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U.S./Russia: Analysis From Washington -- Containing Rogue States, Maintaing Balance Of Power

  • Paul Goble

Washington, 31 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The increasingly public disagreement between Washington and Moscow over possible modification of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Treaty reflects a deeper divide between the two capitals over the nature of the post-Cold War international system.

That divide is likely to cast a shadow not only over this week's meeting between U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow but over relations between the two powers in the years to come.

Washington, statements by senior officials there suggest, increasingly views the world as consisting of an international community with shared values confronted by a few outlaw states which challenge that community and which therefore must be contained.

From this perspective, any defensive measures taken by one country such as the United States against the possible actions of rogue regimes does not threaten the international system but rather is in the interest of all members of the international community.

By contrast, Moscow sees the world in more traditional terms, as a collection of states, many with very different sets of values, whose interrelationships are and should be defined not by shared values but by the state of the balance of power.

According to this view, modifying the ABM treaty to allow Washington to build a shield against attacks by rogue states threatens the international system, not only by calling into question Russia's special status as coadjutator on disarmament questions but also by creating a system which might be expanded and thereby undermine the current balance of power.

Because the differences on the ABM Treaty itself are so deep, both sides have already discounted the possibility that there will be much progress on that issue when the two presidents meet in Moscow on Saturday and Sunday.

U.S. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger said last weekend that he did not expect any agreements on this subject at the summit but argued that the meeting represented "a good opportunity" for Washington to explain its view of the nature of the threat.

First Deputy Chief of the Russian General Staff General Valery Manilov said that he and other Moscow officials had been discussing the American proposals to modify ABM not to reach agreement but to take it "off the agenda" of the meeting between the two presidents.

Despite this standoff, most commentary to date has focused on the relatively narrow issues posed by the ABM dispute itself rather than on the larger ones which stand behind it. But as this standoff continues, ever more attention is likely to be devoted to these larger and more fundamental concerns.

Over the last decade, the U.S. has taken the lead in talking about rogue states and invoking the existence of an international community united by common values. It has pointed to countries like Iran and North Korea which openly flaunt international conventions and argued that the international community must unite against them.

Derived from domestic political life and based on the assumption that democracy and free markets are universally accepted as the most valued goals, this model of international relations implies that there is broad agreement over who the rogue states are and what should be done to contain them.

This approach suffers from a potentially serious conceptual problem: In many respects, the two terms on which it relies are defined not so much relative to the actual world but rather with regard to each other, thus limiting their utility either as a description of reality or a guide to policy.

The international community, this view tends to insist, consists of all those countries which are not rogue states, thus reducing the definition of that community to the lowest of common denominators and unintentionally permitting the rogue states to define how the international community should respond.

The Russian vision of the international system represents both a reaction to what many in Moscow see as an American effort at diktat and a means to return to the balance of power politics which characterized much of nineteenth century Europe.

Russian officials routinely have objected to American efforts to prevent Moscow or others from cooperating with Iran or other countries that the U.S. has labeled as "rogue states." Such efforts, these officials have argued, reflect the interests of the United States rather than those of the international community.

But this approach has its problems as well: It ignores the genuine evidence of increasing international agreement on many issues and even more importantly the compelling need in a democracy for a rationale to mobilize public opinion. Maintaining the balance of power is seldom enough; containing a rogue state can be.

Consequently, because these two views are deeply held and because they are each flawed in a particular way, the debate between Washington and Moscow highlighted by this summit is certain to continue well into the future.