese aggression will be dependent on its continued acquisition of modern arms, technology and equipment and its ability to deal with a number of systemic problems— primarily the recruitment and retention of technically-qualified personnel and the maintenance of an effective logistics system—lest Taipei once again risk losing its qualitative edge.”73 To all this should be added the Pentagon’s own plans, in the context of a regional arms race, to include Taiwan and Japan in a theater missile defense system (TMD), threatening to neutralize a good proportion of China’s efforts to assemble a convincingly deterrent level of conventional weaponry against the much better armed US–Japan–Taiwan alliance (the Pentagon in fact balancing China’s forces against those of Taiwan alone). 107

Against this background, it is not difficult to see the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade on 6 May 1999 as the straw that broke the camel’s back, nor that the Chinese response was far from the crazed overreaction, attributable to some peculiarity of oriental culture, that the Western media claimed to discern.

The Kosovo War

The war waged by NATO against Serbia was integral to the process described above and the options which determined it.74 One would have had to be singularly myopic to consider this war in the limited context of the Balkan situation, as just another upheaval in the civil wars that had been tearing Yugoslavia to shreds since the beginning of the decade. Ignorance of what was really at stake and an inability to see the wood for the trees induced very large numbers of well-meaning people, understandably horrified by the crimes committed by Serbian armed forces, to confuse the war in Kosovo with a humanitarian relief operation. Those who spoke of a “just war” were failing to consider a fundamental aspect of this concept: adequacy of means to ends. Henry Kissinger, never more lucid than when judging the actions of his rivals, had this to say: At every stage of the Kosovo tragedy, other mixes of diplomacy and force were available, though it is not clear they were ever seriously considered. A strategy that vindicates its moral convictions only from altitudes above 15,000 feet—and in the process devastates Serbia and makes Kosovo unlivable—has already produced more refugees and casualties than any conceivable alternative mix of force and diplomacy would have. It deserves to be questioned on both political and moral grounds.75 The blatant inappropriateness of the means employed to the declared humanitarian ends is more than sufficient to raise questions about the concealed motives, the hidden agenda, behind this war. The alternative choice was not, of course, the famous ground offensive, which would have involved a dangerous lurch much closer to a risk of world conflagration. Those who preached this solution were guilty of military naivety as well as irresponsibility: certain individuals seemed to be using a declared love of humanity as an excuse for playing the lead in Dr 108

Strangelove. Zbigniew Brzezinski was outstandingly successful in this role. Only a few days after the start of the NATO bombing, when it had become manifest that Milošević—contrary to the assurances of US intelligence services76—was not going to bow easily to the Alliance’s injunctions, Brzezinski wrote an excited exhortation for the Washington Post. The article suggested a tactical air campaign in addition to strategic bombing; arming the KLA; committing ground troops if these measures still seemed insufficient; and finally, supporting independence for Kosovo unless Milošević was overthrown.77 There was not a single allusion, needless to say, to any possibility of a negotiated solution in collaboration with Russia. Nearly two weeks later, Brzezinski wrote for the consumption of leaders of the NATO countries, on the eve of their Washington summit, an even more rabid piece that revealed the basis of his thought more clearly than ever: The stakes now involve far more than the fate of Kosovo. They were altered dramatically the day the bombing began. It is no exaggeration to say that NATO’s failure to prevail would mean both the end of NATO as a credible alliance and the undermining of America’s global leadership. And the consequences of either would be devastating to global stability.78 Those opposed to the NATO bombing were “the erratic admirer of Hitler in Belarus and the current Russian regime, which failed in Chechnya in what Milosevic is attempting to do in Kosovo”. After criticizing the Pentagon for preventing Wesley Clark from using Apache helicopters, and scolding NATO for wanting to minimize loss of human life,79 the “humanitarian hawk” went on to belabor Clinton for putting off the terrestrial option (also rejected by the Pentagon): “One cannot avoid the suspicion that political expediency was at work here, at a time when genuine leadership was needed … The American leadership must project principled courage and not be guided by a political compass.” The author’s own prescriptions followed: make Kosovo a NATO protectorate, instead of giving it the autonomy decided at Rambouillet; intensify the bombing and get rid of current restrictions in the choice of targets; concentrate forces for a large-scale ground offensive or for a


“mopping-up operation” (a civilized version, perhaps, of “ethnic cleansing”), and so on. But the key point was this warning: The alliance should reject the temptation to accept any deal contrived by Russia that would grant Milosevic an easing of NATO’s original terms. To do so would mark the bombing as a tragically pointless failure, would reward Milosevic for his ethnic cleansing, and would represent a great political success for the Kremlin’s anti-NATO posture. That has to be made crystal clear. NATO’s failure to bend Serbia to its will, made worse by deepening divisions within the Alliance, provided Boris Yeltsin with an excellent opportunity to sell his services to the West once again. There follows a raw but accurate description of what occurred: Yeltsin brilliantly allowed Primakov to position Russia in complete and hostile opposition to NATO. He then brought Chernomyrdin out of retirement. Chernomyrdin, an old stalwart of the reform days, appeared to be a dinosaur out of the past. Chernomyrdin [as Russia’s special representative] delivered two messages. The first was that there was still a chance at reform in Russia. The second was that Russia would help NATO in Kosovo in return for financial aid. Suddenly, $4.5 billion was shaken loose; not enough to bring Milosevic to the peace table, but enough to cause Yeltsin to dump Primakov and appoint a new Prime Minister of ambiguous ideology. Outmaneuvering the communists in the Duma by getting [ultranationalist] Zhirinovsky to double cross them (the price for that is not yet clear), Yeltsin is now in a position to bargain with the West. Indeed, Michel Camdessus, head of the IMF, said on Sunday that the IMF was now ready to work with Russia on additional funding.80 Unlike some other gurus, Brzezinski possesses no supernatural powers. His advice, having carried the United States and NATO to the brink of catastrophe, was now being increasingly ignored. At a somewhat more morose fiftieth anniversary summit than had originally been anticipated, the NATO heads of state and government voted a resolution that declared them ready to accept the jurisdiction of the UN Security Council, and that stated in passing: “Russia has a particular responsibility in the United Nations and an important role to play in the search for a solution to the conflict in Kosovo.”81 110

The summit adopted a “strategic concept”, but one that was no longer called “new” like its 1991 predecessor, and for good reason. The mountain had given birth to a mouse. In fact this text, announced with great fanfare long in advance, contained no striking innovation on changes to NATO, but simply confirmed the mutation inaugurated under George Bush. Worse still, the European members of the Alliance, noticing (not before time) that they had been drawn into a situation fraught with dangers for European security, imposed amendments on their American host that altered the sense of the document in a direction wholly opposed to the Brzezinski doctrine and the spirit of the US Senate resolution. France in particular insisted that the document should mention the key role of the United Nations. Anxious to preserve the Alliance’s unity, under serious threat in its first involvement in a real war, Clinton was forced to acquiesce, and compromise formulae were adopted. The result was a toned-down text, paradoxically more conciliatory to Russia, and more conscientious about the UN and “international legality”, than its 1991 predecessor:82 The United Nations Security Council has the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security and, as such, plays a crucial role in contributing to security and stability in the EuroAtlantic area.83 … NATO remains the essential forum for consultation among the Allies and the forum for agreement on policies bearing on the security and defense commitments of its members under the Washington Treaty.84 … NATO will seek, in cooperation with other organizations, to prevent conflict, or, should a crisis arise, to contribute to its effective management, consistent with international law, including through the possibility of conducting non-Article 5 crisis response operations.85 … Russia plays a unique role in Euro-Atlantic security … A strong, stable and enduring partnership between NATO and Russia is essential to achieve lasting stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.86


Brzezinski had exhorted NATO to maintain the impetus of its eastward enlargement by deciding at the Washington summit to integrate Slovenia, Lithuania (a former Soviet republic whose admission to NATO Moscow would regard as a casus belli) and, if possible, Romania.87 The summit did none of these things. It did proclaim that the Alliance was still open to new members, but their admission was put off indefinitely, perhaps until the Greek calends. By way of a consolation prize for disappointed candidates, a “membership action plan” was established, sarcastically described by Le Monde as “virtual membership”. There can be no doubt that if the Washington summit had taken place in the circumstances that prevailed before the bombing of Yugoslavia, its outcome would have been different. It represented an undeniable setback for the policy followed by the Clinton administration since 1994. As did the result of the Kosovo war. Kissinger’s assessment implicitly emphasized the extent to which the result differed from his rival Brzezinski’s prescriptions: The NATO forces are entering Kosovo on the basis of a UN mandate rather than an agreement between Belgrade and the Atlantic Alliance. Kosovo is explicitly described as a part of Yugoslavia, albeit an autonomous one (Point 5); the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Yugoslavia are affirmed (Point 8). The provision for a referendum at the end of the three years has been abandoned, and the initial insistence on complete NATO control has been watered down to some extent by a series of UN mandates and the presence of Russian forces.88 In fact, the Security Council resolution which was the basis for the ending of NATO’s war in Kosovo was diplomatically ambiguous on the main stumbling block: control of the international forces.89 As a result this issue, left hanging in mid-air, was settled on the ground after a brisk bout of arm-wrestling between Russia and NATO. At first apparently passive and conciliatory, the Russian position hardened in spectacular fashion with the seizure of Pristina airport by Russian troops to plant their flag in Kosovo before NATO. These troops had come from Bosnia without contacting the local NATO command, which they were supposed to keep informed of their movements. This “stroke of daring”,


and some of the events that followed, incidentally revealed a growing ascendancy of the Russian military in the Kremlin. The Alliance forces ended by finding a compromise with Moscow reflecting their advantage in the balance of power, but not without passing through moments of acute tension like those described at the beginning of this essay. China abstained in the Security Council, finding that the resolution did not sufficiently emphasize the international legal framework provided by the United Nations.90 As if to confirm Beijing’s worst nightmares, on 12 July 1999 the Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui for the first time publicly dissented from the official principle of “one China”, starting a downward slide in relations between Beijing and Taipei.91 The Kosovo war marked a decisive turning point, in the post–Cold War world, towards a new era of tension and confrontation between two great international coalitions: a new Cold War, in a word. The transition from one to the other will have lasted less than ten years, and this wonderful opportunity to fashion for the twenty-first century a world more peaceful than that of the tragic century now ending will have been lost, largely through the bad decisions of a particularly incompetent man, a man unable to benefit from the main reference of every great maker of history: the lessons of history. John Lewis Gaddis, quoted at the beginning of this text, noted that American historians, normally a very divided community, were virtually unanimous in condemning the decision to enlarge NATO. For they were in a position to deduce what had to happen as a result. If the US could afford to be inclusive in dealing with its actual enemies Germany and Japan after 1945—just as Napoleon’s conquerors were in dealing with France after 1815—then why is it now excluding a country that, throughout the Cold War, remained only a potential adversary? The answer most often given is that the Russians have no choice but to accept what NATO has decided to do … Not only is that view arrogant; it is also short-sighted, for it assumes that defeated adversaries have no choices …


For Russia does indeed have a choice: it is in the interesting position of being able to lean one way or another in a strategic triangle that is likely to define the geopolitics of the early twenty-first century. It can continue to align itself, as it has patiently done so far, with the United States and Western Europe. Or it can do what the US itself did a quarter century ago under the guidance of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger: it can tilt towards China.92 One man alone, the president, elected to command of the greatest power in history by a system that accepts the saxophone as an electoral argument and whose media are more interested in the sexual cavorting of politicians than the great issues of world politics, has had the main hand in determining the course of human history at the dawn of the twentyfirst century, unwatched by a deeply indifferent electorate. National scandals about the private morality of public men have not done much to heighten the level of public sensibility or deepen the image of political life to make it central, urgent, and worth while.93 … By virtue of their increased and centralized power, political institutions become more objectively important to the course of American history, but because of mass alienation, less and less of subjective interest to the population at large. On the one hand, politics is bureaucratized, and on the other, there is mass indifference. These are the decisive aspects of US politics today.94 These strikingly apposite words were written in the middle of the twentieth century by C. Wright Mills, one of the most clear-sighted analysts of American society: a society that has shown the other industrial societies a glimpse of their own future, to which they are all in the process of adjusting as the century draws to a close. Mills fought passionately, throughout his regrettably short life, to change the state of things by alerting his fellow-citizens to the activities of the ruling elite: In those societies in which the means of power are rudimentary and decentralized, history is fate … But in those societies in which the means of power are enormous in scope and centralized in form a few men may be so placed within the historical structure that by their decisions about


the use of these means they modify the structural conditions under which most men live.95 … Given these means of administration, production, violence, it seems clear that more and more events are due less to any uncontrollable fate than to the decisions, the defaults, the ignorance—as the case may be—of the higher circles of the superstates. To reflect upon the present as history is to understand that history may now be made by default. Understanding that, we no longer need to accept historical fate, for fate is a feature of specific kinds of social structure, of irresponsible systems of power. These systems can be changed. Fate can be transcended. We must come to understand that while the domain of fate is diminishing and in fact becoming organized as irresponsibility. We must hold men of power variously responsible for pivotal events, we must unmask their pretensions—and often their own mistaken convictions—that they are not responsible. Our politics, in short, must be the politics of responsibility.96 These lines are quoted from a book whose title, The Causes of World War Three, used to seem out of date but has now, like the book itself, acquired an unhappy new relevance. * First published in French, dated 14 July 1999, along with the previous essay (Chapter One) in Gilbert Achcar, La Nouvelle Guerre froide: Le monde après le Kosovo, Paris: PUF, 1999. Translated by John Howe and first published in English in: Tariq Ali, ed., “Masters of the Universe? NATO’s Balkan Crusade”, London: Verso, 2000, pp. 57–98.






Moves and Countermoves on the Grand Chessboard

One normally sober, centrist, and pragmatic Russian foreign-policy adviser told me not long ago that in the event of a NATO move toward Ukraine, Russia would do its best to wreck the Ukrainian economy with an energy blockade, to rouse the Russian populations of Crimea and eastern Ukraine to revolt, and to subvert the Ukrainian armed forces, whose officer corps is still largely composed of ethnic Russians. Anatol Lieven, 19961

Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, twentythree years almost to the day after the Kosovo War, which began on 28 February. The draft agreement submitted by Moscow to NATO on 17 December 2021, when the second major crisis over Ukraine in eight years was in the process of escalating toward its tragic climax, is indicative of how the Kremlin justified Russia’s impressive military– political maneuvers along the borders of its former sister Soviet Republic. Here are the most meaningful excerpts of the “unofficial translation” published by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs: The Russian Federation and the member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), hereinafter referred to as the Parties … shall not strengthen their security individually, within international organizations, military alliances or coalitions at the expense of the security of other Parties … The Parties shall not create conditions or situations that pose or could be perceived as a threat to the national security of other Parties … The Parties reaffirm that they do not consider each other as adversaries … The Russian Federation and all the Parties that were member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as of 27 May 1997, respectively, shall not deploy military forces and weaponry on the territory of any of the other States in Europe in addition to the forces stationed on that territory as of 27 May 1997 … All member States of the 117

North Atlantic Treaty Organization commit themselves to refrain from any further enlargement of NATO, including the accession of Ukraine as well as other States.2 Particularly significant is the sentence emphasized here. Tuesday, 27 May 1997 is the day when the “Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation” was signed in Paris.3 That sentence hence alludes to the (heavily qualified) commitment stipulated in the Founding Act: “NATO reiterates that in the current and foreseeable security environment, the Alliance will carry out its collective defense and other missions by ensuring the necessary interoperability, integration, and capability for reinforcement rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces.”4 The Russian side was thus clearly explicating the movement of its pieces on the Grand Chessboard (in Zbigniew Brzezinski’s metaphor) as meant to incite NATO to withdraw the pieces it had moved forward since 1997—in contravention of the Founding Act in Russia’s understanding. NATO, of course, had estimated for its part that Russia’s military incursions into Ukraine in 2014 had qualitatively altered the “security environment” that qualified the 1997 commitment. The new military deployments that were the object of Moscow’s ire mainly consisted in the Enhanced Forward Presence and Tailored Forward Presence forces deployed in 2017, following a decision taken at the July 2016 NATO summit held in Warsaw. Here is how this “forward presence” of close to 5,000 troops of other countries on the soil of five East European post1991 NATO member-states—not counting forces engaged in sea and air maneuvers—is described on the Alliance’s website: NATO has enhanced its forward presence in the eastern part of the Alliance, with four multinational battalion-size battlegroups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, on a rotational basis. These battlegroups, led by the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and the United States respectively, are robust and combat-ready forces. They demonstrate the strength of the transatlantic bond and make clear that an attack on one Ally would be considered an attack on the whole Alliance.


NATO has also a forward presence tailored to the southeast of Alliance territory. Allies are contributing forces and capabilities on land, at sea and in the air. The land element in the southeast of the Alliance is built around a multinational brigade, under Multinational Division Southeast in Romania. At sea, NATO has deployed more ships and has conducted more naval exercises. In the air, Allies have intensified their training, which contributed to improved situational awareness and enhanced readiness. NATO’s forward presence is part of the biggest reinforcement of Alliance collective defense in a generation.5 These military deployments were obviously meant by NATO as a response to Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014 (NATO even describes the naval part as the “demonstration of NATO’s intent to operate and train together in the Black Sea region without constraint”) and its support for the pro-Russian separatists of the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine.6 But then, Russia’s actions in Georgia in 2008, when its intervention purportedly enabled local separatists to establish “independent” republics in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, like its actions in Ukraine in 2014–15 and thereafter, were meant by Moscow as both retaliatory and preemptive against NATO’s continuous expansion. A vicious spiral indeed. The advent of the most belligerent administration in contemporary US history, with the dubious election of George W. Bush to the presidency in 2000 and the huge boost that his administration’s grand designs obtained as a result of Al-Qaida’s attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September 2001 (hereafter 9/11), had led to a major new round of US imperial expansion. The first NATO summit to be held in a former Soviet-dominated country, the Prague summit of 21–22 November 2002, invited seven more former “communist-led” countries to join the military alliance: Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Their accession was finalized at the NATO summit held in Istanbul in June 2004. Of the seven cases, the greatest source of anger and frustration for Moscow was naturally constituted by the Baltic states’ accession to the Atlantic Alliance. It is easy to understand why, bearing in mind the continuity of strategic perspective between Russia and the Soviet Union that Walter 119

Lippmann underlined in 1947—in other words, the permanence of the Russian state’s strategic interest beyond the changing nature of its imperial regime.7 Russia constituted the core of the USSR, dominating all other republics in what became, essentially, a continuation of the Russian Empire in a radically different political form. Russia proper has itself been a colonial power within the territorial continuity of the huge empire that it ruled from the eighteenth century. By Russia proper is meant here the territory of the Tsardom of Russia: Muscovy, with its southern expansion to the Black Sea accomplished in the seventeenth century, before the empire’s extension to the Asian East that occurred during the following century. After it started falling behind other world powers with the unfolding of the Industrial Revolution, this Russian core suffered tremendously from foreign invasions from the west and south-east. A series of terrible wars waged in large part on Russian territory have profoundly marked the Russian psyche: the bloody invasion of the western part of the Russian Empire—including the territory of Russia proper as far as Moscow—by Napoleon’s Grande Armée in 1812; Russia’s defeat and losses to the Ottomans, backed by France and the United Kingdom, in the Crimean War of 1853–56; the advance of German and Austro-Hungarian troops into Russia during the First World War; the intervention of the Allied Powers, especially the United States and the British Empire, on the side of the White forces in the Russian Civil War that followed the Bolsheviks’ seizure of power in 1917; and, the most devastating and traumatizing of all invasions, the penetration of German Nazi troops and other Axis forces deep into Russia on a line running from the outskirts of Leningrad on the Baltic Sea to the outskirts of Sevastopol on the Black Sea and to those of Moscow in Russia’s heartland. This was the crucial factor that drove Moscow to expand its direct control over East and Central European territories in the wake of the Second World War, up to the demarcation line that Winston Churchill famously dubbed the Iron Curtain in 1946. And it is this psyche—not any “Communist ideology”—that Lippmann was referring to in his rebuttal of George Kennan’s “X Article” quoted in the Introduction. Lippmann’s argument must be read in the light of the above historical reminder: 120

For reasons which I do not understand, Mr. X decided not to consider the men in the Kremlin as the rulers of the Russian State and Empire, and has limited his analysis to the interaction of “two forces”: “the ideology inherited by the present Soviet leaders from the movement in which they had their political origin” and “the circumstances of the power which they have now exercised for nearly three decades in Russia.” Thus he dwells on the indubitable fact that they believe in the Marxian ideology and that “they have continued to be predominantly absorbed with the struggle to secure and make absolute the power which they seized in November 1917.” But with these two observations alone he cannot, and does not, explain the conduct of the Soviet government in this postwar era—that is to say its aims and claims to territory and to the sphere of influence which it dominates. The Soviet government has been run by Marxian revolutionists for thirty years; what has to be explained by a planner of American foreign policy is why in 1945 the Soviet government expanded its frontiers and its orbit, and what was the plan and pattern of its expansion. That can be done only by remembering that the Soviet government is a Russian government and that this Russian government has emerged victorious over Germany and Japan. Having omitted from his analysis the fact that we are dealing with a victorious Russia—having become exclusively preoccupied with the Marxian ideology, and with the communist revolution—it is no wonder that the outcome of Mr. X’s analysis is nothing more definite, concrete and practical than that the Soviets will encroach and expand “at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points.” Mr. X’s picture of the Soviet conduct has no pattern. It is amorphous. That is why his conclusions about how we should deal with the Soviets have no pattern, and are also amorphous.8 Indeed, the Soviet Union’s expansion of its sphere of domination by the end of the Second Word War had strictly nothing to do with any “Marxist” or “Communist” ideology. Only people who know nothing about the views of Karl Marx or Vladimir Lenin may believe that they advocated Russian imperial expansion. Both were harsh critics of the Russian Empire, and Lenin in particular was a sworn enemy of “GreatRussian chauvinism” who famously described the Czarist Empire as “a prison of peoples” and staunchly defended these peoples’ right to self121

determination.9 Vladimir Putin knows better: he bitterly blamed Lenin and his Bolshevik comrades for having diminished Russia, as he explained in the long article about Ukraine bearing his signature that was published in July 2021: In 1922, when the USSR was created, with the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic becoming one of its founders, a rather fierce debate among the Bolshevik leaders resulted in the implementation of Lenin’s plan to form a union state as a federation of equal republics. The right for the republics to freely secede from the Union was included in the text of the Declaration on the Creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and, subsequently, in the 1924 USSR Constitution. By doing so, the authors planted in the foundation of our statehood the most dangerous time bomb, which exploded the moment the safety mechanism provided by the leading role of the CPSU was gone, the party itself collapsing from within. A “parade of sovereignties” followed … The Bolsheviks treated the Russian people as inexhaustible material for their social experiments. They dreamt of a world revolution that would wipe out national states. That is why they were so generous in drawing borders and bestowing territorial gifts. It is no longer important what exactly the idea of the Bolshevik leaders who were chopping the country into pieces was. We can disagree about minor details, background and logics behind certain decisions. One fact is crystal clear: Russia was robbed, indeed.10 In expanding Moscow’s sphere of domination in East Europe in the wake of the Second World War, Stalin was primarily motivated neither by ideology, nor even by economic interests such as those which led the European colonial powers, including Russia, to expand their empires east and south.11 His primary concern, and that of the Moscow-based Soviet power elite, was to enlarge the buffer zone protecting the Russian core from future aggressions, after successive traumas had reached a vertiginous peak with the Nazi invasion. The East European “satellite states”, including the eastern part of Germany, were added to the peripheral Soviet Republics that were already insulating the core Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic from the territory of the defunct Third Reich (Germany and Austria) and from Western Europe, which was soon enlisted in the anti-Soviet NATO. 122

The collapse of the Iron Curtain and the accession of the East European states into NATO in successive rounds was therefore perceived by Russia’s rulers as a worrying dismantlement of the extended bulwark that their country had secured by the end of the Second World War. Their main concern became at least to safeguard one layer of states as a buffer zone between their country and NATO. In other words, their red line consisted in the range of countries bordering Russia, which, if they joined NATO, would give the latter direct borders with the Russian mainland—in addition to the small amount of border that exists between Russia and Norway and the new Russia–NATO border created in 1999 by Poland’s formal membership in the Alliance due to its contiguity with the semi-exclave of Russia’s Kaliningrad Oblast. When the Baltic ex-Soviet Republics were invited to join the Alliance in 2002, it was thus from Moscow’s perspective an intolerable breach in the buffer zone, creating a direct border between Russia proper and NATO in Estonia and Latvia, in addition to Lithuania’s border with Kaliningrad. And when Ukraine and Georgia were offered in turn, in 2005 and 2006, an “intensified dialogue” with NATO, understood as the initiation of a membership track, Moscow became furious. That would have meant that, except for Belarus and Azerbaijan still holding out, NATO would soon have a common border with Russia all the way from the Baltic Sea to the Caspian Sea, involving Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine and Georgia, with Ukraine accounting for that border’s longest section by far. These rounds of NATO enlargement during the first years of this century are as consequential a legacy of the George W. Bush administration as its invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Added to his scrapping in June 2002 of the ABM Treaty concluded with the USSR in May 1972 and continued with Russia since 1992, and his insistence on deploying anti-missile shields on the periphery of both Russia and China, Bush II established himself as a continuator of Bill Clinton in escalating the New Cold War that the latter had launched. The major expansion of the US imperium under Bush II into territories of the former Soviet Union, from Europe to Central Asia, naturally constituted a major irritant and source of worries for Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Pointing to these quasi-atavistic Russian security concerns is, of course, no justification for Russia’s aggression against Ukraine on 24 123

February 2022, nor for the previous one for that matter. Moreover, the argument has been properly made that Putin, in the article quoted above, questioned the very right of Ukraine to exist as an independent state. However, there is no denying either that the Russian side submitted clear and specific security-related demands expressed in the draft agreement that it published on 17 December 2021, or that NATO countries, led by the United States, offhandedly dismissed these demands as unacceptable. The rather specious argument invoked was that they infringed on NATO’s right to deploy its troops as it wished on its member-states’ territory, as well as on Ukraine’s sovereign right to request membership in the alliance. But what Russia was in fact demanding was a return to the agreement concluded almost fifteen years earlier, in which NATO itself had pledged to refrain from “additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces”. Moscow was also demanding that NATO pledge to stop absorbing new states, not that any state be denied the right to apply to join the Alliance, which is obviously a different matter unless one confuses an individual’s right to ask to join a club and this club’s right to stop accepting new members. Last but not least, the argument that NATO was upholding its “open door” policy could only confirm Moscow’s apprehension, since that door had long been double-locked in its face. Furthermore, the Russian stance was no ultimatum, but a stated negotiating position in the expectation that the other side would make counterproposals. Serious negotiation was indeed possible. One month before the invasion of Ukraine, two former senior British diplomats, one of them ambassador to the United States in 2003–07 and the other ambassador to Russia in 2000–04, offered a blueprint for substantial negotiations with Moscow aimed at defusing the crisis and resetting Western relations with Russia.12 But the fact is that NATO basically rejected Russia’s requests offhandedly as infringing upon its sovereignty. US President Joe Biden— despite the best efforts of French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to initiate a top-level negotiation—preferred to set the world on a collision course by engaging in a game of chicken with Vladimir Putin.13 Worse still, Biden bizarrely engaged in prophesying, announcing day after day 124

that Russia was about to invade Ukraine, in such a way that it is permissible to suspect him of having actually wished that it happened— as in the famous 1997 film Wag the Dog, where a war abroad conveniently serves to distract from a president’s domestic troubles. The analogy was yet more striking in the case of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who outbid all other NATO leaders in defiant military gestures towards Russia at a time when he was tangled up in what became known as the “Partygate” scandal.14 The fact that Russia was massing troops and forces for a potential invasion of Ukraine was clear enough for everybody to see. The question was how to react to it: either by taking it as a serious threat and therefore privileging the quest for peace by offering to seek a compromise between Russia’s stated security concerns and NATO’s own concerns, or by feigning near-indifference to the threat and articulating counter-threats in full knowledge that they could only incite Putin to invade. It required little expertise in psychology to understand that Putin’s super-macho mindset would not allow him to backtrack without achieving something that he could point to as a reasonable compromise. That is what the few NATO leaders mentioned above understood in trying to avert the war. But the Biden administration would not listen. Moreover, by continuing his predecessor’s provocative stance toward Beijing, Joe Biden had precluded the possibility of bringing China to bear on Russia in the interest of preserving world peace, which is in China’s own economic self-interest. He only succeeded in pushing Beijing to close ranks with Moscow against Washington as discussed in Chapter 4, below. Does mentioning all this absolve Vladimir Putin from his criminal responsibility in launching the invasion of Ukraine by putting the onus on Washington? Certainly not—no more than blaming the police for not having engaged in negotiation with hostage-takers absolves the latter from their criminal responsibility in murdering the hostages. Likewise, pointing to Washington’s responsibility in creating the conditions that led to the rise of Vladimir Putin does not lessen the latter’s criminality any more than pointing to the responsibility of the victors of the First World War and the terrible conditions they inflicted upon Germany through the 1919 Treaty of Versailles diminishes in the slightest the much more horrific criminality of Adolf Hitler. 125


Vladimir the Terrible: An Opera in Five Acts Prologue: The Preventable Rise of Vladimir Putin

The Weimar paradigm irresistibly forced itself upon observers of the post-Soviet collapse of Russia. Weimar Germany’s degradation and the rise of Hitler were a direct result of the vindictive economic and military conditions imposed on the German side by the First World War victors, the Allied Powers, at the negotiations held in the Palace of Versailles in France in June 1919. John Maynard Keynes attended these negotiations as official representative of the British Treasury. His famous warning against the consequences of that “peace”, written in the immediate aftermath of its conclusion, has been fully vindicated by history. Keynes did not mince his words in describing the effect of the victors’ economic diktat: “The policy of reducing Germany to servitude for a generation, of degrading the lives of millions of human beings, and of depriving a whole nation of happiness should be abhorrent and detestable —abhorrent and detestable, even if it were possible, even if it enriched ourselves, even if it did not sow the decay of the whole civilised life of Europe.”1 Sow the decay of the whole civilized life of Europe that policy certainly did, as the future showed so tragically. The dreadful scenario envisaged by Keynes in the same book turned into reality: [A] victory of reaction in Germany would be regarded by everyone as a threat to the security of Europe, and as endangering the fruits of victory and the basis of the peace. Besides, a new military power establishing itself in the East, with its spiritual home in Brandenburg, drawing to itself all the military talent and all the military adventurers, all those who regret emperors and hate democracy, in the whole of Eastern and Central and south-eastern Europe, a power which would be geographically inaccessible to the military forces of the Allies, might well found, at least in the anticipations of the timid, a new Napoleonic domination, rising, as a phoenix, from the ashes of cosmopolitan militarism.2 And yet, Keynes sadly observed, “Paris, with some hopes of disintegration across the Rhine not yet extinguished, can resist no opportunity of insult or indignity, no occasion of lowering the prestige or weakening the influence of a government with the continued stability of


which all the conservative interests of Europe are nevertheless bound up”.3 The same catastrophic Weimar scenario weighed heavily on the mind of William Perry, Bill Clinton’s defense secretary between February 1994 and January 1997, when he was ejected from that seat to be replaced for Clinton’s second term by the Republican William Cohen. Perry could not fail to draw a parallel between the attitude of France, Germany’s main nemesis in the First World War, and that of the United States, Russia’s main nemesis in the Cold War. It will be recalled from Chapter 2 that Perry, along with his assistant Ashton Carter, sadly observed—like Keynes in 1919—that US economic policy towards Russia remained very far from anything that might avert a Russian “replay” of the Weimar tragedy: Like Russia’s influence on the world, America’s influence on Russia can be strongly positive or strongly negative. At the end of the Cold War, the US government understood the Weimar analogy and has since attempted to assist Russian economic and political reform broadly. Public funds for this purpose have been limited—nothing close to the Marshall Plan, which sought to prevent a replay after World War II of the tragic collapse of democratic Weimar Germany.4 Washington’s stinginess and lack of vision meant that one of the scenarios envisaged by Carter and Perry had actually started to unfold when their book came out in 1999: Russia’s frustrations would be channeled outward; it would rearm, turn again against the West, and rekindle a kind of cold war. It could not achieve full power to threaten its neighbors for a decade or more, but in the meantime its nuclear arsenal and still formidable conventional forces could menace its neighbors, and it could mount a broad challenge to the United States on the world stage.5 This is exactly what happened in the twenty-first century, especially after Russia’s frustrations had been considerably aggravated by Washington’s subsequent policies, as acknowledged by William Perry several years later, after the severe deterioration in Russia’s relation with the West in 2014: Russia considered the expansions of NATO underway in 1997–99 a threat, and they regarded the later inclusion of the Baltic States as “marching the NATO threat up to their border.” In what was less than


enlightened conduct, the United States and NATO generally acted as if Russia’s concerns were inconsequential. Particularly galling to Russians were NATO’s actions in Kosovo, in the deployment of a ballistic missile defense (BMD) in Europe, and in the continuation of NATO expansion, including the Baltic states, which had been a part of the czar’s Russia and, for a few decades, the Soviet Union. Subsequently, NATO started the early processing of Georgia and Ukraine for NATO membership. Now Russia distanced itself even further from NATO and showed increased resentment of the US, believing that the US displayed no regard for Russian feelings and interests, concluding that we would do whatever suited us best, leaving Russia to cope as best it could.6 All this could have been averted had Washington opted for the policy advocated by William Perry of generous and massive Western economic aid to Russia to help it recover from the collapse of the Soviet Union, along with a reshaping of the global order toward Russia’s full integration in the concert of nations on a par with Western powers, instead of ostracizing it by expanding NATO into its former sphere of influence. This latter aspect of the problem has been amply discussed in the previous chapters. Let us focus for a while on Russia’s domestic condition and revisit Georgi Arbatov’s highly premonitory 1994 warning, quoted in the Introduction. It was the starkest and probably earliest portent of what would happen as a result of Western social and economic policies in Russia, epitomized by the catastrophic “reform” primarily implemented and supervised by Yegor Gaidar, who held various offices from minister of finance to prime minister of Russia between November 1991 and January 1994, under the presidency of Boris Yeltsin: The reform turned out to be not something crafted for Russian circumstances but a carbon copy of the “shock therapy” model designed to squeeze Third World countries sufficiently to cover their debts to the West. Blessed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and pressed by some Western specialists (Jeffrey Sachs and Anders Åslund, among others), that model of reform had been a failure practically everywhere. Nevertheless, it was adopted in Russia, a country that had totally different economic and social conditions from those prevailing in Third World countries. More surprisingly, from the beginning the plan received the unthinking blessing


of the Russian leadership, urged on by the West—by which I mean the IMF, World Bank, and leaders of the G7. The results, as one could have expected, were disastrous. Shock therapy led to a virtual breakdown of Russia’s economy … Society has become more polarized. Perhaps as much as 40 percent of the population (by official data again!), even by our own Spartan standards, were pushed below the poverty line, while up to 7 percent became rich or even superrich, many of them indulging in outrageous conspicuous consumption. Mortality increased by 16 per cent and the birthrate decreased by 14 percent … Of course, Gaidar’s “reform” had nothing to do with democracy or democratic changes. Quite the contrary. Policy that breeds poverty and crime, that promotes irresponsible behavior by the government at the expense of citizens, can survive only if democracy is suppressed. Such an approach needs a dictator, and it is not by chance that many supporters of Gaidar openly say that Russia can now be saved only by authoritarian rule …7 The plunder of post-Soviet Russia was of staggering magnitude, beyond imagination—and far beyond what has been depicted outside the country, especially in the Western media. It was arguably the most intensive case—when both its gigantic scope and celerity are taken into account—of what Karl Marx described in the last part of Volume 1 of his magnum opus Capital as “primitive accumulation”, where he showed that the initial process at the end of which society finds itself divided between a small minority of owners of capital and a vast majority of people deprived of any means of production other than their own labor force is not the “idyllic” process that precedes the division of labor in Adam Smith’s imagination, but one based on “conquest, enslavement, robbery, murder, in short, force”.8 The Russian version of primitive accumulation had the great originality of not growing out of the economic structure of the feudal society—or at least not directly as in the most classical case of the English legalized enclosure of common land starting in the seventeenth century— but after a long historical detour during which most means of production had been monopolized by the state for seven decades before being plundered by a tiny minority of “oligarchs” at the expense of the


population at large.9 This process included the dispossession of laborers from their accumulated savings and pensions by way of violent hyperinflation that reduced them to dust and drastically reduced real wages. These policies naturally provoked vehement opposition in Russia from the outset, of which the Russian parliament was the main site—“the same parliament, chosen in a generally acclaimed free election in 1990, that defied Gorbachev and the Soviet Communist Party by making Yeltsin its first chairman”, as the late Stephen Cohen, one of the keenest observers of Russia during that period, wrote in the Washington Post soon after the assault launched on parliament by Boris Yeltsin in September 1993: It is also the Parliament that adopted a constitutional amendment enabling Yeltsin to become Russia’s popularly elected president in June 1991, gave him sanctuary in its White House during the failed August 1991 coup, ratified his abolition of the Soviet Union in December of that year, and empowered him, for twelve months, to reform the economy by decree. For reasons that remain less than fully clear, and against the advice of Russia’s leading pro-market economists, Yeltsin opted for the policies known as “shock therapy”. By late 1992, these policies had impoverished the majority of Russian families …10 On 21 September 1993, Yeltsin launched an anti-constitutional assault on the parliament, terminating it by decree in what was for all intents and purposes an antidemocratic coup d’état. He even appealed to the Russian military to put down the parliament’s mutiny in October. These events signaled the end of the democratic transition in Russia and the beginning of a new era of increasing authoritarianism. “Indeed, now that Yeltsin has made the army and other security forces the arbiter of Russia’s political fate, how will he diminish their role to what it must be in any democratic system?” asked Cohen in October.11 Seven years later, he commented on the new constitution whose adoption Yeltsin had secured by referendum in December 1993: The constitution, which greatly empowered the presidency at the expense of other branches of government, particularly the Duma, was officially adopted, but the results of the referendum were almost certainly


falsified … In 2000, it nonetheless remained Russia’s constitution, and Vladimir Putin inherited the super-presidency created for Yeltsin … A strong case can be made that freeing himself of any effective parliamentary restraints led Yeltsin to more unwise and fateful decisions, including a privatization program that resulted in oligarchical ownership and asset looting, the first Chechen war, in 1994–96, and thus the second one, in 1999–2000 … Many Russians … will long remember that less than three weeks after the first such assault on a European parliament since the German Reichstag fire in 1933, President Clinton’s secretary of state [Warren Christopher] arrived in Moscow to praise Yeltsin’s Russia as a country “being reborn as a democracy”.12 The effect of the “shock therapy”—all too real shock and totally illusory therapy—of the first post-Soviet years was absolutely devastating. Here are a few figures mentioned at the onset of one of the books that denounced this gigantic disgrace: from 1991 to 1998, Russia’s GDP declined by 43.3 percent, with industrial production falling by 56 percent. The significance of these terrible figures shows up dramatically when they are compared to the 24 percent drop of the USSR’s GDP during the Second World War, between 1941 and 1945. Inflation peaked at 1,354 percent in 1992, cutting the real incomes of Russia’s laborers by 46 percent in that year, before declining with occasional surges until the decade’s end. At that point, the proportion of the Russian economy that had fallen into the informal sector, including a massive expansion of criminal activities, was estimated at 40 percent by the Ministry of Interior.13 And here is a vivid description of the same outcome by Stephen Cohen, writing in 2000: Since 1991, Russia’s realities have included the worst peacetime industrial depression of the twentieth century; the degradation of agriculture and livestock herds even worse in some respects than occurred during Stalin’s catastrophic collectivization of the peasantry in the early 1930s; unprecedented dependence on imported goods (foremost food and medicine); the promotion of one or two Potemkin cities amid the impoverishment or near-impoverishment of some 75 percent or more of the nation; more new orphans than resulted from Russia’s almost 30 million casualties in World War II; and the transformation of a


superpower into a beggar state existing on foreign loans and plagued, according to the local press, by “hunger, cold, and poverty” and whose remote regions “await the approaching winter with horror”.14 US responsibility in provoking this catastrophe was crucial, and it was anything but occult. Several witnesses and observers raised their voices in warning the United States against the consequences of what its government was fostering—the voices of Russians including Georgi Arbatov, as well as Americans like Stephen Cohen. One of the American voices, Janine Wedel, arguably the foremost critic of Western economic policies in Russia and Eastern Europe in the 1990s, testified before the Committee on International Relations of the US House of Representatives in 1998, the year when her critique of Western economic intervention in Eastern Europe was first published.15 Her testimony provided an excellent summary of the situation: The United States, over the past seven years, has embarked upon a fairly consistent course of economic relations with Russia. Three interrelated policies characterize this course: 1) the provision of billions of dollars in US and other Western aid, subsidized loans and rescheduled debt; 2) the urging of radical economic “reforms”, including the privatization of state-owned assets; and 3) the backing of a hand-picked political–economic group, or “clan”, to perform these so-called “reforms”. The United States has consistently supported President Boris Yeltsin and a cadre of self-styled Russian “reformers” to conduct Western aid-funded reforms and negotiate economic relations with the West. US support for Anatoly Chubais, Yegor Gaidar, and the so-called “Chubais Clan” (dominated by a decade-old clique from St. Petersburg), bolstered the Clan’s standing as Russia’s chief brokers with the West and the international financial institutions … There are three main problems with US economic aid to Russia, which resulted in frustrating true market reform and democratic processes in Russia. The first problem is the way in which privatization was shaped and promoted by US aid-paid consultants. Shortly after Boris Yeltsin became the elected president of the Russian Federation in June 1991, the Federation’s Supreme Soviet passed a law mandating privatization (after several privatization schemes were floated). The program that the Supreme Soviet passed was intended to prevent corruption. But the program


Chubais eventually implemented contained few safeguards and instead encouraged the accumulation of property in a few hands. This program opened the door to widespread corruption and was so controversial that Chubais ultimately had to rely largely on presidential decrees, not parliamentary approval, for implementation. The privatization drive that was supposed to reap the fruits of the free market instead helped to create a system of tycoon capitalism run for the benefit of a corrupt political oligarchy that has appropriated hundreds of millions of dollars of Western aid and plundered Russia’s wealth … The second main problem with US economic aid is that the United States promoted rule by decree: the preferred method of economic reform was top-down presidential decree orchestrated by Chubais. Instead of encouraging market reform, this rule by decree frustrated many market reforms as well as the building of democratic, inclusive institutions … The third main problem with US economic aid is that it set up still other means of bypassing democratic processes, including a network of aid-funded “private” organizations controlled by the Chubais Clan and the Harvard group [Harvard Institute for International Development, headed by Jeffrey Sachs]. These organizations enabled reformers to bypass legitimate bodies of government, such as ministries and branch ministries, and to circumvent the Duma. The Russian Privatization Center (RPC) was the donors’ flagship organization. The Center epitomized the operations of the aid-sustained Harvard–St. Petersburg coterie … Despite evidence of corruption and lack of popular support, many Western investors and US officials embraced the reformers’ dictatorial modus operandi and viewed Chubais as the only man capable of keeping the nation heading along on the troublesome road to economic reform … While professing simply to support reform, US policies afforded one group a comparative advantage and allowed much aid to be used as the tool of this group.16 Vladimir Putin is a direct product of this rotten process, as Wedel explained in the updated edition of the book that brought her into the spotlight, which came out during Putin’s first year as President of Russia: The Chubais transactors appear unlikely to disappear in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. In fact, Putin has long been intertwined with them. An operative in the KGB and briefly head of its successor agency [the FSB], Putin, like most associates of the Chubais Clan, hails from St. Petersburg


and was intimately involved in the “reforms” there. After moving to Moscow to work with Chubais, Putin helped to suppress criminal investigations that implicated Yeltsin and members of his family—as well as Chubais himself. Chubais … helped to run Putin’s spring 2000 presidential campaign.17 NATO’s Kosovo war provided a strong political adjuvant to the gestation of Putin’s rule, as Michael McFaul—who worked in Moscow for several years in different roles, including a stint as US ambassador to Russia from 2012 until 2014—acknowledged in the memoir he wrote about his long Russian experience: Unfortunately, the negative effects on US-Russia relations from the NATO military operation against Serbia lingered for decades … For the siloviki— Russian military and intelligence officials—the NATO campaign in Serbia confirmed their theory about American imperial intentions. In their view, little had changed since the Cold War era, except that Russia was much weaker in 1999 and therefore lacked the means to counter American military aggression. The proper response, therefore, was not to kiss and make up, as the naive, aging Yeltsin opted to do, but to rebuild Russian military forces. One of the intelligence officers who held this view was Vladimir Putin. The following year, he became president.18 Thus, the stage was fully prepared for Putin’s ascent, with a crucial US contribution in setting it for him. Putin’s ambition is well summarized in one passage that is central to the article that he published on the website of the Government of the Russian Federation on 31 December 1999, the day he was promoted by Yeltsin from prime minister to acting president. Titled “Russia at the Turn of the Millennium”, this article is appended to the autobiographical book Conversations with Vladimir Putin that was published in English translation in 2000 under the title First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. Putin clearly states his intention in his article: Russia will not become a second edition of, say, the US or Britain, where liberal values have deep historic traditions. Our state and its institutions and structures have always played an exceptionally important role in the life of the country and its people. For Russians, a strong state is not an anomaly to be gotten rid of. Quite the contrary, it is a source of order and main driving force of any change.19


Concluding a remarkably perspicacious review of that book, described by her as “an excellent piece of neo-Soviet, post-liberal propaganda”, Nina Khrushcheva, who presently teaches at New York’s New School and who happens to be the great-granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev—the man who became first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union after Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953, and would famously criticize his predecessor’s legacy three years later—commented: So who is Vladimir Putin? According to First Person, he is Russia’s perfect president, a man for whom Timur and Pavlik [child heroes in the USSR, one fictional, one real] once were role models but who has now stepped from the pages of heroic children’s stories to be a real man ruling in the real Kremlin. Only time will show whether this version of Putin is an invented character for the book of power he is writing, nothing more than a patriotic propaganda symbol, or if his worship of the KGB is real and … Putin is a modernized, contemporary hero of neo-Soviet totalitarianism, the creator of his own Putinism.20 Primarily enabled by the coincidence between his seizure of Russia’s helm and the return of oil prices to a rising trend after close to a decade of compression,21 the rise of Vladimir Putin went along with Russia’s metamorphosis under his rule from what Russian critical political scientist Dmitri Furman called “imitation democracy”—“a system in which a formal commitment to democratic norms and procedures coexisted with a total absence of actual alternatives to the current regime”22—or from what a key designer of that system, Russian political scientist Gleb Pavlovsky, calls “managed democracy”—“a quasi-authoritarian political system camouflaged to look as if it represents the people’s will through the window-dressing of elections, a multi-party system and a partially free media”23—into what has arguably become a neofascist regime.24 The online Encyclopedia Britannica provides a good definition of neofascism, and how it differs from interwar fascism: Neofascist parties differed from earlier fascist movements in several significant respects, many of them having to do with the profound political, economic, and social changes that took place in Europe in the first decades after the end of the war. [T] he gradual acceptance of democratic norms by the vast majority of western Europeans reduced the


appeal of authoritarian ideologies and required that neofascist parties make a concerted effort to portray themselves as democratic and “mainstream”. Some neofascists even included words like “democratic” and “liberal” in the titles of their movements. Most neofascists abandoned the outward trappings of earlier fascist parties, such as paramilitary uniforms and Roman salutes, and many explicitly denounced fascist policies or denied that their parties were fascist.25 The Putin regime’s far-right metamorphosis accelerated after his 2012 reelection as president and his 2014 annexation of Crimea and encroachment on eastern Ukraine, and reached a qualitative turning point with the full-scale Russian onslaught against Ukraine in 2022, but its seeds were clearly planted from the start in the legacy of the Yeltsin years. This outcome was preventable. The means to counteract it were in the hands of Washington, which held major leverage over Russia’s economic situation and its relations with the West, both crucial factors in determining Russia’s evolution. Experts such as Stephen Cohen and Janine Wedel advised the United States on alternative policies that could have altered world history, in the same way as it would have been altered had the alternative policy advocated by William Perry been adopted in the 1990s. This interaction between Washington’s behavior and Russia’s evolution is the main concern of this book, which is not the place for a detailed analysis of the evolution of Vladimir Putin’s regime; nor is its author qualified for what ought to be a first-hand analysis. There have been many useful books providing such analysis by experts on Russia, Russian and non-Russian alike.26 Let us now examine how the New Cold War became decidedly hot over two decades.

Act I, 1999–2003 (Andante Quasi Allegretto)

Part I of this book showed how the Clinton administration presided over the disastrous course that led to the present catastrophic state of international relations. The complacency shown in their memoirs by that administration’s key players on the issues here discussed—Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and her deputy, Russia specialist Strobe Talbott— is a glaring instance of a lack of discernment or any capacity for selfcriticism on the part of members of the ruling elite, easily oblivious to the worst results of their actions.


Albright was the first senior US official to meet Vladimir Putin as president. Here is how she describes Russia at the turn of the century in her 2003 memoir: At noon on December 31, 1999, Boris Yeltsin resigned, saying, “Russia must enter the new millennium with new politicians, new faces, new intelligent, strong, and energetic people.” His successor as president was Vladimir Putin, who had been appointed four months earlier as Yeltsin’s fifth prime minister since March 1998. The revolving door in the prime minister’s office reflected a downward spiral in the Russian economy. Few societies have crashed harder without war … What was bad news in Russia was also bad news in Washington. For decades we had worried about the threat posed by a strong Russia; now we worried about the dangers posed by Russia’s weakness. We feared that an angry populace would turn to extreme nationalists and that the underpaid Russian military might seek to profit by illegally selling nuclear technologies and arms. Russia’s economic problems could depress prospects for growth from the Baltics and Central Europe to the Caucasus and Central Asia, and the spectacle of Russia imploding might tarnish the image of democracy worldwide. Poverty and deprivation were not what people had signed up for when the Iron Curtain lifted.27 Indeed—and neither were “shock therapy” and Yeltsin’s authoritarianism what people had signed up for. Albright was immediately confronted with the brutal reality that Putin represented on the issue of Chechnya, in some way a reflection of the brutal reality represented by her own administration’s behavior in Iraq, in particular: When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Chechen nationalists launched a struggle for independence. Several years of fierce fighting resulted in a settlement giving Chechnya considerable autonomy, but still within Russia. The conflict resumed in August 1999, only a few days after Putin became prime minister, when Chechen fighters announced plans to foment a regionwide Islamic revolution. The next month Russia was rocked by a series of terrorist bombings that killed almost three hundred people. Although lacking proof, Russia accused Chechens of the attacks and vowed to strike back. Under Putin’s direction, the Russian military bombed Chechen cities and villages, before moving in on the ground. There were reports of indiscriminate violence and massacres, and tens of thousands of people fled their homes, prompting an international outcry


… According to surveys when the conflict began, only 2 percent of Russians thought Putin the right man to replace Yeltsin. By New Year’s Eve, the figure had risen to 56 percent.28 With all the arrogance that US officials are capable of, the former secretary of state herself having been a shining example of that phenomenon, she reports having lectured Putin on humanitarian considerations regarding Chechnya29. Putin naturally took that for interference in Russia’s affairs, and replied on a note that would prove to be his preferred tune in justifying his wars—the Nazification of his enemies: “Do not try to squeeze Russia out of this region,” he said, “or you will end up with another Iran or Afghanistan.” Obviously aware of my own history [Madeleine Albright’s parents had fled Czechoslovakia right after the signing of the 1938 Munich Agreement and the occupation of their country by Nazi troops], he said that Russia was acting the way I would have wished Europe had acted against the Nazis. “Instead of another Munich, we are fighting them now before they grow stronger. And we will smash them.”30 Nazification of the enemy was not the only aspect of Putin’s behavior in prosecuting the war in Chechnya that proved a harbinger of his future approach to war in general.31 The destruction of Chechnya’s capital city, Grozny, grimly foreshadowed the assaults on Aleppo in Syria and Mariupol in Ukraine—all terrifying cases of cities flattened by intensive and indiscriminate bombing of a type that recalled the carpet-bombing of cities during the Second World War. But there was another way in which the second Russian invasion of Chechnya in 1999–2000 set a precedent: it marked the strangulation of democratic freedoms in Russia. Here is a contemporary description: The situation in Chechnya has led Moscow systematically to repress supporters of federalism; local governors; opponents of the war; politically minded entrepreneurs, business owners, and oligarchs; the television and newspaper media; foreign and Russian scholars; foreign students; environmentalists; nongovernmental organizations; and non-Orthodox religions. A systematic attempt to muzzle the media and coerce public support for the war—partly by restoring the media’s and the schools’ “moral-patriotic” education function and partly by conducting “friendly chats” with police authorities or using the invigorated Audit Chamber and


Tax Police, as well as controlling e-mail transmissions—coincides with a general campaign against all domestic and foreign criticism.32 This dreadful situation did not prevent Albright from praising in her memoir Putin’s economic measures, his commitment to cooperating with the IMF, or his “repeated commitment to find a home for Russia in the West”.33 Her description of Bill Clinton’s visit to Putin in Moscow in June 2000 is full of bonhomie, commenting on the issue of the National Missile Defense (NMD)—the nationwide antimissile network that the United States had planned to build since Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (a.k.a. Star Wars), and for the sake of which Washington wanted to scrap the ABM Treaty—as briefly as she had remarked on the two men’s attitudes to music.34 And yet, the US project was not only unpopular with the Russians—it was rejected by most countries of the world. Indeed, on the 1st of December 1999, thirty days before Putin’s promotion to the Russian presidency by Boris Yeltsin, the UN General Assembly had adopted a resolution titled “Preservation of and Compliance with the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems”, calling on the parties to the treaty to observe it strictly, and even strengthen it further, adding the consideration that “the implementation of any measure undermining the purposes and the provisions of the Treaty also undermines global strategic stability and world peace and the promotion of further strategic nuclear arms reductions.” The resolution was adopted by eighty votes to only four (Albania, Israel, Micronesia and the United States), with sixty-eight governments abstaining, among which were all key US allies—that is, all NATO members, Japan, South Korea and Australia. Albright’s deputy, Strobe Talbott, was more perceptive of—or more honest about—the issue’s importance as a major irritant for the Russians in general, and Putin in particular, when commenting on the Clinton–Putin summit: Putin knew that there were some in America who thought … that America didn’t need Russia’s permission or cooperation; that the US could do whatever it wanted; that Russia was too weak to do anything about it— too weak to launch another spiral in the arms race. “But please believe me,” he said, speaking very slowly and softly: Russia was capable of an “adequate response” and always would be. That would be true regardless of


who the president of Russia was. If NMD went forward, there would be reciprocal action—“maybe quite unexpected, probably asymmetrical”— that is, measures intended not to mimic American high-tech programs but to thwart them. Whatever action Russia took would threaten the territory of the United States. “I know you’ve got your own decision to make, and your successor’s got his decision to make,” Putin continued. Perhaps, according to the American logic, the rest of the world would just swallow what the US president decided, whatever it was. But Putin was putting Clinton on notice what to expect. Or actually, he added, correcting himself, he was warning Clinton that the result might be quite unpredictable and therefore all the more dangerous.35 And yet, this did not prevent Talbott from deluding himself about the extent of Russia’s accommodation to US-led policies in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Although he rightly suspected that “Putin, adept as he was at judo, was moving with such alacrity and dexterity primarily in order to turn American distress to Russian advantage on the narrow issue of Chechnya”, as was confirmed when the Russian defense minister Sergei Ivanov “declared publicly with an I-told-you-so smugness, that surely the world now understood what Russia had been up against in the North Caucasus”, Talbott was stunned by the benevolence that Putin displayed towards NATO when he visited its headquarters in Brussels on 3 October 2001.36 “Even more stunning was the way Putin overrode the public objections of some of his generals, as well as Defense Minister Ivanov, to granting American forces access to bases in Central Asia in support of the operation about to begin in Afghanistan.”37 Talbott was so much stunned that he saw in these events— complemented by the brave face that Putin had to put on the Bush administration’s resolve to scrap the ABM Treaty and implement the NMD project—a vindication of the disastrous policies that the Clinton administration had pursued toward Russia, with key participation from Talbott himself during all eight years of Clinton’s presidency. Read today, his 2002 memoir’s conclusion is clearly revealed as an embarrassingly naïve instance of wishful thinking: The burst of accommodation and cooperation between George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in the autumn of 2001 marked not a turning point but a moment of clarification, consolidation and acceleration in the


positive trends of the previous decade. Despite all the talk about how everything had changed, there was no shift in what George Kennan—and Bill Clinton—saw as the historical direction of Russia’s internal evolution and of its relationship with the West. Quite the contrary: in the wake of September 11, a new Russian president concluded that he could afford to move his country faster in that direction, and an even newer American president saw more clearly than before that the US should help.38 To consolidate his own rule and take advantage of the surge in natural gas prices that started very conveniently in January 2000, just as his presidency was beginning, and in order to reboot the Russian economy and refurbish the Russian military, Putin needed time, as he himself explained in a speech he gave at the Foreign Ministry in Moscow one year later: The priority task here is to create around Russia a stable and secure situation, to create such conditions that would allow us to maximally concentrate efforts and resources towards the solution of the socialeconomic tasks facing the state. It is understandable that today the arsenal of means by way of which we can influence the international situation is, objectively, not as great as we would like it to be.39 Both oil and gas prices were powerfully boosted by the 9/11 shock, in a renewed surge that carried on for several years until it was interrupted by the Great Recession in 2008. It was not the time to jeopardize this windfall, especially in the face of the “wounded beast” that the United States had become as a result of al-Qaida’s attacks. Instead, Putin went on a charm offensive in his relations with Western countries. Like his predecessor Yeltsin, Putin had even expressed the wish to be invited to join NATO.40 But Russia, the other superpower of the bipolar era, was understandably disinclined to risk humiliation by applying to join with no guarantee of being admitted. Despite the collapse of the USSR, Russia still was the second military power on earth: it therefore wished, very legitimately indeed, to be invited to join the organization. George Robertson, then NATO’s secretary-general, told the story of his early meeting in 2000 with the new Russian president and the utterly insensitive response that he gave him. “Putin said: ‘When are you going to invite us to join NATO?’ And I said: ‘Well, we don’t invite people to join NATO, they


apply to join NATO.’ And he said: ‘Well, we’re not standing in line with a lot of countries that don’t matter.’”41 This position was stated very clearly in the first television interview that the new Russian president gave to a foreign journalist—David Frost for the BBC—in March 2000: Russia is part of the European culture. And I cannot imagine my own country in isolation from Europe and what we often call the civilised world. So it is hard for me to visualise NATO as an enemy. I think even posing the question this way will not do any good to Russia or the world. The very question is capable of causing damage. Russia strives for equitable and candid relations with its partners … We believe we can talk about more profound integration with NATO but only if Russia is regarded [as] an equal partner. You are aware we have been constantly voicing our opposition to NATO’s eastward expansion.42 When Frost asked him: “Is it possible Russia could join NATO?”, Putin replied: “I don’t see why not. I would not rule out such a possibility—but I repeat—if and when Russia’s views are taken into account as those of an equal partner. I want to stress this again and again.”43 For a while, 9/11 enhanced Putin’s hopes of integration into the Western-dominated global system, and into Europe in particular. His visit to Berlin and speech to the Bundestag ten days after 9/11 were a high point in his espousal of this euphoric belief: As for European integration, we not just support these processes, but we are looking to them with hope … It is my firm conviction that in today’s rapidly changing world, in a world witnessing truly dramatic demographic changes and an exceptionally high economic growth in some regions, Europe also has an immediate interest in promoting relations with Russia. No one calls in question the great value of Europe’s relations with the United States. I am just of the opinion that Europe will reinforce its reputation of a strong and truly independent center of world politics soundly and for a long time if it succeeds in bringing together its own potential and that of Russia, including its human, territorial and natural resources and its economic, cultural and defense potential.44 Reading this speech today allows one to measure the distance traveled since 2001. Putin was offering the West an olive branch, which could have


been seized as an opportunity for the consolidation and furthering of global disarmament: One of the achievements of the past decade is the unprecedentedly low concentration of armed forces and armaments in Central Europe and the Baltic. Russia is a friendly European nation. Stable peace on the continent is a paramount goal for our country, which lived through a century of military catastrophes … It seemed just recently that a truly common home would shortly rise on the continent, a home in which the Europeans would not be divided into eastern or western, northern or southern. However, these divides will remain, primarily because we have never fully shed many of the Cold War stereotypes and clichés. Today we must say once and for all: the Cold War is done with! We have entered a new stage of development. We understand that without a modern, sound and sustainable security architecture we will never be able to create an atmosphere of trust on the continent, and without that atmosphere of trust there can be no united Greater Europe! Putin went on to “say with absolute confidence that the key goal of Russia’s domestic policy is first and foremost to ensure democratic rights and freedoms, decent living standards and safety for the people of the country”, even emphasizing to his German audience that “for the first time in Russia’s history spending on education has exceeded defense expenditures”. His State of the Nation address in the spring of 2002 was strongly committed to the wild neoliberal perspective that had been entrenched under Boris Yeltsin’s presidency. Explaining to his fellow citizens that countries are “competing to make the business climate more attractive”, Putin defended the 13 percent flat income tax implemented under his presidency (promulgated in August 2000 and effective from 2001). “By taking this step we significantly stimulated business activity, replenished the treasury and simplified the tax system. I would like to reiterate that this rule is not subject to revision.”45 On the international perspective, the address was full of good will and wishful thinking: After September 11 of last year many, very many people in the world realized that the cold war was over. They understood that now there existed other threats, and that another war was on, a war against


international terrorism … Our consistent stand and our numerous actions as regards integration with Europe are obvious. We will continue to work actively with the European Union in the efforts to form a single economic area. Our primary goal in foreign policy is to provide strategic stability in the world. To that end we take part in establishing a new security system, maintain permanent dialogue with the United States, and work on changing the quality of our relations with NATO.46 Although Putin had assumed Russia’s presidency after the experience, deeply traumatizing for Moscow, of the US-led violation of international law and contemptuous disregard for Russia’s stance in the war on Serbia, discussed in Chapter 2, 9/11 gave him renewed hope. He enthusiastically adhered to George W. Bush’s “war on terror” rhetoric, which he regarded as a vindication of his own war on Chechnya, as Strobe Talbott noted. In the March 2000 interview with the BBC, Putin had already called Chechnya a “mini-Afghanistan”. However, only a few months after describing Russia as teaming up with Western powers in the “war on terror” in his State of the Nation address, Putin was to lose whatever illusions he may have harbored in earnest. This was in the autumn of 2002, when Washington began actively preparing the invasion of Iraq.

Act II, 2004–2007 (Crescendo)

In going ahead with the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Washington was not only disregarding international law one more time by circumventing the UN Security Council—and, by the same token, Moscow and Beijing’s opposition and veto rights. It even turned its back on its own old-time allies in Berlin and Paris. It is difficult to overestimate the impact on Moscow and Beijing of this second violation of international rules by Washington, especially as it involved unlawful occupation and “regime change” for the purpose of subjugating a country in which Moscow and Beijing, as well as Paris, had vested interests secured by contracts, which the occupation took care to cancel early on. However, unlike during the 1999 Kosovo War, when Russia faced a united NATO, the US-led occupation of Iraq gave Putin the hope that Russia could develop European ties at the expense of Washington’s hegemony. But the split between, on the one hand, the two main pillars of the European Union, France and Germany, and on the other, the United States and its loyal follower, the United Kingdom, did not prove as


determining as he would have hoped. By the time of NATO’s June 2004 summit in Istanbul, Putin had become bitterly disappointed. That was the first summit of the Alliance with the participation of the seven new members coopted by the 2002 Prague summit, including the three former Soviet republics of the Baltic. French and German disagreements with Washington and London over Iraq did show up at the summit. While it officially endorsed the fiction of an end to US occupation, the advent of a sovereign Iraqi interim government headed by CIA asset Iyad Allawi, and the transformation of the US-led occupying forces into a Multi-National Force approved by the UN Security Council, with a green light from both Russia and China, the Istanbul summit failed to achieve a consensus over NATO’s collective contribution to the occupation of Iraq, instead producing a minimalist statement that included a pledge to train Iraq’s security forces.47 But Moscow was deeply frustrated by NATO’s unwillingness to commit to ceasing further eastward expansion of its military presence, and to ratifying the Adapted Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), signed at a 1999 OSCE summit, also in Istanbul. Adapted from the 1990 CFE treaty concluded between NATO and the moribund Warsaw Pact with a view to reducing the level of armaments deployed in the whole of Europe, the 1999 treaty replaced the two-bloc perspective of the previous version with one based on individual countries. One important issue that required a solution was the presence of Russian troops in the territories of Georgia and Moldova—a hangover from the Soviet era. Russia signed agreements with both former Soviet republics in 1999, and ratified the CFE treaty the year after. But a dispute arose soon thereafter between Moscow and the two republics, backed by NATO, on the extent of Russian military withdrawal from their territories—a matter complicated by Russian support for the breakaway self-proclaimed republics that emerged in both countries in the wake of the USSR’s dissolution: Transnistria in Moldova, and Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia. While Russia was mercilessly crushing Chechnya’s aspiration to secede from within its own post-Soviet territory, it supported separatist movements in the post-Soviet territories of other republics as a means of exerting continued influence upon them, as well as providing a stumbling block to their accession to NATO.


Moscow’s attitude in this respect was hardened by Georgia’s November 2003 Rose Revolution, as it came to be known, which cut the umbilical cord that still linked the former Soviet republic to Russia. Georgia, which had been integrated into the Russian Empire since the beginning of the nineteenth century, henceforth turned resolutely toward the West. As a result of these tensions, not a single NATO member-state had ratified the CFE treaty by the time of the 2004 NATO summit. Putin therefore abstained from attending the NATO-Russia Council meeting held as part of the summit’s activities. It was attended by his minister of foreign affairs Sergei Lavrov, who complained at a press conference held after the meeting that NATO’s enlargement had led to “the strengthening of the military presence around Russian borders”.48 Moscow’s frustration was considerably magnified by NATO’s continued assertion of its “open door” to all East European states but Russia.49 The Istanbul summit’s final communiqué “reaffirmed that NATO’s door remains open to new members, and encouraged Albania, Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to continue the reforms necessary to progress towards NATO membership”.50 The summit’s stated position on Ukraine could only provoke Moscow’s extreme suspicion: We welcome Ukraine’s determination to pursue full Euro-Atlantic integration. In this context, we reaffirm the necessity to achieve consistent and measurable progress in democratic reform. We encourage Ukraine to accelerate the implementation of the objectives outlined in the NATO– Ukraine Action Plan, particularly regarding the conduct of free and fair elections, the guaranteeing of media freedoms, and implementation of the results of the Defense Review. We are determined to support Ukraine in these efforts, while noting that a further strengthening of our relationship will require stronger evidence of Ukraine’s commitment to comprehensive reform, in particular with a view to the conduct of presidential elections this autumn.51 Five months after NATO’s Istanbul summit, Ukraine was shaken by the second “color revolution” to occur within a former Soviet republic. The Orange Revolution basically achieved for Ukraine the same result as the Rose Revolution had achieved for Georgia. From Moscow’s viewpoint, the hand of the United States was all too visible in these uprisings, seen as


mass movements engineered by Washington for the purpose of completing the encirclement of Russia. The denial of political foes’ agency and the accusation that they are manipulated by foreign hands is common in politics, and rather natural for a former secret service officer such as Vladimir Putin. But, on the other hand, the unhidden reality of multifaceted Western support for the “color revolutions”—especially through organizations such as the US National Endowment for Democracy and George Soros’s Open Society, an early object of Putin’s hostility (all Soros foundations were compelled to cease their activities in Russia in 2003)—could only reinforce Putin’s inclination toward a paranoid view of politics. The outcome of the November 2003 Rose Revolution, which brought Mikheil Saakashvili to the presidency of Georgia in January 2004, had fully confirmed his suspicions. Mark MacKinnon, who had been Moscow bureau chief for Canada’s Globe and Mail from 2002 to 2005, summarized that outcome very well: Immediately after coming to power, Saakashvili stepped up pressure for Russia to close the military bases it had maintained on Georgian soil after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Bush administration coyly offered to help pay for the move. Ambassador Miles, meanwhile, said the two hundred US soldiers deployed in Georgia in 2002 to train the Georgian army would stay past the end of their two-year mandate, perhaps indefinitely. There was excited chatter about Georgia eventually joining NATO. “The Cold War is over, and we will not give up our independence. Russia cannot treat us as their former colony,” Saakashvili said. “We are friends with the Americans because they helped us.” Eighteen months after the Rose Revolution—following a ceremony that was attended by US secretary of energy Samuel Bodman, by Saakashvili, the democrat, and by Azerbaijan’s [Ilham] Aliev, the anointed son of the autocrat [Heydar Aliev]—oil started to flow west through the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan [Azerbaijan–Georgia–Turkey] pipeline.52 If anyone had any illusions that Washington’s attitude toward the “color revolutions” was dictated by democratic values instead of materialistic interests, Azerbaijan, whose oil flowed through the above-mentioned pipeline, provided conclusive evidence to the contrary. (Western support to oil-rich despotic Arab regimes should have been sufficient proof, of


course.) In November 2005, the hydrocarbon-rich South Caucasian country was theater to a revolutionary attempt—a projected Green Revolution—against its utterly corrupt dynastic regime instituted by a man who had been a top Soviet apparatchik and had become president of postSoviet Azerbaijan thanks to a coup in October 1993. The attempt at organizing revolutionary protests against election rigging was severely repressed, with Washington’s benediction: [A]s in 2003, the opposition faced a regime that was willing to use force to suppress demonstrations—and that had the backing of the United States. In a message delivered to the Azeri government ahead of the elections, President Bush noted President Ilham Aliev’s “commitment to a free and fair election” and concluded, “I look forward to working with you after these elections.”53 The year 2004, when Putin shunned NATO’s Istanbul summit, was a crucial inflection point in the Russian president’s trajectory, in the spheres of both foreign and domestic politics. As explained by the New York Times’s Roger Cohen in a lengthy essay on “The Making of Vladimir Putin”, From 2004 onward, a distinct hardening of Mr. Putin’s Russia—what Ms. Rice, the former secretary of state, called “a crackdown where they were starting to spin these tales of vulnerability and democratic contagion”—became evident. The president scrapped elections for regional governors in late 2004, turning them into Kremlin appointees. Russian TV increasingly looked like Soviet TV in its undiluted propaganda. In 2006, Anna Politkovskaya, an investigative journalist critical of rights abuses in Chechnya, was murdered in Moscow on Mr. Putin’s birthday. Another Kremlin critic, Alexander Litvinenko, a former intelligence agent, who had dubbed Russia “a mafia state,” was killed in London, poisoned with a radioactive substance by Russian spies. For Mr. Putin, NATO expansion into countries that had been part of the Soviet Union or its postwar East European imperium represented an American betrayal. But the threat of a successful Western democracy on his doorstep appears to have evolved into a more immediate perceived threat to his increasingly repressive system.54


Against a backdrop of ever more anxious efforts to thwart purported Western attempts to foster a “color revolution” in Russia itself, those were decisive years for the formation there of what Richard Sakwa called “the dual state”, defined as an administrative regime, which draws its legitimacy from claiming to apply the principles of the constitutional state and derives its authority from its representation of the common good but in practice exercises power in ways that subvert the impartial and universal application of constitutional rules. The polity and the state effectively became the property of the regime and increasingly of the leader himself—the classic definition of patrimonialism. In this context, the rhetoric of strengthening the state effectively means enhancing the prerogative powers of the regime. In other words, a new type of neo-patrimonialism was consolidated—a system in which the political authorities stand outside the constraints of the constitutional state, although drawing on its legal, coercive and disciplinary resources to maintain their rule.55 This domestic process combining patrimonial and neopatrimonial state features went along with the stiffening of Putin’s stance toward NATO and the West, in the face of the perpetuation of the Western behavior that riled him. The speech that he delivered at the annual Munich Security Conference on 10 February 2007 was a landmark, not because it revealed new feelings but because, as he himself put it, the conference’s format allowed him “to avoid excessive politeness and the need to speak in roundabout, pleasant but empty diplomatic terms” and “to say what I really think about international security problems”.56 Putin did indeed speak gloves-off, revealing the full extent of his frustration. First, against the unipolar pretentions of the United States: However one might embellish this term, at the end of the day [a unipolar world] refers to one type of situation, namely one center of authority, one center of force, one center of decision-making. It is [a] world in which there is one master, one sovereign … And this certainly has nothing in common with democracy … Incidentally, Russia—we—are constantly being taught about democracy. But for some reason those who teach us do not want to learn themselves. Then, on the unilateral recourse of the United States and NATO to the use of force in disregard for international legality: “The use of force can


only be considered legitimate if the decision is sanctioned by the UN.” On NATO’s non-ratification of the CFE Treaty: The Adapted Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe was signed in 1999. It took into account a new geopolitical reality, namely the elimination of the Warsaw bloc. Seven years have passed and only four states have ratified this document, including the Russian Federation. NATO countries openly declared that they will not ratify this treaty, including the provisions on flank restrictions (on deploying a certain number of armed forces in the flank zones), until Russia removed its military bases from Georgia and Moldova. Our army is leaving Georgia, even according to an accelerated schedule … There are still 1,500 servicemen in Moldova that are carrying out peacekeeping operations and protecting warehouses with ammunition left over from Soviet times … But what is happening at the same time? Simultaneously the so-called flexible frontline American bases [are set] with up to five thousand men in each. It turns out that NATO has put its frontline forces on our borders, and we continue to strictly fulfil the treaty obligations and do not react to these actions at all. Next, on NATO’s eastward enlargement: NATO expansion does not have any relation with … ensuring security in Europe. On the contrary, it represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust. And we have the right to ask: against whom is this expansion intended? And what happened to the assurances our Western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact? Where are those declarations today? No one even remembers them … Well, ensuring one’s own security is the right of any sovereign state. We are not arguing against this. Of course, we are not objecting to this. But why is it necessary to put military infrastructure on our borders during this expansion? Can someone answer this question? … As such, expanding infrastructure, especially military infrastructure, to our borders is not connected in any way with the democratic choices of individual states.57 And finally, on Western intervention through NGOs in the domestic politics of Russia and other former Soviet republics: [W]hen these non-governmental organizations are financed by foreign governments, we see them as an instrument that foreign states use to carry out their Russian policies. That is the first thing. The second. In every


country there are certain rules for financing, shall we say, election campaigns. Financing from foreign governments, including within governmental campaigns, proceeds through non-governmental organizations. And who is happy about this? Is this normal democracy? It is secret financing. Hidden from society. Where is the democracy here? Can you tell me? No! You can’t tell me and you never will be able to. Because there is no democracy here, there is simply one state exerting influence on another.58 Putin’s 2007 Munich speech offered a panoptic view of the determinants of the foreign policy orientation that he was going to practice in an increasingly radical manner in the years ahead: his resentment of Washington’s unipolar behavior and ambitions would incite him to seek countervailing alliances, especially with Beijing; his anger at the repeated violations of international law, enshrined in the UN Charter, by the United States and NATO, giving precedence to their might over right, would encourage him to disregard exactly the same rules; his frustration at NATO member-states’ refusal to ratify the CFE Treaty would lead him to sign a law suspending Russia’s participation in the treaty on 30 November 2007; his intense irritation toward Western military deployment and NATO expansion in the former Soviet sphere would prompt him to embark on preemptive countermoves; and, last but not least, his profound exasperation at Western support for liberal-democratic opposition in the former Soviet sphere, including Russia itself, would incite him to develop a retaliatory intervention in Western domestic politics in favor of antidemocratic, reactionary forces.

Act III, 2008–2010 (Forte Poi Decrescendo Assai)

The year 2008 marked a crucial inflection point in Russia’s evolution under Vladimir Putin’s rule. Ilya Matveev assessed the transformation of the country’s economic system, which he calls “Russia, Inc.”, as follows: The 2003 Yukos [oil and gas company] affair, in which one of Russia’s most profitable companies was taken over and its chairman [Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky] jailed, marked business’ final handover of initiative to the state. The regime’s transformations, which were tied to this handover, were taking their toll in the course of neoliberal reforms. People close to Putin with backgrounds in the security services, the siloviki, took leading positions in the rapidly expanding state sector …


While Rosneft and Gazprom, companies controlled by the state, dominated the hydrocarbon sector, new state corporations took responsibility for innovation and the military–industrial complex— special, highly beneficial conditions were created for these entities. However, due to the inefficiency and fantastical corruption, which was comparable to the predatory practices of the 1990s, Russia’s state sector didn’t become a driver of growth. Moreover, its expansion, which seemed to at first contradict the core principles of neoliberalism, fitted into neoliberal logic at a deeper level. As a result of the expansion of state property under Putin, Russia’s economy wasn’t so much taken over by the state, so much as the state was transformed into its own kind of corporation—with the appropriate arrangements and management models. Though it attempted to dictate its own conditions on integration, Russia, Inc. fitted seamlessly into the global neoliberal order.59 The year 2008 also saw a crucial inflection in Putin’s relations with NATO countries. Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia in February, and its recognition by the United States and most of its Western allies, infuriated the Russian president. He had warned against it in no uncertain terms and with powerful arguments, such as those he had stated at the Annual Big Press Conference in Moscow on 14 February, three days before the Assembly of Kosovo adopted the declaration: We think that to support a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo is amoral and against the law. Territorial integrity is one of the fundamental principles of international law. The Security Council has issued Resolution 1244, which speaks of Serbia’s territorial integrity, and all UN members must respect this resolution. I do not want to offend anyone, but all the same, if we really raise this issue, there has been a de facto independent Republic of Northern Cyprus for 40 years now. Why don’t you recognize it? Are you Europeans not ashamed to apply double standards in settling one and the same issue in different parts of the world? Here in this region we have Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Trans-Dniester that exist as independent states. We are always being told that Kosovo is a special case. This is all lies. There is nothing so special about Kosovo and everyone knows this full well. It is exactly the same situation of an ethnic conflict, crimes committed on both sides and


complete de facto independence. We need to decide on a common set of principles for resolving such issues.60 The reference to Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria was crystal clear. The next hot issue on the agenda during the first months of 2008 was NATO’s further enlargement through the incorporation of two more former Soviet republics: Georgia and Ukraine. For Putin, this was a flashing red line that he repeatedly warned NATO not to cross. He knew that both countries’ governments were intensively lobbying to get NATO to invite them to join during its next summit, in April 2008, that Washington was supportive of their request, and that Berlin and Paris were opposed. In his remarkable investigative book, All the Kremlin’s Men: Inside the Court of Vladimir Putin, critical Russian journalist Mikhail Zygar told the story of that fateful summit: George W. Bush, in the last year of his presidency, was convinced that the two post-Soviet republics should be granted NATO candidate member status … But there was no avoiding a brawl at the summit in Bucharest. [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel was up for a fight, supported by French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Their argument was that Ukraine and Georgia were not ready to join the alliance. As for Ukraine, most of its population strongly opposed NATO. As for Georgia, Merkel and Sarkozy said that, first, Mikheil Saakashvili did not resemble a true democrat … and, second, Georgia had two unresolved border conflicts with Russia. Would NATO countries be prepared to send troops into Abkhazia and South Ossetia on Russia’s southern border if the “frozen” conflicts there suddenly warmed up?61 Putin had met Merkel prior to the summit, in early March, hoping that she would succeed in blocking Washington’s project of inviting the two countries to join NATO. Unlike in his shunning of the 2004 Istanbul summit, he flew to Bucharest to take part in the meeting of the NATORussia Council. But he was disappointed that the summit pursued NATO’s eastward expansion by inviting Albania and Croatia, foes of Russia’s ally Serbia, to join and, most importantly, explicitly committed to letting Georgia and Ukraine in at a future stage while beginning a process in that


direction—a compromise reached between Washington, Berlin and Paris. The summit’s final declaration stated the following: NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO. Both nations have made valuable contributions to Alliance operations … MAP [Membership Action Plan] is the next step for Ukraine and Georgia on their direct way to membership. Today we make clear that we support these countries’ applications for MAP. Therefore we will now begin a period of intensive engagement with both at a high political level to address the questions still outstanding pertaining to their MAP applications.62 At his meeting with NATO’s leaders in Bucharest on 4 April, Putin unequivocally explained his views on the two former Soviet republics. It is worth quoting extensively from his speech at the meeting, unofficially transcribed by a Ukrainian press agency, as he expressed views that would guide his action in the coming years—in other words, Russia’s actions for, although he was to formally hand over the presidency to Dmitry Medvedev in May owing to its constitutional limitation to two consecutive terms, he carried on ruling the country from the seat of prime minister in a simulacrum of observance of the supreme law of the land: As for the policy of expanding the alliance, we have been attentively watching your discussion yesterday. On the whole, of course, we are satisfied with your decisions [that] took place. But if I speak about Georgia and Ukraine, it is clear that the matter concerns not only security issues. For our Georgian friends, of course, it is one of means to restore their territorial integrity, as they believe … by means of force, under the aegis of NATO. It is an old, many-years, lasting for more than a hundred years, ethnic conflict between Georgians, between Abkhazians (it is a small ethnic group, it numbers a mere 200 thousand people), between Ossetians, for a hundred years, and more, these conflicts are ethnic. To solve these problems they need not to enter NATO, they should have patience, establish dialog with small ethnic groups. And we have been trying to help them, besides, to help Georgia restore its territorial integrity. And even despite the decisions on Kosovo, we will not recognize the independence of these quasi-public formations, though they have been calling on us since long ago, for decades already. We have been very responsible, very weighted, and call on you to be careful as well.


But in Ukraine, one third are ethnic Russians. Out of forty-five million people, in line with the official census, seventeen million are Russians. There are regions, where only the Russian population lives, for instance, in the Crimea 90% are Russians. Generally speaking, Ukraine is a very complicated state. Ukraine, in the form it currently exists, was created in the Soviet times, it received its territories from Poland—after the Second World [W]ar, from Czechoslovakia, from Romania—and at present not all the problems have been solved as yet in the border region with Romania in the Black Sea. Then, it received huge territories from Russia in the east and south of the country. It is a complicated state formation. If we introduce into it NATO problems, other problems, it may put the state on the verge of its existence. Complicated internal political problems are taking place there. We should act also very, very carefully. We do not have any right to veto … But I want that all of us, when deciding such issues, realize that we have there our interests as well. Well, seventeen million Russians currently live in Ukraine. Who may state that we do not have any interests there? … The Crimea was merely received by Ukraine with the decision of the KPSS [Communist Party of the Soviet Union] Political Bureau. There were not even any state procedures on transferring this territory. We have been calm and responsible about these problems. We are not trying to provoke anything, we have been acting very carefully, but we ask our partners to act reasonably as well.63 On Russia’s relations with NATO, Putin was very clear at the press conference that he gave after the meeting: We view the appearance of a powerful military bloc on our borders, a bloc whose members are subject in part to Article 5 of the Washington [North Atlantic Alliance] Treaty, as a direct threat to the security of our country. The claim that this process is not directed against Russia will not suffice. National security is not based on promises. And the statements made prior to the bloc’s previous waves of expansion simply confirm this. The lack of clarity concerning the prospects for NATO’s transformation makes it hard to build trust. By this I mean the Alliance’s aspirations to play a global role in the area of security, moving beyond the zone of its geographical responsibilities and extending its activities into areas such as energy security, cyber security, etc. In addition, the criteria


for the use of military force by NATO remain unclear, as does its relationship with the United Nations Security Council.64 A few days after the Bucharest summit, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty published on its website an insightful and premonitory analysis titled “Russia Prepares for Lengthy Battle Over Ukraine”, which explained the following: Russia’s pro-Kremlin mass media lauded the recent NATO decision in Bucharest to delay issuing MAPs to Ukraine and Georgia, hailing it as a victory for departing President Vladimir Putin. However, many serious pundits in Russia have been less smug. They appear to regard the objections formulated by Germany and France as temporary obstacles and think that NATO remains bent on including Kyiv and Tbilisi around its table. Ukraine is of particular concern, because, as the emerging neonationalist ideology in Russia argues, without that country, Moscow cannot restore its status as “the center of power in Eurasia” … In refusing MAPs for Ukraine and Georgia, NATO explained that the step is unwarranted because of “unfavorable public opinion [in the two countries] and unresolved ethnic conflicts.” Since Moscow feels [NATO] can do little to turn the current tide of public opinion in Ukraine, policy analysts are looking at the second issue. The Kremlin has successfully manipulated “unresolved ethnic conflicts” in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Kosovo to advance its geopolitical interests. In a March 31 article in “Izvestia,” Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who is a leader of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, urged Moscow not to extend its treaty of friendship, cooperation, and partnership with Ukraine. That document expires on April 1, 2009. The 1999 treaty establishes the border status of the Crimean Peninsula and the right of Russian Black Sea Fleet to use its base at Sevastopol. Luzhkov argued that withdrawing from the treaty would allow Russia to reopen its territorial claims on Crimea, which has an ethnic-Russian majority and was part of the Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic (RSFSR) during the Soviet period … On April 7, Kommersant reported that Putin had questioned Ukraine’s right to exist during a closed-door Russia–NATO Council meeting in Bucharest. Citing an unidentified NATO source, the daily said Putin told his counterparts that in order to prevent Ukraine from joining the alliance, Russia was prepared to claim the eastern and southern parts of the


country. “Ukraine will cease its existence as a state,” Putin purportedly said.65 Putin believed that Ukraine was safe, at least for a while, since a major part of its population was reluctant to join NATO. But this was not the case in Georgia. In March, ahead of the Bucharest summit and in a countermove to the US administration’s determination to bring Georgia into the Alliance, Russia had decided to lift the ban on official trade, economic, financial, transport and other links with Abkhazia that had been instituted in 1996 by decision of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)—the intergovernmental organization that was created as a rump successor to the USSR and was intended to involve, along with Russia, all former Soviet republics of Central Asia and the South Caucasus. The 1996 ban was meant to reassure the former Soviet republics against an explosion of secessionist attempts. Moscow got rid of it in March 2008 and decided to develop its ties with both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the other secessionist republic within Georgia’s inherited borders, while calling on other CIS member-states to do the same. Military tension started to increase after the Bucharest summit, Georgia accusing Russia of military interference in Abkhazia. In August, reacting to a Georgian attack on South Ossetia in response to what was later believed to be a deliberate provocation, Russia’s armed forces launched a land, air and sea offensive on Georgia, taking over Abkhazia and South Ossetia and some adjacent territory, thus enabling “ethnic cleansing” of Georgians by the separatists. Here is how Moscow-based Russian military expert Pavel Felgenhauer assessed the sequence of events: Moscow declared that it was forced to go to battle by the initial Georgian attack in South Ossetia. But there is sufficient evidence that this massive invasion was preplanned beforehand for August. The swiftness with which large Russian contingents were moved into Georgia, the rapid deployment of a Black Sea naval task force, the fact that large contingents of troops were sent to Abkhazia where there was no Georgian attack, all seem to indicate a rigidly prepared battle plan … It seems the main drive of the Russian invasion was Georgia’s aspiration to join NATO, while the separatist problem was only a pretext. Georgia occupies a key geopolitical position, and Moscow is afraid that if Georgia joins NATO, Russia will be flushed out of Transcaucasia. The


NATO summit in Bucharest … seems to have prompted a decision to go to war.66 On 26 August, against the background of a “well-orchestrated surge of nationalistic pride” in Russia, with media “full of brutal abuse, aimed at opponents of the invasion” and of the “display of Cold War rhetoric”, Moscow officially recognized the independence of the two secessionist republics, prompting Georgia to cut its diplomatic relations with Russia and quit the CIS.67 Russia’s move into Georgia’s internationally recognized territory rendered impossible the country’s accession to NATO, lest the Alliance enter a state of war with Russia. A few days later, the Russian ministry of defense announced that it would be conducting joint military exercises with Venezuela in November, involving Russia’s most powerful warship, a nuclear cruiser. No one could possibly miss the meaning of this gesticulation, intended as a symbolic response to US military deployment in Russia’s near-abroad. In September, Russia initiated the misnamed “Stability 2008”, a monthlong strategic military exercise comprising the deployment of troops, including Belarussian troops, on both ends of Russia’s territory; naval maneuvers in the North Sea, the Atlantic, the Baltic Sea and the Pacific; the involvement of the full spectrum of Russia’s air force—including strategic bombers, two of which were deployed to Venezuela as part of the exercise—and of Russia’s nuclear force. “The composition of the forces and ministries … involved in the exercise does not leave any doubt—it’s a scenario of a nuclear war in which Russia and its ally Belarus … face the United States and NATO”, commented Felgenhauer.68 Russia’s relations with the United States, which, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, had taken an apparently collaborative turn during the early years of George W. Bush’s presidency, became very tense indeed in 2008, the final year of the same presidency. Russia’s moves in that year could also be construed as preemptive against the possible victory in the US presidential election of Republican Russia hawk John McCain. On 5 November 2008, the day after the election, Barack Obama having been proclaimed the winner against the background of the massive economic crisis that hit the United States and the rest of the world in that year, Putin’s presidential stand-in Medvedev delivered his first annual address to the Federal Assembly, during which he proposed to extend the presidential term to six


years so that Putin could stay longer at the wheel when back at the end of Medvedev’s four-year interim presidency. In that speech, Putin’s stand-in announced a set of countermeasures in retaliation to one of the main bones of contention between Russia and the outgoing Bush administration: the US deployment of anti-missile systems on the territory of NATO’s new East European member-states, Poland and the Czech Republic: [W]e have had to face in recent years … the construction of a global missile defense system, the installation of military bases around Russia, the unbridled expansion of NATO and other similar “presents” for Russia—we therefore have every reason to believe that they are simply testing our strength … Therefore I will now announce some of the measures that will be taken … to effectively counter the persistent and consistent attempts of the current American administration to install new elements of a global missile defense system in Europe. [W]e had planned to decommission three missile regiments of a [nuclear] missile division deployed in Kozelsk from combat readiness and to disband the division by 2010. I have decided to abstain from these plans. Nothing will disband. Moreover, we will deploy the [nuclearcapable] Iskander missile system in the Kaliningrad Region [which borders NATO members Poland and Lithuania] to be able, if necessary, to neutralize the missile defense system. Naturally, we envisage using the resources of the Russian Navy for these purposes as well. And finally, electronic jamming of the new installations of the US missile defense system will be carried out from the territory of the same westernmost region, that is from Kaliningrad. I want to emphasize that we have been forced to take these measures. We have repeatedly told our partners that we want to engage in positive cooperation. We want to act against common threats and to work together. But unfortunately, very unfortunately, they did not want to listen to us.69 In a speech to Russia’s Defense Ministry Board on 17 March 2009, Medvedev further upped the ante. He announced the decision to improve the “combat readiness” of Russia’s forces, “not just regular improvement but a quantum leap, most importantly in our strategic nuclear forces”, with a “large-scale rearmament of the army and navy”.70


Barack Obama, who was proud of having opposed his Republican predecessor’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003, pursued a significantly different foreign policy in some respects. In April 2009, a few days after Medvedev’s escalatory announcement, he promised a “fresh start” in US– Russian relations, which he later upgraded to “reset”. He visited Moscow in July, where, at the New Economic School on 7 July, he delivered what sounded like a “peace and love” speech. The new US president proclaimed that “America wants a strong, peaceful, and prosperous Russia”, and told his audience: “I know Russia opposes the planned configuration for missile defense in Europe. My administration is reviewing these plans to enhance the security of America, Europe and the world.”71 Eight months into his own presidency, in September 2009, Obama scrapped the Bush administration’s plan to deploy antimissile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. In return, Medvedev renounced the idea of deploying missiles in the Kaliningrad enclave. That move won Obama the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2009. He carried on the year after by agreeing with Medvedev on a New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which both presidents signed in April 2010. The New START treaty called for halving the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers and significantly lowering the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads, as well as of deployed and non-deployed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launchers, submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launchers and strategic nuclear-capable bombers. The first two years of Obama’s presidency were truly years of détente in the New Cold War between Washington and Moscow. The European Union inaugurated in 2009 its Eastern Partnership program with six East European states, including Ukraine—whose prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko strongly supported her country’s integration into the EU and opposed its membership in the Russia-dominated Customs Union along with Belarus and Kazakhstan. Leigh Turner, then British ambassador to Kyiv, was surprised on a visit to Moscow by how “relaxed” his Russian interlocutors were about the matter. “I called on the head of Russia’s Ukraine department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and asked him if Russia minded Ukraine getting closer to the EU. ‘Not at all,’ he told me. ‘Of course we would rather they joined our Customs Union, but it’s up to them.’”72


In June 2010, Ukraine’s parliament approved a bill submitted by the country’s new president, Viktor Yanukovych, elected in February, committing the country to a non-bloc policy, thus excluding any participation in politico-military alliances. It kept open, however, the prospect of joining the European Union. The country could have settled on this compromise, aiming at obtaining EU membership combined with a neutrality status similar to that of EU member states Austria, Finland, Ireland and Sweden. “What changed everything were events in Russia itself ”, says Turner. “In 2011–2013, large-scale pro-democracy demonstrations took place in Moscow and other cities: the so-called ‘Bolotnaya protests’. It was these protests that convinced President Putin he faced a real threat from democracy washing over from a successful, democratic Ukraine.”73

Act IV, 2011–2014 (Crescendo di Nuovo Fino a Fortissimo)

Bolotnaya is the Russian equivalent of Cairo’s Tahrir Square—a symbol of mass protest. The 2011–13 protests were held against flawed elections and a lack of democracy in Russia, and mainly took place in Moscow and St Petersburg. They were indeed seen as part of the global shockwave triggered by the Arab Spring. The latter had started in Tunisia in December 2010, and had been considerably amplified at the regional level by the “25 January Revolution” that followed in Egypt, inspiring a wave of protest movements that occupied public squares in various parts of the world. Vladimir Putin himself became the main target of the protestors upon his return to the presidency in May 2012. Sergei Medvedev concurs with the opinion that this period was a watershed in Russia’s autocratic and aggressive imperialist evolution: This was the time when we saw the repression of the people’s protests which had occurred in the winter of 2011–12, the passing of dreadful repressive laws (such as banning foreigners from adopting Russian children, or the outlawing of “homosexual propaganda”), the annexation of Crimea, wars in Ukraine and Syria and the waging of an undeclared “hybrid war” against the West. In short, the portal into the past opened up, and the political arena was taken over by the dinosaurs of autocracy and imperialism.74


The Kremlin’s suspicion that the United States and its Western allies were fomenting worldwide subversion in the name of democracy reached its peak. The complaints of Arab regimes—including members of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt, an old ally of Washington—against the purported role of Western-sponsored human rights NGOs in inciting protests in their countries was music to Moscow’s ears. The Obama administration’s support for what it called “orderly transition” toward democracy in the Arab region75—the only possible stance for a president who, in June 2009, had delivered in Cairo a resounding eulogy to freedom intended to be one of the defining speeches of his presidential program— aggravated Moscow’s wariness. And yet, Dmitry Medvedev had maintained his honeymoon with Barack Obama in the vote at the UN Security Council in March 2011 on the resolution authorizing the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya, and the use of “all necessary measures … to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack … including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”.76 Both Moscow and Beijing abstained on this resolution despite its obvious flaws, upon which this author commented at the time: Although the purpose of any action is supposed to be the protection of civilians, and not “regime change”, the determination of whether an action meets this purpose or not is left up to the intervening powers and not to the uprising, or even the Security Council. The resolution is amazingly confused. But given the urgency of preventing the massacre that would have inevitably resulted from an assault on Benghazi by Gaddafi’s forces, and the absence of any alternative means of achieving the protection goal [o]ne can understand the abstentions; some of the five states who abstained in the UNSC vote wanted to express their defiance and/or unhappiness with the lack of adequate oversight, but without taking the responsibility for an impending massacre.77 Russia and China were deeply disappointed by the turn of events. With Washington “leading from behind”, according to what came to be the catchphrase describing Obama’s approach, NATO very soon trespassed beyond the UNSC mandate into brazen intervention in the civil war, attempting to impose its agenda on the Libyan insurgency.78 The war eventually ended with the collapse of the Libyan regime and the killing of


its leader, Muammar al-Gaddafi. This was inevitably seen from Moscow as a new instance of “regime change”, even though the situation on the ground largely escaped control by Washington and its NATO allies, who would have certainly preferred an “orderly transition” in that hydrocarbon-rich country—preferably one that would have involved Gaddafi’s Western-friendly son Seif al-Islam. This new experience of NATO’s unilateralism and infringement of international law was frustrating for Moscow. Along with the prodemocracy protests in Russia itself, it determined Vladimir Putin to shift away from the course of détente upon which his surrogate Medvedev had engaged. Two countries bore the brunt of his increased irritation: Ukraine and Syria. But this was not before Putin had become convinced that he had little need to worry about Washington’s reaction. The litmus test in that regard was Obama’s climb-down regarding his famous warning to the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad in August 2012 that its use of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war would be considered by Washington as crossing a “red line”. One year later, on 21 August 2013, the Assad regime, Russia’s only client regime in the Middle East, did perpetrate a chemical attack on two opposition-held areas in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. Instead of striking at once along with the French, who were willing, and thus delivering on his warning, Obama dragged his feet while British Prime Minister David Cameron, burdened by the legacy of his predecessor Tony Blair’s disastrous participation in George W. Bush’s foolish invasion of Iraq, submitted his participation in the strike for parliamentary approval— which he failed to secure. Obama then decided to seek authorization from the US Congress. But, sensing that he might not receive it, he had his secretary of state, John Kerry, suggest to Moscow publicly, albeit indirectly, that the administration would be satisfied with a deal whereby Damascus would relinquish its chemical arsenal and turn it over to “the international community”. Moscow immediately seized upon this suggestion. So did the Assad regime, which could have been very seriously impacted by a strike given the low morale among its troops at that point—the very factor that had led it to resort to chemical weapons in the first place.79 For Vladimir Putin, this was no doubt a blatant confirmation of the fact that the United States was affected anew by the so-called Vietnam


Syndrome, which had prevented it from engaging in massive military interventions abroad for seventeen years between its withdrawal from Vietnam in 1973 and its build-up against Iraq in 1990.80 Obama was the embodiment of that so-called syndrome’s renewal, caused by massive US failure in Iraq—the second major failure of a post–Second World War imperialist expedition by the United States after Vietnam. This trend was confirmed in subsequent years by Donald Trump’s accession to the US presidency, with his quasi-isolationist stance, and by the embarrassingly botched withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan under Joe Biden. Starting with Obama, the United States has mostly resorted to cowardly remote warfare, mostly waged under the radar.81 Putin could only be emboldened by Obama’s attitude toward Syria. He seized the opportunity to act upon Ukraine, about which he had developed a deep obsession. In July 2013 he had made a highly symbolic visit to Kyiv, seizing the opportunity of the 1025th anniversary of the Orthodox Christianization of Kyivan Rus in the year 988 under Vladimir the Great, who had brought under his rule a vast realm comprising modern-day Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, and stretching to the Baltic Sea. Vladimir Putin was seized with delusions of grandeur, apparently desiring to enter history as a second Vladimir the Great, reconstituting the realm that his namesake had conquered a millennium before. Putin even had a seventeen-meter-high monument to his role model erected in central Moscow, close to the Kremlin—the first in Russia since the Soviet era. The monument was inaugurated on 4 November 2016— Unity Day, which commemorates the liberation of Moscow from Polish occupiers in 1612. This event had been celebrated every year until the end of Tsarism, when it was replaced with the commemoration of the Russian Revolution on 7 November. In 2005, Putin abolished the latter and reinstated the Tsarist holiday instead. The speech he delivered at the opening ceremony of the impressive monument to his illustrious predecessor is quite revealing of his ambition: Prince Vladimir went down in history as a unifier and defender of Russian lands, and a far-sighted politician who created the foundations of a strong, unified, centralized state, which eventually united different peoples, languages, cultures and religions into one big family … And our


duty today is … to preserve the continuity of our thousand-year history as we move forward.82 During his visit to Kyiv in July 2013, Putin took part in a conference tellingly titled “Orthodox-Slavic Values: The Foundation of Ukraine’s Civilizational Choice”, at which he gave a speech showing that his taste for historical reconstructions long predated the famous article on Ukraine that he would publish in July 2021. The three main themes of Putin’s speech in Kyiv were that Ukraine belonged to the same civilizational sphere as Russia, that it had benefited from belonging to the USSR to the point of having been privileged over Russia itself, and that it would benefit from reintegration with Russia: I am sure that most of you realize that only by joining forces can we be competitive and stand a chance of winning in this tough environment … As you know, there are various integration processes underway now in the post-Soviet area. Much has already been said about the depth and benefits of this integration, and I won’t repeat this now. We will respect whatever choice the Ukrainian government and people make on the depth of Ukraine’s engagement in these processes in the post-Soviet area.83 The insincerity of Putin’s respect for Ukrainians’ choice manifested itself in the pressure combining carrot (loans and cheaper natural gas) and stick (economic threats, and probably other types of threat84) that he exerted at the same time on Ukraine’s president Viktor Yanukovych to prevent him from concluding a EU–Ukraine Association Agreement, scheduled to be signed in November 2013. The Agreement included a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, and constituted a major step toward Ukraine’s accession to the EU. One week before it was due to be signed, Yanukovych cancelled the plan, while displaying openness to join the Russia-dominated Customs Union—which was enlarged in 2014 to include Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, and became the Eurasian Economic Union. Putin’s opposition to Ukraine’s European choice—belying the public performance of respect for the country’s right to choose in his Kyiv speech —sharply contrasted with the benevolence toward the same issue that former UK ambassador to Ukraine, Leigh Turner had noticed in Moscow in 2009, as quoted above. The reason was certainly not primarily economic, but political. For all the reasons explained so far, the prospect of


Ukraine joining the EU had simply become intolerable to Putin, who was now confronted with the rise of the pro-democracy movement in Russia itself. The cancellation of Ukraine’s EU association agreement triggered mass protests that would gain momentum, until deadly clashes with Ukraine’s repressive forces in January–February 2014 ignited what became known as the Maidan Revolution, named after the Independence Square in Kyiv.85 Deposed by the parliament on 22 February, Yanukovych was exfiltrated to Moscow by Russia. In Putin’s eyes, the Maidan Revolution was merely a pro-Western coup against Russian interests. Despite Moscow’s visible hand in Ukraine—or perhaps because of its heavy-handed behavior there—it was about to see its neighbor resume its EU accession process, and probably reconsider its neutral stance and apply anew to join NATO. Putin could not tolerate such an affront. “Little green men”—in other words, masked soldiers wearing unmarked green Russian army uniforms —appeared in Crimea, seizing key strategic positions in the peninsula on 27 February. In a press conference he gave at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence, near Moscow, on 4 March, the Russian president affected to be candid as he usually does. What had happened in Kyiv was nothing but “an anti-constitutional takeover, an armed seizure of power”—even though it was the result of a “revolutionary situation” that had “been brewing for a long time”.86 Putin took the routine line of every authoritarian ruler who tries to dismiss the possibility that a revolt in a nearby country might spread to his own, by emphasizing that the conditions he presides over are much better. Recognizing that there were social causes behind the uprising in Ukraine, he insisted: “Corruption has reached dimensions that are unheard of here in Russia. Accumulation of wealth and social stratification—problems that are also acute in this country—are much worse in Ukraine, radically worse.” He almost sounded supportive of the popular revolt, save for its anti-constitutional turn: “I understand the people on Maidan who are calling for radical change rather than some cosmetic remodeling of power. Why are they demanding this? Because they have grown used to seeing one set of thieves being replaced by another.” He denied that Russia was intervening militarily in Ukraine, including Crimea, while stressing its right to intervene: “we have a direct appeal


from the incumbent and, as I said, legitimate President of Ukraine, Mr Yanukovych, asking us to use the Armed Forces to protect the lives, freedom and health of the citizens of Ukraine”. In a foretaste of what would later become an outright characterization of the Ukrainian regime itself as “Nazi”, he described the rationale for the hitherto unacknowledged intervention of Russian forces as a reaction to “the rampage of reactionary forces, nationalist and anti-Semitic forces going on in certain parts of Ukraine, including Kiev”. He presaged Russia’s intervention in support for “the Russian-speaking population in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine”. If the situation in these regions deteriorated and “if the people ask us for help, while we already have the official request from the legitimate President, we retain the right to use all available means to protect those people”: I would like to stress yet again that if we do make the decision, if I do decide to use the Armed Forces, this will be a legitimate decision in full compliance with both general norms of international law, since we have the appeal of the legitimate President, and with our commitments, which in this case coincide with our interests to protect the people with whom we have close historical, cultural and economic ties. Protecting these people is in our national interests. This is a humanitarian mission. Putin made deliberate use of the “humanitarian” pretext so often invoked by the United States in the wars it had waged since the end of the Cold War. But he no doubt knew that it was as fake a claim as that of legitimacy. Hence his shrewd and certainly well-founded insistence that, in any event, Moscow was not violating international law any more than Washington had: We are often told our actions are illegitimate, but when I ask, “Do you think everything you do is legitimate?” they say “yes”. Then, I have to recall the actions of the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, where they either acted without any UN [approval] or completely distorted the content of such resolutions, as was the case with Libya. There, as you may know, the resolution only spoke of closing the airspace for government aircraft, while it all ended with bomb attacks and special forces land operations. Asked if Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine would violate the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, under which Russia, the US and the UK had given a formal assurance against any use of military or economic


coercion against Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine in exchange for their pledge to give up the nuclear weapons stationed on their territories, Putin replied that, since the events in Kyiv have been described as a “revolution”, “a new state is now emerging in this territory … just like what happened when the Russian Empire collapsed after the 1917 revolution and a new state emerged. And this would be a new state with which we have signed no binding agreements.” Asked about the future of Crimea and the possibility of its joining Russia, he replied: Generally, I believe that only residents of a given country who have the freedom of will and are in complete safety can and should determine their future. If this right was granted to the Albanians in Kosovo, if this was made possible in many different parts of the world, then nobody has ruled out the right of nations to self-determination … I would like to stress that I believe only the people living in a given territory have the right to determine their own future. Thus, Putin once again indicated that he felt free to act on the international scene in pursuance of what he deemed Russia’s interests, since Western powers had repeatedly shown him that, for them, might was right, and that their opposition to other powers’ actions in the name of right was therefore simply a blatant case of double standards. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Kosovo are all instances of unilateral Western actions that he would always refer to when asked about Russia’s own unilateralism. He was certainly on firm ground in drawing the comparison, even though two wrongs do not make a right. On 16 March, a referendum was held in Crimea indicating that close to 97 percent, out of a voter turnout of 83 percent of the peninsula’s electorate, had approved “the reunification of Crimea with Russia as part of the Russian Federation”. These figures, especially the turnout, were strongly contested—all the more so since the referendum had taken place under de facto Russian occupation and in the absence of independent observers. And yet, the matter remains open to debate, considering that Crimea had been detached from Russia and annexed to Ukraine by the Soviet authorities in 1954 without its population being consulted, while strong separatist or autonomist aspirations had manifested themselves in the peninsula since the fall of the USSR.87


The principle of the peoples’ right to self-determination—originally the inspiration for the drafting of the USSR’s constitution in 1923, though it was not truly respected by its government88—should have been the cornerstone of the states’ recomposition after the Soviet Union’s fall. Present-day Russia, however, is definitely not in a position to invoke this right in justifying its interventions in Georgia and Ukraine when it has not shown the slightest respect for it within its own borders—most brazenly in the case of Chechnya. And yet, it is to this right that Putin referred on 18 March, in his address to both chambers of the Russian parliament, submitting for their approval the addition to the Russian Federation of the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.89 Crimea was exercising its right to self-determination, Putin explained, in the same way that Ukraine had in seceding from the USSR, and that Kosovo had in seceding from Serbia. It was not difficult for the Russian president to direct at the United States its own argument regarding Kosovo. Against the contention that the Crimean referendum was carried out in violation of international law, he triumphantly quoted a 2009 US statement to the UN International Court of Justice in connection with the hearings on Kosovo: “It is certainly the case that declarations of independence may—and in their nature often do—violate domestic law. However, that does not mean that there has been a violation of international law.”90 The address included once again a long historical narration, in a pattern revealing Putin’s obsession with the reconstitution of Russia’s past grandeur, developing themes similar to those that he would articulate in 2021–22: After the revolution, the Bolsheviks, for a number of reasons—may God judge them—added large sections of the historical South of Russia to the Republic of Ukraine. This was done with no consideration for the ethnic make-up of the population, and today these areas form the southeast of Ukraine. Then, in 1954, a decision was made to transfer [the] Crimean Region to Ukraine, along with Sevastopol, despite the fact that it was a federal city. This was the personal initiative of the Communist Party head Nikita Khrushchev … Naturally, in a totalitarian state nobody bothered to ask the citizens of Crimea and Sevastopol. They were faced with the fact. People, of course,


wondered why, all of a sudden, Crimea became part of Ukraine. But on the whole—and we must state this clearly, we all know it—this decision was treated as a formality of sorts because the territory was transferred within the boundaries of a single state … Many people both in Russia and in Ukraine, as well as in other republics hoped that the Commonwealth of Independent States would become the new common form of statehood. [H]owever, all this remained empty promises, while the big country was gone. It was only when Crimea ended up as part of a different country that Russia realized that it was not simply robbed, it was plundered. When “nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites” executed the “coup” in Ukraine, “the residents of Crimea and Sevastopol turned to Russia for help in defending their rights and lives”. Putin’s March 2014 speech was the toughest of Putin’s anti-Western statements up to that date, listing his grievances in particularly crude terms: Our western partners, led by the United States of America, prefer not to be guided by international law in their practical policies, but by the rule of the gun. They have come to believe in their exclusivity and exceptionalism, that they can decide the destinies of the world, that only they can ever be right. They act as they please: here and there, they use force against sovereign states, building coalitions based on the principle “If you are not with us, you are against us.” To make this aggression look legitimate, they force the necessary resolutions from international organizations, and if for some reason this does not work, they simply ignore the UN Security Council and the UN overall. This was followed with the usual list of cases illustrating the statement. Then Putin offered his view of the democratic uprisings, the “color revolutions” as well as the 2011 Arab Spring, as basically “controlled” by the West. “Standards were imposed on these nations that did not in any way correspond to their way of life, traditions, or these peoples’ cultures. As a result, instead of democracy and freedom, there was chaos, outbreaks [of] violence and a series of upheavals.” Western actions in Ukraine were “aimed against Ukraine and Russia and against Eurasian integration”. Western leaders “have lied to us many times, made decisions behind our backs, placed us before an accomplished fact. This happened with NATO’s expansion to the East, as well as the deployment of military infrastructure at our borders.”


[W]e have already heard declarations from Kiev about Ukraine soon joining NATO. What would this have meant for Crimea and Sevastopol in the future? It would have meant that NATO’s navy would be right there in this city of Russia’s military glory, and this would create not an illusory but a perfectly real threat to the whole of southern Russia … NATO remains a military alliance, and we are against having a military alliance making itself at home right in our backyard or in our historic territory … [T]here is a limit to everything. And with Ukraine, our western partners have crossed the line … acting irresponsibly and unprofessionally … Today, it is imperative to end this hysteria, to refute the rhetoric of the Cold War and to accept the obvious fact: Russia is an independent, active participant in international affairs; like other countries, it has its own national interests that need to be taken into account and respected. Western reaction to Russia’s annexation of Crimea—strong verbal condemnation along with a range of economic sanctions, rather limited if compared with those that would follow in 2022, while maintaining relations with Moscow—was robust enough to confirm Putin’s mix of legitimate and paranoid fears, but not enough to deter him from taking further steps dictated by those fears and his Great-Russian vision. He certainly encouraged the pro-Russian groups in Eastern Ukraine to rise up against Kyiv, starting from the time of the Maidan Revolution. But the even stronger anti-Russian backlash in most of Ukraine that— understandably, but not justifiably—resulted from the annexation of Crimea was also likely, by itself, to arouse counter-reactions among proRussian Russophones, especially in the Donbas region of south-eastern Ukraine, where there is a concentration of them for historical-geographic reasons. In April, the pro-Russian separatists proclaimed a “People’s Republic” in each of the oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk, the two main parts of the Donbas. They were backed politically as well as militarily by Moscow in the armed clashes that ensued. And yet, in June, Putin was praising the ceasefire proclaimed by Ukraine’s new president, Petro Poroshenko, who had been elected in May in the wake of the Maidan uprising. The Russian president wished that it would lead to a dialogue between all parties that would result in a solution “acceptable to all sides” so that “people in southeast Ukraine have no doubt that they are an integral part of the


country, have the same rights as all other citizens, and know that these rights are guaranteed, including by Ukraine’s constitution”.91 In August, however, while the fighting in the Donbas continued, Putin qualitatively stepped up Russia’s military involvement while claiming to effectuate a “humanitarian” intervention in Novorossiya (“New Russia”), the eighteenth-century Russian colonial designation of the south-eastern part of Ukraine, from the Donbas to Odessa.92 Russia’s intervention in Ukraine involved the first deployment on record of the Wagner Group, the formally “private” military company founded by Soviet-era jailed criminal Yevgeny Prigozhin, who had become one of the most prominent of Russia’s “oligarchs”, and one of the closest to Vladimir Putin.93 On 3 September, the “Putin plan” for stopping the conflict no longer contemplated the reintegration of Donetsk and Luhansk into Ukraine, but was all about separating the two parties to the conflict.94 Two days later, the first Minsk agreement was signed after mediation by France and Germany, which, with Russia and Ukraine, made up a quartet that would be named after French Normandy, where it had held its first meeting. Russia’s military involvement in the Donbas escalated in November, subsiding only after the second Minsk agreement had been concluded, in February 2015. It included a plan for solving the crisis on the basis of “decentralization”, which could satisfy neither the separatists nor Putin, who publicly advocated a federal solution. In October 2014, Putin delivered another of the blunt talks that had become his trademark since his 2007 Munich speech. Answering questions in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi at a meeting of the Valdai Club—the Russian president’s tailor-made debate forum used as a platform to convey his views to international audiences through the participation of guest politicians, journalists and intellectuals from various countries—he reiterated his critique of the post–Cold War reset of international relations. It is a critique that, in truth, is legitimate and wellfounded, as this book has shown: What we needed to do was to carry out a rational reconstruction and adapt it to the new realities in the system of international relations. But the United States, having declared itself the winner of the Cold War, saw no need for this. Instead of establishing a new balance of power, essential for


maintaining order and stability, they took steps that threw the system into sharp and deep imbalance. The Cold War ended, but it did not end with the signing of a peace treaty with clear and transparent agreements on respecting existing rules or creating new rules and standards. This created the impression that the so-called “victors” in the Cold War had decided to pressure events and reshape the world to suit their own needs and interests … In essence, what was being proposed was the formula: the greater the loyalty towards the world’s sole power center, the greater this or that ruling regime’s legitimacy.95 After sharply criticizing Washington for having destabilized the states of Syria, Iraq and Egypt (not without praising in passing Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi for his “determination and wisdom”), Putin went on to point out Washington’s need to construct a bogeyman in order to justify its suzerainty over its vassal states: Today, we are seeing new efforts to fragment the world, draw new dividing lines, put together coalitions not built for something but directed against someone, anyone, create the image of an enemy as was the case during the Cold War years, and obtain the right to this leadership, or diktat if you wish … The United States always told its allies: “We have a common enemy, a terrible foe, the center of evil, and we are defending you, our allies, from this foe, and so we have the right to order you around, force you to sacrifice your political and economic interests and pay your share of the costs for this collective defense, but we will be the ones in charge of it all of course.” In short, we see today attempts in a new and changing world to reproduce the familiar models of global management, and all this so as to guarantee their exceptional position and reap political and economic dividends. Against this, Putin upheld the need for a rules-based international order in which collective institutions such as the UN and the OSCE would play a central role. He then addressed the issue of Ukraine, clearly acknowledging that what had prompted his intervention was not primarily the hypothetical prospect of the country’s accession to NATO, but the real prospect of its association with the EU, which he described as “hasty backstage decisions … fraught with serious risks to the economy”. Why so? “Because in implementing Ukraine’s association project, our partners


would come to us with their goods and services through the back gate, so to speak, and we did not agree to this, nobody asked us about this.” Putin revealed his frustration and sense of having been humiliated. He had wished to hold talks about a possible reconciliation of Ukraine’s links with both the European and Eurasian Unions, but: “Nobody wanted to listen to us and nobody wanted to talk. They simply told us: this is none of your business …” That was the sole explanation he gave for his hostile attitude toward Ukraine, aside from the usual justification of the annexation of Crimea in the name of the right to self-determination while invoking Kosovo. Putin was even frank enough to recognize that the Minsk agreement was not implemented by either of the two Ukrainian sides: “neither is the Ukrainian army withdrawing from the locations they should leave, nor is the militia army withdrawing from the settlements they have to move out of ”—the latter for understandable “humanitarian” reasons. He then reverted to the historical framing that he had been developing in the years leading up to his military action in Ukraine: not only had Crimea been detached from Russia and annexed to Ukraine in 1954, but the whole south-eastern part of Ukraine had undergone the same process in the wake of the 1917 Russian Revolution: [P]art of the land that you just named … historically always [sic] bore the name of Novorossiya. Why this name? This was because there was essentially a single region with its center at Novorossiysk, and that was how it came to be called Novorossiya. This land included Kharkov, Lugansk, Donetsk, Nikolayev, Kherson and Odessa Region. In 1921–22, when the Soviet Union was formed, this territory was transferred from Russia to Ukraine. The communists had a simple logic: their goal was to increase the share of proletariat in Ukraine so as to ensure they had more support in various political processes, because in the communists’ view, the peasantry was a petty bourgeois group that was hostile to their aims, and so they needed to create a bigger proletariat.96 The Russian president’s increasing adoption of an atavistic GreatRussian-cum-Orthodox discourse was forcefully expressed in relation to Crimea in his presidential address to the Federal Assembly in December 2014. Crimea, he said, “is of strategic importance for Russia as the spiritual source of the development of a multifaceted but solid Russian nation and a


centralized Russian state”. Referring again to Vladimir the Great, he emphasized that it was in Crimea that “Grand Prince Vladimir was baptized before bringing Christianity to Rus”: Christianity was a powerful spiritual unifying force that helped involve various tribes and tribal unions of the vast Eastern Slavic world in the creation of a Russian nation and Russian state. It was thanks to this spiritual unity that our forefathers for the first time and forevermore saw themselves as a united nation. All of this allows us to say that Crimea, the ancient Korsun or Chersonesus, and Sevastopol have invaluable civilizational and even sacral importance for Russia, like the Temple Mount in Jerusalem for the followers of Islam and Judaism. And this is how we will always consider it.97 The year 2014 was a turning point in the build-up of a Great Russian nationalist ideological consensus in Russia—what Sergei Medvedev described as “Ukraine mania”, in terms that shed light on the Russian invasion of Ukraine eight years later: It is now a sort of “Ukraine mania”, a mass psychosis among Russians, brought on by watching propaganda on television. Ukraine has become the mental training ground of the post-Soviet consciousness, where people work up their hate speech, techniques for making an image of “the Other”, and ways for mass mobilization of the population. Such an unhealthy fixation with a neighboring country bears witness to a deep post-imperial trauma. Ukrainians were too close to us, too much like us, for Russia to allow them simply to slip away quietly. For a quarter of a century Ukrainian independence was looked on as some sort of mistake, a bit of a joke … Russians accept Moldovan, Tajik, even Belarusian independence perfectly calmly; but they can’t accept Ukrainian independence.98 This mania went along with whipping up a quasi-paranoid nationalist Weltanschauung in which the whole West was striving to keep Russia down. In his December 2014 presidential address, Putin explained that the sanctions that Western countries had imposed on Russia were “not just a knee-jerk reaction on behalf of the United States or its allies to our position regarding the events and the coup in Ukraine, or even the socalled Crimean Spring”. They were in fact aimed at curtailing Russia’s power:


I’m sure that if these events had never happened … if none of that had ever happened, they would have come up with some other excuse to try to contain Russia’s growing capabilities, affect our country in some way, or even take advantage of it. The policy of containment was not invented yesterday. It has been carried out against our country for many years, always, for decades, if not centuries. In short, whenever someone thinks that Russia has become too strong or independent, these tools are quickly put into use. As for the effectiveness of those sanctions, Putin reiterated to the Federal Assembly a line of argument that he had developed ever since they had been imposed: that they were “of course, damaging, but damaging to everyone, including those who initiate them”, and that they were “an incentive for a more efficient and faster movement towards our goals” of reducing imports and developing national production. On the sanctions targeting Russian “oligarchs”, Putin commented in a candid interview that he gave to the Russian news agency TASS in November 2014: “They proceeded from a false assumption that I have some personal business interests due to ties with the people on the list. And by pinching them, they were a kind of hitting me. This does not absolutely correspond to reality.” He later added in the same interview: “They throw something and say: ‘These are the friends of Putin and they should be punished. They will revolt, and there will be a mutiny aboard.’ There will be nothing like that.”99 Ilya Matveev described the role of bellicose chauvinism in the fluctuation of Putin’s popularity: Putin’s rating, which hit its peak in 2008, consistently fell in the years following. And this drop in approval formed the background to Putin’s revelation that he would run for president again in 2012, which provoked noticeable outrage … In response, the regime activated its conservative, traditionalist and nationalist propaganda. The propaganda campaign brought no direct results, and Putin’s rating continued to decline. The breaking point came only in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea. The effect of “rallying around the flag” returned support for the authorities to the heights of the pre-crisis years, but the economy, under pressure from Putin’s geopolitical adventures, set off in a steep dive.100


The above-quoted interview of Vladimir Putin with TASS, conducted by Andrei Vandenko, is truly amazing. It reveals the extent to which Russia’s autocratic mutation had proceeded since Putin’s open-ended return to the presidency, as well as the intensity of his megalomania. Pointing to Putin’s popularity ratings, “when the level of support exceeds 80 percent after 15 years in power”, the TASS journalist commented: “This is both obvious and incredible.”101 Putin responded, surpassing the pretense of embodying the state attributed to France’s Sun King with a barely veiled pretense of incarnating the country and its people: “I feel like I’m part of Russia. It’s not just love that I feel for it. Anyone can say he loves his Motherland. We all love it but I really feel being part of our people.” Vandenko then described Putin’s rule as absolute in substance, without using the term. Putin protested: “it’s definitely wrong to claim that the President always decides on everything and that everything always depends on him”, prompting the journalist to retort: “I think bewilderment will be short-lived if you declare imposition of a monarchy tomorrow.” Putin contested that the Russians are longing for monarchic rule, so the journalist pushed back again: “It’s not necessary to proclaim monarchic rule. It’s enough for you to move a finger and tomorrow they’ll revive the GULAG or, for example, the cult of personality so that a street named after Vladimir Putin appears in every town.” Vandenko then mentioned a group of people in Yekaterinburg who had demanded to rename a street after Putin, and asked: “And what do you think about it?”: Vladimir Putin: I think people are doing it out of good and fair intentions. Andrei Vandenko: And such intentions will be displayed in any city if you give them a sign with your eyebrows. Vladimir Putin: I see but it’s too early to put up monuments to each other yet. I mean myself.

Act V, 2015–2022 (Ancora Più Forte Fino a Furioso)

Along with Vladimir Putin’s nationalist and warmongering drive naturally went a sharp increase in military spending. According to World Bank Data, whereas Russia’s military expenditure as a percentage of its general government expenditure had remained at little more than 11 percent during Putin’s first two terms (2000–08), even declining to less


than 10 percent in 2007, and exceeding 11 percent again in 2013, it would rise sharply, starting in 2014, to a peak of 14.8 percent in 2016 (Fig. 1), representing 5.4 percent of Russia’s GDP for that year. This went along, in 2014, with a sharp drop in oil and energy prices—and therefore in state revenues, as well as in general government expenditure—caused by the Saudi kingdom’s flooding of the oil market, a move that both Moscow and Tehran interpreted as having been inspired by Washington in order to put pressure on them. The sharp rise of the portion of government expenditure dedicated to military purposes shows how much Moscow was prioritizing it over other items. That part declined again after 2016, due to the resumption of a rise in hydrocarbon prices, along with general government income and expenditure, but it still stood at 11.4 percent (3.8 percent of GDP) in 2019, as against 9.6 percent for the United States (3.4 percent of GDP), 5.2 percent for Britain (2 percent of GDP), 4.9 percent for China (1.7 percent of GDP) and 3.3 percent for France (1.8 percent of GDP).

Figure 1: The Russian Federation’s Military Expenditure as a Share of Government Expenditure, 2000–2020

Source: World Bank Data, from SIPRI. Russian official figures relative to budget are higher: according to Russia’s Finance Ministry, defense expenditure constituted 15.8 percent of total federal budget expenditure in 2013, 23 percent in 2016 and 16.5 percent in 2019.102 This is while Russia’s overall government expenditure


had risen under Putin from 85.3 billion in current US dollars in 2000 to 572.3 billion in 2019, with a peak of 793 billion in 2013, followed by a sharp drop in 2015 and a renewed rise to 572.3 billion in 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic took its toll, imposing increased expenditure against dwindling income.103 During those years, Russia’s GDP rose from a low of 260 billion in current US dollars in 2000, before oil prices started picking up again, to a peak of 2.29 trillion in 2013, after oil prices had been at a high level for two years, falling to 1.69 trillion in 2019 (4.4 trillion in current PPP international dollars).104 Hydrocarbons constitute by far Russia’s main export and the main source of its government revenues, rendering it a typical rentier state. Their contribution to total federal budget revenues of course varies with hydrocarbon prices, but they remain very important at all times: accounting for over 50 percent of revenues in 2012–14, their share dropped to 36 percent in 2016, rising again to 46.3 in 2018 and down again to 39.2 in 2019.105 In 2019, the total value of Russia’s hydrocarbon exports stood at $224 billion (crude petroleum: $123 billion, refined petroleum: $73.9 billion, and gas: $27.2 billion).106 The exports of Russia’s other key state-controlled sector, the military– industrial complex, are less transparent. According to official figures, Russia’s arms exports have steadily increased from $3.7 billion in 2000 to over $15 billion in 2012, fluctuating thereafter between $15 and $16 billion per year until 2019 (with a little drop to $14.5 billion in 2015).107 However, these figures are likely to be restricted to military hardware exports, defined narrowly. We can get a sense of what a broader definition would mean by comparing the Russian data with the much more transparent figures of US sales—government and commercial—of military equipment and services, which amount to approximately $170 billion per year.108 Russia is firmly in the position of second-largest arms exporter after the United States: for the decade 2012-21, its total exports were estimated by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) at 59.7 billion TIVs (Trend Indicator Values) against the US’s 98.5 billion, in a ratio of 60.6 percent, indicating that the total value of Russia’s military exports is likely to be significantly higher than the official data.109


Let us now take a closer look at these two crucial strategic sectors of Russia’s state-controlled economy, located at the core of Russian imperialism: the hydrocarbon sector and the military–industrial complex. Nat Moser described the changes brought by Vladimir Putin to the former as follows: Alongside staffing key positions with his connections, Putin also acted to increase the control of the state over the oil sector through renationalisation … Yukos, Sibneft, TNK-BP and Bashneft were all effectively renationalised by being sold to the state oil company Rosneft, or in the case of Sibneft, to the state gas company Gazprom. In 2016, of the original dozen vertically integrated companies, the only two not under state control were Lukoil and Surgut, and the proportion of oil output from state-owned companies increased from a post-Soviet low of 15% in 2004 to 57% by 2016, and was set to increase further with Rosneft’s ambitious plans to expand production. In this way Russia in the period after 2000, by reversing much of the privatisation of the oil industry of the 1990s, re-established itself alongside its counterparts in most other major oil-producing countries in the world where the state controls a majority of a nation’s oil output.110 Having been one of the architects of the sector’s privatization in the 1990s, Anders Åslund could only deplore this renationalization. But he is nevertheless right in observing that it paradoxically contributed to the development of what he now calls “crony capitalism”. “The real aim of state corporations appears to be twofold” writes Åslund. “First, they concentrate political and economic power into the hands of Putin and his trusted friends. Second, the state corporations are also supposed to enrich this circle of friends”.111 Nina Khrushcheva summarizes the way in which Vladimir Putin’s regime was built up, starting from 1999, when—after appointing him to head the reincarnation of the old KGB, the FSB (Federal Security Service) —Boris Yeltsin handed him the premiership, soon to be followed by the presidency, against a Weimar-like backdrop of economic and political collapse: Putin felt threatened by the private moguls who had gained control of [strategic industries, such as oil and gas] during Yeltsin’s chaotic


presidency. So, he put the so-called siloviki—affiliates of the military and security services …—in charge instead … For Putin, strengthening the state’s security organs seemed like insurance against upheavals such as those of 1991, which brought the demise of what he calls “historical Russia”. And Putin takes great pride in the stability of the political system he has built—a process which was undoubtedly helped along by high energy prices and relatively competent management by some siloviki.112 At the same time, the concentration of private wealth reached a very high level in this combination of state capitalism and crony capitalism that has characterized Putin’s Russia. There were only eight US-dollar billionaires in Russia in 2001; in 2014, their number had reached 111. According to Caroline Freund, 63.1 percent of the latter belonged to the category of “Resource-related, privatization-related, or politically connected”, compared to only 9.2 percent of China’s 152 billionaires in that category, and 10.7 percent of India’s 56 in the same year, 2014.113 The wealth share of the top 1 percent of Russia’s population was a staggering 58.2 percent in 2020—the highest among the ten largest economies, followed by Brazil (49.6 percent) and India (40.5 percent).114 Also in 2020, the share of national income earned by the top 10 percent of Russia’s population was 46.6 percent, as against only 16.9 percent for the bottom 50 percent.115 Russia had thus returned to its pre-1917 levels of income inequality, having even exceeded them for a while at the turn of the century! A pattern similar to that of the hydrocarbon sector’s renationalization characterized the formation of what Steven Rosefielde calls Russia’s “new market-powered VPK”—VPK being the Russian equivalent of MIC, the abbreviation of military–industrial complex.116 Russia’s MIC, in Pavel Luzin’s definition, is “a conglomerate of state-owned joint stock corporations and other types of state-owned enterprises interspersed with several formally private companies”, which include over 1,300 entities and employ two to three million, according to various estimates.117 Rosefielde described its formation as follows: Initially, state ownership included some private shareholding participation, but now 100% state proprietorship is more frequently the norm. However, unlike Soviet arrangements, state ownership does not bar


VPK enterprises or public private partnerships (PPP) from competing among each other. Military industrial firms (including holding companies) operate on a for-profit basis. They compete for state orders and export sales (contracts) and can outsource. Shareholders and/or managers are incentivised to profit-seek and incompletely profit-maximise rather than comply with MOD commands and/or rent-seek.118 As a result of this reorganization and what he calls the “great arms modernisation drive” of 2010–15, Rosefielde asserted in 2020 that Russia “has the industrial capacity and will to tilt the military correlation of forces in its favour in contemporary zones of East–West conflict without impoverishing the nation, given the prevailing and foreseeable levels of NATO defence spending”. This is because “Putin’s mixed insider-managed market and Muscovite rent-granting system have changed the game”.119 Luzin does not subscribe to this view. He believes that Russia’s defense industry is “economically ineffective”: “It struggles to work in a market economy and is unable to drive economic growth and technological development. Moreover, defense companies in Russia do not have enough funds or freedom to invest into new technologies, industrial equipment, and products. They always must rely on governmental investment and research and development programs.”120 Russia’s Federal Anti-Monopoly Agency seems to share the critical perspective. Describing what it called “state-monopoly capitalism” in an official report published in 2016, it lamented that “the state is rapidly increasing its presence in the economy. The contribution of the state and state-owned companies to GDP rose to 70% in 2015 from 35% in 2005 …”121 The “anti-monopoly” agency naturally complained about this expansion of the state sector’s share in the economy, advocating further privatizations—an orientation endorsed by Putin’s government. But the impact of Western sanctions worked in the opposite direction, as explained in 2015 by Simeon Djankov, former minister of finance of Bulgaria: After last year’s EU and US sanctions on some sectors of the Russian economy, this share is increasing, as companies and sectors that previously depended on private financing from abroad now resort to financing from state-owned banks, and in case of continued difficulties, their ownership is shifted to the government’s hands. The longer the economic sanctions last,


the more private businesses will be squeezed out and the higher the share of the Russian economy will be converted into state ownership.122 Considerations of competitiveness weigh the least, however, on the two key sectors of Russian imperialism—hydrocarbons and the arms industry. The first has secure markets due to the very nature of the commodities it sells, while the second sector’s most important buyer, by far, is the state, a very secure client. The first sustains the second, as part of the state’s receipts from oil and gas exports serves to fund the arms industry—which is thus addicted to the hydrocarbon rent upon which the Russian economic edifice is based.123 In the context of the New Cold War unleashed at the same time as he reached the pinnacle of political power, a context whose effect was boosted by his own imperial ambition, Putin proved a very reliable client indeed for the arms industry. Russia’s military expenditure rose spectacularly under his rule, peaking at close to $90 billion in 2013 as oil prices and Russia’s oil income reached a peak, and never falling below $60 billion in any year since then (Fig. 2).

Figure 2: The Russian Federation’s Military Expenditure in Current US$, 2000–2020 Source: World Bank Data, from SIPRI. In current US dollars, Russia’s 2020 military expenditure would be less than 8 percent of that of the United States. However, figures calculated based on market exchange rates do not give an accurate idea of each country’s relative military expenditure since wages, including army pay,


and other variable defense input costs are very different between countries. Even conversions to PPP (purchase power parity) dollars do not express the specific cost discrepancies between countries. Australian economist Peter E. Robertson has therefore elaborated a specific “military-PPP exchange rate” for a more accurate picture of the relative expenditure of each country compared with that of the United States.124 According to his calculations for 2017, Russia’s figures were particularly deflated in comparison with the US figures—so much so that, if calculated on the basis of the military-PPP exchange rate, they would in fact amount to 34 percent of those of the United States: more than three times their 11 percent share at market exchange rates for that year. During the debate about the use of force in the Balkans within the Clinton administration in its first years, Madeleine Albright, then US ambassador to the UN, is known to have told a reluctant Colin Powell, then chairman of the joint chiefs: “What are you saving this superb military for, Colin, if we can’t use it?”125 Whatever intention Putin had before his presidential comeback in 2012, it is clear that the intensified military build-up in which he engaged thereafter was not only meant for spectacle during the annual 9-May military parade on Moscow’s Red Square, but primarily intended to be used for the purposes of aggrandizement. While the Russo-Ukrainian war in Donbas went on in low-intensity mode, mostly in the form of skirmishes, Putin found a theater of war more appropriate for a live full-scale demonstration of the firepower that his armed forces had accumulated under his stewardship. Starting from September 2015, Syria would to an extent become Russia’s protracted equivalent of the 1991 US war on Iraq, which had been a great opportunity for the Bush Sr administration to show to the world the destructive power of the high-tech military gadgetry accumulated during the Reagan years.

Russia’s Intervention in Syria

Putin’s calculation in ordering the direct intervention of his forces in Syria is easy to fathom. Russia was facing Western sanctions imposed in the wake of its invasion of Crimea and subsequent intervention in the Donbas. At this juncture, the surge in Syria of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—which soon after abbreviated its name to Islamic State (IS)— and its expansion deep into Iraq in the summer of 2014 had provoked a


massive wave of refugees pouring into Western Europe in the summer of 2015, particularly in Germany, which would receive over one million asylum seekers in that year alone. The Saudi kingdom was still forcing oil prices down, thus aggravating the impact of Western sanctions on Russia. At that same time, the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, so far shored up by direct intervention from Iran and its regional auxiliaries, was showing signs of faltering in the face of the armed opposition, mainly supported by Turkey and Gulf oil monarchies. This was while Tehran, having in July concluded with Washington and its Western allies the nuclear agreement known as the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), was not in a position to further shore up the Assad regime, especially since it lacked adequate air force capability. Syria is Russia’s oldest military ally in the Middle East—the only Arab and Mediterranean country where Moscow had military facilities including a naval base. Russia therefore had an obvious interest in preventing the fall of the Assad regime, and thereby expanding its military presence in the country. Moreover, Putin had been increasingly sympathetic to Assad since the Arab Spring, as Mikhail Zygar explained: This is how a close adviser to Putin describes the president’s reasoning about Syria: Bashar al-Assad was a typical Arab leader, no worse or better than the monarchs of Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Jordan and the presidents of the UAE, Sudan, and Algeria. Why does the West look kindly on some and demonize others? Why is Saudi Arabia allowed to publicly hang and behead people without a murmur from Western human rights activists, while Syria is vilified for far less? There is only one explanation, thought Putin. Syria is an ally of Russia. It is the only country outside the post-Soviet space with a Russian military base. The Syrian regime buys Russian weapons and hires Russian military advisers. Putin justified Assad’s use of weapons against his own people as a response to the Arab Spring, which the Syrian leader alone had resisted. Putin recalled the wave of “color revolutions” in 2004–2005 across the former Soviet Union. Back then the first leader who had dared open fire on the protesters was Uzbek president Islam Karimov. Putin had immediately offered him support and promised Russian military assistance should the unrest reoccur. That put an end to the chain reaction. When civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Putin experienced déjà vu. Again he felt besieged, and again he had a tenacious Eastern dictator to


thank for protecting him. For Putin, the Arab Spring was a rehearsal for a revolution in Russia, and Assad had effectively shielded Russia from the latest in a long line of US conspiracies.126 Unlike in Ukraine the year before, the intervention in Syria would allow Russia to use its most advanced remote-warfare military technology —airplanes and missiles above all—while limiting direct engagement of troops on the ground by relying on Syrian and Iran-led fighters in a way that resembled Washington’s reliance on Kurdish and Iraqi Shia fighters in the war on IS. Thus, the live demonstration of Russian weaponry in Syria would provide a powerful argument to boost Russia’s arms sales in the region and globally. By holding Syria’s fate in his hands, Putin would moreover hold a trump card in his relations with the Europeans—Germany, his main European trade partner, in particular—provided he managed to control the situation to the point of being able to offer guarantees for a safe return of Syrian refugees. He would also hold a trump card in his relations with the United States, its oil-rich Arab allies in the Gulf, and Israel, if he managed to reach a condition enabling him to credibly offer to push Iran’s forces and auxiliaries out of Syria. At the same time, Putin rightly felt that Washington would not try to stir up a hornet’s nest in Syria against his forces. It had shown in 2013 that it was unwilling to step up its intervention in that country—an intervention for which there was no appetite within the US establishment (had Syria been an oil-rich country like Kuwait, Iraq or Libya, the situation would certainly have been different). Most crucially, Washington had respected Israel’s insistence that it abstains from delivering portable antiaircraft weapons to the Syrian opposition, unlike what it had done for the Afghan mujahideen when they were fighting the Soviet occupation of their country in 1979–89. Not only did Washington refrain from any such deliveries to the Syrian opposition; it also forbad its regional allies— including Turkey, which produces Stinger portable antiaircraft missiles under a US Raytheon license—to deliver such weapons.127 Putin disingenuously presented the intervention in Syria that he launched in September 2015 as a contribution to the international war against IS. The Obama administration pretended to believe this, to the point of cautiously welcoming Russia’s intervention and coordinating with


it in Syria’s airspace so as to avoid accidental clashes (“deconflicting”, in military parlance). So did Israel, which entered into an agreement with Russia whereby it would also coordinate its own intermittent air strikes against Iran’s forces in Syria. One can safely surmise that Israel and the Saudi kingdom bet on Russia eventually managing to curtail Iran’s military presence in Syria. Riyadh halted its oil-price war in early 2016, soon after Moscow’s intervention began. Russia’s direct involvement in Syria achieved its principal goal, in that it decisively contributed to shoring up the regime and defeating the opposition, soon reduced to Turkish-controlled auxiliary forces in northern Syria. For this, however, Moscow had to cut a deal with Ankara: in exchange for holding Syrian opposition forces off attacks against Russian troops and bases in Syria, Turkey was allowed to intervene freely in the north against Syria’s Kurdish forces—the Kurds having once again become Ankara’s main obsession since 2015, when Turkey resumed its onslaught against the Kurdish national movement within its own borders. Paradoxically, NATO member Turkey became freer to act in the areas within Russia’s unimpeded reach than in the Kurdish-dominated areas of north-east Syria, where US troops had been deployed since 2015 in the war against IS. But Russia failed to consolidate the Syrian regime under its thumb to the point where Assad might have become able to carry on without Iran’s troops and auxiliaries. It was not able to achieve this prerequisite for the credibility of any stratagem to terminate Iran’s involvement in Syria. In failing to get hold of this potentially crucial trump card, it thus failed in creating plausible conditions for a Syrian reconstruction era in which Russian firms would get the lion’s share of contracts funded by the United States, Europe and Arab Gulf states as a reward to Russia for the curtailment of Iran’s influence in Syria and the creation of credible conditions for a massive return of Syrian refugees. This prospect had clearly been a major prize sought by Moscow, which had started floating the idea as early as 2016. After launching, in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana in 2017, a “peace process” in which Moscow arrogated to itself the role of arbiter between the Assad regime and Iran, on the one hand, and the Syrian opposition and Turkey on the other, Putin believed that the time had come to reap the rewards of Russia’s intervention—especially that an avowed admirer of his,


Donald Trump, had by then become president of the United States. Anchal Vohra summarized Putin’s Syrian ambition in Foreign Policy as follows: Above all, Russia would like to absorb a large chunk of the estimated $350 billion needed for Syria’s reconstruction, which would allow it to diversify its resource-based economy by securing contracts in a wide range of sectors such as building power plants and other infrastructure. “Russia wants our money to rebuild Syria so Russian companies can get the contracts,” a senior European Union diplomat told Foreign Policy … Russian President Vladimir Putin has tried to use Syrian refugees as a bargaining chip, offering to facilitate their return home in exchange for Western financial assistance to Syria. Last June [2018] in Helsinki and in August near Berlin, Putin asked the United States and the EU to pay for reconstruction if they wanted the refugees who had already poured across the Middle East and into Europe to return home and also to avoid a second exodus.128 But Putin’s ambition was deeply frustrated, as none of the potential funders that he approached showed any interest in his scheme, due to its lack of credibility. Thus, Syria turned out to be an expensive endeavor for Russia—at a cost estimated at between $1 billion and $2 billion per year— with no end in sight.129 Available estimates of the expenses incurred by Moscow in Syria seem, however, to be limited to hardware and material costs, excluding personnel costs. The latter include the Wagner Group, which has been directly involved in the fighting in Syria in missions requiring ground action—the soldiers of fortune composing the group being certainly more motivated for such action than ordinary Russian conscripts.130 The experience acquired by the Wagner Group in Syria would constitute a springboard for the expansion of its activities in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. Having built links with the three pillars of Arab reaction—Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, Emirati Crown Prince Muhammad bin Zayed and Egyptian President AbdelFattah al-Sisi—Vladimir Putin joined the last two in supporting former CIA collaborator Khalifa Haftar in Libya. He dispatched the Wagner Group to take part in the Libyan civil war in 2019 on the side of Haftar’s forces, which had launched an offensive from their base in Eastern Libya attempting to subdue rival forces based in the country’s west, and backed


by Qatar and Turkey. In cahoots with the Arab reactionary triad, the Wagner Group has also been involved in backing the Sudanese military junta, especially in the Darfur region—a theater of ongoing ethnic massacres. The Group has also intervened in three other African countries: the Central African Republic, Mozambique and Mali.131 Putin’s sudden Machtpolitik drive into headlong outward power projection, inaugurated in Ukraine in 2014 and continued in Syria from 2015 onward, only achieved mitigated and costly successes. Whereas the annexation of Crimea was smoothly executed, the intervention in the Donbas was not, and it created a hotbed of tension. However, its primary goal was reached in that, as in Georgia since 2008, a situation was created that meant that the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO was barred indefinitely, since it would bring the Alliance into direct military confrontation with Russia, even if Ukraine were formally to accept the loss of Crimea. The intervention in Syria was a quite limited success, as we have seen. It had been undertaken as a move on the global chessboard aimed at putting Moscow in a bargaining position that would enable it to obtain the removal of Western sanctions imposed in 2014, and creating by the same token a major economic opportunity for Russia in its supervision of Syria’s reconstruction. By 2019, it was clear that Moscow had failed on that score, too. Western countries were not impressed by Russia’s achievement in Syria. Putin had forged strong links with rich Arab Gulf states, but not to the point of inciting them to pour money into Syria for Russia’s benefit. That same year saw an amazing electoral battle in Ukraine in which a young maverick named Volodymyr Zelensky, projecting himself as an anti-establishment candidate and decrying the power elite’s corruption, obtained 73 percent of the votes against Petro Poroshenko, the incumbent embodiment of that same power elite, in the second round of the presidential election, held in April. Zelensky was elected after waging what has been described as a populist campaign targeting antidemocratic practices, corruption and Ukraine’s oligarchs—the local equivalent of those of its Russian big brother. He also campaigned on a promise to ease tensions with Russia, implement the Minsk agreement and overcome ethnolinguistic antagonisms among Ukrainians.132


Though he tried to deliver on these promises, he failed in his peace endeavor in the face of opposition from both Ukrainian nationalists and Russian-speaking separatists, managing to score points against the oligarchs in 2021 while himself being accused of connections with some of them. “In the end”, in Yuliya Yurchenko’s critical assessment, “he’s ruled like every other neoliberal politician, failed to secure peace, and oversaw ongoing corruption and oligarchic plunder. On top of that, he was exposed as incompetent at ruling. His rating went down as [the Ukrainians’] standard of living plummeted. Before the war, it is highly unlikely he would have been reelected.”133 In Vladimir Putin’s eyes, however, the election of Volodymyr Zelensky could only be worrying news. It takes little imagination to realize that what must have struck Putin above all was the similarity between the new Ukrainian president and his own sworn enemy—his number-one political foe Alexei Navalny. Both Navalny and Zelensky, whose ages are close (Navalny is eighteen months older), projected themselves as Don Quixotes fighting the powers that be: the oligarchs and the evil of corruption. The fact that a maverick such as Zelensky could win an election in nearby, largely Russian-speaking Ukraine must have given Putin nightmares— inevitably drawing unfavorable comparisons with the situation in Russia, and the fate that befalls anyone who dares to challenge the new Czar. It is indeed quite likely that Zelensky’s electoral success played a role in the decision to eliminate Navalny, who narrowly escaped death by poisoning with a Novichok nerve agent in August 2020. Putin did not hide his hostility to Ukraine’s new president. In his first annual news conference after Zelensky’s election, in December 2019, he refused to state his opinion about him plainly, but sounded quite disparaging every time he alluded to the new president. Reiterating his intransigent position on Ukraine and the Donbas conflict, Putin laid the blame for the lack of implementation of the Minsk agreements and the continuation of the crisis on the “current Ukrainian leadership”, and what he described as its “completely misguided approach”. He went on to reproach the Ukrainian side for making use of the full spectrum of its forces: “I said: air power was used. And the current President of Ukraine replied: What air power? He did not even remember or did not know


this.”134 At the same time, in a blatantly cynical manner, Putin denied the presence of Russian troops in the Donbas: There are no foreign troops there. Yes, there are local militias, local self-defense forces staffed with local residents. I get questions all the time: Where did they get tanks or heavy artillery? Look, conflicts and hostilities of all kinds are unfolding in many hotspots around the world, involving tanks, artillery, etc. Where do they get them? Probably from those government agencies that sympathize with them. But let me emphasize that these weapons are theirs, not foreign. It was at this same December 2019 annual news conference that Putin’s beef with Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin), the founder of the USSR, was stated publicly, in response to a question about what he had said at a previous event held a few days earlier.135 The question was put to the Russian president by Andrei Kolesnikov of Kommersant newspaper, who was introduced by the conference moderator, Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, as “one of the patriarchs of Russian journalism”: Andrei Kolesnikov: Mr President, [at] the recent meeting of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights [you] spoke out about Vladimir Ulyanov as never before … You accused him of breaking down a 1,000-year-old state. When you were saying this, your facial expression was close to rage, it seemed to me. Will anything come out of your comment? … Vladimir Putin: … Regarding Lenin and his role in our history, and what I think about it, I believe that he was a revolutionary rather than a statesman. When I talked about the 1,000-year history of our state, it was strictly centralized and unitary, as we all know. But what did Vladimir Lenin propose? He went even further than a federation and proposed a system that can be described as a confederation. It was his decision to tie ethnic groups to specific territories, so that they obtained the right to secede from the Soviet Union. What happened was that a strictly centralized state was turned into a de facto confederation with the right of secession and with ethnic groups attached to specific territories. But these territories were divided in such a way that they did not always correspond and still do not correspond to where various ethnic groups traditionally lived. This is how cracks emerged that still


linger in the relations between the former Soviet republics, and even within the Russian Federation. There are two thousand cracks of this kind, and letting them out of sight for even a second can have grave consequences … By the way, Stalin was against such organization. He even wrote an article on autonomy, but, eventually, adopted Lenin’s formula. The upshot? … Back when the Soviet Union was created, original Russian territories that never had anything to do with Ukraine (the entire Black Sea region and Russia’s western lands) were transferred to Ukraine under a strange pretext of “increasing the percentage of the proletariat in Ukraine,” because Ukraine was a rural territory populated by pettybourgeois-minded peasants, who were subjected to dispossession across the country. This was a somewhat odd decision. Nevertheless, it took place. We are now dealing with Vladimir Lenin’s legacy of state building. What did they do? They tied the country’s future to their own party, and this tenet went from one Constitution to another. It was the main political force. As soon as the party started to crumble, the country followed … This had to be prevented. This was a mistake. An absolute, cardinal and fundamental mistake in state building. At the same news conference, Putin did not hesitate to declare: “I regret that there is no Soviet Union anymore.” He was obviously referring not to the USSR’s social and political system, but to the imperial megastate that it had been, with numerous nations directly or indirectly subordinated to the Russian core under various statuses. Putin’s expressions of contempt for Zelensky became worse at each annual news conference. In the December 2020 conference, he declared of Ukraine that all the preceding heads of state, just as the current one, Vladimir Zelensky, came to power with slogans on unifying the country, which, at the end of the day, included building a relationship with Russia. But they have not been able to deliver on this promise so far. In fact, on their way to power they garner support from a majority of the people and voters, but when they get there, they hesitate and start looking back at the extreme nationalist forces. I think they simply lack the political courage.136 At the December 2021 conference, Putin raised his recriminations to an even higher pitch, to the point of becoming straightforwardly rude. On


his Ukrainian counterpart, Putin declared that “instead of responding to the call for peace in Ukrainian society, which Zelensky exploited to come to power, he chose not to keep his promises, having fallen, like previous leaders, under the influence of radical elements that are called “natsi” [Nazi] in Ukraine”.137 This was a prelude to the “special operation” that Putin was to launch soon after, purporting to “de-Nazify” Ukraine. In June of that same year 2021, he had published his now famous long historical article, “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians”, in which he fully displayed the “rage” against Lenin observed by Kolesnikov (part of the following passage has been cited in the Transition that preceded this chapter): In 1922, when the USSR was created, with the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic becoming one of its founders, a rather fierce debate among the Bolshevik leaders resulted in the implementation of Lenin’s plan to form a union state as a federation of equal republics. The right for the republics to freely secede from the Union was included in the text of the Declaration on the Creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and, subsequently, in the 1924 USSR Constitution. By doing so, the authors planted in the foundation of our statehood the most dangerous time bomb, which exploded the moment the safety mechanism provided by the leading role of the CPSU was gone, the party itself collapsing from within. A “parade of sovereignties” followed … The localization policy undoubtedly played a major role in the development and consolidation of the Ukrainian culture, language and identity. At the same time, under the guise of combating the so-called Russian great-power chauvinism, Ukrainization was often imposed on those who did not see themselves as Ukrainians. This Soviet national policy secured at the state level the provision on three separate Slavic peoples: Russian, Ukrainian and Belorussian, instead of the large Russian nation, a triune people comprising Velikorussians [Great-Russians], Malorussians [Little-Russians, i.e. modern-day Ukrainians] and Belorussians [White-Russians].138 In other words, Putin was regretting that he could not be President of All the Russias in the same way that the tsars of the Russian Empire used to be Tsars of All the Russias. He continued to blame the Bolsheviks for having treated the Russian people as “inexhaustible material for their


social experiments”: “They dreamt of a world revolution that would wipe out national states. That is why they were so generous in drawing borders and bestowing territorial gifts.” In doing so, they “were chopping the country into pieces”: “One fact is crystal clear: Russia was robbed, indeed.” Putin’s “rage” against Lenin as enabler of Ukraine’s independence is certainly better grounded than that of the Ukrainian nationalists who gave vent to their anger by bringing down statutes of the Russian revolutionary. They mistook one of the most radical Russian enemies of Great-Russian chauvinism for a symbol of that same Russian national oppression that he had combated all his life. Turning to present-day Ukraine and the “Russians in Ukraine”, Putin used a violent metaphor to paint an apocalyptic picture: [T]he most despicable thing is that the Russians in Ukraine are being forced not only to deny their roots, generations of their ancestors but also to believe that Russia is their enemy. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the path of forced assimilation, the formation of an ethnically pure Ukrainian state, aggressive towards Russia, is comparable in its consequences to the use of weapons of mass destruction against us … [W]e are facing the creation of a climate of fear in Ukrainian society, aggressive rhetoric, indulging neo-Nazis and militarizing the country. Along with that we are witnessing not just complete dependence but direct external control, including the supervision of the Ukrainian authorities, security services and armed forces by foreign advisers, military “development” of the territory of Ukraine and deployment of NATO infrastructure … Russia is open to dialogue with Ukraine and ready to discuss the most complex issues. But it is important for us to understand that our partner is defending its national interests but not serving someone else’s, and is not a tool in someone else’s hands to fight against us … I am confident that true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia … For we are one people. Putin’s mental predisposition to invade Ukraine was there on display for everyone to read. A few months later, on 24 February 2022, he crossed the Rubicon.

Epilogue Andrei Vandenko: In the book called First Person you mentioned your low sense of danger. For an intelligence officer it


is a weakness.

Vladimir Putin: That’s what a psychologist wrote down in my personal characteristic. Andrei Vandenko: Is it also a weakness for the President?

Vladimir Putin: This is not exactly what one can call a great merit. One should master the skill of evaluating all likely effects and take into account all possible scenarios and forestall the unfavorable ones when making decisions. Andrei Vandenko: In other words, no reckless moves?

Vladimir Putin: Indeed. No reckless moves should be allowed. The price of a mistake is too high.139

Numerous comments have been made on Putin’s mental state since he launched his disastrous war on Ukraine. Putin’s acutely paranoid and mysophobic reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic, which led him to keep his interlocutors at a long distance unless they had been examined by his staff, and his prolonged isolation as of April 2020 in his suburban residence west of Moscow, have been construed as indicating a degree of insanity that would explain such hugely “reckless move” as ordering the invasion. But Putin’s fateful decision was the culmination of a trajectory whose pattern was clearly recognizable. A surge of opposition to his rule had led once again to the further exacerbation of the authoritarian and repressive character of his regime. Alexei Navalny’s return in January 2021 from Germany, where he had been treated following the attempt to assassinate him, his subsequent arrest, and the wide circulation of the documentary that he had prepared on the corruption of Putin and his entourage led to a wave of mass protests in Russia that was met with a further escalation in repression. “The scale of detentions, administrative and criminal prosecution in connection with the protests of January–February 2021 is clearly the largest in the entire history of modern Russia”, declared OVD-Info, a non-profit legal organization that tracks detentions, commenting on the fact that, over four weeks after Navalny’s return, 11,000 persons were detained across more than 125 cities.140 Such a reaction clearly betrayed the regime’s lack of confidence, as Henry Foy, the Moscow bureau chief for the Financial Times, explained in March 2021, the month in which Putin started the military build-up on Russia’s border with Ukraine: Western sanctions imposed after the 2014 annexation of Crimea have handicapped Russia’s economy and made it harder for many of the


country’s biggest businesses to expand. Real incomes have fallen for five of the past seven years and poverty has risen by a fifth. The country’s GDP per capita is 30 percent lower than in 2013. At the same time, Putin has increased protection for his regime by ramping up spending on police and security forces. Last year, more than one-tenth of declared budget spending was allocated to internal security, second only to defence spending and Rbs525bn ($7.1bn) more than the healthcare and education budgets combined.141 Just as he had done after the 2011–13 protests against his rule, Putin sought to revamp his image by playing the Russian nationalist card and exploiting “Ukraine mania”. However, unlike his annexation of Crimea in 2014, his decision to invade Ukraine in 2022 proved to have been based on a fatal miscalculation in underestimating Ukraine’s capacity to resist, while overestimating the favorable disposition toward Russia of a large part of Ukraine’s population. It was not irrational, but simply misinformed and indulging in wishful thinking. Putin had serious reasons to believe that the Western reaction would not be that concerted were he to successfully invade Ukraine, depose its government and organize some kind of sham election or referendum to bestow a semblance of legitimacy on whatever he would put in its place. Andrei Kozyrev, last Soviet and first Russian foreign minister (1990–96), put it like this: In March [2014], President Vladimir Putin used troops from the Russian military base in Crimea to annex the peninsula. This was a brazen violation of Russia’s obligations under the Budapest memorandum. Regrettably, America responded with a diplomatic reprimand and flimsy sanctions. Encouraged, Putin seized parts of Donbas. Again, the US and the west expressed disapproval, but practical measures were restricted to ineffective sanctions.142 To this, one should add that, in the wake of its disastrously botched withdrawal from Afghanistan in the summer of 2021, the US seemed to be back to a degree of paralysis with regard to wars abroad resembling what it had known for several years after its withdrawal from Vietnam, until the first US-led war on Iraq in 1991. Moreover, Western countries were barely emerging from the very severe economic crisis precipitated by the Covid19 pandemic, and hence could reasonably be deemed to be in a weak position to do much when it came to sanctions, especially since oil prices


had been sharply and steadily on the rise since March 2021. This was certainly a major factor in Putin’s decision, as it represented a sharp reversal of the economic situation that had forced him to envisage cutting military expenditure only a few months earlier, in September 2020.143 As for Ukraine, Western military experts and intelligence services themselves did not expect its armed forces to offer much resistance to the invasion.144 The flaw in Putin’s calculation that they foresaw was instead based on their expectation of a protracted asymmetric resistance to Russian occupation. It is against this eventuality that NATO’s former supreme allied commander, James Stavridis, warned Russia: “Putin should realize that after fighting insurgencies ourselves for two decades, we know how to arm, train and energize them.”145 The record of the United States and some of its NATO allies in invading foreign countries and fighting insurgencies is indeed unequalled. But let us set aside the specifics of Putin’s fateful decision to invade Ukraine on 24 February 2022, and consider it within the historical perspective presented in this book. From this angle, the decision stands at the intersection of two different processes. On the one hand, the United States had quickly shattered the promise of a rules-based “new world order” made by George H.W. Bush in 1990, when the Cold War was coming to an end. That final decade of the twentieth century had not yet ended when the United States pushed its NATO allies into collectively committing a blatant breach of the UN Charter, the cornerstone of international law, by circumventing the UN Security Council in order to bomb a country in the heart of Europe. The invasion of Iraq in 2003, which would be followed by nine years of occupation, was a still more blatant violation of international law, and on a much larger scale. The US-led Western policy toward post-Soviet Russia was, as we have seen, calamitous in its early years—as was the decision to enlarge NATO instead of enhancing the role of collective security organizations such as the UN and the OSCE. As a result, Russia and NATO entered a vicious spiral of actions and counteractions. Russia’s aggressive countermoves against NATO’s expansion, perceived from Moscow as aimed at containing the core of the former USSR and curtailing it, led to further NATO moves


that induced further Russian countermoves—and so on. The two crucial years in that spiral, which led to the climax of 2022, were 2008 and 2014. On the other hand, the Weimar-like conditions that prevailed in 1990s Russia fostered the rise of Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian rule. During his twenty-two years in power, Putin had increased the concentration of power in his hands, along with the suppression of any oppositional threat to his rule, with a crucial turning point in 2012. He embarked on a course combining imperial revanchism with imperialist aggrandizement, culminating in the invasion of Ukraine. In this course, Ilya Matveev, borrowing from David Harvey’s explanatory framework, identifies a split between the economic and political logics of Russian imperialism, with the latter prevailing: The rapid growth in the 2000s was the result of the re-utilization of the existing Soviet productive capacity. When this source of economic dynamism was depleted, the growth slowed. In fact, the first signs of stagnation emerged in late 2012—way before the events in Ukraine. The Russian economy was no longer generating surplus capital in need of a “spatial fix”. Secondly, in spite of all the efforts, Russia was unable to establish true hegemony in the post-Soviet space … Ukraine is a case in point: the attractiveness of the “European ideal” was simply too strong for Russia to compete with. Eventually, all Russia was left with was “hard power”.146 This in any event postulates Ukraine as a natural target of Russian imperialism, even in the absence of an immediate economic rationale. It thus chimes to some extent, regarding Russian designs on Ukraine, with the quasi-atavistic imperialism of Russia’s ruling elite that Marcel Van Herpen depicted in historical perspective in a premonitory book that came out on the eve of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.147 A well-known holder of the same view, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who always emphasized that absorbing Ukraine “would both enrich Russia and represent a giant step toward the restoration of its imperial sphere”, saw it coming even more astutely in 2012: With the passage of time, Ukraine as a nation-state is gaining a deeper emotional commitment from a younger generation—whether primarily Ukrainian or Russian speaking—that increasingly views Ukrainian statehood as normal and as part of its identity. Hence time may not be


working in favor of a voluntary submission by Kyiv to Moscow, but impatient Russian pressures to that end as well as the West’s indifference could generate a potentially explosive situation on the very edge of the European Union.148 Which of these chains of events is more to blame for the catastrophic outcome of 2022—the first, for which responsibility lies primarily with Washington, or the second, for which it lies with Moscow? This becomes a secondary question if it is acknowledged that both sequences contributed to the outcome. As Tony Wood aptly put it, the apparent dichotomy now developing between two explanatory schemas—one emphasizing NATO expansion, the other the long-hidden force of Russian nationalism; one supposedly exculpating Russia, the other muting the role of NATO—is ultimately false. There is no real world in which NATO expansion did not occur, and the emergence of an increasingly assertive and militarized Russian nationalism is inextricable from that process, because it was in large part propelled and reinforced by it. With regard to Ukraine, Russian nationalist fantasies have persistently been enmeshed with geostrategic calculations, the advancement of oligarchic interests with the self-preservation of the “imitation democratic” system. What weight we assign to these factors can be debated; but that they simultaneously exist should not. Recognition of their existence, moreover, in no way diminishes Russia’s responsibility for invading Ukraine. Rather, it helps to clarify it, by enabling us to identify the different links in the causal chain that have brought us to this moment, and to distinguish each actor’s degree of culpability.149 What is beyond question is that Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine on 24 February 2022 has spectacularly backfired. Far from deterring NATO, it has reinvigorated what was all but a moribund organization—one that French president Emmanuel Macron had described as “brain dead” in November 2019, at a time when Donald Trump was constantly assailing it. A much more Atlanticist administration succeeded Trump’s thereafter, but Trumpism remained a powerful factor in US politics, offering the plausible prospect of a return to the presidency by Trump himself in the 2024 election. A clever maneuverer at the Kremlin could have further deepened the detachment of the Franco-German axis that constitutes the EU’s core from


the transatlantic perspective, toward that envisaged by Charles de Gaulle in 1959 of a “Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals … which will decide the fate of the world!”.150 In 1966, with far less dramatic changes in East Europe and the USSR than those of the 1990s, de Gaulle had taken a first step toward emancipating France from US tutelage by withdrawing it from NATO’s integrated command. In his speech on that occasion, de Gaulle declared that “due to the Eastern countries’ internal and external evolution, the West is no longer presently under threat as it was when an American protectorate was established in Europe under NATO’s cover”.151 The joint opposition of Paris and Berlin, along with Moscow, to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a harbinger of such a potential development—as was their reluctance to invite Ukraine to join NATO. The Ukraine war shattered all this: it resurrected NATO’s raison d’être far beyond what Washington had managed to achieve in this respect through all its efforts since the fall of the USSR. It also led to a new round of NATO enlargement more dramatic that any of those that followed 1997, with Sweden and Finland beginning the process of joining the Alliance. The latter country’s 1340 km border with Russia is much longer than NATO’s present border with Russia, as it resulted from the Baltic states’ accession. And Moscow is now more ostracized than ever, more cut off from the rest of Europe than it has ever been, and will remain so as long as it undergoes no radical political change that might renew the conditions for a reset of European and international relations. No territorial gain in Ukraine could warrant all of the above, or compensate for the huge human and economic cost to Russia of the extremely reckless and gravely misconceived war launched by Vladimir Putin. Russia has been set back many years economically by way of financial loss and industrial disruption, as well as accelerated brain drain. Its military might—Putin’s absolute priority—has been severely curtailed, far beyond whatever limitation NATO might have been able to impose on it. Russia’s “credibility”—to use a term that is dear to strategic thinkers— has been very much diminished, while the Russian armed forces’ morale has been seriously affected and their material losses colossal. Russia will need to dedicate much of its military expenditure over the coming years merely to replenishing its stocks.


In short, Putin’s war on Ukraine, far from aggrandizing the Russian empire, has brought calamitous consequences upon it. His ardent desire, as we have seen, was to be a twenty-first-century Vladimir the Great. He ended up being a modern version of Ivan the Terrible, the first Tsar of All Russia. Ivan Grozny (“the Terrible” in Russian) launched a disastrously botched invasion of the Baltic land of Livonia in 1558, with devastating consequences for his own country. It tremendously aggravated his tyrannical rule thereafter, until his fake resignation in 1575—when he chose a figurehead to rule in his stead, but manipulated him until his own death in 1584.152 It is to be hoped, for the sake of Russians and of the entire world, that the rule of Vladimir the Terrible will not survive his bungled invasion of Ukraine for that long.



China: End of the Peaceful Rise?

What about China, the third member of the “strategic triad” identified in 1997 (Chapter 1)? Two years later (Chapter 2), Washington had already seriously compromised the possibility of deploying a “hub and spokes” strategy whereby it could triangulate its relations with Moscow and Beijing, thus preventing the two countries from joining up to oppose US hegemony. Commencement of the New Cold War that had gestated in the 1990s naturally implied for China a massive effort at building up its military capabilities.

I. China’s Military Power

Calculated by SIPRI in current US dollars, China’s military expenditure has risen very impressively indeed since the turn of the century, from $22 billion in 2000 to $252 billion in 2020, in a steeply rising curve (see Fig. 1). Nonetheless, China’s military expenditure in current US dollars remains less than one-third that of the United States, which reached 778 billion in 2020 according to the same data set. Calculated on the basis of Robertson’s military-PPP exchange rate (see Chapter 3), China’s military expenditure in 2017 amounted to 65 percent of that of the United States for that same year, instead of 37.6 percent at market exchange rates—a share that is 73 percent higher.1


Figure 1: China’s Military Expenditure in Current US$, 2000–2020

Source: World Bank Data, from SIPRI And yet, the fact remains that, since the turn of the century, China has dedicated a more modest and stable share of its GDP to military expenditure than has the United States (see Fig. 2), one obvious reason for that being that China did not engage in any war after its brief incursion in Vietnam in 1979, whereas the US waged several wars since 2000, including the occupations of Afghanistan (2001–21) and Iraq (2003–11), and the bombing campaigns in Libya (2011) as well as against IS in Iraq and Syria (since 2014).

Figure 2: China and USA, Military Expenditure as a Share of GDP, 2000– 2020

Source: World Bank Data, from SIPRI It is true that China’s GDP has grown at extraordinary speed during those years, reaching $14.7 trillion at market exchange rates in 2020—that is, 70 percent of US GDP of $20.9 trillion for that year, and even a little more than US GDP in PPP dollars (24.3 trillion—although relative to population this represents only 27 percent of the US GDP per capita). But this does not change the fact that China is spending significantly less than it could if it wanted to match the US level of military expenditure. Moreover, as a share of general government expenditure, China’s military spending has steadily declined over the first two decades of this century (see Fig. 3).


Figure 3: China’s Military Expenditure as a Share of Government Expenditure, 2000–2020

Source: World Bank Data, from SIPRI Since 2003, the year of the invasion of Iraq, US military expenditure as a share of general government expenditure has been constantly higher than the corresponding figure for China, the gap between the two countries reaching its peak in 2011 when the US share (12.4 percent) was exactly double the Chinese share (6.2 percent). In 2019, before the massive government spending necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States, the difference was still close to double (4.9 percent in China, 9.6 percent in the United States). And yet, throughout those years, US officials have consistently had the nerve to blame China for increasing its military spending. Chinese rulers had every right to be irritated when then-US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld admonished them from Singapore in 2005 for spending too much on their military: “Since no nation threatens China, one must wonder: Why this growing investment? Why these continuing large and expanding arms purchases? Why these continuing robust deployments?”2 Rumsfeld was probably implying that Iraq had “threatened” the United States when it had invaded that country two years earlier. Or that Washington could reasonably invoke hypothetical wars, including with thinly disguised proxies for Russia and China, to justify its


gigantic military spending, while other nations were not entitled to do the same—even in countering hostile US behavior toward them. Official US military documents have periodically overestimated China’s military capabilities in order to justify the Pentagon’s constant demands of increased funding. A recent case of such an inflated evaluation was the secretary of defense’s annual report to Congress for 2020, which offered an alarming twenty-year summary of the development of China’s armed forces while refraining from comparing them with those of the United States—for the good reason that such a comparison would have shown how much the former is still lagging behind the latter.3 In congressional hearings, on the other hand, the US top brass boasts about the superiority of US armed forces over China’s, in order to convince Congress that the huge amounts gobbled up by the Pentagon are money well spent.4 One can also find in Pentagon-related outlets articles that draw an objective comparison between the two great powers’ respective military potentials. One such article was published in December 2021 in the Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs, the “professional journal for America’s priority theatre” published by the US Department of the Air Force. The article’s author, Mangesh Sawant, accurately describes the overwhelming US military superiority over China by comparing both countries’ military capabilities across the full spectrum.5 As he rightly ascertains, the US military advantage is not only about weaponry, but is also a function of the crucial factor of war-fighting experience, as well as of an unmatched global network of military bases and alliances. In his 2015 book on China’s military power, Roger Cliff, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council who has previously worked for the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the RAND Corporation, emphasizes furthermore that “[a]lthough the most modern systems in the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] inventory are comparable to those that make up the bulk of the US inventory, many PLA weapon systems are still based on 1950s Soviet designs”.6 The author adds in the book’s conclusion that, although the Chinese military has modernized its combat doctrine, “it has neither the organizational structure nor the organizational culture required to effectively implement it”.7


China’s self-assessment concurs with the view that it is still affected by major shortcomings. The 2019 official White Paper on China’s national defense asserts that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has yet to complete the task of mechanization, and is in urgent need of improving its [informatization]. China’s military security is confronted by risks from technology surprise and growing technological generation gap. Greater efforts have to be invested in military modernization to meet national security demands. The PLA still lags far behind the world’s leading militaries.8 However, it is obvious that, along with the steady rise in its military spending, China’s capabilities have continued to grow and improve. Thus, at the end of the day, as Jae Ho Chung, the editor of one of the most serious assessments of China’s power, put it, The dictum that “[I]t is all in the eyes of the beholder” is nowhere more pertinent than in assessing the military capabilities of the People’s Republic. Some exaggerate the fast-growing caliber of the [PLA] as if it is to overtake the United States any moment. Others go so far as to belittle the remarkable accomplishments of the PLA’s modernization as if it constitutes no match at all for America’s military irrespective of regions and environments. The truth must stand somewhere in between, and that truth is perhaps continuously evolving as military capabilities change over time and so do the perceptions of them.9 But what about the use of military might? It is hardly deniable that, of the three great powers of the strategic triad along with NATO, China has hitherto been the least belligerent in both words and deeds. Beijing contrasts its own attitude with those of the other great powers, which it describes as follows: International strategic competition is on the rise. The US has adjusted its national security and defense strategies, and adopted unilateral policies. It has provoked and intensified competition among major countries, significantly increased its defense expenditure, pushed for additional capacity in nuclear, outer space, cyber and missile defense, and undermined global strategic stability. NATO has continued its enlargement, stepped up military deployment in Central and Eastern Europe, and conducted frequent military exercises. Russia is strengthening


its nuclear and non-nuclear capabilities for strategic containment, and striving to safeguard its strategic security space and interests.10 Confronted with this “international strategic competition”, Beijing emphasizes in the same 2019 document that its own national defense policy is “defensive in nature”. It resembles the strategic doctrine of Gaullist France, which was defined in 1967 as “a defense system that is not aimed at anyone but is global and all-horizons [tous azimuts]”.11 This goes along with an acute sense of historical transition: “China continues to enjoy political stability, ethnic unity and social stability. There has been a notable increase in China’s overall national strength, global influence, and resilience to risks. China is still in an important period of strategic opportunity for development.”12 Beijing is obviously keen to prolong this “strategic opportunity” while it expresses its wariness of “growing hegemonism”, “power politics” and wars. Shaun Breslin captures this well in describing China as largely “a reformist veto power—a power that has the ability to block the initiatives of others while pushing for change within the existing global order rather than trying to overthrow it”.13 This, according to Breslin, is related to “a lack of desire to undertake the sort of global leadership roles that this would entail, with a preference instead to primarily look to focus on domestic issues”.14 To state that China has hitherto been the least belligerent of the great powers is not a judgment on its political regime—a single-party dictatorship that has been exhibiting a renewed autocratic tendency since Xi Jinping took its helm in 2012–13. Nor is it to disregard the appalling persecution of Xinjiang’s Muslims or the subjugation of Tibet. It is a factual judgment, not a normative one—an observation that is corroborated by the nature of the material interests of the Chinese state and government. States’ actions are not inspired by ideological choices alone, and the ideologies of ruling classes and social categories do not unfold in an ethereal sphere. They are conditioned by the socioeconomic interests that the rulers represent, whether their own interests or the interests of those on whose behalf they act as political agents.

II. China’s “Peaceful Rise”


In an article he published in 1920 about the “surprise” that the First World War represented for many, J. A. Hobson, author of the famous Imperialism: A Study (1902), made this insightful comment: Nationalism and capitalism in secret conjunction produced independent, armed and opposed powers within each country, claiming and wielding a paramountcy, political, social and economic, within the nation and working for further expansion outside. This competition of what may fairly be called capitalist states, evolving modern forms of militarism and protectionism, laid the powder trains. The dramatic antithesis of aggressive autocracies and pacific democracies in recent history is false, and the failure to discern this falsehood explains the great surprise. Nowhere had the conditions of a pacific democracy been established.15 This comment remains very relevant today. The combination of capitalism, economic and political nationalism, and militarism that is constitutive of imperialism, according to Hobson, is equally dominant in an aggressive autocracy like Russia as it is in the no less belligerent democracies of which the United States, Britain and France are examples —each imperialist power being eager to preserve and extend its dominion, with the United States pretending to rule our entire planet. Hobson was not blind to differences between powers, nonetheless. To the above comment, he added: “This by no means implies that states are equally aggressive, equally absolute and equally susceptible to business control.”16 Nor was he “economistic”: “Still less does it imply that in the immediate causation of the war conscious economic conflicts of interests were the efficient causes, or that direct causal responsibility is to be distributed equally among the belligerent groups.”17 It was not difficult for anyone to understand the circumstances that shaped German nationalism prior to the First World War: “The pressures for forcible expansion were necessarily stronger in this pent-up nation than in those which enjoyed in a literal sense ‘the freedom of the seas’ and large dependencies for occupation, government, trade priority and capitalistic exploitation.”18 Such pressures became even stronger in post-1918 Germany, many features of which were to be shared by post-1991 Russia (see Chapter 3). China’s case is different, or at least has been different until recently. Unlike all the above-mentioned countries, China did not enter the age of modern


imperialism, which started in the latter part of the nineteenth century, as an imperial power, but as a former empire subjugated by various foreign powers that had imposed “unequal treaties” upon it: Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Russia and the United States. During the entire twentieth century, it was very much a country of the colonial world, the Third World and the Global South—three successive designations of the world’s subaltern countries. Modern China abolished capitalism in the wake of its national liberation, completed in 1949, then tried desperately to “leap forward” to catch up economically with the industrialized countries, starting with its Russian “communist” big brother. It rebelled against the latter’s desire to dominate it, and entered a decade of civil strife and ultraleft turmoil, until the death of its charismatic leader, Mao Zedong, in 1976. In that year, China’s GDP per capita in constant 2015 US dollars stood at a mere $327, inferior to India’s $370, and way below Indonesia’s $862.19 China would take off economically in the late 1970s, soon overtaking India’s GDP per capita; but two more decades would elapse before it caught up with that of Indonesia, surpassing it against the backdrop of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. During the first three decades after its 1949 Revolution, China was ruled by a bureaucratic anticapitalist regime. By the end of this historical period, the Maoist legacy was in tatters, with a new generation more affected by the ravages of the Cultural Revolution than it was admiring of the exploits of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the war against Japan and the civil war. This discontent, combined with an aspiration to democracy, found expression in the brutally repressed 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Under Deng Xiaoping (r. 1978–89), the ruling bureaucracy, registering how the economic stagnation of the Soviet Union in the 1970s had been a prelude to the terminal crisis of the next decade, sought a new legitimacy by fostering economic development through capitalistic means. This was primarily a pragmatic turn aimed at securing the rule of the bureaucracy while fulfilling the aspiration shared by both the bureaucracy and the Chinese population to lift China out of economic backwardness onto an economic level in tune with its status as one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (it replaced the Republic of China, a.k.a. Taiwan, in that role in 1971, as a result of Washington’s


rapprochement with Beijing). Deng had expressed his pragmatism early on, indicating how little he felt bound by any socialist principles. He is famous for using an old Chinese proverb—often misquoted—which he placed in the mouth of a close companion of his in 1962, in a discussion of how to restore agricultural production in the aftermath of the disaster brought by the Great Leap Forward initiated under Mao’s leadership in 1958. As to what kind of relations of production is the best mode, I’m afraid we shall have to leave the matter to the discretion of local authorities, allowing them to adopt whatever mode of production that can facilitate quickest recovery and growth of agricultural production. The masses should also be allowed to adopt whatever mode they see fit, legalizing illegal practices as necessary. These are all tentative ideas, not final decisions, so they will not necessarily come to pass in future. When talking about fighting battles, Comrade Liu Bocheng often quotes a Sichuan proverb—“It does not matter if it is a yellow cat or a black cat, as long as it catches mice.”20 The shift to capitalism under Deng had much in common with the New Economic Policy (NEP) adopted in the early Soviet Union under Vladimir Lenin in 1921, except that the former was conceived for the long haul, whereas the latter was conceived as a temporary detour through capitalism—albeit initially thought to last a few decades—in order to recover from the economic exhaustion brought by the War Communism of the post-1917 Civil War and lay the foundations of a socialist economy and polity. As defined by Lenin, the NEP reinstated “freedom to trade and the development of capitalism”, but “only within certain bounds, and only on the condition that the state regulates (supervises, controls, determines the forms and methods of, etc.) private trade and private capitalism”.21 It also involved the insertion of state-owned enterprises into the profit-making logic of the capitalist market: The transfer of state enterprises to the so-called profit basis is inevitably and inseparably connected with the New Economic Policy; in the near future this is bound to become the predominant, if not the sole, form of state enterprise. In actual fact, this means that with the free market


now permitted and developing, the state enterprises will to a large extent be put on a commercial basis.22 But another crucial difference between the NEP and Deng’s perspective is that Lenin was calling on the trade unions to supervise the new economy and “protect in every way the class interests of the proletariat in its struggle against capital”; the above citations all belong to an official document about the role of the trade unions under the NEP. There was no such role assigned to the trade unions under Deng’s project, of course. The outcomes of the two experiences were radically different. Whereas the NEP was brutally ended after only seven years under Joseph Stalin, to be replaced with an “ultraleft” renationalization of the economy and the forced collectivization of agriculture in a defensive reaction of the bureaucracy against the threat of developing capitalism, the bulk of the Chinese bureaucracy showed great zeal in implementing the economic turn, having been invited to make the most of it for its own benefit after having been traumatized and endangered by the ultraleft excesses of the Cultural Revolution. Needless to say, China’s amazingly rapid economic growth under capitalistic conditions went along with a similarly rapid rise in social inequality to levels well above those of France, for example.23 It was also accompanied by a massive weakening of working-class agency through the substitution of precarious rural migrants for organized state-sector workers.24 The former land of the Red Guards metamorphosed into an example of what Au Loong-Yu aptly describes as bureaucratic capitalism, involving a “bourgeoisification of the bureaucracy”. This resulted in “a tremendous level of corruption” but “also injected new incentives into the fast-growing economy”: In most capitalist countries, the exercise of state power and capital accumulation are taken up by two distinctive social groups, namely the bureaucrats and the capitalists. Chinese bureaucrats combine these two functions and are simultaneously entitled to salary (plus benefits) and a share of the surplus value. This transcends the general phenomenon of collusion between government officials and the capitalists. Bureaucratic capitalists monopolize the most profitable sectors of the national economy and become the core group of the new bourgeoisie. Those private


capitalists who are not the cronies of bureaucratic capitalists must accept a marginalized position.25 Under these circumstances, corruption-riddled interactions between private entrepreneurs, managers of state-owned enterprises and stateowned commercial banks, and political rulers provided shortcuts that stimulated growth, according to Yukon Huang, a foremost expert on China’s economy: In other countries, corruption typically retards growth because it represses investment, which is the primary determinant of growth. But China is different since its investment rate has been increasing rapidly. Corruption in China helped entrepreneurs and the emerging private sector interests to get around the excessive regulations and controls in its overly centralized bureaucracy. In fact, one could argue that it has improved rather than impeded investment efficiency.26 The private sector has expanded exponentially in China over the past forty years, to the point where it now contributes more than half of the country’s tax revenue, 60 percent of GDP, fixed asset investment and foreign direct investment, and more than 80 percent of urban employment.27 And yet, whereas the private sector has struggled as a result of the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, combined with new regulatory crackdowns and pressures under the heading of Common Prosperity—the policy launched in 2021 by China’s present “paramount leader”, Xi Jinping, in an effort to restore some measure of social equality —“many state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have remained largely intact, or have thrived”, while those directly overseen by the central government have recorded an increase in their net profits of close to 30 percent in 2021.28 This confirms Au’s judgment about this crucial feature of China’s bureaucratic capitalism: What matters is not just the falling share of the state-owned economy in relation to GDP, but also the fact that, despite this fall, gross state industrial production has continued to grow in absolute terms, except briefly between 1997 and 1999, against the background of rapid economic growth. On top of this, the state consciously remains in control of the commanding heights of the economy and most of the listed companies are SOEs/SHEs [state-owned or state-holding enterprises] which, with government help, can always expand their market share through coercion.


To sum up, the monopoly of the state over key industries still enables it, despite privatization, to exercise strategic control over the national economy as a whole.29 The Chinese bureaucracy was thus sufficiently cautious—a rare virtue of bureaucratic conservatism—to opt for gradual marketization, avoiding the trap of the kind of “shock therapy” that ruined post-Soviet Russia in the 1990s. Isabella Weber has shown that this was not a foregone conclusion, and that China came close to adopting such an economic policy in the midst of intensive debates in the 1980s and 1990s.30 “China’s escape from shock therapy meant that the state maintained the capacity to insulate the economy’s commanding heights—the sectors most essential to economic stability and growth—as it integrated into global capitalism.”31 In a nutshell, the Chinese government “switched from direct planning to indirect regulation through the state’s participation in the market”, thus keeping control over its domestic economy.32 China’s massive metamorphosis led to record rates of growth sustained over four decades, in what can be described as the most impressive feat of economic development in history when both its gigantic scope and celerity are taken into account. The proportion of people living on less than $1.90 per day (PPP, 2011) fell from 88 percent in 1981 to 0.3 percent by the end of 2018, meaning that 800 million people had been lifted out of extreme poverty. Measured by the higher poverty standard of $5.50 dollars per day (PPP, 2011) used for upper-middle-income countries, the proportion of Chinese below that threshold fell from close to 100 percent in 1981 to close to 20 percent in 2018.33 As of 2015, at least 10 percent of the population—109 million people—were in the middle-class range of personal wealth of $50,000 to $500,000. In total, 25 to 30 percent of China’s population were estimated to live a middle-class lifestyle in that year. At the top of the pyramid, China had 1.21 million business owners with productive assets equivalent to more than $1.5 million each.34 These “new rich” were represented in the state’s leading institutions, including formally in the Communist Party itself since 2002.35 This overall picture of tremendous economic success has undoubtedly been the major source of legitimation of the Chinese Communist Party’s


rule since the 1990s—though Bruce Dickson is right to emphasize that it is not problem-free: Throughout the post-Mao era, China’s leaders have placed top priority on achieving economic modernization through the “reform and opening” policies … This has resulted in rapid growth and rising living standards across the country, but also the attendant problems of uneven development, environmental degradation, a growing gap between rich and poor, and public protests over land grabs, unpaid severance and retirement packages, and other types of dislocations caused by rapid growth. Although rising living standards have produced regime support in the short run, looming challenges exist going forward.36 In the implementation of China’s epic metamorphosis, its bureaucratic-capitalist ruling class needed peaceful conditions for two correlated requirements of its economic project: on the one hand, a successful opening to Western capitalism, the source of much-needed foreign direct investment and technology transfer; and, on the other hand, the possibility of dedicating only a limited portion of its resources to largely unproductive military expenditure, to the benefit of its overall economic development, thus emulating post-1945 Japan and West Germany, and conversely avoiding the disastrous effect on the economy of the USSR of the crushing military expenditure imposed by the Cold War.37 Accordingly, China has adopted a low profile in international relations relative to its size and global status since the 1980s. This line was concomitant with Deng Xiaoping’s post-Maoist radical economic shift, as he clearly explained to then-UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar in 1982: Many friends claim that China is the leader of the Third World. However, we say that China cannot be the leader, because acting as the leader will breed adversity. Those who practise hegemonism are discredited, so serving as the leader of the Third World would earn us a bad reputation … We need to develop the country and shake off backwardness. The primary task we have set as the initial goal for the realization of modernization is to create comparative prosperity by the end of this century. If we can accomplish this goal, we will be in a much better position. More importantly, we shall achieve a new starting point. Within the ensuing 30 to 50 years, we shall approach the level of developed


countries. We do not mean to catch up with, still less do we say to surpass, but only to approach the level of developed countries. Therefore, we cherish the hope for a peaceful international environment.38 Henry Kissinger, one of the best Western interpreters of China’s foreign policy, accurately described Beijing’s post-Mao views in the following terms: Chinese leaders no longer made any claim to represent a unique revolutionary truth available for export. Instead, they espoused the essentially defensive aim of working toward a world not overtly hostile to their system of governance or territorial integrity and buying time to develop their economy and work out their domestic problems at their own pace … But even as tides were shifting, Chinese leaders projected a fiery sense of independence. They masked their concern by missing no opportunity to proclaim that they would resist outside pressure to the utmost.39 China’s leaders aspired to a world based on the principles inscribed in the UN Charter of peaceful coexistence and non-interference in the internal affairs of states. However, in an allusion to the turn in Western foreign policies after the fall of the USSR, Kissinger added: That proposition was exactly what the new political dispensation in the West was jettisoning. The new concept insisted that the world was entering a “post-sovereign” era, in which international norms of human rights would prevail over the traditional prerogatives of sovereign governments. By contrast Jiang [Zemin, r. 1989–2002] and his associates sought a multipolar world that accepted China’s brand of hybrid socialism and “people’s democracy,” and in which the United States treated China on equal terms as a great power.40 Thus, Beijing could only be deeply frustrated by the change in Washington’s attitude in the wake of the USSR’s demise. The final collapse of the US rival as global superpower of the Cold War era conveniently occurred shortly after the Tiananmen massacre. Washington could thus disguise behind the pretense of upholding democratic values its strategic readjustment aimed at containing the two potential “peer competitors” represented by a fast-rising China and a soon-to-recover Russia (see Part I). It was under the Clinton administration that this readjustment mainly occurred, but it was preceded under the last “realist” US administration of


George Bush Sr by a major breach of the US commitment, made in the famous 1972 US–Chinese Shanghai Communiqué, which stated: The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position. It reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves. With this prospect in mind, it affirms the ultimate objective of the withdrawal of all US forces and military installations from Taiwan. In the meantime, it will progressively reduce its forces and military installations on Taiwan as the tension in the area diminishes.41 This commitment was reinforced in the last of the Three Joint Communiqués between the United States and China, where the Reagan administration had stated in 1982 that the United States “does not seek to carry out a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan, that its arms sales to Taiwan will not exceed, either in qualitative or in quantitative terms, the level of those supplied in recent years … and that it intends gradually to reduce its sale of arms to Taiwan, leading, over a period of time, to a final resolution”.42 And yet, on 2 September 1992, in the midst of his failed campaign to secure reelection for a second presidential term, George H.W. Bush—“who had refused to even recall his ambassador after the Tiananmen massacres in the interest of protecting America’s long-term relationship with the People’s Republic”—announced to the staff of General Dynamics in Fort Worth, Texas, that he had decided to authorize the sale to Taiwan of 150 F16 AB aircraft made by them.43 The announcement was followed by a textbook example of doublespeak: This sale of F-16s to Taiwan will help maintain peace and stability in an area of great concern to us, the Asia-Pacific region … My decision today does not change the commitment of this administration and its predecessors to the three communiqués with the People’s Republic of China. We keep our word: our one-China policy, our recognition of the PRC as the sole legitimate government of China. I’ve always stressed that the importance of the 1982 communiqué on arms sales to Taiwan lies in its promotion of common political goals: peace and stability in the area through mutual restraint.44


Inspired by Anthony Lake, Bill Clinton had countered his Republican rival with “a ready-dose of morality-based criticism”, accusing him of “coddling tyrants” in Beijing45—a political orientation that would buttress his own presidential course of building on what Bush had started, partly under Clinton’s pressure, regarding US arms sales to Taiwan. So much was this the case that Patrick Tyler could write near the end of the Clinton era: “America is busily preparing Taiwan for war with mainland China”.46 The former chief correspondent of the New York Times lamented the fact that there had been “little public debate about the military balance in the Taiwan Strait—about how much US weaponry is enough and how much is too provocative”.47 And there had also been little debate within the Clinton administration, since William Perry himself was less dovish on China than he was on Russia. In 1995 then-Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui was granted a visa to visit the United States to deliver a speech at Cornell University, where he had earned his doctoral degree. No American president since Nixon had allowed such visits “in the belief that giving Taiwan’s leader a political forum in the United States undermined the ‘one China’ pledge and needlessly provoked Beijing”.48 This, combined with the Clinton administration’s general policy on China and Taiwan, provided the backdrop against which the 1996 Taiwan Crisis unfolded (see Chapter 1). China was clearly provoked by Washington’s attitude and the rise of independentism in Taiwan itself—and certainly also worried by the effects on the mainland, in the wake of Tiananmen, of Taiwan’s late 1980s democratization under the pressure of a rising social movement and democratic opposition, in a process paralleling similar developments in South Korea. Beijing launched missiles in the Taiwan Strait separating the mainland from the island prior to the latter’s first direct presidential election. Washington reacted by dispatching two aircraft carriers to the area: The deployment of March 1996 was the first act of American coercion against China since 1958, and certainly since President Nixon opened up relations with the People’s Republic in 1972. The display of American military power was seen as a victory by the Clinton administration, a demonstration of force blended with diplomacy … It deeply humiliated the new Chinese leadership and the People’s Liberation Army. The


significance of the confrontation would radiate out across the decades, marking, perhaps, a profound moment in which China’s leaders realized that in order to fulfill their own aspirations for national unity, in order to emerge as a great power in Asia, they would have to stand up to the United States militarily, especially near their own shores.49 The 1996 Taiwan Crisis was the defining moment of China’s entry soon thereafter into the New Cold War, joined by Russia, when both countries were confronted in 1999 with NATO’s US-led Kosovo War (Chapter 2). Nevertheless, like Putin’s Russia, China experienced a period of détente with the United States under George W. Bush in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, which it quickly condemned, offering its support to Washington’s “war on terror”. With the United States soon bogged down in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and China’s economy growing at impressive speed since the turn of the century—its GDP achieved double-digit annual growth between 2003 (10 percent) and 2007 (14.2 percent), before the 2008 global economic crisis, after which it started slowing down50—Beijing under Hu Jintao (r. 2002–12) restated the foreign policy doctrine originally defined by Deng Xiaoping. Initially called Peaceful Rise, the reinstated doctrine was in 2005 renamed Peaceful Development, “on the reported grounds that the notion of a ‘rise’ was too threatening and triumphalist”.51 The doctrine was presented at length in a White Paper issued by China’s State Council in December 2005, emphasizing reassuringly that “China did not seek hegemony in the past, nor does it now, and will not do so in the future when it gets stronger”.52 China’s development, said the document, “will never pose a threat to anyone; instead, it can bring more development opportunities and bigger markets for the rest of the world”. In its concluding summary, the White Paper asserts: The Chinese government and people are well aware that China is still a developing country facing a lot of difficulties and problems on its road of development, and therefore it still has a long way to go before modernization is achieved. The road of peaceful development accords with the fundamental interests of the Chinese people; it also conforms to the objective requirements of social development and progress of mankind. China is now taking the road of peaceful development, and will continue to do so when it gets stronger in the future. The resolve of the Chinese


government and the Chinese people to stick to the road of peaceful development is unshakable … China has identified its goal for the first 20 years of this century. That is, to build a moderately well-off society in an all-round way that benefits over one billion people, further develop China’s economy, improve democracy, advance science and education, enrich culture, foster greater social harmony and upgrade the quality of life of the Chinese people.53 The White Paper describes what Kissinger aptly characterized as “a route to great power status plausibly attractive to a generation of leadership that had come of age during the social collapse of the Cultural Revolution, that knew its legitimacy now depended in part on delivering China’s people a measure of wealth and comfort and a respite from the previous century’s upheavals and privations”.54 Six years later, in September 2011, China’s State Council issued a second White Paper on Peaceful Development. In the meantime, Barack Obama had succeeded George W. Bush in the White House in January 2009. The next year, the Obama administration reprised the Clinton administration’s policy toward China and Taiwan, offering the latter a range of weapons deemed by Beijing to betray anew the US pledge of 1982 to limit its arms sales to Taiwan “either in qualitative or in quantitative terms”. The new Chinese White Paper, issued three days before the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, bears the hallmarks of the new increase in tensions. While mostly dedicated to issues of economic and social development, it includes a thinly veiled severe critique of US behavior on the global scene, which could be read today as a critique of recent actions by Russia: The Chinese people adhere to the social system and path of development chosen by themselves and will never allow any external forces to interfere in China’s internal affairs. China … does not form alliance with any other country or group of countries, nor does it use social system or ideology as a yardstick to determine what kind of relations it should have with other countries. China respects the right of the people of other countries to independently choose their own social system and path of development, and does not interfere in other countries’ internal affairs. It is opposed to the practices of the big bullying the small


and the strong oppressing the weak, and to hegemonism and power politics … Countries should safeguard their own security while respecting others’ security concerns. They should abandon the Cold War mentality and confrontation between different alliances, uphold common security through multilateral cooperation and work together to prevent conflicts and wars. It is important to give full play to the UN’s role in maintaining world peace and security and establish a fair and effective mechanism for upholding common security.55

III. The Xi Jinping Era

Xi Jinping acceded to the key functions of China’s “paramount leader”—general secretary of the CCP and chairman of the Central Military Commission—in November 2012. The following March, he assumed the third related office, that of president of the PRC.56 His accession to paramountcy was closely related to a reaction of anxiety on the part of the Chinese bureaucratic-capitalist ruling class in the face of increasing discontent in China over rising social inequality, on the one hand, and increasing expressions of that discontent from both the (neoliberal) right and (Maoist) left, increasing the level of tolerance for uncontrolled speech. The democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2010 had tremendously heightened this anxiety, due to the natural osmosis between the former British colony turned into “special administrative region” and the PRC. It was considerably amplified by the subsequent global wave of revolt, epitomized by the 2011 Arab Spring but also by the 2011–13 protests in Russia. This anxiety was reflected in a famous communiqué circulated within the Party’s ranks by its Central Committee in April 2013. Known as Document 9, it describes seven “problems” related to the ideological sphere: “1. Promoting Western Constitutional Democracy: An attempt to undermine the current leadership and the socialism with Chinese characteristics system of governance”; “2. Promoting ‘universal values’ in an attempt to weaken the theoretical foundations of the Party’s leadership”; “3. Promoting civil society in an attempt to dismantle the ruling party’s social foundation”; “4. Promoting Neoliberalism, attempting to change China’s Basic Economic System”; “5. Promoting the West’s idea of journalism, challenging China’s principle that the media and publishing


system should be subject to Party discipline”; “6. Promoting historical nihilism, trying to undermine the history of the CCP and of New China”; “7. Questioning Reform and Opening and the socialist nature of socialism with Chinese characteristics”.57 The above subheadings capture well the thrust of the document: most of it is directed against democratic aspirations and any questioning of the legitimacy of CCP rule. Subheading 4 is aimed at the right-wing opposition to the existing socioeconomic system, subheading 7 at the leftwing opposition to it. To stifle popular discontent and assuage the power elite’s anxiety, the Xi Jinping era would resort to increased repression, including increased electronic surveillance, of China’s society—and a totalitarian crackdown on Xinjiang’s Muslim population, starting from 2016. At the same time, it would evoke faded echoes of the Maoist era in denouncing inequality and corruption, using the fight against the latter to appease popular anger, while at the same time purging ruling circles of actual or potential opponents of Xi’s leadership. All this was accompanied by an increasingly authoritarian centralization of power, in a low-key imitation of Mao’s cult—except that this modern iteration looked rather grotesque, since Xi had none of Mao’s historical and intellectual credentials. A natural corollary was the removal in 2018 of the two-term limitation on the presidency, allowing for Xi’s indefinite presence at the helm. The corrective course under Xi also included a controlled whipping-up of Chinese nationalism, a perennial aspect of the CCP’s effort to retain ideological legitimacy.58 Barack Obama sought to mend US relations with China by inviting Xi Jinping, shortly after the latter’s accession to the presidency, to a bilateral summit meeting in California, in June 2013. The two presidents agreed on a range of issues, but Taiwan remained the major bone of contention even though US arms sales to the island under Obama, as well as under his predecessor Bush Jr, had not reiterated the surge they had undergone in the Clinton era. Xi was also frustrated by Washington’s reluctance to give China a greater say in international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. This he regarded as fitting recognition of the huge growth of China’s economic power, and a demonstration of US openness to integrating it into regional free-trade area plans.


Xi therefore decided to push forward two key complementary projects, building on China’s massive financial power and expertise in infrastructure development, aimed at creating a regional and global economic network centered around China instead of the United States, Japan or the EU.59 Thus, in September 2013 in Kazakhstan, he announced the launch of what would become known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)—and in October, from Indonesia, the launch of what would become the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). As to whether such initiatives indicate that China’s mutation into one more imperialist power in the economic definition of the term, similar to the others, is complete or not, “the jury is still out”, as Walden Bello remarked in a nuanced booklet.60 These two key economic schemes of the Xi era have been highly successful. At the time of writing, the number of countries that have joined the BRI by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with China has reached 146, spread across all continents.61 Almost all key countries of the geopolitical West in North America and Europe, along with Japan and Australia, are left out of it—but all East European states, plus Italy, have joined the scheme. The BRI’s expansion was boosted by the official launch of the AIIB in January 2016—an unmitigated success, even beyond that of the BRI. The AIIB’s forty-six Asian member-states include Australia, while Washington’s most loyal ally, the UK itself, is one of the forty-five nonregional member-states, along with other key European states such as France and Germany.62 This shows the extent of the failure of Obama’s much-remarked “pivot to Asia”. The formula was taken from an October 2011 article published by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Foreign Policy. The Obama administration was pondering the Iraqi defeat and the Afghan quagmire that it had inherited from the previous administration—the US withdrawal from Iraq was completed by the end of that same year, while the surge in US troop numbers in Afghanistan ordered by Obama during the first two years of his presidency had started to be reversed. The administration was also confronted with the fiasco of its intervention in Libya, where the civil war had escaped its control. “As those wars wind down”, wrote Hillary Clinton, mentioning Iraq and Afghanistan, “we will need to accelerate efforts to pivot to new global realities.”63 The new global


realities were constituted by the Asia-Pacific region, defined as stretching from South Asia to the Americas—overlooking the fact that Russia too is both an Asian and a Pacific state. For that vast region, the secretary of state presented an ambitious “regional strategy” that included building “a web of partnerships and institutions across the Pacific”, expansion of defense treaty alliances, and the finalization of the free-trade Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), in gestation since 2008.64 The score on all these accounts is largely in favor of China. The TPP—for which Washington had imposed standards unacceptable to China and difficult to swallow for most other partner countries—entered long and laborious negotiations. It was eventually on its way to implementation in January 2017, when Donald Trump withdrew the United States from it. The other countries involved in the TPP replaced it with the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which, after the removal of various clauses imposed by Washington, was brought into effect in 2018. China formally applied to join it in 2021. Also in 2011, when Hillary Clinton published her “pivot to Asia” article, negotiations initiated by China and Japan got underway toward the creation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Signed in November 2020, the RCEP brought together all countries of the Asia-Pacific region located in a vast north–south corridor from China, Japan and South Korea to Australia and New Zealand—with the exception of Taiwan, of course, as well as Papua New Guinea. Writing in the New York Times, Australian researcher Susannah Patton was entirely correct to assert in June 2022 that “China is already winning throughout much of Asia on both the economic and diplomatic fronts, and nothing the United States is doing seems likely to change that”. Twenty years ago, just 5 percent of exports from Southeast Asia went to China, and 16 percent to the United States. By 2020, they were even at around 15 percent. China’s increasing clout becomes clearer when considering total trade: It does around two and a half times more volume in the region than the United States. China is now the largest trading partner of almost every Asian country. Investment—driven by a vibrant US private sector—has long been an American advantage in Asia. But that edge is rapidly eroding, too. In 2018,


10-year cumulative flows of investment from China to other countries in the region were half those of the United States. They are now 75 percent of the US total and rising.65 This 2022 judgment indicates how deep a failure Donald Trump’s aggressive mercantilist onslaught on China was, in its turn. Trump acted more provocatively on the issue of Taiwan than any of his predecessors, substantially increasing US arms sales to the island after having ostentatiously held a telephone conversation with the pro-independence president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, on 2 December 2016—a gesture that no US president had officially made since Washington’s recognition of Beijing in the framework of the One China policy. Up to the time of writing—that is, under Joe Biden as well—Washington has followed a highly provocative course toward Beijing in all respects: Taiwan; the East and South China Seas and South Pacific; anti-China military alliances, such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (known as Quad) with Australia, India and Japan, and AUKUS, with Australia and the UK; and trade and financial war. A radically different US policy was possible, like the one advocated in 2015 by Lyle J. Goldstein, who teaches at the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.66 Between Trump and Biden, the presentation changed: from sheer economic nationalism with hardly any democratic pretensions to fake democratic claims for the second. The latter were clearly illustrated by the farcical Summit for Democracy convened by the Biden administration in December 2021. The invitees included Taiwan—thus increasing China’s irritation for being excluded—but also, in a brazenly hypocritical move, such great democrats as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte and India’s Narendra Modi. Meanwhile, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—arguably more democratically respectable than any of the last three—was excluded. Biden’s summit, in short, was based on a very arbitrary conception of democracy. Another vivid illustration of the variable geometry of Washington’s defense of human rights is to be found in its castigation of Beijing for its appalling treatment of Xinjiang’s Muslims while embracing Modi at the same time, turning a blind eye to his dreadful treatment of the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir, and to his ruling party’s attitude of sectarian hatred toward Indian Muslims in general.


Beijing responded to Washington’s aggressive gestures with two White Papers: one published in September 2019, on China’s international relations; and one in December 2021, on China’s “democracy that works” in reaction to Biden’s Summit. The 2021 document—coming out shortly after another that hailed China’s huge economic progress67—skillfully asserts, in the face of Washington’s arrogance: “Whether a country is democratic should be judged by its people, not dictated by a handful of outsiders. Whether a country is democratic should be acknowledged by the international community, not arbitrarily decided by a few selfappointed judges.”68 China surely had a point, if we are to trust the Democracy Perception Index, sponsored by the Copenhagen-based Alliance of Democracies Foundation, which shows in its 2022 report that China scores the highest, with 83 percent of polled nationals asserting that it is democratic—as opposed to less than 50 percent for the US!69 The 2019 document offered a lengthy elaboration of the economic and political–military arguments of the Peaceful Development doctrine: Any country, big or small, strong or weak, can achieve sustainable development only if it participates in international cooperation on the basis of equality and mutual benefit. In contrast, pursuing hegemony and militarism will only consume national strength and lead to decline. In human history, the struggle for hegemony of the major powers has resulted in frequent wars, loss of life, setbacks for humanity, and even the retrogression of human civilization. The lessons have been painful and profound. Peace, development and stability, rather than war, poverty and chaos, are the true aspirations of the people of all countries.70 Rather than only hinting at other countries while refraining from naming any country in particular, as had been the convention in most previous documents of this kind, it is striking that the 2019 document engages explicitly in defining China’s relations with the United States, Russia and Europe, admonishing the United States in the following terms: The China–US relationship is one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world. China is the world’s largest developing country and the United States is the largest developed country. Cooperation is the only correct choice for the two countries, and a mutually beneficial relationship is the only path to a better future … China has no intention of challenging the United States, nor of replacing the US; the US is unable to


force China’s hand, and even less likely to halt China’s development. The US cannot maintain its strength by attempting to contain and suppress other countries, or by transferring its own domestic stresses outward. The US should abandon the Cold War mentality, and develop a proper understanding of itself, China, and the world. It should adapt to the development and prosperity of other countries, and live in harmony with the rest of the world …71 The very provocative hostility toward China displayed by Donald Trump and his administration—Trump entrusted his trade and industrial policy to the rabidly anti-Chinese Peter Navarro, co-author of a book tellingly titled Death by China, and maker of a propaganda film bearing the same title72—prompted China to upscale its drive to reduce its dependence on the United States, both commercially and technologically. Its “dual circulation” policy emphasized the need for a redoubled effort to supplement the “external circulation” of China’s global trade and networking by expanding the “internal circulation” of its domestic market and boosting its technological autonomy. As James Crabtree put it at the close of the Trump era: Beginning with semiconductors but potentially expanding to all manner of other areas, China now expects it will have to develop technologically on its own. Xi’s new theory now sits at the heart of the country’s 14th five-year plan, which covers development from 2021 to 2025, and was unveiled in draft form in October [2020]. The result will accelerate China’s decoupling from the West, while also increasing the importance of trading links forged with other parts of the world—for instance, via Xi’s signature Belt and Road Initiative. Put more bluntly, while the world was distracted by the drama of the US presidential election, Xi quietly unveiled an economic strategy fit for a new Cold War.73 How should we read the Xi Jinping era? Does it represent China’s moment of imperialist mutation—a prelude to escalating belligerence after having been an “emerging country” for several decades, following close to a century and a half of decline?74 This interpretation seems to be buttressed by China’s economic development and the expansion of its reach, economically as well as militarily. But it is contradicted by demographic realities. Germany caught up economically with its western


European rivals and entered its imperialist mode in the late nineteenth century, at a time of rapidly increasing population, which resumed after the First World War. So did Japan—with a still faster population growth. The United States, a land of migration par excellence, mutated in the late nineteenth century from emerging economic power into imperialist power against the backdrop of a rapidly increasing, and increasingly youthful, population. By contrast, China’s predicament has been insightfully described by Henry Kissinger: [P]art of China’s spectacular growth over the initial decades was attributable to its good fortune that there existed a fairly easy correspondence between China’s huge pool of young, then largely unskilled labor—which had been “unnaturally” cut off from the world economy during the Mao years—and the Western economies, which were on the whole wealthy, optimistic, and highly leveraged on credit, with cash to buy Chinese-made goods. Now that China’s labor force is becoming older and more skilled (causing some basic manufacturing jobs to move to lower-wage countries such as Vietnam and Bangladesh) and the West is entering a period of austerity, the picture is far more complicated. Demography will compound that task. Propelled by increasing standards of living and longevity combined with the distortions of the onechild policy, China has one of the world’s most rapidly aging populations … By 2050, one-half of China’s population is projected to be forty-five or older, with a full quarter of China’s population—roughly equivalent to the entire current population of the United States—sixty-five and older. A country facing such large domestic tasks is not going to throw itself easily, much less automatically, into strategic confrontation or a quest for world domination.75 It could be objected to this argument that Russia’s demographic problem is at least as serious as China’s. But the sheer size of China’s population, close to ten times that of Russia, along with its far higher demographic density, as well as the much higher elasticity of demand for China’s exports (20 percent of its GDP, double the US rate) compared to Russia’s hydrocarbon exports (as illustrated by the latter’s economic resilience in the face of Western sanctions imposed after its invasion of Ukraine), making China’s economy much more vulnerable than Russia’s— all these are formidable risk factors that can only make the Chinese


leadership, still quite more collegial than Putin’s regime, much less prone to adventurism than the latter.

IV. China and Russia: Love or Convenience?

Since the turn of the century, relations between China and Russia have maintained the momentum gathered in the 1990s (see Part I). The rationale for these relations has been sustained by US conduct that Kenneth Waltz aptly summarized in the 2000 article already quoted in the Introduction, as follows: To alienate Russia by expanding NATO, and to alienate China by lecturing its leaders on how to rule their country, are policies that only an overwhelmingly powerful country could afford, and only a foolish one be tempted, to follow. The United States cannot prevent a new balance of power from forming. It can hasten its coming as it has been earnestly doing.76 Indeed, had Washington wished to push Beijing to close ranks with Moscow, it would not have behaved any differently. From the embargo on arms sales to China imposed in reaction to Tiananmen, forcing it to rely upon a Russia that was only too happy to sell its military hardware, to the Kosovo War, launched in violation of the very rules of international law that Washington had pledged to observe in the New World Order heralded by Bush Sr in 1990—the 1989–99 decade durably shaped the triangular relations between Washington, Moscow and Beijing in a bipolar opposition pitting the US-led West against the alliance of Russia and China. The two countries certainly had more in common at the time of the USSR than thereafter—and yet they had been bitterly antagonistic for three decades before they re-established diplomatic relations in 1991. Since 1971, Washington, in the face of adversity created by the Vietnam War and economic difficulties, had smartly maneuvered to establish relations with Beijing and triangulate the global scene, even though China had hitherto been constantly outbidding the USSR in opposition to the United States. This triangulation strategy was designed and led by Henry Kissinger. Historians will gauge the effect it had on the economic path chosen by China by the end of that same decade, but that effect was certainly major.


The 1980s witnessed a major setback for this US strategy with the return to power of the Republicans, but with a different orientation. In the interval (1977–80), the United States had reached the depths of its hardship under Jimmy Carter. Those years had seen overthrow of one of its key Middle Eastern allies, the Shah of Iran, by a fiercely anti-American Islamic Revolution; the rise to power of a new Marxist state in its Central American backyard, in Nicaragua; and, last but not least, the USSR’s first military incursion outside its post-1945 sphere, in Afghanistan. Together, these events made of 1979 an annus horribilis for the United States. At the same time, Vietnam’s anti–Khmer Rouge “regime change” occupation of Kampuchea, beginning at the end of 1978, and soon followed by China’s border war with Vietnam, exacerbated hostility between Moscow and Beijing, leading the latter into military collaboration with Washington— which even started selling it weapons. Beginning in 1981, the Reagan administration represented a return to the hardline Cold War discourse and behavior of the Truman years, which marked the Cold War’s inception, under the heavy influence of the US neoconservatives. Reagan came close to antagonizing Beijing anew on the issue of Taiwan, but quickly reverted to the Nixon–Kissinger posture. However, the terminal crisis of the Soviet Union and its imperium of satellite states in the second half of the 1980s, during Reagan’s second term, was a source of such hubris and triumphalism in Washington that it became predisposed to react to Tiananmen in a way that jeopardized its triangulation strategy, leading to a rapprochement between China and Russia. This was in spite of the obvious fact that the 1989 massacre paled in comparison with the huge massacres that were perpetrated in China under Mao’s Cultural Revolution, in the very midst of which Kissinger had opened dialogue with Beijing on behalf of the US government. The 1990s completed the transition from triangulation to a bipolarity of circumstance, with Beijing and Moscow united in upholding “multipolarity” against Washington’s “unipolar hegemonism”. The alliance between the two countries was sealed by the Treaty of GoodNeighborliness and Friendly Cooperation, signed in July 2001 and ratified in early 2002. The treaty’s duration was twenty years; it was agreed in June 2021 to extend it for five more years in conformity with its last article, which provided for successive five-year extensions by mutual consent after


its expiration. The treaty bears the unmistakable imprint of China’s philosophy of international relations. Its key points are the following: it institutes a “strategic cooperative partnership” between the two parties, based on the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence inscribed in the PRC’s constitution (mutual respect of state sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful co-existence); Russia endorses China’s position on Taiwan; the two states declare that they will settle their remaining territorial disputes; the military cooperation of the two parties is “not directed at third countries”; neither shall enter into any alliance jeopardizing the other’s security and sovereignty; both stand for the strict observation of international laws and oppose the use of force to exert pressure on others, as well as any interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state “under all sorts of pretexts”; they work together to maintain “global strategic balance and stability” and to “reinforce the central role of the United Nations … in handling international affairs, particularly in the realm of peace and development, and guarantee the major responsibility of the UN Security Council in the area of maintaining international peace and security”.77 Security cooperation between Russia and China began in opposition to “Islamic terrorism”, when Moscow was still fighting its first Chechen War. Together with three former Soviet republics of Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan), they formed a “Shanghai group” in 1996 to pursue a joint struggle against Islamic militancy. In June 2001, the group became the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), with Uzbekistan inducted as its sixth member. After the grace period in both Russia’s and China’s relations with the United States in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the fifth SCO summit, in 2005, citing the end of large-scale operations in Afghanistan, called for a timetable for the withdrawal of USled forces from that country and for a cut-off date for the use of temporary facilities and military presence by the United States in SCO countries. These demands were undoubtedly forced by Moscow and Beijing upon the four other countries, whose interests would have required that they maintain their cooperation with Washington to preserve their margin of autonomy. The same 2005 summit admitted Iran, along with India and Pakistan, as observer members of the SCO, while Mongolia had been


admitted the year before. India and Pakistan were offered full membership in 2015, as was Iran in 2021. Thus, what had begun as cooperation against “Islamic terrorism” was largely transformed into a China–Russia joint venture to keep the United States out of Central Asia and diminish its influence in South Asia. China’s arms imports from Russia continued to increase after the turn of the century. The contradictory logic of these imports was well defined in a research article by Richard Weitz, written for the US Jamestown Foundation in 2006, when these imports were at a peak: Several considerations explain China’s interest in acquiring Russian arms. Economic factors come into play insofar as, by purchasing Russian weapons, China avoids having to research, develop and manufacture its own systems. Although China’s indigenous arms industry has become more capable along with the rest of the economy, Chinese defense enterprises still lag behind their leading international counterparts in several key areas, such as advanced aviation and naval weapons … Although both the Russian government and its defense enterprises would like to perpetuate the current commercial arrangement, the increasing sophistication of China’s defense industry is enabling Chinese manufacturers to produce more advanced weapons systems under license instead of purchasing finished systems directly from Russian manufacturers. In addition, China has already begun buying fewer complete Russian weapons platforms, such as turnkey warplanes and warships. Beijing has instead been importing more military technologies, sub-systems and other essential components that Chinese manufactures insert directly into Chinese-designed weapons systems.78 In other words, China’s reliance on Russia for weapons was from the outset destined to dwindle as time went by, given China’s rapid technological development and its keenness to achieve full autonomy in security and military matters. Weitz surmised that “in order to retain Russia’s share of China’s defense market, Moscow could decide to sell even more advanced weapons systems to Beijing”.79 In recent years Moscow has indeed delivered Su-35 fighter jets to Beijing—though not its fifthgeneration Su-57 jets, which entered service in December 2020—and surface-to-air missile systems S-400, but not yet its most recent S-500, in service since September 2021. The two countries even agreed in March


2021 to collaborate in building a research station on the moon, expanding their cooperation in space. There have been frictions between them, however, due to Russia’s complaint about China’s technological theft, which resembles US complaints regarding Chinese theft of intellectual property in civilian—primarily electronic—industries. In addition, China harbors worries about energy cooperation with Russia. Beijing closely watched the ramifications of the Russia–Belarus standoff in January [2007]. Chinese commentaries carefully studied how European consumer countries reacted to the standoff. It wasn’t lost on China that the European Union suffered badly in the Russia–Belarus oil row. Russia’s image and credibility certainly took a beating. Chinese commentators took note that dependence on foreign energy has its pitfalls, especially over-dependence on a single source … Most important, they saw how intrinsically tied Russian foreign policy is to its energy exports. (And Belarus was one of Russia’s closest allies.)80 Although China’s imports of oil from Russia are poised to increase in the near future, compensating for the irreversible long-term decline of European imports from Russia, China will continue to diversify its sources by buying oil from the Gulf, Africa (Angola) and South America (Brazil and Venezuela). Likewise with gas: despite Russia’s construction in 2018– 19 of a 3,000 km pipeline running from eastern Siberia to the Chinese border, at a cost of $55 billion, China will certainly continue to import gas from Australia and Turkmenistan, its two principal providers in 2021, as well as from other countries such as Malaysia and Qatar. On the other hand, the nature of relations between China and Russia with regard to the energy market has undergone a qualitative change: Russia has become more dependent economically on its exports to China than China is on its energy imports from Russia.81 All of this is notwithstanding the global drive, in which China is participating, to diminish reliance on fossil fuels. The obvious conclusion from all this is that collaboration between China and Russia is based on convenience, not love.82 What has brought the two countries together is basically their common opposition to US “hegemonism” rather than any likeness to each other, despite everincreasing endeavors to depict the New Cold War as a new version of the old, construed as a conflict between totalitarianism and the “free world”— if not a new version of the antagonism between the liberal countries and


the Axis powers in the 1930s. In fact, the Beijing–Moscow alliance bears little resemblance to the Berlin–Rome Axis: whereas the latter brought together similar fascist states, China and Russia have quite different socioeconomic and political regimes. If anything, keeping in mind the limitations of analogies in general, the two states’ collaboration is more comparable to alliances of convenience such as the 1939–41 Molotov– Ribbentrop Pact between the Stalinist USSR and Nazi Germany—or indeed the alliance of the same USSR with the United States and Britain against the Axis powers, beginning from 1941.83 The PRC, after having been closely linked to the USSR during the first years of its own existence, broke with it, and entered eventually into a collaboration against it with the United States, at a time when its political and socioeconomic structures had much in common with those of the USSR. Present-day China would certainly have preferred to maintain equally good relations with the United States, Europe, Russia and Japan, which would be more advantageous to its peaceful development than the global tensions primarily provoked by Washington. If it had not been pushed by Washington into Moscow’s arms, Beijing might well have prioritized its relations with the United States over those with Russia, given its incomparably greater economic interdependence with the former. In 2020 Russia was a minor customer of China—very far behind its main customer, the United States, and several US allies. It was only its ninth supplier, accounting for only 2.8 percent of China’s imports—behind Japan, South Korea, the United States, Australia, Germany, Brazil, and even Vietnam and Malaysia.84 This explains why, even at the peak of the quasi-racist anti-China frenzy in the United States under Donald Trump, Beijing did not take antagonism for granted and continued to blame Washington for spoiling their relations. The 2019 White Paper quoted above, China and the World in the New Era, describes China’s relationship with the United States as “one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world” and calls for “cooperation” and a “mutually beneficial relationship” between them as “the only path to a better future”.85 On Russia, the paper states the following: The upgrade of the China–Russia relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era marks a brighter future


for our bilateral relations … China will work with Russia to build a deeper friendship between our two countries, support each other on issues concerning our core interests, closely coordinate with each other on major issues of mutual concern, enhance the connectivity of our development strategies, and push our bilateral relations to greater heights, wider fields and deeper levels. Our relationship will serve as both a ballast and a propeller in a complex and volatile international situation. A close partnership between China and Russia contributes to world peace, security and stability.86 This sounds like a very special relationship—except that it is followed by similar praise for China’s relations with Europe, described likewise as a “comprehensive strategic partnership”: Europe is an important pillar in the world today, and also a comprehensive strategic partner to China. We endeavor to promote a partnership for peace, growth, reform and civilization, connecting our strengths, markets and civilizations, and increasing the global influence of the China–EU comprehensive strategic partnership. China will continue to support European integration, and a more important role in international affairs for a more united and stronger EU. The two sides will extend cooperation, make joint efforts to uphold multilateralism, and promote stability throughout the world.87 This points to the enormous potential in the development of relations between the EU and China, had the former been capable of following a foreign policy more independent of the United States—a risk that Washington averted for the time being by stoking the fire in Russia’s relations with Europe, with Vladimir Putin’s enthusiastic help, and by accusing Beijing of collusion with Moscow in the Ukraine War. The hope of restoring some semblance of normality in US–China relations after Trump’s bellicose conduct was quickly dashed by Biden’s outbidding of his predecessor in hostile military gestures, as well as vain symbolic maneuvers such as the “diplomatic boycott” of the Beijing Winter Olympics in February 2022 (along with the UK, Australia and a few other countries), thus largely negating the relative softening of the trade-war discourse. The same causes producing the same effects, it was to be expected that China would react by deepening its cooperation with Russia just as


tensions between the latter, on one side, and the United States and its allies on the other, were reaching a very high pitch, prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Putin saw his opportunity: seizing the moment, in one of his very rare trips abroad since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, he travelled to Beijing to extract a strong statement of solidarity from Xi Jinping— probably without informing him of his war plan. The long joint statement issued on 4 February, the day of the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, was largely composed of almost verbatim excerpts from the recent Chinese White Papers discussed above, regarding peaceful development, international relations and democracy. On matters of global security, the statement reiterated both countries’ longstanding postures, in particular their belief that the US withdrawal from the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles, the acceleration of research and the development of intermediate-range and shorter-range ground-based missiles and the desire to deploy them in the Asia-Pacific and European regions, as well as their transfer to the allies, entail an increase in tension and distrust, increase risks to international and regional security, lead to the weakening of [the] international nonproliferation and arms control system, undermining global strategic stability.88 The two sides likewise asserted that “the denunciation by the United States of a number of important international arms control agreements has an extremely negative impact on international and regional security and stability”. They expressed their concern over “the advancement of US plans to develop global missile defense and deploy its elements in various regions of the world, combined with capacity building of high-precision non-nuclear weapons for disarming strikes and other strategic objectives”. They also “oppose attempts by some States to turn outer space into an arena of armed confrontation and reiterate their intention to make all necessary efforts to prevent the weaponization of space and an arms race in outer space”.89 Otherwise, the joint statement is in large part a quid pro quo—“You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”, as one commentator summarized it in the Washington Post.90 Nevertheless, the truth is that Putin was scratching Xi’s back significantly more than the reverse, in virtue of the balance of


forces between their two countries and the much heavier pressure bearing down on Russia at the moment of their meeting. Moscow was unmistakably in the role of supplicant. Putin joined Xi in opposing the “politicization” of the issue of the origin of the Covid-19 virus. Both confirmed that Taiwan was “an inalienable part of China” and opposed “any forms of independence of Taiwan” (while the Chinese side conceded nothing about Ukraine). They opposed “politicization of the issues of combating terrorism and their use as instruments of policy of double standards”—an indirect reference to China’s practice of ethnic oppression in Xinjiang, which Beijing has always portrayed as designed to combat “terrorism”, and was the reason invoked by a few states for their diplomatic boycott of the Olympics. Both leaders railed against “the formation of closed bloc structures and opposing camps in the Asia-Pacific region”, and expressed worries about “the negative impact of the United States’ Indo-Pacific strategy on peace and stability in the region”, as well as serious concerns about “the trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom (AUKUS), which provides for deeper cooperation between its members in areas involving strategic stability, in particular their decision to initiate cooperation in the field of nuclear-powered submarines”.91 In exchange, Xi joined Putin in opposing “further enlargement of NATO” and in calling on the Alliance to “abandon its ideologized cold war approaches”. He accepted the pledge to “develop cooperation within the ‘Russia–India–China’ format”—not China’s cup of tea given its antagonism toward India and close relations with Pakistan, whereas Moscow is keen to develop ties with both India and China.92 The joint statement called on the United States and its allies to “act in an open, transparent, and responsible manner by properly reporting on their military biological activities conducted overseas and on their national territory”—a prelude to Moscow’s claim that Washington was conducting research on biological weapons on Ukrainian soil, whether Beijing was aware of that claim or not.93 The Chinese side agreed to join Russia and “strongly condemn actions aimed at denying the responsibility for atrocities of Nazi aggressors, militarist invaders, and their accomplices [who] besmirch and tarnish the honor of the victorious countries”.94 To what extent Beijing realized that


this was meant to support Putin’s claims about Nazis ruling Ukraine is not clear. In any event, the statement does not include a single direct mention of Ukraine, despite the plethora of Russian claims about that country—a clear indication of China’s wish to remain neutral in the conflict between the two countries, just as it had remained neutral in 2014, taking no stance on Russia’s annexation of Crimea, while maintaining good relations with both Kyiv and Moscow. Sanctions, a concern shared by both countries, but primarily Russia, were mentioned only once, in a denunciation of “rules elaborated in private by certain nations or blocs of nations” and their handling of international problems “without consensus”, along with “power politics, bullying, unilateral sanctions, and extraterritorial application of jurisdiction, as well as the abuse of export control policies”. Both sides pledged to “support trade facilitation in line with the rules of the World Trade Organization”. The general principles reiterated in the statement’s last section— longstanding core elements of China’s foreign policy declarations—would certainly not have been worded in the same way by the Russian side, as they so plainly contradict its own behavior. Thus, the statement affirms both sides’ intention to “defend the world order based on international law, including the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations”, while opposing “the return of international relations to the state of confrontation between major powers, when the weak fall prey to the strong”—the very standards that Russia would trample upon barely three weeks later. In light of this, the declaration of love that the joint statement includes toward its end—“the new inter-State relations between Russia and China are superior to political and military alliances of the Cold War era. Friendship between the two States has no limits”—rings decidedly hollow. Moreover, it is offset by the assertion that “strategic cooperation” between the two states is not “aimed against third countries”. As Sergey Radchenko rightly put it shortly after the Xi–Putin summit: The biggest question about the Sino-Russian alignment is whether it will endure in a rapidly changing geopolitical environment. It is one thing for China to back Russia in opposing NATO enlargement as it costs it nothing to do so. It’s quite another for China to help Russia evade the economic sanctions it would face should it decide to invade Ukraine. It is


also one thing for Russia to back China in its opposition to AUKUS … but quite another for it to support China in the event of conflict in the South China Sea or in a clash with India, with which Moscow maintains cordial ties.95 Indeed, when Russia’s invasion began, signs of embarrassment multiplied on the Chinese side. While it refrained from condemning the aggression, evincing some understanding for Russia’s “security concerns” regarding NATO, it also did not endorse it. China did not join in imposing sanctions on Russia, to be sure; but neither did it expose itself to the risk of economic consequences by working actively to counter them.96 It is most likely that Putin had not informed Xi, when meeting him on 4 February of his determination to launch the war. China could hardly welcome such a disturbance of the conditions of its own “peaceful development”, as the war and its consequences started bearing on its own economy.97 The clearest Chinese official statement on the Ukraine War was made by China’s ambassador to the United States in the Washington Post: Assertions that China knew about, acquiesced to or tacitly supported this war are purely disinformation. All these claims serve only the purpose of shifting blame to and slinging mud at China. There were more than 6,000 Chinese citizens in Ukraine. China is the biggest trading partner of both Russia and Ukraine, and the largest importer of crude oil and natural gas in the world. Conflict between Russia and Ukraine does no good for China. Had China known about the imminent crisis, we would have tried our best to prevent it. China is committed to an independent foreign policy of peace. As a staunch champion of justice, China decides its position on the basis of the merits of the issue. On Ukraine, China’s position is objective and impartial: The purposes and principles of the UN Charter must be fully observed; the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, including Ukraine, must be respected; the legitimate security concerns of all countries must be taken seriously; and all efforts that are conducive to the peaceful settlement of the crisis must be supported.98 It is true Beijing conveyed to the Chinese population a version of the events closer to Russia’s view than to the West’s. But that was to be expected after a decades-long display of friendship by Moscow, contrasting with the flare-up of hostility from Washington in recent years. It is also


true that China participated with Russia, on 24 May, in a joint flight of strategic bombers over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea, while Putin’s troops continued their invasion of Ukraine. But it would have been ill-advised for Beijing to cancel this joint drill, and thus frustrate Moscow at a time when Joe Biden was in Tokyo for a summit of the Quad—the strategic and military cooperative framework that the United States had established in 2007 with Japan, Australia and India. Beijing can only interpret the Quad as directed against China, since there is no other issue that poses a geostrategic security concern for all four countries. Summits of Quad leaders were initiated by Joe Biden’s administration: the May 2022 summit was the fourth in the year-and-a-half that had elapsed since his investiture. It had been preceded, moreover, by one more provocative statement of the many that Biden had made on US readiness to defend Taiwan, followed as usual by extenuating “clarifications” made by his staff.99 Even if Beijing had been seriously contemplating an invasion of Taiwan, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine must have dissuaded the Chinese leadership from attempting to invade the island other than as an absolute last resort.100 The huge disruption that Putin’s reckless adventure has brought upon Russia—especially the long-term disruption of its economy by Western sanctions of unprecedented scope—would jeopardize decades of growth in China. A move against Taiwan would thus fundamentally annul the doctrine of Peaceful Development. Substantially weakened, Russia has become more dependent on China than ever before101—but this also means that their combined power has been weakened too, thus considerably decreasing the risk of war over Taiwan. Nonetheless, as Patrick Tyler explained, bringing Taiwan back into the fold of the motherland is perhaps the most deeply felt commitment of the Communist Party leadership in Beijing and of the officer corps of the 2 million-strong PLA, who regard themselves as the guardians of the Chinese revolution and the defenders of Chinese sovereignty … The average Chinese, of course, wants no part of war with Taiwan, or of Chinese killing Chinese. But the notion of such a war is nonetheless deeply imbedded in the political culture … of the Chinese Communist Party and the PLA.102


In a conversation with Henry Kissinger in 1973, Zhou Enlai expressed these wise thoughts: [W]e have to stress “never to seek hegemony”. [T]he objective fact of the largeness of the Chinese nation and Chinese area easily create [sic] a tendency to nationalistic sentiments and big-nation chauvinism. Because if there are too strong nationalist feelings, then one will cease to learn from others; one will seal oneself in and believe one is the best or will cease to learn from the strong points of others … With a vast population it is easy to project big-nation chauvinism feeling especially toward smaller bordering countries.103 China’s rulers have hitherto shown acumen in containing their “bignation chauvinism” within limits that have allowed their nation to grow economically to its greatest benefit. This has been in spite of a continuous display by the United States of its own “big-nation chauvinism” against them, except for a few years when Washington was facing adversity. Thus, Beijing is unlikely to cross the Rubicon—in this case, the Taiwan Strait— unless it is provoked to do so by Washington and/or Taipei beyond its limit of tolerance, or unless China’s social and economic situation deteriorates so badly that the permanence of CCP rule comes under threat, prompting its leadership to seek salvation by whipping up nationalism to the point of going to war. The failure of Xi’s Zero-Covid policy, combined with rising youth unemployment, dangerously portend such a scenario, in the context of the Biden administration’s clumsiness in dealing with Beijing.104 The crackdown on Hong Kong, with the virtual ending of the “one country, two systems” arrangement for the “special administrative region” indicates Beijing’s heightened anxiety about a possible contagion of large mass protests occurring there after those of 2014 and 2019–20.105 But, even in such a worst-case scenario, the cost of invading Taiwan—not least the destabilizing impact that an invasion would have on the mainland economically—might make a seizure of part of the island’s outlying islets and archipelagos an easier course of action for Beijing, provided its purpose is primarily symbolic and its intent mainly to accentuate pressure on Taipei.106

Postscript: 240

This chapter was written in the summer of 2022. The Chinese Communist Party held its 20th Congress on 16–22 October 2022. The following comment by Chris Buckley, chief China correspondent of The New York Times, is worth noting: For two decades, successive Chinese leaders have declared at the congress that the country was in a “period of important strategic opportunity,” implying that China faced no imminent risk of major conflict and could focus more on economic growth. For even longer, leaders have said that “peace and development remain the themes of the era” … But the two slogans, so unvarying that they rarely drew attention, were not in Mr. Xi’s report to the congress … Not in his 104-minute speech summarizing the report. Nor in the 72-page Chinese full version given to officials and journalists. Their exclusion, and Mr. Xi’s somber warning of “dangerous storms” on the horizon, indicated that he believed international hazards have worsened, especially since the start of the war in Ukraine in February, several experts said. Mr. Xi … sees a world made more treacherous by American support for the disputed island of Taiwan, Chinese vulnerability to technology “choke points,” and the plans of Western-led alliances to increase their military presence around Asia.107



Where Do We Go from Here?

Analysis of Imperialism, with its natural supports, militarism, oligarchy, bureaucracy, protection, concentration of capital and violent trade fluctuations, has marked it out as the supreme danger of modern national States. The power of the imperialist forces within the nation to use the national resources for their private gain, by operating the instrument of the State, can only be overthrown by the establishment of a genuine democracy, the direction of public policy by the people for the people through representatives over whom they exercise a real control.

J. A. Hobson, Imperialism: A Study (1902)1

The first of the two older pieces included in this book (Chapter 1) was written shortly after the first NATO summit to be held in the Spanish capital Madrid, on 8–9 July 1997, fifteen years after Spain’s accession to NATO. In 1997, the Atlantic Alliance was in swaggering, triumphalist mood. The sixteen member-states attending the Madrid summit invited three states to join the organization—a first, since all three states belonged to the former Soviet-dominated sphere. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland formally joined NATO at the organization’s fiftieth birthday celebrated in 1999, at its Washington summit. At the time, the Alliance was engaged, for the first time as such, in a war: the Kosovo war. This was a defining moment of the post–Cold War transition, heralding the beginning of a New Cold War, as this book has argued. A quarter-century later, on 28–30 June 2022, the number of memberstates attending the second NATO summit to be held in Madrid had almost doubled to thirty. All fourteen new members were countries formerly ruled by parties belonging to the communist movement once dominated by Moscow. The same thirty states had already been represented at the 2019 NATO London Summit (actually held in Watford, England) on 3–4 December. The mood in 2019, at the Alliance’s seventieth anniversary, was as different from the triumphalism of the 1990s as one can imagine, however. Donald Trump had been president of the United States for three years, during which time the escalation of his rhetoric and gestures showing contempt for NATO had led the other member-states to fear for the future


of the organization, and very much doubt US commitment to come to their defense were they to be attacked by Russia. Trump traded unfriendly exchanges with several participants at the seventieth anniversary summit. He blamed French president Emmanuel Macron for having described NATO as being in a state of “brain death”—probably only because he believed he was being targeted as the Alliance’s head rather than in defense of an organization he himself had called “obsolete”. NATO’s mood became even more somber in Joe Biden’s first year as president. The new commander-in-chief of the US Armed Forces was certainly more favorable to NATO than his predecessor, and he tried his best to reassure his allies at the 2021 summit held in Brussels on 14 June. But that meeting was followed soon after by the abrupt ending of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, and a little later by the tragic capture of Kabul by the Taliban on 15 August, in scenes highlighting the ignominious routing of the Afghan troops that Washington and its allies had spent so much time and resources building up. This occurred ten years after the completion of the US withdrawal from Iraq, certainly the US empire’s worst failure since Vietnam—arguably even worse than that from the standpoint of its strategic significance.2 NATO was spectacularly resuscitated from its “brain death” by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Although the Alliance’s raison d’être had been revived by Putin’s 2008 incursion into Georgia, and above all his 2014 annexation of Crimea and incursion into Ukraine’s Donbas, these events were regarded as truly worrying only by states that had previously been under Moscow’s thumb. In a sense, part of the power elite in countries like France, Germany and Italy showed some understanding for Putin’s actions, which they saw as a natural consequence of the antiRussian and unilateralist course pursued by Washington under George W. Bush against their own preferences. With the appearance of Donald Trump, it had turned out that an important section of the US power elite itself shared the same lack of concern, out of an affinity with Putin’s farright appeal and an understanding for his own imperial requirements, which they deemed to be not that different from theirs after all. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine changed the whole picture. NATO’s former lethargic state was a key factor in Putin’s ill-conceived decision to invade. It backfired spectacularly. Not only is NATO’s anti-Moscow sense of purpose reinvigorated to a degree unmatched since the initial and


tensest phase of the Cold War, but two new major European states have applied to join the Alliance. This is as significant an addition as that of the first three East European states that were coopted in 1997. Finland and Sweden are two rich and militarily strong states that have maintained a neutral status for decades, until Putin’s aggression convinced them to depart from it. Most importantly, their accession to NATO—if finalized despite Turkey’s attempt to extort anti-Kurdish measures in exchange for greenlighting their admission—would considerably lengthen the Alliance’s direct border with Russia (see Chapter 3). But what is even more important than this new major enlargement of NATO is what may be considered the Alliance’s second key mutation since the one decided by its Rome summit in 1991 (see Chapter 2). It will be recalled that the “new strategic concept” adopted by that summit of a reborn NATO responded to the existential dilemma summarized by the phrase “out of area or out of business”. It thus transformed NATO from a strictly defensive alliance into a so-called “security organization”—in other words, an organization that can be involved in “security” operations, and even wars, outside its original area of competence, limited by the 1949 Treaty to “the territory of any of the Parties in Europe or North America”, or any territory “under the jurisdiction of any of the Parties in the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer”. Thus, NATO began after 1991 to intervene in military operations or missions beyond its members’ territory—first in the Balkans, culminating in the 1999 Kosovo war, then much further: in Afghanistan for twenty years in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, then in Iraq after 2003, and later in the bombing of Libya in 2011. For many years, the fiction was entertained of a special relationship between NATO and Russia, and of a “partnership for peace” between NATO and the Russia-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization (including Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan), while NATO and Russia were effectively engaged in Cold War–like zero-sum maneuvers. This hypocritical situation was terminated in 2014, as was Russia’s participation in the G7, renamed G8 for some years—another consolation prize granted to Russia in 1997 to attenuate the impact of NATO’s eastward expansion. Tension had in fact been mounting dangerously before Russia’s annexation of Crimea. In November 2013, NATO forces conducted a major exercise in Latvia and Poland, rehearsing how to fight


against an invader. “Steadfast Jazz”, as the exercise was named, was seen as NATO’s response to “Zapad-2013”, held in September by Russian and Belarussian forces within test grounds in both countries, including Kaliningrad. According to NATO’s interpretation, it simulated an offensive operation against Poland and the Baltic States:3 [A] NATO diplomat told Reuters he believed there was little doubt Moscow was preparing its military for potential conflicts with well-armed nations. “That has a lot of us scratching our heads and thinking: why?” the diplomat said, adding that NATO states had made clear they had no ambitions to expand eastward. “Why in the world would you actually be arming yourself for a conflict with us? Isn’t that all a monumental waste of resources?”4 This last remark referred to the fact that Russia had announced in 2012 that its defense budget would rise by about 25 percent, to more than those of France and Britain. Moscow announced that it was hoping to equip at least 70 percent of 1 million active-duty personnel with modern weapons, including 2,300 new tanks, 1,200 new helicopters, fifteen new surface ships and twenty-eight submarines.5 It took only a few months before the exercises became reality, with Russia’s annexation of Crimea and incursion in the Donbas. Accordingly, NATO ended its pretense of partnership with Russia. At its summit held in Wales on 4–5 September 2014, the organization adopted a strategic reorientation: For more than two decades, NATO has strived to build a partnership with Russia, including through the mechanism of the NATO-Russia Council, based upon the NATO-Russia Founding Act and the Rome Declaration. Russia has breached its commitments, as well as violated international law, thus breaking the trust at the core of our cooperation … We continue to believe that a partnership between NATO and Russia based on respect for international law would be of strategic value … We regret that the conditions for that relationship do not currently exist. As a result, NATO’s decision to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between NATO and Russia remains in place.6 “Russia’s illegal self-declared annexation of Crimea and Russia’s continued aggressive acts in other parts of Ukraine” were put on a par with “the spread of violence and extremism in North Africa and the Middle East” (IS had just crossed the border from Syria into Iraq, managing to


expand its control over a very wide stretch of the latter’s territory) as “serious crises which affect security and stability to NATO’s east and south”.7 In light of this, we agree to reverse the trend of declining defense budgets and aim to increase defense expenditure in real terms as GDP grows; we will direct our defense budgets as efficiently and effectively as possible; we will aim to move towards the existing NATO guideline of spending 2% of GDP on defense within a decade, with a view to fulfilling NATO capability priorities.8 Still, in 2020, after three years of pressure by Donald Trump in the name of “burden sharing”, only eleven NATO countries were meeting the 2 percent target—in addition to the United States (3.7 percent): Greece (2.8 percent), Turkey (2.8 percent), Estonia (2.3 percent), Latvia (2.3 percent), Romania (2.3 percent), Poland (2.2 percent), the UK (2.2 percent), France (2.1 percent), Lithuania (2.1 percent), Montenegro (2.1 percent), and Portugal (2.1 percent). Eighteen countries were below the target: Norway (1.9 percent), Bulgaria (1.8 percent), Croatia (1.8 percent), Slovakia (1.8 percent), Hungary (1.6 percent), Italy (1.6 percent), Albania (1.5 percent), Canada (1.4 percent), Czechia (1.4 percent), Denmark (1.4 percent), Germany (1.4 percent), the Netherlands (1.4 percent), Spain (1.4 percent), North Macedonia (1.3 percent), Belgium (1.1 percent), Slovenia (1.1 percent), Luxembourg (0.8 percent), and Iceland.9 Russia was spending a higher proportion of its GDP than any NATO country, the United States included, while China would not have met NATO’s target had it been a member of the Alliance. A comparison between the military expenditure of the three powers of the strategic triad relative to their respective GDPs (Fig. 1) shows how much Russia was punching above its weight, given that its economy was much smaller than that of the two other powers.


Figure 1: The United States, Russia and China: Military Expenditure as a Share of GDP, 1992–2020

Source: SIPRI Russia went on a military spending spree starting from 2008, when oil prices reached a peak. It stayed the course through the ups and downs of its hydrocarbon-based revenues, so that its military expenditure as a share of GDP peaked at 5.4 percent in 2016, after two years of depressed prices, and remained on a trend exceeding 4 percent over those years. This prioritizing of military expenditure remained a constant after the end of the USSR in 1991, despite the collapse of Russia’s economy in the 1990s. Only once did Russia spend less than 3 percent of its GDP on its military —in 1998, the year prior to the Kosovo war. The United States embarked on a sharp long-term increase in its military spending, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of GDP, after 2001, boosted by the wars launched by the Bush administration. The withdrawal of US troops from Iraq in 2011 permitted a reduction of US military expenditure to a low of 3.3 percent of GDP in 2017–18, before it resumed its rise. The levels of both countries’ military expenditure relative to their GDP sharply contrast with that of China, which has remained substantially lower and steadier. In billions of constant US dollars, the picture is quite different (Fig. 2). It shows the huge amounts of military spending by the United States, and their renewed rising trend since the turn of the century, resumed after a


post-Iraq decline in 2012–17. It also shows by how much the United States outspends its two main rivals. China’s military spending has risen steadily along with its economic power, but it remains way below what it could afford to spend. The limitation of Russia’s economy—whose GDP puts it roughly on a par with Brazil and South Korea—is expressed in the fact that, despite significantly higher military spending relative to its GDP, the gap between its absolute level of military expenditure and those of the two other triad powers has tended to widen since the turn of the century. These levels of military expenditure maintain a permanent readiness for war—the hallmark of a “cold war”—with the United States leading the way after having waged more and larger actual wars than any of its rivals since the end of the Cold War. From a longer historical perspective, the United States has maintained in permanence a very high level of military expenditure since the Second World War, with four waves of ebb and flow around the wars of Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and the record peacetime expenditure of the Reagan era (Fig. 3). A new wave began to build under Trump in the absence of any major war, and is clearly destined to carry on soaring against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and increased US hostility to China.

Figure 2: The United States, Russia and China: Military Expenditure in Constant 2019 US$, 1992–2020

Source: SIPRI


Figure 3: US Military Expenditure in Constant 2019 US$, 1950-2020

Source: SIPRI Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Joe Biden had requested $813 billion in expenditure for military purposes for the fiscal year 2023 ($773 billion for the Pentagon, and an additional $40 billion for defense-related programs at the FBI, Department of Energy, and other agencies).10 This was raised to $857 billion in June 2022 by the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, on the assumption that “our long-term strategic competition with China and Russia is likely to intensify”.11 And that is indeed the rationale invoked in order to push Washington’s allies to achieve vast increases in their military expenditure. Justifying the increase only in terms of the need to counter Russia would almost sound paradoxical when military pundits and intelligence sources have been emphasizing that Russian military might was overrated before the invasion; that it turned out to be even weaker than expected at every level, including logistical capabilities and deployment of sophisticated weaponry; and that Putin’s criminal onslaught on Ukraine brought huge damage upon Russia’s own economy and military potential.12 Writing in the Financial Times Magazine, Simon Kuper asked the right questions, having noted that, even if the United States were to abandon NATO after a hypothetical return of Trump to the presidency in 2024, the other NATO states would still outspend Russia “more than sixfold”:


“We face the most serious security situation in decades,” NATO’s secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg told the alliance’s Madrid summit last week. He promised a nearly eightfold expansion in forces on high alert to 300,000, though some NATO members confided they had no idea where he’d got that number. Member countries are also hiking defence spending: 2 per cent of GDP “is increasingly considered a floor, not a ceiling”, he said. But wandering around the Madrid summit, I wondered: even given Vladimir Putin’s malevolence, do we need to militarise? Will we? And how would remilitarisation change our societies?13 Washington has begun resorting once again to the stratagem it has used since the beginning of the New Cold War, when it started to reinflate two scarecrow balloons called Russia and China in order to incite its Cold War vassal states to renew their allegiance to its overlordship. If the help provided to Washington by Putin, and pressure from the world’s military– industrial complexes, were not enough to incite European NATO members to increase their military spending vastly, Joe Biden has done everything he could to match or even outbid his predecessor’s hostile gestures toward China in pursuit of that same end. Pressure for NATO to counter China was exerted by Trump at the Alliance’s seventieth-anniversary London Summit. This was the first time China was mentioned in a NATO summit declaration. A single, almost sibylline, sentence read: “We recognize that China’s growing influence and international policies present both opportunities and challenges that we need to address together as an Alliance.”14 This was all that the US president managed to get NATO’s European members to concede with regard to China. Biden maintained this pressure, and NATO’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, was only too happy to oblige. The long interview conducted with the latter in Brussels in October 2021 by Financial Times editor Roula Khalaf and the paper’s European diplomatic correspondent, Henry Foy, is quite revealing in this respect: Financial Times: The US economic and security focus is on China—and little else. But where does NATO fit in? Does NATO have to also pivot? If not, how do you maintain NATO’s relevance? Jens Stoltenberg: If anything, the rise of China makes NATO more needed, more important, also for the United States … NATO’s


not something that they do to be nice to Europe. NATO is in the interest of the United States, as it is in the interest of Europe to stand together with North America. FT: But for the rest of NATO, the significance of what we’re referring to as the new cold war is completely different. The primary concern is still Russia. JS: Of course, we are 30 allies and there are differences on many issues, including on analysis and assessments about China. At the same time, we have come a long way on China in NATO. The first time we mentioned China is in the communique, the statement from the NATO summit in London in December 2019. Before that, China was not mentioned in any policy document … That was a significant step for NATO. Then, this summer we actually agreed a lot of common language and I expect that when we meet in Madrid the rise of China, the impact of China and the shifting the balance of power has on NATO [sic] will be thoroughly addressed in the new strategic concept, among other topics. China is not mentioned in one single word in NATO’s current strategic concept.15 When asked to define the kind of challenge that China represented for NATO, the secretary-general had this impressively fuzzy answer: What we can predict is that the rise of China will impact our security. It already has. What is hard to predict is exactly in what way and what will be the next precise or concrete challenges we will be faced with. But NATO has come a long way in recognising that China matters for our security. We don’t regard China as an enemy or an adversary. We strongly believe it’s necessary to engage with China. There are opportunities. The rise of China has been important to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. It’s important for our economies. We need to engage with China on issues like climate change or arms control. But at the same time, they now have the second largest defence budget in the world. They have the biggest navy in the world. They will soon have the biggest economy in the world. They coerce their neighbours. We see how they are behaving in the South China Sea and they actually bully countries which are not behaving as they want.16 Clearly, it did not occur to the secretary-general’s mind that, at this rate, the United States, with the largest defense budget in the world by far,


the biggest air force, and the biggest economy—as well as a longstanding and much worse record of coercing neighbors and bullying countries that are not behaving as it wants—should indeed be regarded as much more worrying than China. Stoltenberg’s conclusion was that “this whole idea of in a way distinguishing so much between China, Russia, either AsiaPacific or Europe” should be discarded, as “it’s one big security environment and we have to address it all together”.17 NATO’s 2022 Madrid summit took a major step in this direction, signaling what may become the second most important mutation in the Alliance’s history since 1991: the complete globalization of NATO’s purpose through the merging of its original North Atlantic area of competence with the Asia-Pacific theater—a major step toward the constitution, de facto or formally, of a single global military alliance under US hegemony.18 For the first time, four US Asia-Pacific allies were invited to attend the summit as NATO “partners”: Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan. This went along with the adoption for the first time of a new “strategic concept” for the organization, which did mention China: The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) stated ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values. The PRC employs a broad range of political, economic and military tools to increase its global footprint and project power, while remaining opaque about its strategy, intentions and military build-up. The PRC’s malicious hybrid and cyber operations and its confrontational rhetoric and disinformation target Allies and harm Alliance security. The PRC seeks to control key technological and industrial sectors, critical infrastructure, and strategic materials and supply chains. It uses its economic leverage to create strategic dependencies and enhance its influence. It strives to subvert the rules-based international order, including in the space, cyber and maritime domains. The deepening strategic partnership between the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation and their mutually reinforcing attempts to undercut the rules-based international order run counter to our values and interests.19 This quite hostile description of China is followed by a hardly more emollient statement of position: We remain open to constructive engagement with the PRC, including to build reciprocal transparency, with a view to safeguarding the Alliance’s


security interests. We will work together responsibly, as Allies, to address the systemic challenges posed by the PRC to Euro-Atlantic security and ensure NATO’s enduring ability to guarantee the defense and security of Allies. We will boost our shared awareness, enhance our resilience and preparedness, and protect against the PRC’s coercive tactics and efforts to divide the Alliance. We will stand up for our shared values and the rules based international order, including freedom of navigation.20 Unsurprisingly, China reacted angrily to its inclusion in NATO’s new “strategic concept”.21 The document’s reference to the PRC’s “efforts to divide the Alliance” glosses over the very significant divergence of interests and views with regard to China between the US and some European states —France and Germany in particular.22 Both Paris and Berlin had resisted adding China to NATO’s causes for concern, until Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forced them to concede this reference to Washington, while they tried to moderate its tone. This, of course, was because Putin’s aggression considerably revamped the European states’ reliance on the United States for their security. But it is also true that there was another side to this story, emphasized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies before the Ukraine war: As recently as 2019, NATO’s position on issues relating to China had been to avoid taking joint stances, given the sometimes diverging interests of member countries that mainly result from their differing trade and economic relations with China, but also their differing assessments of the degree to which the Alliance should remain focused on threats to European security from Russia. There are two main reasons why NATO appears to now be developing a comprehensive China strategy. Firstly, the United States has been attempting for several years to convince the allies to speak with one voice against Chinese policies that it believes threaten the interests or coherence of the Alliance. Secondly, China’s international behaviour has made it more difficult to resist the US argument. This behaviour includes China’s use of economic coercion towards other countries, particularly those in Europe; its obfuscation of the origins of COVID-19 and the aggressive “wolf warrior” diplomatic campaign it uses to rebut international criticism on the topic; its assertive actions in the South China Sea, against Hong Kong, and along its disputed border with India; its growing nuclear-weapons capability and ambitious military-


modernisation programme; its military cooperation with Russia; and, domestically, its repression of the ethnic Uighur population in Xinjiang.23 This did not alter the fact that Washington’s very reaction to China’s “international behavior” had consistently been of a kind to foster exactly that kind of behavior, in an interaction that may potentially lead to the worst-case scenario—like the “reciprocal action” that, once started, “must lead, in theory, to extremes”, in Clausewitz’s famous analysis.24 The Prussian general noted, however, that “material calculations take the place of hypothetical extremes and, if for no other reason, the interaction of the two sides tends to fall short of maximum effort”.25 This is only a tendency, though, and the fact remains that Washington’s antagonization of China, and portrayal of it as poised to resort to war, is a highly dangerous stratagem that could easily function as a self-fulfilling prophecy. The stratagem brilliantly succeeded with Russia, as we have seen. It is very much to be feared that it may succeed as well with China, as New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern wisely warned in a speech delivered a few days after her return from the Madrid summit: [I]n taking every possible action to respond to Russia’s aggression and to hold it to account, we must remember that fundamentally this is Russia’s war. And while there are those who have shown overt and direct support, such as Belarus, who must also see consequences for their role, let us not otherwise characterise this as a war of the West vs Russia. Or democracy vs autocracy. It is not. Nor should we naturally assume it is a demonstration of the inevitable trajectory in other areas of geostrategic contest. In the wake of the tensions we see rising including in our Indo-Pacific region, diplomacy must become the strongest tool and de-escalation the loudest call. We won’t succeed, however, if those parties we seek to engage with are increasingly isolated and the region we inhabit becomes increasingly divided and polarised. We must not allow the risk of a selffulfilling prophecy to become an inevitable outcome for our region.26 The United States has pushed, and continues to push, global relations in the worst possible direction, at a time when the world should be focused on fighting the greatest threats that humanity has ever faced short of a nuclear Armageddon—climate change and pandemics—as well as the socioeconomic consequences of global economic crises related to these


same threats. To this course, leading inexorably toward the precipice, the only alternative is the return to what humanity achieved in the wake of what remains to this day the biggest catastrophe in history: the Second World War. The United Nations is that achievement, and its Charter a major civilizational gain—in Norbert Elias’s sense of a “civilizing process”, whereby humankind learns to pacify its relationships.27 Whatever flaws there are in the UN Charter—it is subject to improvement, certainly, but it is practically impossible to modify it without the agreement of all five permanent members of the Security Council—it remains the best available framework for the preservation of peace among nations and for joint global efforts to tackle problems common to humankind. Like any set of rules, it needs to be observed equally by all participants in order to be effective. Taking advantage of its overwhelmingly superior power, the United States has alas repeatedly indulged its tendency to play by its own rules, circumventing the UN’s rules when they have stood in its way and assuming the right to admonish all other states from the pedestal of its self-proclaimed “manifest destiny”, while in the process deploying numerous opportunistic standards to its own advantage. The UN Charter’s principles include a denial of the organization’s right “to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state” (Article 2.7)—a principle that applies a fortiori to individual states with respect to the internal affairs of other states. Does this mean that governments should be free to commit whatever crime they wish within their country’s borders unimpeded? Post–Cold War liberal internationalists have argued against the principle of state sovereignty by invoking ethical values. But the truth is that, under the prevailing conditions, the alternative to the sovereignty principle is not the supreme rule of an ethical code, but the law of the jungle. The three decades since the end of the Cold War have amply demonstrated this, with the United States—more than any other power—arrogating to itself the right to interfere in the internal affairs of other states, according to a set of rules of the kind that the French call “variable-geometry”. Yet the UN itself has admitted a limitation to the sovereignty principle under the label of “responsibility to protect” (known as R2P), in the face of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. But this corrective principle can only be deployed legally within the


parameters of international law as inscribed in the UN Charter. This means that this R2P cannot be legally implemented against the will of any of the permanent UNSC members—all holders of a veto right—and even less so against something occurring on their own territory. This is certainly unequitable, but it is nonetheless wise, since any major military action in the name of the UN against a major global power would lead to the UN’s implosion and a new world war. The tension between values and the realpolitik of interstate relations is nothing new. It reached a maximum pitch with the advent of Bolshevik power and the initial revolutionary years of the Soviet Union. And yet the Bolsheviks themselves had to learn how to navigate the “dual policy” of combining the dedication to world revolution of their party and international movement with the imperatives of national security and state interests represented by their government.28 States must respect the code of conduct constituted by the UN Charter and international law. Social movements, political parties and non-governmental organizations, for their part, are not bound by such constraints in expressing their views on domestic situations in countries other than their own. Thus, for example, it is perfectly legitimate for social movements, political parties and NGOs to express their concern for the population of Xinjiang, and to campaign against the persecution of its Muslim population by the Chinese authorities; but it is not the business of the US government to lecture Beijing about it when it has itself oppressed and massacred a much larger number of people in countries other than its own since the middle of the past century—not to mention its historical legacy of genocide against indigenous peoples and enslavement of African captives. Such stances on the part of the US government in fact represent a disservice to the causes it purports to espouse, since they are conducive to Washington’s hypocrisy, variable standards and ethnocentrism being exposed, and resented by most of the world. Governments remain free, of course, to condition their economic relations and any facilities they grant to other governments on their observance of fundamental rights—be they human rights, including women’s rights, or labor rights. But for such a policy not to be construed as a hostile gesture dictated by interests, and invoking rights merely as a pretext, it must be systematically and equally applied to all countries in the world—not applied to some while sparing others, often worse, for the sake


of maintaining strategic or economic interests. It is also proper and just for governments to arm victims of foreign aggression or crimes against humanity in their fight against their oppressors—as Moscow and Beijing armed the Vietnamese, and Washington and its NATO allies are arming the Kurds and the Ukrainians—as long as the aggression or massacre cannot be stopped by non-violent means. These are the principles that should govern international relations. Only their strict observance might drastically reduce the propensity to war, durably foster global peace, and allow the world to work collectively toward confronting humankind’s common foes, starting with climate change and pandemics. The fight against climate change, in particular— the greatest threat facing our species, and one that exacerbates all other threats—requires the cooperation of all states. It also requires a massive transfer of resources. For this, the obvious source that could be tapped without harm to other social needs consists in the insane amounts of money spent every year on the development and acquisition of means of destruction and the maintenance of armed forces—more than $2 trillion ($2,113 billion) in 2021 alone, according to SIPRI’s calculation—under the guise of “defense”, but in what is in fact a race to the abyss. This indispensable transfer necessitates a sustained drive toward global disarmament that should originate in the UN General Assembly, which may make recommendations to this effect “to the members or to the Security Council or to both”, according to the UN Charter (Article 11.1). Such a plan was devised in an appeal issued in December 2021 by over fifty Nobel laureates in natural sciences, plus other signatories, which submitted the following common-sense scheme for a reversal of the present trend in military spending29: We have a simple proposal for humankind: the governments of all UN member-states should negotiate a joint reduction of their military expenditure by 2 percent every year for five years. The rationale for the proposal is simple: • Adversary nations reduce military spending, so the security of each country is increased, while deterrence and balance are preserved. • The agreement contributes to reducing animosity, thereby decreasing the risk of war.


• Vast resources—a “peace dividend” of as much as 1 trillion USD by 2030—are made available. We propose that half of the resources freed up by this agreement are allocated to a global fund, under UN supervision, to address humanity’s grave common problems: pandemics, climate change, and extreme poverty. The other half remains at the disposal of individual governments. All countries will therefore have significant new resources. Some of these can be used to redirect the strong research capacities of military industries towards urgently needed peaceful applications.30 In order to be most effective, the global movement against climate change should integrate such a disarmament perspective into its fundamental demands.31 Building a strong global movement for the related purposes of fighting climate change and achieving disarmament is the most crucial imperative of our time.


Notes Preface

1 Gilbert Achcar, ‘The Strategic Triad: The United States, Russia and China’, New Left Review I/228 (March–April 1998), pp. 91–126; Gilbert Achcar, La Nouvelle Guerre froide: le monde après le Kosovo (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1999). 2 Tariq Ali, ed., Masters of the Universe? NATO’s Balkan Crusade (London: Verso, 2000). My two chapters are on pp. 57–144. 3 Unless indicated otherwise, translated passages from non-English sources are my own translations.

Introduction: On Cold Wars and the New Cold War

1 Kenneth N. Waltz, “Structural Realism after the Cold War”, International Security 25: 1 (Summer 2000), pp. 22, 38. 2 One remarkable early warning is Anatol Lieven’s article, “A New Iron Curtain”, in the January 1996 issue of the Atlantic. 3 Thomas L. Friedman, “Foreign Affairs; Now a Word From X”, New York Times, 2 May 1998. I found out about this statement only recently, when Friedman quoted it in “This Is Putin’s War. But America and NATO Aren’t Innocent Bystanders”, New York Times, 21 February 2022. 4 Stephen F. Cohen, “The New American Cold War”, Nation, 10 July 2006 (posted on 21 June). A modified version of this article constituted the last chapter —“Who Lost the Soviet Peace?”—of Cohen’s later book, Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009). 5 Florian Zerfaß, Neuer Kalter Krieg—alte Strategien und Strukturen? (Norderstedt: GRIN, 2006). 6 Mark MacKinnon, The New Cold War: Revolutions, Rigged Elections and Pipeline Politics in the Former Soviet Union (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2007). 7 Ibid., pp. 4–5. 8 Ibid., p. 5. 9 Edward Lucas, The New Cold War: Putin’s Russia and the Threat to the West (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). 10 Ibid., pp. 204–6. 11 Österreichisches Studienzentrum für Frieden und Konfliktlösung, ed., Auf dem Weg zum neuen Kalten Krieg? Vom neuen Antagonismus zwischen West und Ost (Münster: LIT, 2009). 12 Stefan Kiesbye, ed., Is There a New Cold War? (Detroit: Greenhaven, 2010).


13 Foreign Affairs, ed., A New Cold War? Russia and America, Then and Now, Foreign Affairs, April 2018 (electronic book). 14 Ibid., “Introduction”, p. 12. 15 See David E. Hoffman’s obituary, “Georgi Arbatov”, 3 October 2010, at 16 Georgi Arbatov, “Eurasia Letter: A New Cold War?”, Foreign Policy 95 (Summer 1994), pp. 97–102. 17 The first to use the designation “unipolar moment” in that sense was the late columnist Charles Krauthammer in “The Unipolar Moment”, Washington Post, 20 July 1990. For an overview of the evolution of Beijing’s rhetoric regarding the United States, see See-Won Byun, “Chinese Views of Hegemony and Multilateralism in the Biden Era”, ASAN Forum, 7 July 2021, at 18 G. John Ikenberry, ed., America Unrivaled: The Future of the Balance of Power (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002). 19 Ibid., p. 23. 20 Stefan Wagstyl, “Lithuanian Leader in ‘Cold War’ Warning”, Financial Times, 22 January 2008. 21 Secretary Condoleezza Rice, “Keynote Address at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum”, Davos, Switzerland, 23 January 2008, US Department of State Archive, at 22 Ibid. 23 Robert Levgold, “Managing the New Cold War: What Moscow and Washington Can Learn from the Last One”, Foreign Affairs 93: 4 (July–August 2014) —reprinted in Foreign Affairs, A New Cold War?, pp. 629–42. The quotation is from pp. 629–30. 24 Foreign Affairs, A New Cold War?, p. 12. The same pattern of laying the blame exclusively at the Kremlin’s door characterizes the 2018 article by Robert D. Blackwill and Philip H. Gordon included in the same collection, with its very telling title: “Containing Russia, Again: An Adversary Attacked the United States—It’s Time to Respond”, pp. 729–37. 25 Levgold, “Managing the New Cold War”, p. 630–31. 26 Stephen Kotkin, “Russia’s Perpetual Geopolitics: Putin Returns to the Historical Pattern”, Foreign Affairs 95: 3 (May–June 2016)—reprinted in Foreign Affairs, A New Cold War?, pp. 643–56. The quotation is from p. 655. 27 Stephen Kotkin, “Myth of the New Cold War”, in Kiesbye, Is There a New Cold War?, p. 25. Funnily, the same author published in May 2022 an article with another unambiguous title, albeit saying the opposite of what he has been saying before, and that without the slightest acknowledgment of his 180-degree turn! Stephen Kotkin, “The Cold War Never Ended: Ukraine, the China Challenge, and the Revival of the West”, Foreign Affairs 101: 3 (May–June 2022).


28 Odd Arne Westad, The Cold War: A World History (New York: Basic Books, 2017), p. 1. 29 Odd Arne Westad, “Has a New Cold War Really Begun? Why the Term Shouldn’t Apply to Today’s Great-Power Tensions”, Foreign Affairs, A New Cold War?, pp. 748–52. The quotation is from p. 751. 30 “X” (George F. Kennan), “The Sources of Soviet Conduct”, Foreign Affairs, July 1947—reprinted in Foreign Affairs, A New Cold War?, pp. 15–36. 31 Walter Lippmann, The Cold War: A Study in US Foreign Policy (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1947). 32 Walter Lippmann, The Cold War: A Study in US Foreign Policy, with an essay by George Kennan, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” and an Introduction by Ronald Steel (New York: Harper Torchbook, 1972), pp. 24–6. 33 For example, Michael Kort, The Columbia Guide to the Cold War (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), p. 3. Fred Halliday preceded him in “The Ends of Cold War”, New Left Review I/180 (March–April 1990), where he said that the term “cold war” was “coined by Don Juan Manuel, a fourteenth-century Spanish writer, to denote the unending rivalry of Christians and Arabs in Spain” (p. 6). 34 Here is a translation of the relevant passage in the old Spanish original: “[F] or the war waged very strongly and hotly ends immediately, either by death or by peace; but the tepid war neither brings peace nor gives honor to the one who wages it …” (“ca la guerra muy fuerte y muy caliente, aquella se acaba aina, o por muerte o por paz; pero la guerra tibia ni trae paz ni da honor al que hace …”). Don Juan Manuel, Libro de los Estados, in Obras Completas vol. 1 (Madrid: Editorial Gredos, p. 357). On this, see Anders Stephanson, “Fourteen Notes on the Very Concept of the Cold War”, H-Diplo, May 1996, pp. 5–7, at 35 The first reference to that use by Bernstein in 1893 that is known to me originates in a letter sent by Joseph Siracusa, an academic at the University of Queensland in St Lucia, Australia, to William Safire, the famous lexicographer and conservative New York Times columnist. Safire quoted the letter in his “On Language” column, titled “On Damage Control”, on 26 September 1982. However, he oddly omitted to mention that use of the term in the “Cold War” entry of subsequent editions of his Safire’s Political Dictionary (the last expanded and updated edition to come out before his death was published by Oxford University Press in 2008—entry at pp. 134–6). Bernstein is also overlooked by Stephanson in his long article surveying dozens of authors (see preceding note). He is acknowledged in Kort, Columbia Guide to the Cold War (p. 3) and in Spencer C. Tucker, ed., Cold War: A Student Encyclopedia (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2008), p. 17. And yet Bernstein is not even mentioned in Odd Arne Westad’s account of the history of the term in the opening chapter (vol. 1, p. 3) of the threevolume Cambridge History of the Cold War, which he co-edited with Melvin P.


Leffler (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). To cap it all, at the time of writing, Bernstein was absent from the Wikipedia entry on “Cold war (term)”. 36 See Gilbert Achcar, “Engels: Theorist of War, Theorist of Revolution”, International Socialism 97 (Winter 2002), pp. 69–89. 37 Frederick Engels, Can Europe Disarm?, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, vol. 27 (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990), pp. 367–93. 38 Eduard Bernstein, “Die internationale Bedeutung des Wahlkampfes in Deutschland”, Die Neue Zeit 11: 2 (1893), p. 294. 39 Verhandlungen des Reichstages, vol. 295, Berlin, 1914, p. 8,888 (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Münchener DigitalisierungsZentrum). Note that Bernstein seems to indicate here that the use of “cold war” to designate a situation of arms race was recognized by then (“as it has been called”). On Bernstein’s general position on foreign policy, see R. A. Fletcher, “In the Interest of Peace and Progress: Eduard Bernstein’s Socialist Foreign Policy”, Review of International Studies 9: 2 (April 1983), pp. 79–93. 40 Raymond Aron, Les guerres en chaîne (Paris: Gallimard, 1951), p. 209. 41 Raymond Aron, “De la paix sans victoire. Note sur les relations de la stratégie et de la politique”, Revue française de science politique 1: 3 (1951), p. 253. 42 George Orwell, “You and the Atom Bomb”, Tribune, 19 October 1945, available at 43 Bernard M. Baruch, The Public Years (New York: Giant Cardinal, 1962 [1960]), p. 367. For more on the dispute over the origin of the English phrase between Swope and Lippmann, see the entry in Safire’s Political Dictionary. 44 On Baruch’s role, see the remarkable book by Jordan A. Schwarz, The Speculator: Bernard Baruch in Washington, 1917–1965 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1981). See also, by the same author, the chapter “Baruch, the New Deal and the Origins of the Military–Industrial Complex”, in Robert Higgs, ed., Arms, Politics, and the Economy: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1990), pp. 1–21. 45 Bernard M. Baruch, American Industry in the War: A Report of the War Industries Board (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1921). The 1919 letter to Wilson is reproduced on pp. 5–9. 46 Schwarz, Speculator, p. 508. 47 Baruch, Public Years, pp. 368–9. 48 The term “permanent arms economy”, used later by some Marxists, is less apt: the permanent production of arms is a banal feature of many national economies, whereas the “permanent war economy” points to a level of overall military expenditure that enables a country to remain constantly on a war footing. 49 Walter J. Oakes (pseudonym of Edward Sard), “Toward a Permanent War Economy?”, Politics, February 1944, available at Sard developed his


views in a book-length series of articles that he published in 1951, the first year of the Korean War, signing with another pseudonym, T. N. Vance, in a Trotskyist review, New International XVII: 1–6, also available at For biographical information about Edward Sard (born Solomon), see Marcel van der Linden, “Sard’s Permanent War Economy”, Against the Current 198 (January–February 2019). 50 “Introduction”, in Higgs, Arms, Politics, and the Economy, pp. xviii–xix. 51 Robert Higgs, Depression, War, and Cold War: Studies in Political Economy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 143–4. 52 Joan Robinson, “Richard T. Ely Lecture: The Second Crisis of Economic Theory”, American Economic Review 62: 1–2 (March 1972), pp. 1–10. In 2020, the American Economic Association changed the name of this prestigious lecture series to the AEA Distinguished Lecture Series, after realizing that it was not appropriate to name it after an economist who “wrote approvingly of slavery and eugenics, inveighed against immigrants, and favored segregation”, as mentioned in the announcement. “AEA Renames Annual Richard T. Ely Lecture”, 1 October 2020, at 53 Robinson, “Second Crisis”, pp. 6–7. 54 On the connivance between Baruch and the brand of Keynesian economists denounced by Robinson, see the writings of Jordan A. Schwarz cited above. 55 John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, Collected Writings, vol. VII (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 381–2. 56 Alexander Gerschenkron, Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective: A Book of Essays (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1962), p. 29. 57 See Chapter 2, below.

1. The Strategic Triad: The United States, Russia and China

1 The expression comes from Charles Krauthammer, “The Unipolar Moment”, in G. Allison and G. F. Treverton, eds, Rethinking America’s Security: Beyond Cold War to New World Order (New York: W.W. Norton, 1992). 2 Department of Defense (DoD), Report on the Quadrennial Defense Review [QDR] (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 1997). 3 See Le débat stratégique américain 1995–96, Cahier d’Etudes Stratégiques (CIRPES, Paris) 20 (1997). 4 For the technical arguments inevitably raised by the administration’s choices, see, inter alia, Zalmay Khalilzad and David Ochmanek, “Rethinking US Defense Planning”, Survival (IISS, London) 39: 1 (Spring 1997); D. S. Zakheim, “Tough Choices: Toward a True Strategic Review”, National Interest 47 (Spring 1997); W. E.


Odom, “Transforming the Military”, Foreign Affairs 76: 4 (July–August 1997), and replies to this article in Foreign Affairs 76: 6 (November–December 1997). 5 National Defense University (NDU), 1997 Strategic Assessment: Flashpoints and Force Structure (Washington, DC: INSS, 1997). 6 William Cohen, “The Secretary’s Message”, in DoD, Report on the QDR. 7 The last few years have seen a Pentagon more “revolutionary” than ever before. One reason for this inflation of the word “revolution” is the book by Kenneth Adelman (former director of the ACDA in the Reagan era) and Norman Augustine (then CEO of Martin Marietta, later CEO of Lockheed Martin), The Defense Revolution: Strategy for the Brave New World (San Francisco, CA: ICS,1990). 8 See “1998 Military Spending: Behind the Numbers”, Defense Monitor (CDI, Washington, DC) xxvi: 3 (June 1997). 9 On Clinton’s “centrism”, see J. G. Mason, “La République du centre: intérêts extérieurs et coalitions intérieures”, in Le débat stratégique américain 1995–96. 10 Adelman and Augustine, Defense Revolution, pp. 90–9. 11 Ibid., pp. 45–76. 12 William Perry, “Defense in an Age of Hope”, Foreign Affairs 75: 6 (November–December 1996). 13 Ibid., p. 78. Khalilzad and Ochmanek go even further than the former defense secretary. Giving the example of target-seeking anti-tank weapons—socalled “brilliant” weapons—no doubt “genius” ones are on the way—that hit several targets with one firing, they assert that it is now possible to think in terms of “kills per sortie” rather than “sorties per kill”. Khalilzad and Ochmanek, “Rethinking US Defense Planning”, p. 60. 14 As a New York Times editorial published in the International Herald Tribune of 2 May 1997 put it: “Pentagon spending is not the flywheel of prosperity in a $7 trillion national economy.” 15 This common-sense reasoning appears in Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan: “The Multitude sufficient to confide in for our Security, is not determined by any certain number, but by comparison with the Enemy we feare …” (London: Penguin Classics, 1985), p. 224. 16 See IISS, Military Balance 1997/98 (London: IISS, 1997). 17 This figure is calculated by adding the figures published in ibid. The criteria for evaluating and comparing military spending in different countries are always open to doubt, but the evolution of figures over time retains an indicative value. The general trend in relations between American military expenditure and that of the rest of the world, in the direction of increasing American preponderance, cannot be doubted. 18 For a good critique of the QDR, examining the total disproportion between the military means wielded by the United States and the danger represented by


declining “rogue states”, see Carl Conetta, “Backwards into the Future: How the QDR Prepares America for the Wrong Century”, Project on Defense Alternatives (Cambridge, MA: Commonwealth Institute, June 1997). 19 In reality, the superabundant means brought into play were motivated not by any fantasized fear of Iraqi strength, but by the enormous importance to US supremacy of getting over the “Vietnam syndrome”. The challenge had to be met without the slightest slip. What was at stake was the very credibility of US power. 20 Ronald Steel, “A New Realism”, World Policy Journal xiv: 2 (Summer 1997), p. 8. 21 Andrew J. Bacevich, “Tradition Abandoned: America’s Military in a New Era”, National Interest 48 (Summer 1997), p. 20. 22 Ibid. 23 It is difficult to know for certain what impression this text made on the Russians when it was first made public. What is known is that it became a favored reference for many Western opponents of Pentagon and American supremacy, because it fitted so well with their own representation of US policy. And in fact the text made its most lasting impact on American critics, being (for example) a principal source for two articles in successive issues of the World Policy Journal, one on Europe and the other on Asia: Benjamin Schwarz, “Permanent Interests, Endless Threats: Cold War Continuities and NATO Enlargement”, World Policy Journal (Fall 1997), pp. 24–30; and T. G. Carpenter, “Washington’s Smothering Strategy: American Interests in East Asia”, World Policy Journal (Winter 1997–98), pp. 20–31. 24 Khalilzad and Ochmanek, “Rethinking US Defense Planning”, p. 49. The authors both know what they are talking about: Zalmay Khalilzad was assistant deputy under-secretary of defense for policy planning in Washington between 1991 and 1993, and David Ochmanek was deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy between 1993 and 1995. 25 DoD, Report on the QDR, section II. 26 NDU, 1997 Strategic Assessment. This document makes the distinction between “theater” (reserved for Russia and China) and “regional” (for states such as Iran, Iraq and North Korea) in a manner that clarifies the substitution of “Major Theater Wars” for “Major Regional Conflicts” in the QDR. This change is in conformity with the hypothesis of this essay. 27 Ibid. 28 This article, written for the annual conference on US strategy of CIRPES, held on 20 October 1997, was largely completed when Michael Klare’s article “A New Military Strategy for Washington?” appeared in the November 1997 issue of Le Monde diplomatique. Our two analyses concur in emphasizing the importance given to Russia and China in American strategic thought, and we both refer to the NDU/INSS 1997 Strategic Assessment, among other sources. They diverge, though, when Michael Klare takes the scenario of two MRCs at face value, and views the


Russian or Chinese threat as something brandished by people who “think the armed forces budget should greatly increase”. 29 Bacevich, “Tradition Abandoned”, p. 20. 30 William Clinton, A National Security Strategy for a New Century (Washington, DC: White House, 1997). This document is based on the report presented in March by the president’s adviser on national security, Samuel Berger, A Foreign Policy Agenda for the Second Term (Washington, DC: CSIS, 1997). 31 There is nothing new about this combination, picked up by Bacevich. It has been recurrent since the Second World War. 32 See Chikahito Harada, Russia and North-East Asia, Adelphi Paper 310 (Oxford: IISS, 1997), pp. 49–60. 33 Department of Defense, Report on the QDR, section II. 34 On the circumstances surrounding this decision, see the romanticized account by Zbigniew Brzezinski and Anthony Lake, “The Moral and Strategic Imperatives of NATO Enlargement”, International Herald Tribune, 1 July 1997; and Mark Danner’s analysis “Marooned in the Cold War: America, the Alliance, and the Quest for a Vanished World”, World Policy Journal xiv: 3 (Fall 1997). 35 On Russian and US policy in the Caucasus and Central Asia, see S. Frederick Starr, “Power Failure: American Policy in the Caspian”, National Interest 47 (Spring 1997); Thomas Goltz, “Catch-907 in the Caucasus”, National Interest 48 (Summer 1997); Vicken Cheterian, “Jostling for Oil in Transcaucasia”, Le Monde diplomatique, October 1997; and, from the same author, an excellent account of the development of Russian policy in the Caucasus over the last ten years: Dialectics of Ethnic Conflicts and Oil Projects in the Caucasus (Geneva: PSIS, 1997). See also the dossier published in Le Monde, 12 November 1997, as well as the report by Sophie Shihab, “Russes et Américains s’opposent sur le tracé du grand oléoduc de la Caspienne”, Le Monde, 15 November 1997. 36 On the recent history of Russo-American rivalries in this part of the world, see Cheterian’s works quoted in the previous note, as well as Carroll Bogert, “Black Gold, Blue Sea”, Newsweek, 12 May 1997. 37 See David Ottaway and Dan Morgan, “Azerbaijani Oil Gathers Clout in US”, International Herald Tribune, 7 July 1997. 38 On the signature in Washington of two important oil contracts by the Kazakh president on 19 November, see Dominique Gallois, “Sept compagnies s’associent dans l’exploitation pétrolière au Kazakhstan”, Le Monde, 21 November 1997. 39 See Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft and Richard Murphy, “Differentiated Containment”, and Graham Fuller and Ian Lesser, “Persian Gulf Myths”, in Foreign Affairs 76: 3 (May–June 1997). The first article affirms: “One negative consequence of current policy is the damage inflicted on America’s interest


in gaining greater access to the energy sources of Central Asia” (p. 28), adding that American government opposition to American oil company activity in Iran helped nobody but Total. In a similar vein, the second article says: “Flat rejection of pipelines through Iranian territory—which, for practical reasons, most of the region’s states and many oil companies would prefer—opens the way to Russian monopoly” (p. 48). See also S. Frederick Starr, who says that the American policy of isolating Iran “is having a disastrous impact on Central Asia and Azerbaijan by denying to them the obvious outlet for their oil and gas and forcing them into Russia’s arms” (“Power Failure”, p. 29). 40 See James Schlesinger, “Fragmentation and Hubris: A Shaky Basis for American Leadership”, National Interest 49 (Fall 1997). This vigorous protest points out, among other things, that President Clinton chose, unusually, to announce the strengthening of American sanctions against Iran in a speech delivered before the World Jewish Congress in New York (p. 5). 41 See Éric Leser, “Les manœuvres de Téhéran pour acquérir l’arme nucléaire”, Le Monde, 1 October 1997. 42 For a frank expression of Russian irritation over what Moscow perceives as an attack on its vital interests and security, see Nicolai A. Kovalsky, “Russia and Mediterranean Security”, in Mediterranean Security at the Crossroads, a special issue of Mediterranean Quarterly 8: 2 (Spring 1997). For a clear exposé of American policy on the southern flank of NATO and its eastward extension, see, in the same collection, W. Bruce Weinrod, “The US, NATO, and the Mediterranean Region in the Twenty-First Century”. See also remarks by Admiral Joseph Lopez, American commander of allied forces in southern Europe, in “Is NATO’s Southern Flank Exposed?”, International Herald Tribune, 20 May 1997. The arguments presented by Weinrod, who was vice-deputy to the secretary of defense for Europe and NATO under George H.W. Bush’s presidency, and by Admiral Lopez, explain the American intransigence in the face of the French demand to have the NATO southern command entrusted to a European. 43 It is also the case that START II would be very costly to Russia if it had to replace its multi-warhead ICBMs with single-warhead missiles. This is why the Clinton administration proposed START III to Moscow before START II had even been ratified. 44 Alexei K. Pushkov, “Don’t Isolate Us: A Russian View of NATO Expansion”, National Interest 47 (Spring 1997), p. 62. 45 After these lines were written, the International Herald Tribune of 8 December 1997 published two articles from the Washington Post confirming these tendencies. One concerned a CIA report to the American Senate revealing the pressure being exerted in Moscow to give a larger role to nuclear weapons in Russian strategy, and even to develop options for first strike and “limited” use. The other reported on a secret directive from President Clinton (Presidential Decision


Directive, PDD) containing a major revision of US nuclear doctrine, abandoning the insensate objective of “victory” in a prolonged nuclear war (contained in the previous PDD signed by President Reagan in 1981) and falling back on a strictly deterrent posture, better adapted to the nuclear weapons reduction objectives advanced during the negotiations for START III. 46 Pushkov, “Don’t Isolate Us”, p. 62. 47 Boris Yeltsin himself was a good deal less appreciated, paradoxically, than Gorbachev had been. See Peter Rutland, “Yeltsin: The Problem, Not the Solution”, National Interest 49 (Fall 1997), which dubs him a “Potemkin President” (p. 38). 48 For an analysis of that weakness, see Sherman Garnett, “Russia’s Illusory Ambitions”, Foreign Affairs 76: 2 (March–April 1997). 49 Richard Pipes, “Is Russia Still an Enemy?”, Foreign Affairs 76: 5 (September– October 1997). 50 The Washington oracle Henry Kissinger, asked by Newsweek to describe the future, said, “Early in the new century, after many ups and downs, Russia is likely to have restored its central authority. It may well be closer to the political structures favored by Pinochet or Salazar than to a Western pluralistic system—though it will be freer than Communism.” “A World We Have Not Known”, Newsweek, 27 January 1997. 51 To see the decision to expand NATO as having been dictated by the arms lobby is clearly too reductive, even though arms industry interests are real enough and have played a part in the process. See “US Arms Makers Lobby for NATO Expansion”, International Herald Tribune, 30 June 1997. 52 Brzezinski and Lake, “Moral and Strategic Imperatives”. 53 The security-based argument directed against Russian ambitions in Europe explains, in particular, the strong German support for the principle of NATO expansion—so strong that it is backed by an overwhelming majority in the Bundestag, Greens included. The third argument of Brzezinski and Lake addresses the democratization of the countries concerned. It will only convince those who really want to believe that belonging to NATO is a measure of democracy in itself. 54 Written responses from the administration to questions from Senator Hutchinson and nineteen other senators, in “The Debate Over NATO Expansion”, Arms Control Today 27: 6 (September 1997), p. 3. 55 George Bunn, Robert Bowie, David Calleo et al., “An Open Letter to President Bill Clinton”, 26 June 1997, available at 56 Two days after the announcement on 14 May that an agreement between the Boris Yeltsin government and NATO was about to be signed, the IMF unblocked a tranche of nearly $700 million, held back for some time out of a total credit to Russia of $10 billion over three years. At the same time, the Russian government started to negotiate a steep increase in its EU borrowings over the 1996 level. These economic accompaniments to the expansion of NATO generated in the United


States a view that the Yeltsin administration’s conciliatory attitude results from the need to finance economic interests—energy interests for the most part—which predominate in Moscow (see “NATO and Russia: The Gazprom Factor”, International Herald Tribune, 27 May 1997). It is an irony of history that this is an exact reflection of the explanation that used to be given for US foreign policy choices in the Soviet Union. The fact is, however, that hydrocarbon-sector interests weigh even more heavily on Russia than they ever did (or do) on the United States. 57 A lucid Boris Yeltsin said of the accords with NATO: “their success will depend on their application”. 58 Extracts from “The NATO–Russia Founding Act”, 27 May 1997, at 59 Russia wanted the frontiers between member-states of the CIS to remain unmarked, as they were in the Soviet Union, and for its own troops to be directly involved in the defense of all the CIS’s external frontiers. 60 The request was repeated at Vilnius (Lithuania) on 5 September 1997. 61 James Sherr, “Russia–Ukraine Rapprochement? The Black Sea Fleet Accords”, Survival 39: 3 (Autumn 1997), p. 33. The author gives a detailed analysis of the content of the Russia–Ukraine accords. 62 Within the limits of the divide-and-rule principle. Thus, for example, Russia has no interest in a peaceful settlement of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, since this would raise the possibility of Baku oil reaching the Black Sea through Armenian and Turkish territory, thus escaping Russian control. 63 Richard Bernstein and Ross H. Munro, The Coming Conflict with China (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997). See also, by the same authors, “The Coming Conflict with America”, Foreign Affairs 76: 2 (March–April 1997), in which they expose their main theories in the framework of the China debate. 64 Bernstein and Munro, “Coming Conflict with America”, p. 30. 65 See Philippe Pons, “Pékin s’efforce de distendre les liens de sécurité entre Tokyo et Washington”, Le Monde, 4 September 1997, as well as the article by the Singapore diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, “An Asia-Pacific Consensus”, Foreign Affairs 76: 5 (September–October 1997). On the Japanese debate over China and the treaty with the United States, see Selig S. Harrison, “L’alliance américano-japonaise cimentée”, Le Monde diplomatique, November 1997. On the worried reaction of the Chinese to the revision of the Japan–US treaty, see James Chace, “Taming the Tiger: Report from the Middle Kingdom”, World Policy Journal xiv: 4 (Winter 1997–98). 66 For an overall view of these disputes and their links with energy and military questions, see Mark J. Valencia, “Energy and Insecurity in Asia”, Survival 39: 3 (Autumn 1997). 67 See Susan Willett, “East Asia’s Changing Defense Industry”, Survival 39: 3 (Autumn 1997).


68 “The collapse of the Soviet Union removed China’s main regional security threat and increased, virtually overnight, China’s comparative power in Asia”. Bernstein and Munro, “Coming Conflict with America”, p. 23. 69 A. D. McLennan, “Balance, Not Containment: A Geopolitical Take from Canberra”, National Interest 49 (Fall 1997), p. 54. 70 Ibid., p. 56. 71 Leon V. Sigal, “Who Is Fighting Peace in Korea? An Undiplomatic History” New York: W,World Policy Journal xiv: 2 (Summer 1997), p. 45. 72 On the North Korean menace seen from Japan, see Harrison, “L’alliance américano-japonaise cimentée”. 73 Bernstein and Munro, “Coming Conflict with America”, p. 19. 74 For a contrary view about China, see Lu Ning, The Dynamics of ForeignPolicy Decision-making in China (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1997), which says that the Chinese army is subordinate to the civilian political leadership in foreign policy matters. 75 Bernstein and Munro, “Coming Conflict with America”, p. 29. Compare Henry Kissinger’s forecast on Russia cited in footnote 50, above. 76 Robert S. Ross has defended friendly relations with China in the abovementioned special issues: “Beijing as a Conservative Power”, Foreign Affairs 76: 2 (March–April 1997), and “Why Our Hardliners Are Wrong”, National Interest 49 (Fall 1997). See also, from the same author in collaboration with Andrew J. Nathan, The Great Wall and the Empty Fortress: China’s Search for Security (New York: W.W. Norton, 1998); and, in the same vein, Ezra F. Vogel, ed., Living with China: US– China Relations in the Twenty-First Century (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997). In an even more apologetic register, see Thomas A. Metzger and Ramon H. Myers, Greater China and US Foreign Policy: The Choice between Confrontation and Mutual Respect (Stanford: Hoover Institution, 1996). 77 See Laurent Zecchini, “Le sommet de Washington a marqué la reprise du dialogue sino-américain”, Le Monde, 31 October 1997. 78 Ross, “Beijing as a Conservative Power”, p. 44. Ross’s line on Beijing is basically identical to the one traditionally defended by Henry Kissinger. For a summary of the former secretary of state’s arguments on this subject, see his article, “Outrage Is Not a Policy”, Newsweek, 10 November 1997. 79 Zbigniew Brzezinski, “A Geostrategy for Eurasia”, Foreign Affairs 76: 5 (September–October 1997), p. 62, summarizing the main themes of his latest book The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives (New York: Basic Books, 1997). 80 See Valencia, “Energy and Insecurity in Asia”. Development of these fields requires substantial financial and technological means, which only Japan has in the region. Hence Boris Yeltsin’s charm offensive in Tokyo, with a promise made at the


Yeltsin–Hashimoto summit on 1 and 2 November 1997 to settle the dispute over the Kuril Islands before 2000 with a decision favoring the Japanese claims. In the same area, Russia is very anxious to restore and stiffen its dominance in Central Asia, exploitation of its eastern oil and gas fields being in competition with the project for transporting gas from Turkmenistan into East Asia (the Energy Silk Route). 81 The Russian atomic energy minister, Viktor Mikhailov, declared in Beijing that “the United States is doing all it can in China to marginalize Russia”. See Sophie Shihab, “La Russie espère obtenir des financements japonais pour conserver ses marchés en Chine”, Le Monde, 31 October 1997. 82 For a description of these meetings, see Harada, Russia and North-East Asia, pp. 37–48. 83 Incidentally, the Chinese president concluded a “constructive strategic partnership” with his American opposite number during his visit to the United States in October 1997, reducing the relative importance of the Sino-Russian accords in the context of the transactions concluded with Washington. The fact remains, however, that only the former “partnership” contains a genuine military dimension. 84 Josef Joffe, “How America Does It”, Foreign Affairs 76: 5 (September–October 1”7) p. 25. 85 Ibid., pp. 19ff. Josef Joffe had already developed the same theory in “‘Bismarck’ or ‘Britain’? Toward an American Grand Strategy after Bipolarity”, International Security, Spring 1995. 86 Joffe, “How America Does It”, pp. 20–1. 87 Edward N. Luttwak, “Strategy”, in Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker, eds, The Reader’s Companion to Military History (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1996), p. 451. 88 The 1979 American commitment on Taiwan holds that any non-peaceful pressure to change the status of Taiwan would constitute a threat to peace in the region and would involve the United States. 89 Edward N. Luttwak, “A Post-Heroic Military Policy”, Foreign Affairs 75: 4 (July–August 1996). 90 “The Taiwan Strait and the Russo-Ukrainian border are the most dangerous spots on the planet, the two places where wars between and among great powers could erupt in the post–Cold War period”, affirms Michael Mandelbaum in “Westernizing Russia and China”, Foreign Affairs 76: 3 (May–June 1997), p. 89. We might add what Fred Coleman calls the “Kaliningrad scenario”, an invasion of Lithuania by Russian tanks to ensure the corridor between Russia and the Russian military base at Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea, in response to a decision to incorporate the Baltic countries into NATO. See Fred Coleman, “The Kaliningrad Scenario: Expanding NATO to the Baltics”, World Policy Journal xiv: 3 (Fall 1997). 91 Department of Defense, Report on the QDR, section II (emphasis added).


2. Rasputin Plays Chess: How the World Stumbled into a New Cold War 1 Michael Gordon, “Russia Ousts US Officer as Ties Sour Over Kosovo”, New York Times, 4 July 1999. 2 Dana Priest, “Russian Flight Shocks West”, Washington Post, 1 July 1999. The day after this report appeared in the Post, the editorial in the Moscow Times stated, under the headline “Fly-Bys Just a Little Bit of Payback”, that “this was an intentional, political message, and those in Washington who claim to be puzzled by Russia’s growing truculence have their heads in the sand. The bombers that appeared near Iceland were simply the fruits of misguided NATO and US policy toward Russia.” 3 According to the strategic analysis agency STRATFOR, in “Kosovo Conflict Accelerates Formation of Russia–China Strategic Alliance”, 25 June 1999. 4 Paul Bracken, “How the West Was One-Upped”, Washington Post, 3 June 1999. 5 Masahi Nisihara, “A Climate of Suspicion Threatens Asia-Pacific Stability”, International Herald Tribune, 29 June 1999. 6 Gilbert Achcar, “The Strategic Triad: The United States, Russia, and China”, New Left Review I/228 (March–April 1998), pp. 91–126 (the previous chapter in this book). 7 John Lewis Gaddis, “History, Grand Strategy and NATO Enlargement”, Survival (IISS, London) 40: 1 (Spring 1998), pp. 145–6. 8 North Atlantic Council, “Declaration on a Transformed North Atlantic Alliance” (“London Declaration”), London, 6 July 1990, point 2. 9 Ibid., point 5. 10 Ibid. In Michael Brown’s view, the London Declaration was part of a “campaign to soften the alliance’s image in order to get Moscow to go along with German unification on the West’s terms—as a member of NATO”. Michael Brown, “Minimalist NATO”, Foreign Affairs 78: 3 (May–June 1999), p. 205. In their book A World Transformed (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1998), George H. W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft give full credence to this interpretation (pp. 292–5). According to Scowcroft, “the declaration was primarily meant to help Moscow save face” (p. 293). 11 North Atlantic Council, “Rome Declaration on Peace and Cooperation”, Rome, 8 November 1991, point 5. 12 Ibid. 13 North Atlantic Council, The Alliance’s New Strategic Concept, NATO, Rome, 8 November 1991. It was the command structure of the Rapid Deployment Force, Central Command (CENTCOM), responsible for Southwest Asia, that directed the operations against Iraq in 1990–91, during the Gulf War. 14 Ibid., points 9 and 11.


15 “Final Communiqué of the Ministerial Meeting of the North Atlantic Council, NATO HQ, Brussels, 17 December 1992”, point 5. 16 See Alain Joxe, “L’ère des expéditions humanitaires”, in La Nouvelle guerre des Balkans, Manière de voir no. 45, Le Monde Diplomatique, May–June 1999, pp. 10–13. We might add that Second World War veteran George H. W. Bush can also be credited with inventing, for his war against Saddam Hussein, another media trick: resorting to historical analogy with that war, without fear of excess. The fears expressed by interventionists in the United States on the accession of Bill Clinton to the presidency, in view of his past as an opponent of the Vietnam War, quickly turned out to be groundless. Clinton in fact was the most eminent representative of that part of the generation politicized in opposition to the Vietnam War which, after the Gulf War, was converted to the virtues of imperial war waged for noble pretexts. It is too often forgotten that Clinton, as governor of Arkansas before his elevation to supreme office, was chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council which, in 1990, pronounced in favor of military action against Iraq. (Founded in 1985, the DLC included Democratic representatives wishing to compete with Ronald Reagan for an electorate moving steadily to the right. The DLC was behind the “New Democrats” movement, and is regarded as one of the three pillars of the Third Way, along with Tony Blair’s New Labour and Gerhard Schröder’s Neue Mitte.) 17 Madeleine Albright, “The Testing of American Foreign Policy”, Foreign Affairs 77: 6 (November–December 1998), p. 62. 18 Michael Dobbs, “Wider Alliance Would Increase US Commitments”, Washington Post, 5 July 1995—followed by his “Enthusiasm for Wider Alliance Is Marked by Contradictions”, 7 July 1995; James Goldgeier, “NATO Expansion: The Anatomy of a Decision”, Washington Quarterly 21: 1 (Winter 1998). 19 Dobbs, “Wider Alliance”. Goldgeier, “NATO expansion”, p. 92: “Brzezinski had been meeting with Lake to share ideas about his two-track approach to expansion, and he also invited Lake to his home to meet a number of Central and Eastern European leaders … These meetings with Brzezinski helped Lake to clarify his own thinking and emphasized to him the importance of keeping the process moving forward.” 20 Dobbs, “Enthusiasm for Wider Alliance”. This prosaic account contrasts strongly with the romanticized version of the conversion of Clinton given later in Zbigniew Brzezinski and Anthony Lake, “The Moral and Strategic Imperatives of NATO Enlargement”, International Herald Tribune, 1 July 1997. 21 1994 was a year of mid-term elections in the United States. 22 James Bennet, “Samuel Berger: A Trusted Adviser, and a Friend”, New York Times, 6 December 1996. Madeleine Albright was US Ambassador to the United Nations during the first Clinton term. 23 Kissinger quoted by Elaine Sciolino, “Berger Is Manager of Crises, Not Global Strategy”, New York Times, 18 May 1998.


24 Ashton Carter and William Perry, Preventive Defense: A New Security Strategy for America (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1999). 25 Ibid., p. 18. 26 The two authors classify “B list” threats as touching on the interests of the United States but not threatening its survival; “C list” touches indirectly on US security, but does not threaten its interests. Ibid., p. 11. 27 Ibid., p. 19. 28 Ibid., p. 49. 29 Perry and Carter returned to serving the Clinton administration in November 1998, the first as special adviser and policy coordinator for North Korea, the second as special adviser to the special adviser. 30 Ibid., p. 105. 31 Ibid., pp. 33, 36–7. 32 This attitude recalls the perspicacity of Friedrich Engels, warning against bellicose posturing over the same Bosnia a century earlier: “To stir up a general war for the sake of a few Herzegovinians, which would cost a thousand times more lives than there are inhabitants in Herzegovina, isn’t my idea of proletarian politics.” Letter to Eduard Bernstein, 22 February 1882, in Karl Marx–Frederick Engels Collected Works, vol. 46 (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1992), p. 205. Prophetically, Engels’s letter went on: “The Serbs are divided into 3 denominations … Where these people are concerned, religion actually counts for more than nationality, and it is the aim of each denomination to predominate. So long as there’s no cultural advance such as would at any rate make toleration possible, a Greater Serbia would only spell civil war.” (p. 206). 33 Carter and Perry, Preventive Defense, p. 64. 34 Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard (New York: Basic Books, 1997). 35 In reality Brzezinski is a pretty poor player of geopolitical chess: if the essence of a grand master is the ability to anticipate adverse moves, the least that can be said about the way Brzezinski predicts the reactions of other “players” is that it is highly unrealistic, not to say totally deluded. 36 Ibid., p. xiv. 37 Ibid., pp. 30, 38–9. 38 Ibid., p. 40. 39 Ibid., p. 198 (emphasis in original). 40 Ibid., p. 55. The previous chapter in this book, “The Strategic Triad: The US, Russia and China”, was written without the benefit of a reading of Brzezinski’s book, which had only just appeared. It is striking how closely a diagnosis based on empirical analysis of the evolution of international relations and the behavior of the United States conforms to the strategic precepts defined by the Clinton administration’s policy guru. 41 Ibid., p. 59.


42 Ibid., pp. 42–3. Tony Blair has incarnated this to perfection. 43 Ibid., p. 152. 44 Ibid., p. 185. 45 Ibid., p. 52. 46 Ibid., p. 104. 47 Ibid., p. 202. Russia may be in an advanced state of disintegration (see David Hoffman, “Russia Is Sinking into the Void of a ‘Failed State’”, International Herald Tribune, 27 February 1999), but there is little chance that Brzezinski’s vision will come to pass. There is instead every reason to fear a Russia foundering in chaos. 48 Brzezinski, Grand Chessboard, p. 79. 49 Ibid., p. 201. 50 Ibid., p. 104. 51 Ibid., pp. 123–50, esp. pp. 133, 149. “A strong, even religiously motivated but not fanatically anti-Western Iran is in the US interest …” (p. 204). 52 Ibid., p. 186. 53 Ibid., p. 193. 54 For a representation of the various imaginary scenarios on the future of Russia, see Daniel Yergin and Thane Gustafson, Russia 2010 and What It Means for the World (London: Nicholas Brealey, 1994). 55 Hall Gardner, Dangerous Crossroads: Europe, Russia and the Future of NATO (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997), p. 104. 56 See Robert Borosage, “A ‘Splendid Little War’ Collides with the War Powers Act”, Los Angeles Times, 23 May 1999. 57 Carter and Perry, Preventive Defense, p. 55. 58 See Jeff Gerth and Tim Weiner, “US Arms Makers Lobby for NATO Expansion”, International Herald Tribune, 30 June 1997; and William Hartung’s edifying report, Welfare for Weapons Dealers 1998: The Hidden Costs of NATO Expansion, published by the Arms Trade Resource Center of the World Policy Institute (New York: New School for Social Research, March 1998). See also William Greider’s remarkable investigation, Fortress America: The American Military and the Consequences of Peace (New York: Public Affairs, 1998), pp. 97–101. 59 The last figure was the one presented to Congress by the administration. See, for example, the State Department brochure The Enlargement of NATO (Washington, DC: PIS, US Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs), February 1998. On the cost of enlargement, apart from the study by William Hartnung quoted earlier, see Harry Cohen’s report for the Economic Committee of the North Atlantic Assembly, “The Costs of NATO Enlargement”, November 1998. 60 The arguments put to the senators by Zbigniew Brzezinski are deserving of mention. The administration’s guru explained that NATO enlargement “helps a democratizing Russia by foreclosing the revival of any self-destructive imperial


temptations regarding Central Europe” and “will bring into NATO counsels new, solidly democratic and very pro-American nations”. Zbigniew Brzezinski, “Introductory Statement on NATO Enlargement”, text dated 9 October 1997 and submitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 61 US Senate, “Resolution of Ratification to the Protocols to the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949 on the Accession of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic”, Washington, 30 April 1998. By requiring to be consulted in advance next time, the Senate was expressing its reluctance to be presented with another fait accompli. An amendment submitted by Senator John Warner (Republican, Virginia), fixing a minimum delay of three years before any further admission to NATO, obtained 41 votes: less than it needed to be adopted, but more than enough to block a new admission to NATO if necessary. 62 Left-wing opponents of NATO held other bodies—the OSCE and the UN— to be better able to manage crises in the post–Cold War world. 63 The IMF abruptly suspended its line of credit after a first payment of $4.8 billion in July. 64 On the Washington decision process leading to the war against Serbia, see Elaine Sciolino and Ethan Bronner, “How a President, Distracted by Scandal, Entered Balkan War”, New York Times, 18 April 1999. 65 Ibid. 66 This practice has since become routine, without much attention from the media. Attacks on Iraqi targets by American and British aircraft have become uncountable. They continued as usual during the bombing of Yugoslavia. 67 “NATO will establish and deploy a force … which may be composed of ground, air, and maritime units from NATO and non-NATO nations, operating under the authority and subject to the direction and the political control of the North Atlantic Council … through the NATO chain of command.” “Interim Agreement for Peace and Self-Government in Kosovo” (23 February 1999), Chapter 7, “Implementation II”, art. I, 1, b. 68 Henry Kissinger, “New World Disorder”, Newsweek, 31 May 1999. 69 This pretext is wholly false. American retaliatory strike capacity is more than sufficient to deter frontal attack by any state. Any “rogue” wanting to take reprisals against the United States would be much more likely to resort to “asymmetric” (“terrorist”) methods, against which NMD provides no defense. Moreover, systems of this sort are of limited effectiveness even against ballistic missiles. 70 On this matter see Rachel Dubin, “National Missile Defense and the AntiBallistic Missile Treaty: Risks and Strategies”, National Defense Monitor (CDI, Washington) 3: 13 (1 April 1999). 71 According to the official news release from the Pentagon, this was “the first sustained long-term increase in defense funding since the end of the Cold War”.


72 See Ted Galen Carpenter, “Roiling Asia: US Coziness with China Upsets the Neighbors”, Foreign Affairs 77: 6 (November–December 1998). 73 Department of Defense, Report to Congress Pursuant to the FY99 Appropriations Bill on the Security Situation in the Taiwan Strait, Washington, DC, 26 February 1999. See also report by Tony Walker, Stephen Fidler and Mure Dickie, “Missile Developments Shift Balance of Power over the Taiwan Strait”, Financial Times, 12 March 1999. 74 This includes, of course, the decision to start the bombing on the same day that the Russian prime minister, Yevgeni Primakov, was expected in Washington. According to Jane Perlez of the New York Times, this decision was taken under pressure from Madeleine Albright, “the most hawkish member of the foreign policy team”, and with the support of Vice President Al Gore, who is said to have “argued forcefully that the credibility of NATO was more important than paying attention to the sensitivities of the Russians”. Jane Perlez, “Step by Step: How the US Decided to Attack, and Why So Fast”, New York Times, 26 March 1999. 75 Kissinger, “New World Disorder”. 76 “One interagency intelligence report coordinated by the CIA in January 1999, for example, concluded that ‘Milosevic doesn’t want a war he can’t win. … After enough of a defense to sustain his honor and assuage his backers he will quickly sue for peace,’ the assessment went on.” Sciolino and Bronner, “How a President, Distracted by Scandal, Entered Balkan War”. 77 Zbigniew Brzezinski, “To Stop the Serbs”, Washington Post, 30 March 1999. The article ended on a characteristic use of the civilization–barbarity opposition: “A civilized Euro-Atlantic community cannot tolerate genocidal barbarity in its own midst.” An indirect response came from James Schlesinger, former CIA director and defense secretary under Richard Nixon, “Idealism Won’t End It”, published the following day in the same journal, and from Edward Luttwak’s critique of the simplistic view of the ground offensive, “NATO Has Power, Milosevic Calls Shots”, Los Angeles Times, 31 March 1999. 78 Zbigniew Brzezinski, “Get Serious: Steps to Victory in Kosovo”, National Review, 3 May 1999, published online on 16 April 1999. The quotations that follow are from the same article. Brzezinski’s article was published in French under the much more explicit headline “Guerre totale contre Milosevic!”, Le Monde, 17 April 1999. 79 “Instead of shocking and intimidating the opponent, the air campaign has striven to avoid casualties not only to allied airmen but even to Milosevic’s officials …” 80 STRATFOR, Global Intelligence Update, “China, Russia, and the Politics of Manic-Depression”, 17 May 1999. In fact, the $4.5 billion was simply going to be


transferred from one account to another inside the IMF, preventing Russia from defaulting on repayments of its existing debt. 81 “Statement on Kosovo Issued by the Heads of State and Government Participating in the Meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Washington, DC on 23rd and 24th April 1999”. 82 On the other hand, the much-remarked presence at the NATO summit of the GUUAM countries (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova) was a serious blow to Moscow, and another indication, in Russian eyes, of America’s designs on Russia’s traditional marchlands. 83 North Atlantic Council, “The Alliance’s Strategic Concept”, Washington, DC, 24 April 1999, point 15. “On the most controversial point, whether or not NATO always needs a UN Security Council mandate to take military action or can decide on intervention alone, as the member countries did on Kosovo, the United States accepted compromise language that US officials said preserved the essentials of NATO’s freedom of action. The document did not stipulate that NATO would operate ‘under the authority of the Security Council.’ That phrase, they said, had been pushed by France but rejected by allies who feared that it would give Russia a veto over NATO actions.” Joseph Fitchett, “Leaders Agree to Protect Frontline States”, International Herald Tribune, 26 April 1999. 84 North Atlantic Council, “Alliance’s Strategic Concept”, point 25. 85 Ibid., point 31. 86 Ibid., point 36. 87 Zbigniew Brzezinski, “NATO: The Dilemmas of Expansion”, National Interest 53 (Fall 1998). 88 Henry Kissinger, “As the Cheers Fade”, Newsweek, 21 June 1999 (the article was illustrated with a photograph of a jubilant Madeleine Albright). 89 “Deployment in Kosovo under United Nations auspices of effective international civil and security presences, acting as may be decided under Chapter VII of the Charter, capable of guaranteeing the achievement of common objectives. The international security presence with substantial North Atlantic Treaty Organization participation must be deployed under unified command and control …”. United Nations Security Council, “Resolution 1244 (1999)”, 10 June 1999, Annex 2, points 3, 4. 90 Under pressure from China, the first phrase of the preamble to Resolution 1244 was reformulated to read: “The Security Council, Bearing in mind the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and the primary responsibility of the Security Council for the maintenance of international peace and security …” 91 Seth Faison, “Taiwan President Implies His Island Is Sovereign State”, New York Times, 13 July 1999.


92 Gaddis, “History, Grand Strategy and NATO Enlargement”, pp. 146–7. Concerning the argument that an “emotional obligation” helped persuade Clinton to opt for the integration of East European countries into NATO, according to the fanciful official version, Gaddis answers with a blindingly apposite argument (p. 149): “What we are seeing, then, is a kind of selective sentimentalism. The historic plight of some peoples moves us more than does that of others, despite the fact that they all have compelling claims as victims. Emotionalism, but of a surprisingly elitist character, appears to be at work here.” No further comment seems necessary. 93 C. Wright Mills, White Collar (New York: Oxford University Press, 1951), p. 343. 94 Ibid., p. 350. 95 C. Wright Mills, The Causes of World War Three (New York: Ballantine, 1960), p. 28. 96 Ibid., p. 184.

Transition: Moves and Countermoves on the Grand Chessboard

1 Anatol Lieven, “A New Iron Curtain”, Atlantic, January 1996. 2 “Agreement on measures to ensure the security of the Russian Federation and member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization”, draft—unofficial translation, 17 December 2021, at (my emphasis). 3 See Chapter 1, above. 4 “Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation”, 27 May 1997, at (my emphasis). 5 “Boosting NATO’s Presence in the East and Southeast”, 7 January 2022, at 6 Ibid. 7 See Introduction, above. 8 Walter Lippmann, The Cold War: A Study in US Foreign Policy, with an essay by George Kennan, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct”, and an Introduction by Ronald Steel (New York: Harper Torchbook, 1972), pp. 23–4. 9 Vladimir I. Lenin, “The Revolutionary Proletariat and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination”, in Collected Works, vol. 21 (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1964), p. 413. Zbigniew Kowalewski raises legitimate questions about Lenin’s failure to fully implement his principles in “The Conquest of Ukraine and the History of Russian Imperialism”, New Politics, 12 June 2022. Lenin himself expressed a tragic sense of guilt on this issue in the famous notes known as his “Testament”, which he dictated after suffering a stroke and sensing that his days were now counted. 10 “Article by Vladimir Putin ‘On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians’”, 12 July 2021, at


11 On core–periphery economic relations within the Soviet Union and with East Europe, see Ilya Matveev’s brief survey in his article, “Between Political and Economic Imperialism: Russia’s Shifting Global Strategy”, Journal of Labor and Society 25 (2022), pp. 198–219. 12 Roderic Lyne and David Manning, “Why Putin’s Gamble Does Not Have to Be Lose–Lose”, Chatham House, 24 January 2022. 13 See, for example, Anton Troianovski, “Putin and West Spar Over NATO’s Military Ties to Ukraine”, New York Times, 1 December 2021; Anton Troianovski and David E. Sanger, “Russia, at an Impasse with the West, Warns It Is Ready to Abandon Diplomacy”, New York Times, 13 January 2022; and Dan Bilefsky and Richard Pérez-Peña, “How the Ukraine Crisis Developed, and Where It Might Be Headed”, New York Times, 17 February 2022. 14 Gilbert Achcar, “Wag the Poodle”, 17 February 2022, at “Partygate” refers to parties organized at 10 Downing Street in contravention of the government’s own Covid lockdown rules.

3. Vladimir the Terrible: An Opera in Five Acts

1 J. M. Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, in The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes, vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 142. 2 Ibid., p. 184. 3 Ibid. 4 Ashton Carter and William Perry, Preventive Defense: A New Security Strategy for America (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1999), p. 49. 5 Ibid., p. 48. 6 William Perry, My Journey at the Nuclear Brink (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015), p. 148. 7 Georgi Arbatov, “Eurasia Letter: A New Cold War?”, Foreign Policy 95 (Summer 1994), pp. 91–3. 8 Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 1, transl. Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin, 1990 [1976]), p. 874. 9 For a concise overview of the Russian process analyzed in the light of Marx’s concept, see David Mandel, “Primitive Accumulation in Post-Soviet Russia”, in Matt Vidal, Tony Smith, Tomás Rotta and Paul Prew, eds, The Oxford Handbook of Karl Marx (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019), pp. 739–54. 10 Stephen F. Cohen, “Parliament is Burning”, Washington Post, October 1993, reprinted in Stephen F. Cohen, Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of PostCommunist Russia (New York: W.W. Norton, 2000), p. 120. 11 Ibid., p. 119. 12 Ibid., pp. 124–6. As happens too often to dedicated critics of US foreign policy, Cohen carried on systematically contradicting the mainstream


“demonization” of Vladimir Putin in the United States, especially after 2014, to the point of sounding like an apologist for Putin’s regime at times, such as in the collection of articles he published a year before his demise, War with Russia? From Putin & Ukraine to Trump & Russiagate (New York: Hot Books, 2019). 13 Peter Reddaway and Dmitri Glinski, The Tragedy of Russia’s Reforms: Market Bolshevism Against Democracy (Washington, DC: United States Institute for Peace Press, 2001), pp. 2–3. 14 Cohen, Failed Crusade, p. 28. 15 Janine Wedel, Collision and Collusion: The Strange Case of Western Aid to Eastern Europe, 2nd updated edn (New York: Palgrave, 2001 [1998]). 16 Janine Wedel, “US Aid to Russia: Where It All Went Wrong”, Testimony before the Committee on International Relations, US House of Representatives, Washington, 17 September 1998. 17 Wedel, Collision and Collusion, p. 165. 18 Michael McFaul, From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018), Chapter 3 (quoted from the e-book edition). 19 Vladimir V. Putin, with Nataliya Gevorkyan, Natalya Timakova and Andrei Kolesnikov, First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, transl. Catherine A. Fitzpatrick (New York: PublicAffairs, 2000), p. 214. 20 Nina Khrushcheva, “Book Review: A Telling Memoir”, IntellectualCapital 5: 23 (8–15 June 2000). An edited version of this review was published under the title “Homo Sovieticus” in the Los Angeles Times, 24 September 2000. 21 See Simon Pirani, Change in Putin’s Russia: Power, Money and People (London: Pluto, 2010). 22 Tony Wood, Russia without Putin: Money, Power and the Myths of the New Cold War (London: Verso, 2018), p. 26. Wood borrowed this concept from Dmitri Furman who applied it to most countries emerging from the dissolution of the USSR. See Furman’s interview, “Imitation Democracies”, in New Left Review II/54 (November–December 2008), pp. 28–47. 23 Mark MacKinnon, The New Cold War: Revolutions, Rigged Elections and Pipeline Politics in the Former Soviet Union (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2007). MacKinnon provides an excellent description of how Pavlovsky’s “managed democracy” was imposed in Russia and extended to much of the former Soviet sphere. 24 Ilya Budraitskis, “From Managed Democracy to Fascism: Putin’s Imposition of Obedience and Order on Russian Society”, Tempest, 23 April 2022. See also Volodya Vagner, “Is Russia Now Fascist? The Bucha Massacre Has Led Some to Say Yes”, Novara Media, 12 April 2022, at


25 “Neofascism”, Encyclopedia Britannica online (accessed on 14 April 2022). In her book Is Russia Fascist? Unraveling Propaganda East and West (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2021), Marlene Laruelle goes to great lengths to demonstrate that Putin’s Russia is not fascist, taking the latter term as modeled on interwar Italian fascism and German Nazism. It is hardly disputable that Russia is not fascist in this sense, and that 1930s-style fascism remains marginal in today’s world. But sticking to that historical model without grasping the necessary adaptation of that political current to present-day realities may provide a false sense of assurance in the face of dangerous trends. See Angelica Fenner and Eric D. Weitz, eds, Fascism and Neofascism: Critical Writings on the Radical Right in Europe (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004). 26 Among the most recent and interesting of these books are Karen Dawisha, Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014); Mikhail Zygar, All the Kremlin’s Men: Inside the Court of Vladimir Putin (New York: PublicAffairs, 2016); Sergei Medvedev, The Return of the Russian Leviathan, transl. Stephen Dalziel (Cambridge: Polity, 2020)—first published in Russian in 2017; Daniel Treisman, ed., The New Autocracy: Information, Politics, and Policy in Putin’s Russia (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2018); Robert Service, Kremlin Winter: Russia and the Second Coming of Vladimir Putin (London: Picador, 2019); Catherine Belton, Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West (London: William Collins, 2020); Richard Sakwa, The Putin Paradox (London: I.B. Tauris, 2020); Timothy Frye, Weak Strongman: The Limits of Power in Putin’s Russia (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2021). 27 Madeleine Albright (with Bill Woodward), Madam Secretary: A Memoir (New York: Miramax, 2003), pp. 554–5. 28 Ibid., pp. 555–6. 29 Remember that Madeleine Albright had provoked a huge outcry when she stated that the objectives pursued by the United States in Iraq were “worth” the death of half a million of children in that country as a result of the embargo imposed by Washington. See Jon Jackson, “Watch: Madeleine Albright Saying Iraqi Kids’ Deaths ‘Worth It’ Resurfaces”, Newsweek, 23 mars 2022. 30 Albright, Madam Secretary, pp. 557–8. 31 On Putin’s systematic resort to associating Ukraine with Nazism later on, see Ilya Budraitskis, “Reinventing Nazism for State Propaganda: How Morality Is Being Replaced by Force”, Russia.Post, 21 June 2022. 32 Stephen J. Blank, “Putin’s Twelve-Step Program”, Washington Quarterly 25: 1 (Winter 2002), pp. 151–2. 33 Albright, Madam Secretary, pp. 557, 559. 34 Ibid., pp. 560–1.


35 Strobe Talbott, The Russia Hand: A Memoir of Presidential Diplomacy (New York: Random House, 2002), p. 396. 36 Ibid., p. 414. 37 Ibid., p. 416. 38 Ibid., p. 421. 39 “Full Text of President Putin’s Speech in the Russian Foreign Ministry on January 26, 2001”, unofficial translation, Johnson’s Russia List (Center for Defense Information), 29 January 2001. 40 Talbott’s memoir tells the whole story of Yeltsin’s very frustrated relationship with NATO. 41 Jennifer Rankin, “Ex-NATO Head Says Putin Wanted to Join Alliance Early On in His Rule”, Guardian, 4 November 2021. 42 “Interview: Vladimir Putin”, BBC Breakfast with Frost, transcript, 5 March 2000. 43 Ibid. On reactions in Russia to Putin’s statement on NATO, see David Hoffman, “Putin Says ‘Why Not?’ to Russia Joining NATO”, Washington Post, 6 March 2000. 44 Vladimir Putin, “Speech in the Bundestag of the Federal Republic of Germany”, Kremlin’s official website in English (hereafter: Kremlin), 25 September 2001, at The following quotations are from the same source, until the next endnote. 45 Vladimir Putin, “President Putin’s State of the Nation Address”, unofficial translation, Russian Observer, 18 April 2002. 46 Ibid. 47 UN Security Council Resolution 1546, unanimously approved on June 8th, 2004; “Statement on Iraq”, issued by the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Istanbul on 28 June 2004, at For a well-informed report on the disagreements at the 2004 summit, see Nicola Butler, “Deep Divisions over Iraq at NATO’s Istanbul Summit”, Disarmament Diplomacy 78 (July–August 2004). 48 Cited in Butler, “Deep Divisions”. 49 Former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul confessed in his memoir that he “never understood the logic of why countries like Ukraine or Georgia could be considered for membership but not Russia”. McFaul, From Cold War to Hot Peace, Chapter 3 (quoted from the e-book edition). 50 “Istanbul Summit Communiqué”, Issued by the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Istanbul on 28 June 2004, at 51 Ibid. 52 MacKinnon, New Cold War, p. 130. 53 Ibid., p. 233.


54 Roger Cohen, “The Making of Vladimir Putin”, New York Times, 26 March 2022. 55 Sakwa, Putin Paradox, p. 45. 56 Vladimir Putin, “Speech and the Following Discussion at the Munich Conference on Security Policy”, Kremlin, 10 February 2007, at The following quotations are from the same source until the next endnote. 57 On the disputed issue of the 1990 assurances made to Gorbachev, see Leigh Turner, “Russia–Ukraine War: A Former Diplomat Explains”, Metropole (Austria), 7 March 2022. 58 Putin, “Speech and Following Discussion”. 59 Ilya Matveev, “Russia, Inc.”, Open Democracy, 16 March 2016. 60 “Transcript of Annual Big Press Conference”, Kremlin, 14 February 2008, at 61 Zygar, All the Kremlin’s Men, Chapter 9 (quoted from the e-book edition). 62 “Bucharest Summit Declaration”, issued by the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Bucharest on 3 April 2008, at 63 “Text of Putin’s Speech at NATO Summit (Bucharest, April 2, 2008)”, Ukrainian Independent Information Agency website, 18 April 2008, at unian. info (the date in the title is wrong: the speech was delivered on 4 April). 64 “Press Statement and Answers to Journalists’ Questions Following a Meeting of the Russia–NATO Council”, Kremlin, 4 April 2008, at 65 Victor Yasmann, “Russia Prepares for Lengthy Battle Over Ukraine”, RFE/RL website, 15 April 2008, at 66 Pavel Felgenhauer, “The Russian–Georgian War Was Preplanned in Moscow”, Eurasia Daily Monitor 5: 156 (August 2008). Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO’s Secretary General from 2004 to 2009, confirms that Putin’s intervention in Georgia in 2008 was “a direct consequence of the Bucharest summit”. Interview with Jean-Pierre Stroobants, “Il faut bloquer et expulser Vladimir Poutine partout où cela est possible”, Le Monde, 1 July 2022. 67 Pavel Felgenhauer, “Russia Is Ready for a Major Confrontation with the West”, Eurasia Daily Monitor 5: 162 (25 August 2008). 68 Pavel Felgenhauer, “Russia’s Global War Games”, Eurasia Daily Monitor 5: 184 (25 September 2008). 69 Dmitry Medvedev, “Address to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation”, Kremlin, 5 November 2008, at 70 Dmitry Medvedev, “Speech at an Extended Session of the Defense Ministry Board”, Kremlin, 17 March 2009, at 71 Reuters Staff, “Excerpts: Obama’s Speech to Moscow Students”, Reuters, 8 July 2009. 72 Turner, “Russia–Ukraine War”.


73 Ibid. 74 S. Medvedev, Return of the Russian Leviathan, preface to the English edn, p. ix. On the “conservative turn” of 2012, see Ilya Budraitskis, “Contradictions in Russian Cultural Politics”, in his Dissidents among Dissidents: Ideology, Politics and the Left in Post-Soviet Russia (London: Verso, 2002), pp. 45–62. 75 See Gilbert Achcar, The People Want: A Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising, 2nd edn with new preface (London: Saqi, 2022). 76 UNSC, “Resolution 1973 (2011) Adopted by the Security Council at its 6498th meeting, on 17 March 2011”. 77 Gilbert Achcar, “Libyan Developments”, interview by Stephen R. Shalom, ZNet, 19 March 2011, at 78 Gilbert Achcar, “NATO’s ‘Conspiracy’ Against the Libyan Revolution”, Jadaliyya, 16 August 2011. 79 On the Obama administration’s attitude toward the Syrian civil war, see Gilbert Achcar, Morbid Symptoms: Relapse in the Arab Uprising (London: Saqi and Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2016). 80 The US invasion of Panama in 1989 was presented as more like a large-scale police antidrug operation than a military expedition. 81 See Gilbert Achcar, “Failing to learn the lessons of Vietnam, again”, Le Monde diplomatique, November 2021. 82 “Monument to Vladimir the Great opened in Moscow on Unity Day”, Kremlin, 4 November 2016, at (emphasis added). 83 Vladimir Putin, “Orthodox-Slavic Values: The Foundation of Ukraine’s Civilizational Choice Conference”, 27 July 2013, Kremlin, at 84 According to Taras Kuzio, during the Yanukovych presidency Russia controlled the leadership of the presidential guards, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) and the ministry of defense. Taras Kuzio, Ukraine: Democratization, Corruption, and the New Russian Imperialism (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2015), p. 103. 85 For contrasting critical assessments of the Maidan Revolution, Ukraine’s politics and its socioeconomic system, see ibid., as well as Anastasiya Ryabchuk, “Right Revolution? Hopes and Perils of the Euromaidan Protests in Ukraine”, in Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe, 22: 1 (February 2014), pp. 127–34; Richard Sakwa, Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands (London: I.B. Tauris, 2015); Yuliya Yurchenko, Ukraine and the Empire of Capital: From Marketisation to Armed Conflict (London: Pluto, 2018); and the interview with Volodymyr Ishchenko, “Towards the Abyss”, in New Left Review II/133–134 (January–April 2022), pp. 17–39. 86 “Vladimir Putin Answered Journalists’ Questions on the Situation in Ukraine”, Kremlin, 4 March 2014, at The following quotations are


from the same source, until the next endnote. 87 See Sakwa, Frontline Ukraine; Florent Guénard, “La Crimée et le droit international. Entretien avec Yann Kerbrat”, La Vie des idées, 17 April 2014. 88 On the principles inspiring the USSR’s constitution, see E. H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution 1917–1923, vol. 1 (London: MacMillan, 1950), especially pp. 399–428. It is in the name of these principles that Ivan Dzyuba argued against the national oppression of Ukraine by Great Russian chauvinism in the book that he submitted to the Communist Party and the government of Ukraine in 1965, under the title Internationalism or Russification?—published in English translation as Internationalism or Russification? A Study in the Soviet Nationalities Problem (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1968). 89 “Address by President of the Russian Federation”, Kremlin, 18 March 2014, at The following quotations are from the same source, until the next endnote. 90 “Accordance with International Law of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo”, Written Statement of the United States of America, April 2009, p. 51, available on the website of the International Court of Justice, at 91 “Response to a Journalist’s Question about the Peace Plan in Ukraine”, Kremlin, 22 June 2014, at 92 “President of Russia Vladimir Putin Addressed Novorossiya Militia”, Kremlin, 29 August 2014, at 93 On the Wagner Group, see Candace Rondeaux, “Decoding the Wagner Group: Analyzing the Role of Private Military Security Contractors in Russian Proxy Warfare”, New America (Washington, DC), November 2019, at 94 “The ‘Putin Plan’ for Settling the Conflict in Ukraine”, Kremlin, 3 September 2014, at 95 “Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club”, Kremlin, 24 October 2014, at The following quotations are from the same source, until the next endnote. 96 On Novorossiya and “the Mythmaking of the Ukrainian War”, see Marlene Laruelle, Russian Nationalism: Imaginaries, Doctrines, and Political Battlefields (Abingdon: Routledge, 2019), Chapter 9. More generally on the new Eurasianist nationalist ideology that developed in Putin’s Russia, see Charles Clover, Black Wind, White Snow: The Rise of Russia’s New Nationalism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016). 97 “Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly”, Kremlin, 4 December 2014, at 98 S. Medvedev, The Return of the Russian Leviathan, p. 218.


99 Interview of Vladimir Putin by Andrei Vandenko, “Interview to TASS News Agency” (recorded on 13 November 2014), Kremlin, 24 November 2014, at The upscaling of sanctions targeting “oligarchs” in 2022 confirmed Putin’s point. See Branko Milanovic, “Seizing the Assets of Russian Oligarchs”, Social Europe, 25 April 2022. 100 Matveev, “Russia, Inc.”. 101 Vandenko, “Interview to TASS News Agency”. The following quotations are from the same source, until the next endnote. 102 Calculation based on data in Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation, “Annual Report on Execution of the Federal Budget (starting from January 1, 2006)”, 18 April 2022. 103 (accessed on 27 April 2022). 104 World Bank Data, at PPP = purchase power parity. 105 Ministry of Finance, “Annual Report on Execution of the Federal Budget”. 106 Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC) (accessed on 24 April 2022). 107 SIPRI, “Government and Industry Data on the Financial Value of National Arms Exports, 1994–2019”, 30 March 2021. 108 US Department of State, Bureau of Political–Military Affairs, “US Arms Sales and Defense Trade”, 20 January 2021. 109 SIPRI, “TIV of Arms Exports from the Top 10 Largest Exporters, 2012– 2021”, generated on 27 April 2022: “The TIV is based on the known unit production costs of a core set of weapons and is intended to represent the transfer of military resources rather than the financial value of the transfer. Weapons for which a production cost is not known are compared with core weapons based on: size and performance characteristics (weight, speed, range and payload); type of electronics, loading or unloading arrangements, engine, tracks or wheels, armament and materials; and the year in which the weapon was produced.” 110 Nat Moser, Oil and the Economy of Russia: From the Late-Tsarist to the PostSoviet Period (London: Routledge, 2018), pp. 107–8. 111 Anders Åslund, Russia’s Crony Capitalism: The Path from Market Economy to Kleptocracy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press), p. 106. 112 N. L. Khrushcheva, “The Origins of Putin’s Totalitarianism”, Social Europe, 29 April 2022. 113 Caroline Freund, assisted by Sarah Oliver, Rich People Poor Countries: The Rise of Emerging-Market Tycoons and their Mega Firms (Washington, DC: Peterson Institute for International Economics, 2016), p. 42. On crony capitalism in Russia, including the enrichment of Putin himself and his family, see the remarkable series of articles produced by the Reuters news agency in 2014–15: Comrade Capitalism: How Russia Does Business in the Putin Era—A Reuters Investigation.


114 Crédit Suisse Research Institute, Global Wealth Report 2021 (Zürich: Crédit Suisse, 2021), p. 24. 115 World Inequality Database: Russian Federation (accessed on 25 April 2022). 116 Steven Rosefielde, “Russian Defence: Economic Constraints and Potential”, in Steven Rosefielde, ed., Putin’s Russia: Economy, Defence and Foreign Policy (Singapore: World Scientific Publishing, 2020). 117 Pavel Luzin, “Russia’s Defense Industry: Between Political Significance and Economic Inefficiency”, Russia Foreign Policy Papers, Foreign Policy Research Institute, March 2020, p. 3. See Andrew S. Bowen, “Russian Arms Sales and Defense Industry” (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service), 14 October 2021, p. 5. 118 Rosefielde, “Russian Defence”, p. 231. 119 Ibid., p. 239. 120 Luzin, “Russia’s Defense Industry”, p. 8. For a critical assessment of the potential impact of the military industry on Russia’s overall technological development, see Tor Bukkvoll, Tomas Malmlöf and Konstantin Makienko, “The Defence Industry as a Locomotive for Technological Renewal in Russia: Are the Conditions in Place?”, Post-Communist Economies 29: 2 (2017), pp. 232–49. 121 Ekaterina Mereminsky, “The State and State-Owned Companies Control 70% of the Russian Economy” (in Russian), Vedomosti, 29 September 2016. 122 Simeon Djankov, “Russia’s Economy under Putin: From Crony Capitalism to State Capitalism”, Policy Brief, Peterson Institute for International Economics (Washington, DC), September 2015. There is little doubt that the much tougher sanctions imposed on Russia in 2022 will considerably amplify this trend. 123 Clifford G. Gaddy and Barry W. Ickes, “Putin’s Rent Management System and the Future of Addiction in Russia”, in Susanne Oxenstierna, ed., The Challenges for Russia’s Politicized Economic System (Abingdon: Routledge, 2015), pp. 11–32. 124 Peter E. Robertson, “The Real Military Balance: International Comparisons of Defense Spending”, Review of Income and Wealth, 20 September 2021 (early view at 125 Albright, Madam Secretary, p. 230. 126 Zygar, All the Kremlin’s Men, Chapter 20. 127 On Russia’s intervention in Syria, see Achcar, Morbid Symptoms, Chapter 1. 128 Anchal Vohra, “Russia’s Payback Will Be Syria’s Reconstruction Money”, Foreign Policy, 5 May 2019. See also Michael Peel, “Russia Presses EU to Pay Up for Rebuilding Syria”, Financial Times, 10 January 2018. On Syria’s reconstruction more generally, see Joseph Daher, “The Paradox of Syria’s Reconstruction”, Carnegie Middle East Center, 4 September 2019.


129 Thomas Schaffner, “Five Years After Russia Declared Victory in Syria: What Has Been Won?”, Russia Matters, 18 March 2021. 130 Nataliya Vasilyeva, “Thousands of Russian Private Contractors Fighting in Syria”, Associated Press, 12 December 2017. 131 See Jeff Hawn, “Russia’s Extraterritorial Military Deployments”, Newlines Institute, 31 March 2021. 132 On the circumstances leading to Zelensky’s election, see Yuliya Yurchenko, “Ukraine and the (Dis)integrating ‘Empire of Capital’”, in Agnes Gagyi and Ondrej Slacálek, eds, The Political Economy of Eastern Europe 30 Years into the ‘Transition’: New Left Perspectives from the Region (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2022), pp. 97–113. 133 Ashley Smith, “Fighting for Ukrainian Self-Determination: Interview with Yuliya Yurchenko”, Spectre, 11 April 2022. 134 “Vladimir Putin’s Annual News Conference”, Kremlin, 19 December 2019, at The following quotations are from the same source, until the next endnote. 135 The event was a meeting of the Russian Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, the transcript of which is not available on the Kremlin’s Englishlanguage website. 136 “Vladimir Putin’s Annual News Conference”, Kremlin, 17 December 2020, at 137 “Vladimir Putin’s Annual News Conference”, Kremlin, 23 December 2021, at 138 “Article by Vladimir Putin ‘On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians’”, Kremlin, 12 July 2021, at The following quotations are from the same source, until the next endnote. 139 Vandenko, “Interview to TASS News Agency”. 140 Cited in Henry Foy, “The Brutal Third Act of Vladimir Putin”, Financial Times Magazine, 11 March 2021. 141 Ibid. 142 Andrei Kozyrev, “Putin’s Red Square Parade Will Be a Squalid Spectacle”, Financial Times, 6 May 2022. 143 Henry Foy, “Russia to Cut Defence Spending in Bid to Prop Up Ailing Economy”, Financial Times, 21 September 2020. 144 One example among many: Jim Sciutto and Katie Bo Williams, “US Concerned Kyiv Could Fall to Russia Within Days, Sources Familiar with Intel Say”, CNN, 25 February 2022, at 145 Helene Cooper, “US Considers Backing an Insurgency if Russia Invades Ukraine”, New York Times, 14 January 2022. 146 Ilya Matveev, “Between Political and Economic Imperialism: Russia’s Shifting Global Strategy”, Journal of Labor and Society 25 (2022), p. 214.


147 Marcel H. Van Herpen, Putin’s Wars: The Rise of Russia’s New Imperialism (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014). 148 Zbigniew Brzezinski, Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power (New York: Basic Books, 2012), Part 3, Chapter 2 (quoted from the e-book edition). 149 Tony Wood, “Matrix of War”, New Left Review II/133–134 (January–April 2022), p. 60. 150 Éric Anceau, “De Gaulle and Europe”, EHENE, Digital Encyclopedia of European History (accessed on 6 May 2022). 151 Rédaction de l’INA, “7 mars 1966, la France tourne le dos à l’OTAN”, L’INA éclaire l’actu, INA, 5 March 2021, at 152 The reactionary mindset that developed in Russia over the last years led some to even try to rehabilitate the memory of Ivan the Terrible. See Howard Amos, “Russia falls back in love with Ivan the Terrible”, Politico, 31 October 2016, at

4. China: End of the Peaceful Rise?

1 Peter E. Robertson, “The Real Military Balance: International Comparisons of Defense Spending”, Review of Income and Wealth, 20 September 2021 (early view at 2 “US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Pacific Security Issues: Why Is China’s Defense Spending Growing?, 2005”, USC US-China Institute, 4 June 2005. 3 Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2020: Annual Report to Congress (Washington: Department of Defense, 2020). 4 John Isaacs, “China Is Still Not the New Soviet Union: Top US Military Leaders Affirm US Lead Over China”, Arms Control Center, 22 July 2021. 5 Mangesh Sawant, “Why China Cannot Challenge the US Military Primacy”, Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs, Winter 2021, pp. 122–35. 6 Roger Cliff, China’s Military Power: Assessing Current and Future Capabilities (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), p. 13. 7 Ibid., p. 244. 8 The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic (SCIOPR) of China, China’s National Defense in the New Era, State Council of the PRC, July 2019, at 9 Jae Ho Chung, “Assessing China’s Power”, in Jae Ho Chung, ed., Assessing China’s Power (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), p. 6. 10 SCIOPR, China’s National Defense. 11 The citation is from General Charles Ailleret, then chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, who first used this formulation—according to Le Monde: “La dissuasion ‘tous azimuts’”, Le Monde, 13 July 1977.


12 SCIOPR, China’s National Defense. 13 Shaun Breslin, “China’s Global Power/China as a Global Power”, in Chung, Assessing China’s Power, p. 245. 14 Ibid. 15 J. A. Hobson, “Why the War Came as a Surprise”, Political Science Quarterly 35: 3 (September 1920), p. 357; reprinted in J. A. Hobson, Writings on Imperialism and Internationalism, ed. with an introduction by Peter Cain (Abingdon: Routledge, 1992), p. 206. 16 Ibid. 17 Ibid., pp. 357–8 (206–7). 18 Ibid., p. 358 (207). 19 World Bank Data, at 20 Deng Xiaoping, “Restore Agricultural Production”, in Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 1 (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1995), p. 318. 21 V. I. Lenin, “The Role and Functions of the Trade Unions under the New Economic Policy”, 12 January 1922, in V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 33 (Moscow: Progress, 1973), p. 185. 22 Ibid. 23 Thomas Piketty, Li Yang and Gabriel Zucman, Capital Accumulation, Private Property, and Rising Inequality in China, 1978–2015, American Economic Review 109: 7 (July 2019), pp. 2469–96. 24 On the evolution of state–labor relations in China since the turn of the century, see Jude Howell and Tim Pringle, “Shades of Authoritarianism and State– Labour Relations in China”, British Journal of Industrial Relations 57: 2 (June 2019), pp. 223–46. 25 Au Loong-Yu, “On the Rise of China and Its Inherent Contradictions”, in Au Loong-Yu (with contributions from other authors), China’s Rise: Strength and Fragility (Pontypool: Merlin, 2012), pp. 20, 14. 26 Yukon Huang, Cracking the China Conundrum: Why Conventional Economic Wisdom Is Wrong (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), p. 107. 27 Ji Siqi, “China’s Private Sector Struggling with ‘Common Prosperity’, Covid19 and Financing; SOEs Thrive”, South China Morning Post, 1 March 2022. 28 Ibid. See Hudson Lockett, “How Xi Jinping Is Reshaping China’s Capital Markets”, Financial Times, 12 June 2022. 29 Au, “On the Rise of China”, p. 21. See also Victor Shih, “China’s Credit Conundrum”, interview by Robert Brenner, New Left Review II/115 (January– February 2019). For an illustration of how key SOEs interact with the state in China, see Xiaoguang Wang, “Does the Structural Power of Business Matter in State Capitalism? Evidence from China’s Oil”, Pacific Focus xxxiv: 2 (August 2019), pp. 284–312.


30 Isabella M. Weber, How China Escaped Shock Therapy: The Market Reform Debate (Abingdon: Routledge, 2021). 31 Ibid., p. 3. 32 Ibid., p. 269. On the contrast between China and Russia, see also Peter Nolan, “China’s Rise, Russia’s Fall”, Journal of Peasant Studies 24: 1 (1996), pp. 226– 50. 33 World Bank Group and Development Research Center of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, Four Decades of Poverty Reduction in China: Drivers, Insights for the World, and the Way Ahead (Washington, DC: IBRD, 2022), pp. 1–2. 34 These figures are quoted after Yanjie Bian, Lei Zhang, Yinghui Li, Yipeng Hu and Na Li, “Income Inequality and Class Stratification”, in Weiping Wu and Mark W. Frazier, eds, The SAGE Handbook of Contemporary China (London: Sage, 2018), pp. 1022–41. 35 Bruce J. Dickson, “Integrating Wealth and Power in China: The Communist Party’s Embrace of the Private Sector”, China Quarterly 192 (December 2007), pp. 827–54. See also Kjeld Erik Brødsgaard, “China’s Communist Party: From Mass to Elite Party”, China Report 54: 4 (2018), pp. 385–402. 36 Bruce J. Dickson, The Dictator’s Dilemma: The Chinese Communist Party’s Strategy for Survival (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), p. 314. 37 In his voluminous work on the Soviet military, William Odom quotes Georgii Shakhnazarov, a close assistant of Mikhail Gorbachev when the latter was president of the USSR. Unable to give a definite figure of the weight of military expenditure in the Soviet economy for the lack of reliable data, Shakhnazarov estimated it at between a fifth and two-fifths of the national income. William E. Odom, The Collapse of the Soviet Military (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), p. 104. 38 Deng Xiaoping, “China’s Foreign Policy”, 21 August 1982, in Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 2 (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1995), p. 408. 39 Henry Kissinger, On China, 2nd edn, with new afterword (London: Penguin, 2012), p. 463. 40 Ibid., pp. 454–5. 41 “Shanghai Communiqué”, 28 February 1972, Taiwan Documents Project, at In fact, it was the Kuomintang, much more than the Communists, that used to insist on Taiwan’s belonging to China, before fleeing to the island in 1949 and continuing its Republic of China there. In a conversation with Edgar Snow in 1936, Mao Zedong put Taiwan on a par with Korea in pledging to support their struggles for independence against Japan. Edgar Snow, Red Star Over China, revised and enlarged edn (Harmondsworth: Pelican, 1972), p. 128. See also Snow’s relevant endnote 2 (p. 480). For a full examination of the role of the


Kuomintang in claiming Taiwan at the 1943 Cairo Conference and thus prompting the CCP to follow suit, see Frank S. T. Hsiao and Lawrence R. Sullivan, “The Chinese Communist Party and the Status of Taiwan, 1928–1943”, Pacific Affairs 52: 3 (Autumn 1979), pp. 446–67. For an overview of Taiwan’s complex history, see Michael Reilly, “Between China and a Hard Place”, History Today 71: 10 (October 2021). 42 “Joint Communiqué on Arms Sales to Taiwan”, 17 August 1982, Taiwan Documents Project, at 43 Patrick Tyler, A Great Wall: Six Presidents and China, An Investigative History 2nd edn with new preface (New York: PublicAffairs, 2000), p. 378. 44 George H. W. Bush, “Remarks to General Dynamics Employees in Fort Worth, Texas, September 2, 1992”, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: George H. W. Bush (1992–1993, Book II) (Washington, DC: US Government Publishing Office, 1993), pp. 1470–1. 45 Tyler, Great Wall, p. 387. 46 Ibid., p. 6. 47 Ibid., p. 8. 48 Ibid., p. 24. 49 Ibid., p. 36. 50 World Bank Data. 51 Kissinger, On China, p. 500. 52 State Council of the People’s Republic of China, “China’s Peaceful Development Road”, People’s Daily Online, 22 December 2005. 53 Ibid. 54 Kissinger, On China, p. 500. 55 State Council of the People’s Republic of China, “China’s Peaceful Development”, Information Office of the State Council of the PRC, 6 September 2011, at 56 On Xi Jinping, see Kerry Brown, Xi: A Study in Power (London: Icon, 2022). 57 “Document 9: A ChinaFile Translation”, ChinaFile, 8 November 2013, at 58 Economist, “Xi Jinping Has Nurtured an Ugly Form of Chinese Nationalism”, Economist, 13 July 2022. 59 See Daniel Fuchs and Frido Wenten, eds, China: Capitalist Expansion in the Xi Era—special issue of Journal für Entwicklungspolitik xxxv: 4 (2019). 60 Walden Bello, China: An Imperial Power in the Image of the West? (Bangkok: Focus on the Global South, 2019). For a sophisticated discussion of this topic with regard to China’s relations with Latin America and the Caribbean, see Frédéric Thomas, Chine—Amérique latine et Caraïbes: Coopération Sud-Sud ou nouvel impérialisme? (Louvain-la-Neuve: CETRI, 2020).


61 “Countries of the Belt and Road Initiative”, Green Finance and Development Center, FISF Fudan University, Shanghai, 1 June 2022. The BRI is often crudely misrepresented in the West as a mere imperialist device aimed at the control of other countries. See Bello, China: An Imperial Power, and Lee Jones and Shahar Hameiri, Debunking the Myth of “Debt-Trap Diplomacy”: How Recipient Countries Shape China’s Belt and Road Initiative (London: Chatham House, 2020). 62 “Members and Prospective Members of the Bank”, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, at 63 Hillary Clinton, “America’s Pacific Century”, Foreign Policy, 11 October 2011, at 64 Ibid. 65 Susannah Patton, “China Is Winning in Asia. Biden’s Plans Won’t Change That”, New York Times, 1 June 2022. 66 Lyle J. Goldstein, Meeting China Halfway: How to Defuse the Emerging USChina Rivalry (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2015). 67 State Council of the People’s Republic of China, China’s Epic Journey from Poverty to Prosperity, Information Office of the State Council of the PRC, September 2021, at 68 State Council of the People’s Republic of China, China: Democracy that Works, Information Office of the State Council of the PRC, December 2021, at 69 Latana and Alliance of Democracies, Democracy Perception Index 2022 (Berlin: Latana, 2022). 70 State Council of the People’s Republic of China, China and the World in the New Era, Information Office of the State Council of the PRC, September 2019, at 71 Ibid. 72 Peter Navarro and Greg Autry, Death by China: Confronting the Dragon—A Global Call to Action (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2011). Five years earlier, Navarro had authored a book titled The Coming China Wars: Where They Will Be Fought and How They Can Be Won (Upper Saddle River: FT, 2006). On Navarro, see Steven Mufson, “Meet Mr ‘Death by China’, Trump’s Inside Man on Trade”, Washington Post, 17 February 2017. A symmetrically opposed deflation of China’s threat to the US-dominated global system can be found in Ho-Fung Hung, The China Boom: Why China Will Not Rule the World (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016). 73 James Crabtree, “China’s Radical New Vision of Globalization”, Noēma, 10 December 2020. 74 See Angus Maddison, Chinese Economic Performance in the Long Run: 960– 2030 AD, 2nd rev. edn (Paris: Development Centre of the OECD, 2007), pp. 43–58.


75 Kissinger, On China, pp. 524–5. The last chapter of Brown’s Xi: A Study in Power provides a good summary of the problems faced by present-day China. 76 Kenneth N. Waltz, “Structural Realism after the Cold War”, International Security 25: 1 (Summer 2000), pp. 22, 38. 77 “Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation Between the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the PRC, 24 July 2001, at 78 Richard Weitz, “The Sino-Russian Arms Dilemma”, China Brief 6: 22 (8 November 2006). 79 Ibid. 80 M. K. Bhadrakumar, “US Shadow over China–Russia Ties”, Asia Times, 31 March 2007. 81 See Economist, “China’s Friendship with Russia Has Boundaries, Despite What Their Leaders Say”, Economist, 16 March 2022; Clifford Krauss, Alexandra Stevenson and Emily Schmall, “In Russia’s War, China and India Emerge as Financiers”, New York Times, 24 June 2022. 82 See Bobo Lo, Axis of Convenience: Moscow, Beijing, and the New Geopolitics (London: Chatham House, 2008), and the updated view of the same author in the age of Trump, A Wary Embrace: What the China–Russia Relationship Means for the World (Sydney: Penguin Random House Australia, 2017). A good overview of past China–Russia relations is Yu-Shan Wu, “Russia and Chinese Security”, in Lowell Dittmer and Maochun Yu, eds, Routledge Handbook of Chinese Security (Abingdon: Routledge, 2015), pp. 90–103. 83 See Nathalie Guibert, Frédéric Lemaître, Bruno Philip and Benoît Vitkine, “Crise en Ukraine: terrain miné pour l’axe Moscou-Pékin”, Le Monde, 25 March 2022. 84 “Chinese Foreign Trade in Figures”, Santander Trade Markets, at See also Economist, “China’s Friendship with Russia Has Boundaries”. 85 State Council of the PRC, China and the World. 86 Ibid. 87 Ibid. 88 “Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on the International Relations Entering a New Era and the Global Sustainable Development”, Kremlin, 4 February 2022, at 89 Ibid. 90 Eva Dou, “What Is—and Isn’t—in the Joint Statement from Putin and Xi”, Washington Post, 4 February 2022. 91 “Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China”.


92 While Putin was meeting Xi, China was busy preparing the delivery of fighter jets to Pakistan. See Kathrin Hille, Farhan Bokhari and Benjamin Parkin, “China Moves to Counter India with Arms Sales to Pakistan”, Financial Times, 19 February 2022. 93 Ibid. See Robert Mackey, “Russia Is Lying About Evidence of Bioweapons Labs in Ukraine, Russian Biologists Say”, Intercept, 17 March 2022. 94 “Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China”. The following quotations are from the same source, until the next endnote. 95 Sergey Radchenko, “Sergey Radchenko, an Expert on Russia’s Foreign Relations, Writes on Its Evolving Friendship with China”, Economist, 15 February 2022. 96 See Laura He, “4 ways China is Quietly Making Life Harder for Russia”, CNN Business, 18 March 2022; Francois Chimits and Jacob Mardell, “Chine-Russie: ‘Pour le Parti communiste chinois, l’objectif de développement économique et de stabilité reste la priorité absolue’”, Le Monde, 19 March 2022; Cate Cadell and Ellen Nakashima, “Beijing Chafes at Moscow’s Requests for Support, Chinese Officials Say”, Washington Post, 2 June 2022. 97 Tom Mitchell, Demetri Sevastopulo, Sun Yu and James Kynge, “The Rising Costs of China’s Friendship with Russia”, Financial Times, 10 March 2022. See also Economist, “China’s Friendship with Russia Has Boundaries”. 98 Qin Gang, “Chinese Ambassador: Where We Stand on Ukraine”, Washington Post, 15 March 2022. 99 Washington’s provocative stance is not only rhetoric: it is military as well. See Piotr Smolar, “Les Etats-Unis face au dilemme de la défense de Taïwan”, Le Monde, 27 October 2021; Kathrin Hille and Demetri Sevastopulo, “Taiwan: Preparing for a Potential Chinese Invasion”, Financial Times, 8 June 2022. 100 See David Sacks, “What Is China Learning from Russia’s War in Ukraine?”, Foreign Affairs, 16 May 2022, at 101 There have been many articles since the start of the Ukraine war emphasizing Russia’s increased dependence on China. See, for example, Valérie Niquet, “La Chine aime la Russie, mais une Russie affaiblie et en position de demandeur”, Le Monde, 28 February 2022; Stuart Lau, “China’s New Vassal: Vladimir Putin”, Politico, 6 June 2022. 102 Tyler, Great Wall, p. 10. See Jean-Pierre Cabestan, “Taiwan and Chinese Security”, in Dittmer and Yu, Routledge Handbook of Chinese Security, pp. 181–99. 103 “Memorandum of Conversation”, Beijing, 18 February 1973, in David P. Nickles and Edward C. Keefer, eds, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, Vol. XVIII, China 1973–1976 (Washington, DC: Department of State, 2007), pp. 156–57.


104 See Valérie Niquet, “La République populaire de Chine s’est enfoncée dans une inefficacité dangereuse”, Le Monde, 27 April 2022; Ryan McMorrow and Nian Liu, “‘Let It Rot’: China’s Tech Workers Struggle to Find Jobs”, Financial Times, 16 June 2022; Edward White and Eleanor Olcott, “Covid in China: Xi’s Fraying Relationship with the Middle Class”, Financial Times, 27 June 2022. See also the point of view of Australia’s former prime minister and renowned sinologist Kevin Rudd, “Xi Jinping’s Year of Instability: Mounting Challenges to China’s Economy in 2022 and the Implications for Chinese Domestic Politics and Foreign Policy”, Address to the Asia Society, New York, 9 May 2022, at 105 See Au Loong-Yu, Hong Kong in Revolt: The Protest Movement and the Future of China (London: Pluto, 2020). 106 Penghu is close to Taiwan, but Kinmen and Lienchiang are much closer to the mainland, whereas Pratas and Taiping are in the South China Sea. Taiping Island (a.k.a. Itu Aba) is very far from Taiwan, and claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam in addition to the PRC. For war scenarios, see Samson Ellis, “Here’s What Could Happen If China Invaded Taiwan”, Bloomberg, 7 October 2020; Matthew Egger Sat, “Into the Gray Zone: China’s Paths Towards Reunification with Taiwan”, Small Wars Journal, 21 May 2022. 107 Chris Buckley, “China Hangs on Xi’s Every Word. His Silence Also Speaks Volumes.”, New York Times, 22 October 2022.

Conclusion: Where Do We Go from Here?

1 J. A. Hobson, Imperialism: A Study (New York: James Pott, 1902), pp. 381–2 2 See Gilbert Achcar, “Failing to Learn the Lessons of Vietnam, Again”, Le Monde diplomatique, November 2021. 3 For a thorough US–Latvian assessment, see Liudas Zdanavičius and Matthew Czekaj, eds, Russia’s Zapad 2013 Military Exercise: Lessons for Baltic Regional Security (Washington, DC: Jamestown Foundation, 2015). 4 Peter Apps, “NATO Stages Exercise as Rearming Russia Worries Some Allies”, Reuters, 1 November 2013. 5 Ibid. 6 “Wales Summit Declaration”, issued by the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Wales, 4–5 September 2014, at 7 “The Wales Declaration on the Transatlantic Bond”, 5 September 2014, at nato. int. 8 Ibid. 9 SIPRI Military Expenditure Database, 2021, at No figure is provided for Iceland, whose military expenditure is certainly much below 2 percent of its GDP.


10 See references in Gilbert Achcar, “For Arms Manufacturers, the War in Ukraine Is a Profits Bonanza”, Jacobin, 5 April 2022. 11 US Senate Committee on Armed Services, Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, Washington, June 2022, p. 1. 12 Achcar, “For Arms Manufacturers, the War in Ukraine is a Profits Bonanza”. 13 Simon Kuper, “Is the West’s Increased Defence Spending Even Necessary?”, Financial Times Magazine, 7 July 2022. 14 “London Declaration”, issued by the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in London 3–4 December 2019, at 15 “Transcript: ‘China Is Coming Closer to Us’—Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s Secretary-General”, Financial Times, 18 October 2021. 16 Ibid. On the reality of the “biggest navy in the world”, see Benjamin Mainardi, “Yes, China Has the World’s Largest Navy. That Matters Less Than You Might Think”, Diplomat, 7 April 2021. 17 “Transcript: ‘China Is Coming Closer to Us’”. 18 See Gilbert Achcar, “NATO from Bad to Worse”, Nation, 23 June 2022. 19 “NATO 2022 Strategic Concept”, adopted by Heads of State and Government at the NATO Summit in Madrid 29 June 2022, at 20 Ibid. 21 Vincent Ni, “Beijing Hits Out at NATO Strategy for ‘Malicious Attack’ on China”, Guardian, 30 June 2022. 22 See Adam Tooze, “The Second Coming of NATO”, New Statesman, 18 May 2022; Philippe Ricard and Jean-Pierre Stroobants, “Paris insiste pour resserrer les liens entre l’OTAN et l’UE”, Le Monde, 22 June 2022. 23 IISS, “China’s Place on the NATO Agenda”, Strategic Comments 27, comment 17 (July 2021). 24 Carl von Clausewitz, On War, transl. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), p. 77. 25 Ibid., p. 79. 26 Jacinda Ardern, “A Pacific Springboard to Engage the World: New Zealand’s Independent Foreign Policy”, address at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, 7 July 2022, at 27 Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process: Sociogenetic and Psychogenetic Investigations, transl. Edmund Jephcott, rev. edn (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000). The same points about the UN and its Charter are developed in Gilbert Achcar, The Clash of Barbarisms, 2nd edn (London: Saqi Books and Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2006 [2002]). 28 E. H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution 1917–1923, Vol. 3 (London: MacMillan, 1953).


29 Dan Sabbagh, “‘Colossal Waste’: Nobel Laureates Call for 2% Cut to Military Spending Worldwide”, Guardian, 14 December 2021. 30 “The Global Peace Dividend Initiative”, at As mentioned in the Introduction, a precursor of this kind of proposal was produced by Friedrich Engels, in the series of articles on disarmament that he wrote in 1893 and that was published soon after in the pamphlet titled Can Europe Disarm?, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, vol. 27 (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990), pp. 367–93. 31 A further consideration in this regard is that the military–industrial complex itself is a major source of pollution. See Joshua O. Reno, Military Waste: The Unexpected Consequences of Permanent War Readiness (Oakland: University of California Press, 2019); Jasper Craven, “Greenwashing the Military–Industrial Complex”, Baffler, 1 October 2021; and Iffah Kitchlew, “Is Super-Polluting Pentagon’s Climate Plan Just ‘Military-Grade Greenwash’?”, Guardian, 10 March 2022. This, of course, is in addition to the obviously disastrous impact of wars themselves on the environment. See Gar Smith, ed., The War and Environment Reader (Charlottesville, VA: Just World, 2017).



Abkhazia 128, 164, 173, 174, 176, 179, 180 Adamkus, Valdas 10 Adapted Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) 60, 163–4, 169, 171 Afghanistan 7, 9–10, 36, 52, 99, 109, 133, 154, 157, 162, 188, 193–4, 231, 239, 258, 263, 271–3, 290–2 Africa Horn of 86 North Africa 294 Sub-Saharan 220 Albright, Madeleine 87, 92, 100, 104, 108, 151, 154, 214 Aliev, Heydar 53, 166 Aliev, Ilham 166–7 America see United States of America Angola 3, 276 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty 110, 111, 133, 155–7 Arbatov, Georgi 5, 140, 145 Ardern, Jacinda 304 Aron, Raymond 19, 75 Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) 263 Åslund, Anders 141, 209 al-Assad, Bashar 187, 215 Atlantic Alliance see North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) AUKUS trilateral security partnership (Australia, USA, UK) 265, 281, 283 Austrian Study Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution 4 Bacevitch, A. J. 42, 49 Baltic Sea 129, 133, 181, 189 Baruch, Bernard 20, 26 Bashneft 209 Beijing 62, 74, 279, 285 see also China 2022 Winter Olympics in 279 Beijing–Moscow alliance 4, 13, 74, 77, 171, 276–7, 282 Belarus 4, 79, 115, 133, 181, 184, 189, 193, 203, 275, 276, 292, 293, 305 Berger, Samuel 92, 108, 166 Berlin Wall 1–3, 81 Bernstein, Eduard 17–18, 20 Bernstein, Richard 62, 63, 66–8, 70 Biden, Joe 135, 188, 265, 266, 279, 284, 286, 290, 298, 299 Black Sea 55, 61–2, 128–9, 177–80, 199, 224 Blair, Tony 188


Bodman, Samuel 166 Bolsheviks 129, 132, 195, 226, 307 Brazil 107, 210, 266, 276–7, 296 Britain see United Kingdom Brussels NATO Summit (2021) 290 Brzezinski, Zbigniew 51, 58, 70, 89, 91, 108, 114, 127, 224 Bucharest NATO Summit (2008) 174–5, 178–81 Buckley, Chris 287 Budapest Memorandum 193, 231 Bulgaria 55, 79, 128, 212, 274 Bush, George W. 3, 133, 157, 162, 174, 182, 188, 258–9, 291 Byrnes, James 21 Calleo, David 89 Cameron, David 188 Canada 98, 127, 165, 295 Carter, Jimmy 89–91, 98, 271 Caspian Sea 52, 54–5, 133 Chernomyrdin, Victor 61, 107, 116 China x, xi, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16, 27, 28, 31, 32, 36, 39, 40, 43, 46, 47, 48, 50, 51, 62–78, 80, 95, 98, 99, 100, 111–13, 119, 120, 121, 133, 135, 162, 163, 171, 186, 187, 207, 210, 238, 239, 240–7, 250–63, 265–87, 295, 297, 298, 299, 300, 301, 302, 303, 304, 307, 308, 311 Belt and Road Initiative 263, 268 Cultural Revolution 247, 249, 259, 272 hegemony 258, 267, 285 oppression of Muslims in Xinjiang 10, 244, 262, 266, 280, 304, 307 State-holding enterprises 251 Chung, Jae Ho 242 Clark, Wesley 92–3, 108, 115 Clinton, Bill 86, 100–1, 107, 133, 138, 155–7, 256 Clinton–Putin Summit (2000) 155–6 Cohen, Roger 167 Cohen, Stephen 3, 142, 145, 151 Cohen, William 33, 34, 35, 39, 47, 92, 111, 138 Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) 61, 180 Communism 14, 17, 25, 77, 98, 248 Communist Party of China 16, 244, 247, 252, 260, 261, 262, 285, 286, 287 Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) 5, 132, 142, 149, 177, 195, 224, 226, 307 Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) 264


Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) 83 Cornell University 257 COVID-19 208, 229, 231, 240, 250, 279, 280, 286, 304 Crimea 61, 125, 128, 161, 176, 177, 179, 185, 191–8, 201–5, 215, 220, 230, 231, 234, 281, 291–4 Crimean War (1853–6) 129 Damascus 188 Deng Xiaoping 247, 248, 249, 253, 258 Djankov, Simeon 212 Dobbs, Michael 88 East Asia 8, 41–3, 64–6, 75, 264 Eberstadt, Ferdinand 21 Eisenhower, Dwight D. 23 Engels, Friedrich 17 Erdoğan, Recep Tayyip 135, 266 Estonia 61, 127, 128, 133, 294 Eurasian Economic Union 190 European Economic Community (EEC) 83 Felgenhauer, Pavel 180 Financial Times 10, 230, 298, 299 Finland 60, 185, 236, 291 First World War 8, 18, 20–1, 31, 82 Foreign Affairs 5, 12, 13, 14, 15, 57, 87 Foy, Henry 230, 299 French Communist Party 106 Freund, Caroline 210 Friedman, Thomas 2 Frost, David 159 G7 5, 27, 60, 141, 292 G8 28, 292 al-Gaddafi, Muammar 187 Gaddis, John Lewis 82, 120 de Gaulle, Charles 43, 235 Gazprom 54, 172, 209 Georgia 4, 12, 128, 133, 140, 163, 164, 166, 169–70, 174–6, 179–181, 195, 220, 291 Rose Revolution 164, 165 Germany 16, 18, 20, 39, 44, 45, 50, 77, 82, 120, 127, 136, 162, 178, 199, 215, 217, 230, 246, 263, 269, 280, 295, 303 Nazi regime 19, 99, 132, 277 reunification of 1, 45, 50, 81, 83


Social Democratic Party (SDP) 17 Weimar Republic 58, 68, 94, 96, 137, 139 West Germany 253 Gerschenkron, Alexander 28 Gorbachev, Mikhail 5 Gulf War (1990–1) 31, 46, 58, 85 Haiti 75 Harvard University 1 Hashimoto, Ryutaro 63, 73 hegemonism 6, 244, 253, 260, 272, 276 Higgs, Robert 23, 24 Hitler, Adolf 97, 99, 115, 136, 137 Hobson, J. A., 245, 289, Hong Kong 47, 63, 261, 286, 304 Hu Jintao 258 Ikenberry, G. John 7, 10 India 13, 15, 111, 210, 211, 246, 265, 266, 274, 281, 283, 284, 304 Indonesia 65, 107, 246, 263 International Monetary Fund (IMF) 5, 102, 107, 116, 141, 155 Islam 10, 84, 99, 153, 215, 271, 273–4 Islamic State (IS/ISIS) 215 Istanbul NATO Summit 163, 164, 165, 167 Izvestia 179 Japan 8, 16, 39, 40, 44, 45, 47, 50, 51, 63–7, 69–71, 73, 74, 77, 80, 82, 95, 98, 100, 111, 113, 120, 130, 155, 246, 247, 253, 262–5, 269, 277, 284, 301 Jiang Zemin 9, 69, 111 Johnson, Boris 135 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) 215 Kazakhstan 9, 53, 184, 193, 218, 262, 273, 292 Kennan, George 2, 15, 89, 130, 157 Kenya 109 Kerry, John 188 Keynes, John Maynard, 26, 81, 137–8 Keynesianism, 25–6 Khalaf, Roula 299 Khodorkovsky, Mikhail 172 Khrushchev, Nikita 149, 195 Khrushcheva, Nina 149, 210 Kissinger, Henry 51, 89, 92, 110, 113, 121, 254, 269, 271, 285 Kohl, Helmut 51, 90 Kolesnikov, Andrei 223


Kommersant 179, 223 Korean Peninsula 64, 67 Korean War 21–4, 80 Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) 107 Kosovo War 1, 7, 103, 118–20, 125, 148, 162, 258, 271, 290, 292, 296 Kotkin, Stephen 14 Kozyrev, Andrei 51, 231 Kuchma, Leonid 61, 79 Kuper, Simon 298 Kwasniewski, Alexander 61 Kyiv 61, 184, 189–91, 193, see also Ukraine Kyivan Rus 189 Kyrgyzstan 9, 190, 273, 292 Lake, Anthony 58, 89, 90–2, 256 Latvia 11, 127, 128, 133, 292, 294 Latvian Summit (2006) 11 Lavrov, Sergei 164 Lee Teng-hui 119, 257 Lenin, Vladimir 131, 223–4, 248 Levgold, Robert 12 Li Peng 73 Libya 46, 186–7, 193–4, 217, 220, 239, 263, 292 Lippmann, Walter 15–16, 129–30 Lithuania 10, 118, 127, 128, 133, 183, 294 Litvinenko, Alexander 167 London NATO Summit (1990) 82, 290 London NATO Summit (2019) 290, 299, 300 Lucas, Edward 4 Lukoil 54, 209 Luttwak, Edward 75, 89 Luzhkov, Yury 179 Luzin, Pavel 211 MacKinnon, Mark 3 Macron, Emmanuel 135, 235, 290 Madrid NATO Summit (1997) 57, 58, 61, 93, 103, 289, 290, 298 Madrid NATO Summit (2022) 300, 301, 304 Malaysia 54, 65, 276–7 Manuel, Don Juan 17 Mao Zedong 246, 252, 254, 272 Maoism 66, 247, 253, 261, 262, 269 Marx, Karl 16, 131, 142


Matveev, Ilya 172, 205, 223 McCain, John 182 McLennan, A. D. 66 Medvedev, Dmitry 175, 186 Medvedev, Sergei 185, 203 Merkel, Angela 174, 175 Middle East 11, 52, 86, 188, 215, 219–20, 271, 294 military–industrial complex (MIC) 22, 23, 26, 68, 172, 208–9, 211, 299 Moldova 62, 163, 164, 169, 170, 203 Monroe Doctrine 6 Montenegro 85, 294 Moscow 73, 129, 132, 144, 148, 155, 158, 165, 167, 173, 179, 183, 184, 185, 191 see also Russia Red Square 214 Moser, Nat 209 Mubarak, Hosni 186 Munich Agreement 154 Munro, Ross 63 Napoleonic Wars 82 Nazarbayev, Nursultan 53 National Defense University 82 National Endowment for Democracy 165 National Missile Defense (NMD) 110, 155, 156, 157 Navalny, Alexei 221, 222, 230 New York Times 2, 58, 167, 256, 264, 287 New Zealand 264, 301, 304 Nitze, Paul 89 Nolte, Ernst 99 Nixon, Richard 1, 121 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) x, 2, 11, 12, 25, 40, 41, 50, 51, 54– 62, 68, 70, 73, 78, 79, 81–96, 99, 100, 102–6, 108, 110, 113–20, 125–8, 132–5, 139, 140, 146, 148, 155, 157, 158, 159, 161–71, 173–9, 181, 182, 183, 187, 191, 197, 201, 212, 218, 220, 227, 232–6, 243, 258, 270, 281, 282, 283, 289–95, 298–303, 308 Membership Action Plan (MAP) 175, 178 Northern Army Group (NORTHAG) 85 North Korea 32, 39, 44–7, 67, 76, 110 Nunn, Sam 89 Obama, Barack 182–3, 186, 259, 262 Obama–Xi Summit (2013) 242 Open Society 165


Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) 60, 83, 106, 109, 163, 201, 232 Paris Club 60 Pentagon see United States of America, Department of Defense People’s Republic of China see China Perry, William 32, 38, 91–3, 138–40, 151, 257 Peskov, Dmitry 223 Pipes, Richard 57–9, 68, 89 Politkovskaya, Anna 167 Poroshenko, Petro 198, 221 Portugal 61, 89, 294 Powell, Colin 40, 214 Prague NATO Summit (2002) 128 Prigozhin, Yevgeny 199 Primakov, Evgeny 51, 107 Pushkov, Alexei 56, 61 Putin, Vladimir xi, 3, 9, 13, 14, 15, 85, 131, 133–7, 143, 147–65, 167, 168, 169, 171–5, 177, 178, 179, 182, 185, 187–91, 193–201, 204–7, 209, 210, 212–33, 235, 236, 258, 270, 279–84, 291, 298, 299, 303 Quadrennial Defense Review (“Quad”) 33, 265, 284 Quad Summit (2022) 284 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty 178 Rambouillet negotiations 110, 115 Reagan Doctrine 25 Reagan, Ronald 1, 10, 31, 36, 155, 297 Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) 264 Republic of China see Taiwan Rice, Condoleezza 10, 11, 167 Robertson, Peter E. 214 Robinson, Joan 25 Romania 55, 79, 118, 127–8, 177, 294 Rome NATO Summit (1991) 84, 292 Roosevelt, Franklin D. 21 Rosneft 172, 209 Russia ix, x, xi, 1–16, 19, 20, 27, 28, 31, 32, 39, 40, 45–8, 50–62, 66, 68, 70–80, 82–4, 86–91, 93–6, 98–102, 105–12, 114–20, 125–199, 201–28, 230–8, 241, 243, 245, 246, 251, 255, 257, 258, 260, 261, 264, 267, 270–85, 290–305 Black Sea Fleet 55, 61–2, 179 Duma 51, 55, 56, 59, 95, 116, 143, 147 Federal Anti-Monopoly Agency 212 Federal Security Service (FSB) 148, 210


hegemony 77, 101, 233 Security Council (SCRF) 51 “shock therapy” 140–1, 143–4, 152, 251 Russian Federation see Russia Russian Privatization Center (RPC) 147 Russian Revolution 129, 189, 202, 227 Saakashvili, Mikhail 165, 174 Sakwa, Richard 168 Sard, Edward 22 Sarkozy, Nicolas 174 al-Sisi, Abdel-Fattah 200, 220 Saudi Arabia 41, 99, 215–6 Schwarz, Jordan 21 Second World War 1, 19–21, 25, 37, 40, 64, 77, 82, 94, 129, 132–3, 144, 154, 188 Shalikashvili, John 90 Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) 273 Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit (2005) 273, 274 Sibneft 209 Somalia 75, 86 South Korea 65–7, 107, 155, 257, 264, 277, 296, 301 South Ossetia 128, 164, 173, 174, 176, 179, 180 Soviet Union x, 1, 4–10, 12, 14, 17, 19, 27, 28, 31, 32, 36, 40, 43, 56, 60, 61, 66, 71, 77, 81, 82, 83, 86, 87, 88, 99, 101, 107, 129, 131, 133, 140, 143, 144, 149, 153, 158, 163, 166, 167, 177, 180, 190, 194, 195, 202, 216, 223–6, 232, 235, 236, 247, 248, 253, 254, 271, 272, 277, 296, 307 Committee for State Security (KGB) 107, 147, 150, 210 New Economic Policy (NEP) 248–9 Stalin, Joseph 15, 132, 144, 149, 224, 249 Stalinism 81, 83, 86, 88, 94, 277 “Star Wars” see Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) START I 45 START II 45, 55, 56, 59, 95, 101 START III 95 Steel, Ronald 42 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) 208 Stoltenberg, Jens 298, 299, 301 Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) 110 Summit for Democracy (2021) 265–6 Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) 60 Surgut 209


Sweden 185, 236, 291 Switzerland 10 Swope, Herbert 20 Syria 154, 216, 185, 187, 189, 200, 214, 215, 217–21, 239, 294 Taiwan 47, 63–7, 69, 72, 73, 75, 111–13, 119, 120, 247, 255–9, 262, 264, 265, 266, 272, 273, 280, 284–7 Tajikistan 9, 273, 292 Talbott, Strobe 90–2, 151, 155, 162 Taliban 9, 99, 291 Tanzania 109 TASS 204–5 “tepid war” 17 Theater Missile Defense System (TMD) 113 Tibet 73, 244 TNK-BP 209 Tokyo see also Japan 63, 284 Truman Doctrine 25 Truman, Harry 21, 42 Trump, Donald 8, 188, 219, 235, 264–5, 268, 277, 290, 291, 294 Turkmenistan 9, 276 Turner, Leigh 184, 191 Turner, Stansfield 89 Ukraine 7, 61–2, 75, 79, 87, 99, 125, 131, 133, 134, 177, 178, 184, 185, 187, 189, 190, 191, 198, 202, 203, 204, 216, 221, 222, 224, 225, 227, 233, 234, 280, 281 234, 281 2014 Russian aggression 4, 12, 28, 127, 128, 192–9, 201, 202, 220, 231 see also Crimea Donbas 198, 199, 222, 291 Maidan Revolution 191, 198 Orange Revolution 165 possible European Union association 191, 201 possible NATO accession 126–7, 140, 164–5, 174–9, 220 Russian invasion of (2022–) ix, x, 134, 135, 136, 151, 154, 185, 228, 229, 230, 232, 235, 236, 237, 270, 279, 283, 284, 287, 291, 294, 297, 298, 303 Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) see Soviet Union “unipolar moment” 6, 8, 28, 32, 73, 169, United Kingdom 39, 98, 109, 127–9, 149, 162, 207, 245, 246, 277, 281, 293 United Nations 48, 54, 85, 106, 111, 117, 119, 169, 193, 197, 201, 214, 232, 273, 305, 307, 308 Charter 110, 171, 232, 254, 282, 284, 305, 306, 307, 308, 309


General Assembly 155, 308 International Court of Justice 195 Protection Force (UNPROFOR) 85 Security Council (UNSC) 10, 108, 109, 112, 117, 119, 162–3, 173, 178, 186, 187, 197, 232, 247, 273, 305, 306, 308 United States of America x, xi, 1–15, 17, 19, 20, 21, 28, 31, 32, 35, 38, 39, 41, 42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 50, 51, 53, 55–7, 59, 62–4, 66–9, 70, 71, 73–80, 83, 84, 86, 87, 93– 7, 99, 101, 102, 105–11, 116, 120, 129, 134, 136, 138–40, 145–6, 151–2, 155–6, 158, 160–3, 165–7, 169, 171, 173, 174, 175, 181, 182–4, 186–8, 193, 195, 196, 200, 204, 207, 208, 213, 214–19, 231, 232, 234, 236, 238, 239, 240, 241, 243, 245–7, 254, 255– 8, 262–74, 276–81, 283, 284, 286, 290, 291, 294, 295, 296, 297, 298, 299, 300, 301, 303–8 Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) 82, 163, 220 Cold War economy 24 Congress 22, 33, 34, 53, 54, 103, 110, 112, 188, 241 Department of Defense 23, 33, 40–2, 44–5, 49, 76, 87, 91, 96, 103, 106, 108, 112–13, 115, 241, 298 Executive Branch 86, 91–3, 143, 259 hegemony 7, 14, 45, 62, 73, 86, 162, 238, 272, 301 permanent war economy 23, 25, 27 Senate 82, 104, 105, 106, 107, 111, 117, 298 State Department 63, 89, 90, 104, Uzbekistan 9, 273 Valdai Club 199 Vandenko, Andrei 205–6, 229 Venezuela 181, 276 Vietnam War 271, 308 “VPK” 211 Wag the Dog 135 Wagner Group 199, 219–20 Wales NATO Summit (2014) 293 Waltz, Kenneth 1, 7, 270 War Industries Board (WIB) 20 Warsaw NATO Summit (2016) 127 Warsaw Pact 36, 82–83, 87, 163, 170 Washington, DC 82, 93, 106, 107, 109, 114, 118, 128, 290 see also United States of America Washington NATO Summit (1999) 106, 114, 116, 117, 118, 290 The Washington Post 88, 114, 142, 280, 283 Washington Treaty 84, 118, 177 Wedel, Janine 145, 151


Westad, Arne 14–15 Western European Union (WEU) 85 White House see United States of America, Executive Branch Wilson, Woodrow 20, 50, 86 World Economic Forum (Davos) 10 World Bank 5, 87, 141, 206–7, 213, 239–40, 262 World Policy Journal 42 Xi Jinping 244, 250, 260–3, 268, 279–83, 287 Xi–Putin Summit (2022) 282–3 Xianjiang see China, oppression of Muslims in Xinjiang Yale University 14 Yanukovych, Viktor 184, 190 Yeltsin, Boris 51, 62, 73–4, 79, 101–2, 107, 116, 140–2, 145–6, 152, 155, 161 Yeltsin–Jiang Summits 1992 72 1994 72 1996 73 Yugoslavia 85 Yukos 172, 209 Zelensky, Volodymyr 221, 222, 225 Zygar, Mikhail 174, 215


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