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U.S/Russia: Panel Urges Friendly Ties Between Two Countries

Despite the fall of communism, relations between the U.S. and Russia are not as friendly as some had hoped for. A group of American legislators, scholars and former national security officers say it is time for Washington to take a more positive -- yet cautious -- approach to post-communist Russia. In Washington, RFE/RL's correspondent Andrew F. Tully reports.

Washington, 13 July 2000 (RFE/RL) -- An independent commission made up of experts in international relations says that the U.S. would benefit from being less adversarial toward Russia.

At a Washington news conference on Wednesday (July 12), the Commission on America's National Interest issued the second in what it says will be a series of reports defining what its members believe the U.S. should set as its goals in the new century.

The bipartisan panel is made up of leading members of Congress, retired national security officers and academic authorities on foreign relations. It issued its first report in 1996. Its recommendations are offered during American election years in efforts to guide the candidates for president, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and other U.S. political leaders.

In its first two reports, the commission listed America's vital interests, extremely important interests, important interests and less important or secondary interests.

In the current report, the vital interests are listed as follows: preventing nuclear, chemical and biological attacks on the U.S. and its armed forces abroad; ensuring the survival of U.S. allies and their continued cooperation; preventing neighboring nations from becoming powers hostile to the U.S.; ensuring the stability of global trade, energy and financial systems; and establishing productive relations with Russia and China.

One of the directors of the report is retired U.S. Army General Andrew Goodpaster, once the supreme commander of NATO forces and a White House national security adviser. At the news conference, Goodpaster essentially reduced America's vital interests to four. He called them "four long poles in the tent."

"I identify four long poles in the tent that will tell in large measure whether we succeed or whether we fail: Our relationships with our allies, our relationships with Russia, our relationships with China, and what we do about nuclear weapons," he said.

Another director of the study is Graham Allison, president of Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He says it is important for the next president -- who will be elected in November and inaugurated in January -- to set well-defined goals for America. Not to do so, Allison says, would be a sign of irresponsible complacency.

"The danger in the current situation comes from the fact that the U.S. now inherits a position so powerful, with so few adversaries, with so many opportunities, that the temptation is sort of a politics of illusion," he says.

Allison said the chief difference between the 1996 report and the "updated" version issued Wednesday is that the researchers wanted to address America's relationships with its allies -- and with Russia and China -- in more positive language.

For example, the previous document said one vital interest was to "prevent the emergence of a hostile hegemon [regional power; eds: as written in the report and spoken at the news briefing] in Europe or Asia." This was an obvious reference to Russia and China. The current report takes a more positive tone by urging that the U.S. pursue "productive relations" with the two nations.

The updated report also urges the American government to try to prevent what it calls "Russia's reversion to authoritarianism." After the news briefing, two directors of the study gave RFE/RL their views on how the U.S. could accomplish that.

One is James Thomson, the chairman of the RAND Corporation, a California think tank. He said Washington can demonstrate preferable alternatives to authoritarian rule. He said this is best accomplished if American companies invest increasingly in Russia.

"Americans have more or less fled the Russian market, and the consequence of that, I think, has been [that] the relationship between the United States and Russia has unfortunately deteriorated back to the security issues, where -- arms-control issues and so forth, which are not entirely friendly and productive," Thomson said.

Thomson conceded that corruption in Russia is the primary force that is repelling American businesses. And he said there is little the U.S. can do about it except to emphatically point out its consequences.

"Those consequences are severe, because American and German and other Western countries don't want to invest in areas where they have to pay people on the side [be forced to pay bribes], where they have to buy protection for their folks [employees] -- including physical protection," Thomson said.

Goodpaster, the former NATO commander, said the U.S. government also can make Russia a full partner in security decisions -- in other words, to treat Moscow like an ally, not an adversary. For now, the retired general said, Russia feels like an adversary.

"I think that the [U.S.-Russian] relations have been worsened in a very unnecessary way, that they [Russians] have had the feeling of being excluded or consulted after the fact. There are ways of overcoming that. We did it with Germany, we did it with Japan after World War Two. Those are great successes. The same opportunity, I think, exists [in Russia]," Goodpaster said.

But both Thomson and Goodpaster stressed that Washington cannot dictate how Russia evolves politically.