- After the Collapse: Russia Seeks its Place as a Great Power
Russia, as a failed state, a corrupted market, and a hemorrhaged nuclear power, has garnered much attention since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In After the Collapse: Russia Seeks its Place as a Great Power, Nixon Center president Dimitri Simes delivers a sobering interpretation of the way in which these recurrent themes are manifesting themselves in foreign policy. His frank reflections on Gorbachev’s fall, Yeltsin’s rise, and the United States’ role in these events, front an engaging analysis of Russia’s current status in the international arena. Simes contends that only by respecting Russia’s position as a former and future great power can the United States adopt a consistent, long-term, and pragmatic foreign policy that advances U.S. national interests. As a Russian émigré, the author is well positioned to straddle the political and cultural barriers between Russia and the United States (his home since 1973). Moreover, Simes’ experience lends validity to his arguments and color to his anecdotes.
Acknowledging that Russia is on the downturn, Simes argues that the country is determined not to relinquish its role as a great power. This ambition is often at odds with the Clinton administration’s patronizing Russia policy that presumes the superiority of American democracy, American economics, and American foreign policy. Because of its current reliance on Western institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank, Russia has generally, if grudgingly, toed the line. Ever since the crisis of August 1998, however, Russians have harbored serious doubts concerning the value of IMF assistance and find the institution condescending and restrictive. Despite its economic woes, the backlash against Western organizations, in combination with the increasingly interventionist style of U.S. global diplomacy, may soon give Russia a new source of inspiration for its foreign policy initiatives. Additionally, as the United States continues to back its interests with cruise missiles and stealth fighters, such actions may serve to alienate rather than to assimilate many strategically valuable nations. Rather than introduce austerity measures as the IMF prescribes, Russia may choose to become a mediator of conflicts between the United States and these recently alienated states.
Dimitri Simes calls for an American policy toward Russia that clearly outlines the United States’ boundaries, objectives, and limitations. To create the honest dialogue necessary for expressing this position, the United States must recognize post-Cold War Russia for what it really is: a struggling oligarchy searching for a new identity—not a faltering liberal democracy. This is a refreshingly candid and prophetic work.
Michael Hewitt is an MA candidate in Russian area and East European studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at the Johns Hopkins University—SAIS.