The former president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, who negotiated with Ronald Reagan over a new relationship with the United States, indicated in an op-ed published by TIME
magazine that “the world is preparing for war” in the midst of a “new arms race.”
In much the same way that the former Soviet Union used to sponsor peace conferences and decry the burgeoning arms race of the Cold War, Gorbachev is calling for “this ruinous race” which he identifies as the “militarization of politics.” He singled out the joint efforts of the United States and other NATO countries for bring “more troops, tanks and armored personnel carriers are being brought to Europe,” while saying that “NATO and Russian forces and weapons that used to be deployed at a distance are now placed closer to each other, as if to shoot point-blank.”
Decrying the devastating results of a nuclear war, Gorbachev called on the leaders of the United States and Russia to go to the UN to formulate a Security Council resolution denouncing once and for all the use of nuclear weapons. Gorbachev writes: “I urge the members of the U.N. Security Council — the body that bears primary responsibility for international peace and security — to take the first step. Specifically, I propose that a Security Council meeting at the level of heads of state adopt a resolution stating that nuclear war is unacceptable and must never be fought. I think the initiative to adopt such a resolution should come from Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin — the Presidents of two nations that hold over 90% of the world’s nuclear arsenals and therefore bear a special responsibility.”
No mention is made of the antecedents of the last 20 years, in which rather than behaving like a responsible modern state acting in accordance with peaceful and democratic principles, the new Russia is behaving much like the Soviet Union or even Czarist Russia in its relations with neighboring countries. In the last two decades, Russia has invaded Georgia, meddled in central Eurasia, and most recently invaded Ukraine and seized the Crimean Peninsula. It retains the largest nuclear stockpile of any country in the world and has the second largest fleet of ballistic missile submarines. Apart from the US, it is the only country possessing a modern strategic bomber force. If that were not enough, Russia's armored force is the largest in the world, its surface navy and air force are among the largest. According to 2012 Global Peace Index, it was the sixth least peaceful out of 162 countries in the world. In addition, it has shown considerable military support for socialist Venezuela and is well on the way towards establishing a permanent naval presence there.
Gorbachev fails to mention Russian provocations.
But why does he bring up now Russia’s familiar refrain that it feels hemmed in by the US and NATO, which only now are seeking to respond to Russia’s bellicosity? Perhaps he is an undeclared emissary of the current leader of Russia.
Gorbachev admits that joint action on “fighting terrorism” is an “urgent task,” even while for him “it is not enough.” He says, “We need to resume political dialogue aiming at joint decisions and joint action.” Getting to the kernel of his essay, Gorbachev writes, “The focus should once again be on preventing war, phasing out the arms race, and reducing weapons arsenals. The goal should be to agree, not just on nuclear weapons levels and ceilings, but also on missile defense and strategic stability.”
Alluding to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s proclamation that one of the main freedoms is “freedom from fear,” Gorbachev says the main reason for it is “militarism, armed conflicts, the arms race, and the nuclear Sword of Damocles.” These are abstractions that mask Russia's permanent strategic goals of Eurasian domination and acquiring warm-water ports. These goals have characterized not only the Soviet Union, but also Czarist Russia and modern Russia.
In 2014, the Obama administration expressed surprise and dismay when Russia appeared to revert to the antique ways of its ancestors, when plumed hats, absolute monarchs, and flintlocks were in fashion. John Kerry, who should have known better, expressed shock in March of that year. In an interview with CBS' "Face the Nation," Kerry said, “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th-century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text.” Amazed and desolate, the former Secretary of State said, “It is serious in terms of sort of the modern manner with which nations are going to resolve problems. There are all kinds of other options still available to Russia. There still are. President Obama wants to emphasize to the Russians that there are a right set of choices that can still be made to address any concerns they have about Crimea, about their citizens, but you don’t choose to invade a country in order to do that.”
But as was once said by a fellow Democrat, the fish rots from the head. Barack Obama's puerile policy of leading from behind had provided the entry way for Vladimir Putin to lead the way into a new era of belligerency. Putin acted. Obama reacted.
So long as Russia, as exemplified by Gorbachev's apparent tone deafness and Putin's imperiousness, does not accept responsibility for its own role in the increasing tensions in the world, an exchange of words between President Trump and President Putin will be insufficient to calm the jangled nerves of the Baltic republics, Poland, and Ukraine. Given that Trump is a man of action, like Putin, much will hinge on his fabled powers of negotiation.