Delusions About Russia

Written by Dimitri K. Simes

TWENTY-SIX years ago at a national policy conference in Los Angeles co-hosted by his foundation, Richard M. Nixon observed that one of America’s most fundamental foreign policy objectives was to build a new international order after the collapse of the Soviet Union which included the newly-democratic Russia as a partner. He stated, 

In discussing Russia, it is first necessary to dispel a myth. The Russians did not lose the Cold War. The Communists did. The United States and our allies played a crucial role in containing communism and in rolling it back, but it was democratic Russia that gave the knockout blow to communism on December 14th in 1991. So therefore, we should treat Russia today not as a defeated enemy but as an ally and a friend who joined with us in defeating communism in Russia.

Nixon warned that if Russia’s experiment with democracy and association with the West were to fail, Russia could fall victim to, “a more authoritarian, aggressive nationalism, which, shorn of the failed faith of communism, might be an even greater threat to the West than the old Soviet totalitarianism.” Subsequently, in the book Beyond Peace, which served as the last political message of his life, Nixon made a strong case that, while ending the Cold War on American terms was a historic accomplishment, the lasting legacy of this feat would be determined by America’s success in incorporating Russia into the community of democratic free market nations. “It would be contrary to our interests to give Moscow the impression,” Nixon wrote, “that we are prepared to help only as long as Russia remains on its knees. Russia is a great country that deserves to be treated with appropriate respect.” Nixon’s observations were prophetic. They make it clear that the turn that contemporary events have taken was not inevitable even if it was foreseeable. Nixon not only sought reconciliation with Russia, but was also convinced that given sufficient foresight and diplomatic tact Washington could achieve it.

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About the author

Dimitri K. Simes

Dimitri K. Simes is president of The Center for the National Interest and publisher & CEO of The National Interest.

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