General Brent Scowcroft: “Instability in the Middle East serves neither U.S. nor Russian interests.”


 General Brent Scowcroft is a U.S. foreign policy legend. He was the national security advisor to U.S. presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush, the military assistant to President Richard Nixon, and he also served as chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005.

General Scowcroft is known for bringing U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to top-level policy-making. He is the author of A World Transformed, which he co-wrote with George H. W. Bush. General Scowcroft is the president and founder of The Scowcroft Group. Dmitry Bobkov, RIA Novosti Deputy Bureau Chief, talked to General Scowcroft in Washington, D.C.      

  • - General Scowcroft, I remember when we met last year you mentioned there was no appropriate dialog between the U.S. and Russia. Since that time U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney has made a famous speech in Vilnius, Lithuania where he criticized Russia's domestic policy and the lack of freedom. Do you think that Russia is currently moving in the right direction?
  • - I think that the situation with U.S. - Russia relations has not gotten better since we talked last year; indeed, it's probably gotten worse. I think we still suffer badly from the lack of regular dialog. In analyzing the Russian policy, the Russian government tends not to explain its actions very well. It simply comes out and does things, and then leaves people to figure out what they have in mind. That's not useful in developing understanding. How long it will last, I don't know. As we said last time, bureaucracy exists on both sides; neither the U.S. bureaucracy nor Russian bureaucracy has developed any affinity for the other. It's still a suspicious relationship. For a time under the George W. Bush administration our bilateral relationship worked OK because the two leaders had a good personal relationship. Now that's not so good anymore. But potentially there is something to hold this relationship together. There are many big issues around the world and our policies are not opposed to each other. Actually, they are congruous. And therefore there is potential for cooperation on areas like North Korea, Iran and many other areas. I think there are two serious problems in our partnership. One is the situation of democracy in Russia and the other concerns the southern border region of Russia. In both we are deeply suspicious of each other's motives. When we see Russia intervening in Georgia or Ukraine or other places we tend to say that Putin is trying to recreate the Soviet Union. When we intervene and praise democracy development in Georgia, Ukraine and so on, the Russians say we use democracy as an excuse to penetrate and drive them off.
  • - Nowadays the term "sovereign democracy" is popular among some of Russia's policy makers. This refers to some kind of Russian democratic system which is a little bit different from the western one. Can you comment?
  • - Well, I don't know what that means - sovereign democracy. But nobody has perfect democracy. If you apply that concept to the economy I would say that Russia now has a state capitalist system. It's not socialist anymore. It is capitalism, but it is capitalism managed very carefully by the government.
  • - Do you think Russia is ready for democracy?
  • - I would say yes. You know, the people of Russia are not like the people of Iraq, for example. Not in any sense. Russia has not had democracy except for a little bit in the earliest part of the twentieth century when the Duma was first developing under the Tsar. But I think that it is quite capable of effectively operating democracy.
  • - Does the U.S. really consider Russia an important partner in energy issues?
  • - Energy is another area where our interests are identical but we're stuck. Energy in general and in particular nuclear. Because I would say that the United States and Russia are the custodians of nuclear energy. We are the ones who developed it, for good or ill, but we are the ones who created nuclear energy. And we have a joint responsibility. What do we do about our strategic nuclear arsenal now? When do we meet with respect to each other? With respect to the rest of the world? We don't even talk about that anymore. We're both opposed to nuclear proliferation. But we don't fit it into the rest of our policies either with respect to North Korea or Iran. We don't work together on it. We both recognize that the world needs nuclear power. So, we are the ones who ought to be setting rules. Not holding back nuclear power but promoting and encouraging nuclear power under a set of security rules which would preserve the non-proliferation issue. We do have a strong interest in those things.
  • - What's your opinion of the U.S. - India agreement signed in March 2006 according to which the United States will provide Deli with nuclear power assistance? Doesn't it give rise to some ‘double standards' with respect to the Non-Proliferation Treaty? In some ways it gives an opportunity to Iran and North Korea.
  • - Yes, I agree with that. From the standpoint of non-proliferation it was a mistake. And I've said that publicly.
  • - How do you think the results of the recent elections in the United States will influence the U.S. - Russia relationship? Democrats have more radical views on Russia.
  • - I don't think it will make things worse in U.S. - Russia relations. It may have an impact on the U.S. - Chinese relationship because of trade issues. The American worker is not participating in the robust economy. Worker's wages, worker's benefits are not growing in proportion to the increase in the economy because we've been flooded with cheap goods from China. And China is keeping its currency artificially low. That's why I foresee an onslaught against China on trade issues. But not against Russia. There could be some complaints from the Democrats about the perception that Russia uses its semi-monopoly position in gas to pressure other countries.
  • - General Scowcroft, in 2002 you wrote an article published in The Wall Street Journal in which you warned the U.S. government of the risks of the Iraq military campaign. Just as you said, the Iraq war is turning out to be very expensive; it's bloody, and after the military campaign, months of occupation followed. The effectiveness of the elected democratic government also raises some doubts. Does your opinion of this war remain the same? How do you see Iraq's future?
  • - Yes, my opinion remains the same but I don't think it's useful to dwell on the past because we are there. Iraq is in the condition it's in and the real question is what to do about it. And I think what happens now in the Middle East, in Iraq, will have a strong side effect on Russia. Because a lot of Muslims live near Russia's southern border and a lot of Russians now live in Muslim countries. And those kinds of things are particularly sensitive to Russia. I think that we have a very complicated situation in the Middle East now. We have problems in Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq - the Palestinian issue is sort of separate - and discrete problems that have all come together as a sort of general problem in the region. The constituent element of the region is predominantly Muslim but it's different Muslim. Shia in part, and Sunni in the majority part. And there is hostility between the two. The western part of the region is predominantly Arab. You get farther east and you have Persian, which is again very different. It happens that Persians are Shiite as well as Persian. And the Arabs are Sunni as well as Arab. But those are different kinds of fault lines in the region. And all of these come together with Israel as a separate issue to deal with. And a radicalism on top of it all. Sunni radicalism, Shia radicalism and now they are exactly the same. It's going to be a very difficult period in Iraq and in the Middle East in general. The United States has not created in Iraq what it hoped it could create. That's quite clear. The question is: all right, that hasn't happened but what do we do? Stay there and struggle or leave? And the consequences of each are very serious. If we stay it's a serious drain on manpower, on the budget, and it creates continuous turmoil in the region. If we leave the consequences could be dreadful. For all of us, not just for the United States, but also for the countries in the region, for the neighbors like you. We have a very serious problem.
  • - Should Russia also start to participate in solving the Iraq problem?
  • - I would say yes. Because here again we have a common interest in the region. We'd like stability there. Instability doesn't serve either one of our interests.
  • - We've mentioned Afghanistan. NATO troops were successful during the first years of the campaign. Now they are faced with some obvious difficulties, especially this year. At the same time we saw that not all European countries are ready to send their soldiers to the hot spot. So, what happens there in Afghanistan, and is it possible to talk of some split inside NATO, from the look of things we saw in Riga recently?
  • - Actually, what Riga showed is that the situation is going to improve as far as NATO is concerned. Because the countries agreed to take steps on the troops that are over there with restrictions, on how they can be used. So, I think it's partly going to be better. The problems of Afghanistan are that the Taliban has a strong resurgence. And on the one hand we are dealing with a military conflict - the Taliban are fighting pretty hard. On the other hand we are dealing - in Western terminology - with a failed state. The government doesn't control the country, it deals through tribal leaders. Poppy production is high. Income from the poppies has been used by the Taliban to fund their operations. So it's a difficult problem. And dealing with the drug problem is partly a matter of controlling the insurgency and partly a matter of the drug problem. Those drugs are an infection to Western Europe. Because they have to get from Afghanistan to Western Europe. And that produces corruption in the countries drugs go through. Again, it's a problem that needs to be dealt with cooperatively.
  • - What is the future of NATO? How should Russia react if Ukraine and Georgia join the organization?
  • - I would look favorably on that. I think NATO has been tested in Afghanistan. If that doesn't work, if NATO does not cooperate, then it probably needs to figure out what it's for. But NATO was very successful in Afghanistan. Then it turns out that this may be a force available to the world community, to the U.N., to deal with small kinds of insurgencies around the world. In that sense Russian participation, Ukrainian participation, maybe Japanese participation or Australian is something we should think about. And maybe even develop NATO into this kind of flexible force which you can add troops to, take troops out of, depending on where the conflict is. Turning it not into the U.N.'s own force but a force at the disposal of the Security Council to be used to deal with military problems around the world.
  • - Russia - NATO cooperation - is it a positive issue?
  • - Definitely, it's a good thing. And I suppose Russian participation in Kosovo has been very helpful. At the tactical level it was going very well as far as cooperation of the troops. We have strong political differences on Kosovo. But I see no reason why we shouldn't encourage that kind of cooperation.



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