Has the fourth World War begun? World War I, World War II and World War III, otherwise known as the Cold War, all occurred for the same reason: one nation or alliance of nations tries to dominate Europe. We fought in these wars to prevent this from happening. The reason is simple: any nation or alliance of nations that dominates Europe will control vast resources of wealth, technology, and human skill. The United States would have to accommodate itself to a power controlling such resources. To that extent we would no longer control our own destiny and might at a later day find our independence more severely impaired.
The principle that we should prevent any nation or alliance of nations from dominating Europe is as true today as it has ever been. It should be modified, however, in one respect. Given the extraordinary economic growth of Asia over the past forty years and the vast population and now surging economy of China, we must today think not of Europe alone but of Eurasia.
This was to some degree the case at the time of the Second World War, when the alliance between Japan and Germany threatened to dominate Eurasia and during the Cold War, when Russia posed the same threat. But given Asia’s greater economic strength now and its likely future dominance of the world economy, the importance of Asia has grown. Our principle should now be that no nation or alliance of nations should be allowed to dominate Eurasia. If there is a Fourth World War, it will be fought on this point.
Is there now any danger of this? Is there any reason to think that the Fourth World War has begun?
Russia, a country stretching across eleven time zones, dominates Eurasia geographically. It is exerting itself to reestablish the empire it only recently lost. With subversion and economic pressure, it has coerced several of the now independent former Soviet republics to accept Russian economic domination and is acting accordingly, despite the fact that these Republics are now sovereign states. It retains its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. It is still the only aggressive expansionist power in Eurasia.
It is true that Russia’s severe economic problems have crippled its ability to project military force abroad. There is no danger of a Russian invasion of Western Europe anytime soon. But the states of the former Soviet Union are even worse off than Russia and the Russians have already shown themselves to be masters at mixing their remaining military force and economic leverage to reestablish control over their old empire.
In this endeavor of building influence and power, the Russians have had the assistance of the United States. When the Russians vetoed NATO membership for the former Warsaw Pact countries now democratizing and building free market economies, the Clinton Administration agreed. Visiting Russia, Clinton approvingly compared Russian intervention in its former empire with the recent U.S. Interventions in Panama and Grenada. Russia is the only important nation on the face of the earth that the Administration had not criticized. It is the only nation the Administration has consistently tried to appease. In short, the dominating theme of Clinton’s foreign policy has been to get along with the Russians, on the assumption that they in return will act responsibly.
This policy might have made sense if the Russians were essentially like us, sharing certain principles and beliefs. But the Clinton Administration could never say this of the Russians. In fact, in February as Russian empire building continued apace, an Administration official admitted “we just don’t know if they are good guys or bad guys.”
All they had to do was listen. Andrei Kozyrev, the Foreign Minister, often described as pro-Western, said that, “In the future, our foreign policy will continue to defend Russia’s vital interests, even in those cases where it is contrary to the interests of the West.” It is not surprising that Russia should defend its vital interests. But it is telling that Kozyrev should distinguish so sharply between Russia and the West. He could not have made more clear the difference between Russia and us.
The Clinton Administration is at least consistent. Except for its efforts in the Middle East, every one of its foreign policy initiatives has collided with reality, compelling their proponents to retreat in disarray. It is now trying to appear less devoted to Russia. It is talking with some of the states formerly a part of the Soviet empire, mumbling vaguely about support.
This is an improvement. At the same time, however, Clinton and his advisors have fought with Japan over trade and China over human rights, publicly disparaged Europe, and presided over precipitous decline in our relations with India. The result is a loss of leverage over Russia that better relations with any of these now of future powers might have given us.
Without this leverage, without an effort to build and maintain our influence among the Eurasian powers, we will have no chance to shape events to our liking. We will have no chance to play the balance between contending forces and perhaps maintain the peace. Realizing that Russia may be a problem, the Clinton Administration had yet to realize that it is systematically destroying America’s power to do anything about it.
In its defense, the Administration would no doubt speak of human rights or of the need to bolster our international competitiveness. But the fate of Russia is the decisive human rights problem today and the peace of Eurasia most important for our economic well being. If Russia rebuilds an empire, Russia is unlikely to become a democracy. For the sake of both human rights and prosperity, for the sake of peace in the years to come, the United States needs a better foreign policy.
Ely Parker is a nom de plume for an author who wishes to remain anonymous.