Russia and the United States: Incompatibility of Identities or Great Power Competition?

Andrew Corybko

Master student of MGIMO University


Russia and the United States are clearly engaged in great power competition in the current international climate, although the extent of such competition, and whether or not it is surmountable, remains up for debate. The two countries have distinct national identities and perspectives on international relations, thereby presenting an obstacle to future long-term strategic cooperation. It is even possible that such divergent identities and perspectives may be inherently incompatible[1], and without any revolutionary changes therein, the two states may be doomed to a perpetual rivalry that could one day presuppose a serious crisis in bilateral affairs. An analysis of the state of Russia and the United States’ great power competition will reveal that its underlying nature in fact lies in the aforementioned incompatibility of identities, and that a continuance of the current status quo will only lead to increasingly uncontrollable rivalry in all spheres.

The great power competition between Russia and the United States can be divided into threedistinct categories:

  • The Role of International Law
  • Approaches to Sovereignty
  • Military Solutions as Opposed to Diplomatic/Political Solutions to International Crises

Particular examples from each category will be examined, followed by an analysis of the distinct identities of both Russia and the United States. Next, the concept of incompatible identities will be tied in with the three categories in order to prove how it is truly the cause for the great power competition. Finally, a forecast on the future state of relations between Russia and the US will conclude the research.

I The Role of International Law

Russia and the US both have contradictory approaches to the role of international law in global affairs. Whereas the EU represents the ideal example of maintaining equal respect for domestic and international law, Russia and the US swerve todifferentdirections. Russia still has internal problems that hinder its efficient application of domestic law, but it holds international law to the highest of esteems. The US is the opposite, and although effectively applying domestic law, it selectively chooses when and where to apply international law[2]. Examples of Russia’s heralding of international law include its opposition and criticism to the bombing of Serbia and subsequent recognition of Kosovar Albanian independence, the 2003 Iraq War, the overstepping of UNSC 1973 by the US and its NATO allies, and the US’ 2013 push for war in Syria. The reverse of the previous examples can be seen as the US’ disregard for the concept of international law.

II Approaches to Sovereignty

Continuing off the tangent of international law, both countries have differing views on the concept of state sovereignty. Russia feels that each national government is sovereign within its own territory and has the right to conduct its internal affairs without interference. It is not in favor of any kind of unrequested foreign involvement in the domestic activities of an internationally recognized sovereign state. Russia has remained consistent in this regard ever since the 1999 bombing of Serbia. The US sometimes shares the Russian view, but sometimes it does not. In this sense, it selectively approaches the topic of sovereignty in order to advance its subjective interests. Sovereignty is important to the US when, for example, it deals with the European/NATO diversification of pipelines from Russia, but it is completely ignored when the United States wants to ‘advance democracy’ through military or covert (‘Color Revolution’ and NGO) means.

Ironically, the US cites ‘sovereignty’ as its justification for ‘going it alone’ in military campaigns, as well as its refusal to abide by or sign/ratify certain international documents. Such documents that the US has not signed/ratified or, as in one instance, unilaterally pulled out of, include the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Kyoto Protocol, and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Where Russia is predictable in its approach to sovereignty, the United States is not. Its only predictability is that it will perform whatever action it deems necessary to uphold its interests and allow it to retain a dominant position, and abiding by international norms is always secondary to this objective.

III Military Solutions vs Diplomatic/Political Solutions to Crises

The approach to international crises is markedly differently between Russia and the US. Russia always prefers for such crises to be settled through diplomatic and political means. This further underscores Russia’s previously mentioned commitment to state sovereignty. The extenuating exception may be seen in Russia’s 2008 military campaign to ‘force Georgia to peace’, but even in that case, Russia was protecting its citizens under the pretense of existing international law. It also limited major combat operations to the de-facto independent republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Russia eventually recognized as independent states anyhow following the conflict. With the internationally (to the West) controversial 2008 exception being the outlier, Russia has maintained a strong consistency towards the principle of diplomatic and political solutions towards solving crises. The recent case in point can be seen with the Moscow-originated plan[3] to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons in order to prevent an American military intervention.

The US is of the opposite disposition in that it either engages in the use of force to resolve such crises, or at the very least, it militarily positions itself in order to intervene at a moment’s notice. This demonstrates the US’ inclination for dictating its preferences from a position of strength[4]. Therefore, threats and bellicose language reign supreme in the American method of crisis resolution. The possible use of force is commonly discussed, and should American-initiated violence not come to pass, as in the case with Sudan per the Darfur crisis or Iran and their nuclear energy question, then sanctions are enacted. Either way, the United States resorts to using some type of threatening leverage in order to achieve its ends. More often than not, the utilization of such leverage often has humanitarian consequences for the civilians living in the targeted state, and very rarely does it affect the government that the US publicly states it is working to undermine. The strongest example in this case can be evidenced by the decades-long blockade against Cuba, as it has utterly failed to remove the Communist Party from power, but it succeeded in contributing to the relative impoverishment of the island’s citizens well into the 21st century.

IV Ideology

The common thread linking together Russia and the US’ approaches to the role of international law,sovereignty, and preferred methods of crises resolution is ideology. Russia’s ideology tends to be more conservative to long-established international norms and structures and favorable towards a gradual transition to a multipolar world[5]; the US’ is more ‘creative’ in subjectively altering the dynamic of international relations and endeavouring to retain its prized position in a transitional world order. These two ideologies are inherently incompatible with one another, and each of them has other contributing factors that explain their genesis.

1a) Support of State Sovereignty

Russia places immense value upon the concept of state sovereignty in international relations in determining its identity, both in the foreign and domestic realm. In terms of foreign policy, this can be seen in sections 15, 28, and 31-Bof Russia’s 2013 Foreign Policy Concept[6]. Russia actively supports international sovereignty when it speaks out against foreign involvement in Syria’s domestic political crisis[7]. Domestically speaking, the Russian government has been standing in strong defense of recent legislation that has been sharply criticized by Western states[8]. Such legislation includes the anti-homosexual propaganda law, the mandated labelling of foreign-funded NGOs as ‘foreign agents’, and the ban on adoptions to homosexual couples. On the international front, Russia supports domestic sovereignty by shrugging off Western criticism of its allies’ national elections and political processes, with the instance of Belarus being a prime example[9]. A suspicious attitude towards ‘Color Revolutions’also shows Russia’s unease towards what it believes to be foreign meddling in the domestic political processes of other states[10].

Russia’s conservative commitment to state sovereignty is especially noticeable when one analyses the language of the charter of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), of which Russia is a founding signatory. The charter explicitly proclaims its members’ opposition to terrorism, extremism, and separatism[11]. It is logical that any state would be against terrorism, but Russia’s vehement rejection of extremism and separatism deserves a closer analysis. By being against extremism, this could be interpreted as being both religious and political extremism. In this sense, Russia is against any political developments that could ‘shake the system’, both domestically and internationally. As for the former, Russia is not supportive of extreme opposition movements that support radical changes in Russian social life and political policy (Pussy Riot), and in regards to the later, this could be seen as Russia’s rejection of the Western-inspired revolutionary concepts of ‘Humanitarian Intervention/Responsibility to Protect’ and the spreading of democracy (oftentimes by force)[12]. Russia’s fear of separatism is driven in part by its own domestic vulnerability to such threats, with the Northern Caucasus being its Achilles’ heel[13]. Diplomatic assistance provided to Serbia during Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence in 2008 further demonstrates Russia’s dedication to preserve the international status quo.

1b) Civilizationalism/Eurasianism

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of Russia’s ideology is the idea that civilizations, especially its own unique one, are fulfilling a unique role in contemporary international relations. The Russian Foreign Policy Concept of 2013 specifically makes mention that “for the first time in modern history, global competition takes on a civilizational level”, and that “the major states of the world…should be representative in geographical and civilizational terms”[14]. It can be interpreted that Russia is now viewing civilizations as a new type of actor in international relations, and that they are seen as positively contributing towards the establishment of a multipolar world order. This ideological breakthrough necessitates Russia to advocate that others respect the sovereignty of each civilization as well. Nowhere is this more clearly expressed in the Foreign Policy Concept than in point 14, where it is written that “a priority for world politics (is) to prevent civilizational fault line clashes and to intensify efforts to forge partnership of cultures, religions and civilizations in order to ensure a harmonious development of mankind. In these circumstances, imposing one’s own hierarchy of values can only provoke a rise in xenophobia, intolerance and tensions in international relations leading eventually to chaos in world affairs”[15]. This is a thinly veiled rebuke of what Russia views to be the most dangerous pattern and trend of American international foreign policy in the 21st century – democracy promotion and subjective support of humanitarian interventions as justified (in the Western sense) by the right to protect ideology[16].

As to Russia’s civilization, it is uniquely Eurasian. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MID) even divides the entire Eurasian (combined Europe and Asia) landmass into three regions under point 8: “Euro-Atlantic, Eurasian, and Asia-Pacific”[17]. By joining Europe with the Atlantic, an oceanic community of which Russia is not part of, MID is further articulating the separateness of Russia’s identity-civilization. Although Russia is geographically a part of the Asia-Pacific region, points 54 and 56 of the Foreign Policy Concept reaffirm the “common deep-rooted civilizational ties”[18]that make Russia “an integral and inseparable part of European civilization”[19]. If Russia is not entirely part of the Euro-Atlantic region (although it is a part of the larger European civilization through historical ties), nor could it be defined as ‘Asia-Pacific’ on the same level that one could as an example describe South Korea, then it must fall under the Eurasian region referenced in point 8.

The ramifications of such an identity are far-reaching. Advocates of the Eurasianist identity point out that Russia can reap enormous dividends, especially of an economic nature, by acting as a connecting point for “finance, transport, information, (and) trade flows” between Europe and Asia (or Euro-Atlantic and Asia-Pacific, to use MID’s parlance)[20]. Being comparable to a “civilizational strategy”, Eurasianism also enables Russia to develop a foreign policy for dealing with Europe, Asia, and North America[21]. Russia’s complex identity bestows it with “recognition of [the] global nature of its international behaviour”[22]. The Eurasianist ideology empowers MID to speak about the priority role of the Eurasian Union in “[serving] as an effective link between Europe and the Asia-Pacific region”, and the objective of “preserving and increasing the common and civilizational heritage [that] is an essential resource for the CIS…in the context of globalization”[23]. It is evident that the ideology and identity ofEurasianism entail the understanding of a special civilizational role for the Russian Federation, and that MID is tasked with working towards those specific ends.

2a) American Exceptionalism

Despite not officially acknowledging it, the US most certainly promotes a specific type of ideology throughout the world. The US’ actions on the international arena may seem perplexing and contradictory to some neophyte outside observers, but when placed into the context of a defined ideological system, one can more easily understand and predict its behavior. The vast majority of American foreign policy actions can be traced back to the ideology of American Exceptionalism. This concept holds that the US is an exceptional nation in world history, and through a combination of what it views as its divine mission, strategic geography, and moral authority in the world, it both consistently sets and violates international standards in order to achieve its aims[24].

The idea of a divine mission for the United States has been embedded in the country’s history since its founding. The Declaration of Independence begins by stating certain inalienable rights that people are ‘endowed by their Creator’ and ends with ‘a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence’[25].Although the topic of religion and its role in American contemporary politics and society still remains a controversial issue to this day, it is clear that the Founding Fathers ‘professed a belief in God’and that ‘religion encouraged a moral citizenry’[26]. The idea of God’s direct involvement and influence over the US is prominently alluded to in the Pledge of Allegiance (‘one nation under God’)[27]and the well-known song ‘America the Beautiful’ (‘God shed his grace on thee’)[28]. It can be concluded that the US, as a state, has a national psychology of being in close association with God Himself, and that such a relationship makes it somewhat exceptional among all other states.

2b) Manifest Destiny

This close association has undoubtedly had its effects on American foreign policy. The idea of Manifest Destiny was one of the first large-scale demonstrations of the US’ belief in its exceptional status. The driving force behind Manifest Destiny was that a divine calling of sorts was motivating the United States to expand westward to the shores of the Pacific, and quite possibly, even further[29].America was aided in this endeavour by its beneficial and convenient physical and political geography. The US was physically removed from the conflicts ravaging Europe during this time, and politically, no strong opposition (save for Mexico during the 1848 Mexican-American War) stood in its way[30].

After having explored the relationship that the American state believes it holds with God, it follows that such a policy would appear rational to American statesmen, especially at that time. Manifest Destiny also incorporated the argument that the US’ institutions and way of life should be disseminated far and wide[31]. In some way, this could be seen as the one of the first expansionist ideologies of the modern era, and unlike French Republicanism or Communism, it has withstood the trials of time and remains the only secular utopian universal ideology pursuing global implementation[32]. Manifest Destiny therefore built upon American Exceptionalism by imbuing it with a mission to proselytize its ideals to other societies, dually motivated by a sincere belief in its exceptionally positive ‘universal’[33]values and a calling higher than oneself[34].

2c) Democracy Promotion/Ideological Proselytization

Given that the United States was not yet a world power, there were obvious limitations imposed upon the scope and methods of its ideological proselytization. This all changed with the successful involvement of the US in both World Wars. In the aftermath of both conflicts, the US used its strategically victorious position to attempt to reshape parts of Europe into its own image. Populist isolationism limited the US’ gains after 1918[35]and the Soviet Union (and by extension, the communist ideology) blockedfurther American inroads into Eurasia after 1945[36]. The post-Cold War security complex immediately following the Soviet collapse allowed for an unchained unilateralist application in American exceptionalism[37]. Believing in its own self-virtue and its divine right to spread its belief system (liberal democracy[38]) the world over (especially within states that were explicitly ideologically opposed to such measures), the US began to militarily engage itself in a variety of conflicts, albeit under less conspicuous official justifications than pure ideological exportation.

The purpose of democracy promotion abroad featured prominently during the Iraq War of 2003, but preceding it was the Kosovo experiment in ‘humanitarian intervention’. It was during this conflict that the US and its NATO allies bombed Serbia for the proclaimed purpose of safeguarding the human rights of the ethnic Albanians that were living in the Kosovo province[39]. The involvement of NATO in its second conflict after Bosnia (and once more out of theater, at that) signaled that the US was on the cusp of reinventing the purpose of the trans-Atlantic alliance from an anti-communist defensive organization to an offensive-oriented guardian of Western-defined human rights[40]. The run-up to the Iraq War saw the US raising global awareness of Saddam Hussein’s prior use of chemical weapons against the Kurdish minority over a decade prior, but this did not appear to be relevant enough to galvanize the international community into collective action. Even evoking the spectre of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was not sufficientrationale to provide the US with unanimous consensus within NATO itself for a military operation against Iraq. The idea of democracy promotion also fell on relatively deaf ears during this time. Therefore, when the US decided to unilaterally invade Iraq along with its ‘coalition of the willing’, it was simultaneously pursuing three stated different objectives: democracy promotion, WMD elimination, and humanitarian intervention.

The failure to secure enough allied support to be able to label this a ‘NATO war’, like the one in Kosovo, showed that the US had not fully succeeded in reinventing the purpose of the organization. Simply fulfilling democracy promotion through the convenient argument of WMD anti-proliferation measures was not enough to convince others of the moral basis of American Exceptionalism. Nor was the case for humanitarian intervention (as it is perceived in the West) made as strong as it was during the Kosovo War. The US’ actions in Iraq were thus commonly criticized as being ‘imperialist’ in nature[41]. This motivated the US to search for a new moral justification for future military interventions.

2d) R2P

Such a justification appeared with the emergence of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) concept in 2005. The idea holds that it is the responsibility of the international community to intervene militarily to help alleviate the violation of human rights in a state if the state’s government is unable or unwilling to do so itself[42]. The emphasis on the word ‘responsibility’ infers that failure to act would result in a collective sense of guilt on the side of those who passively abet the humanitarian crisis by allowing it to continue. Considering that R2P involves military intervention inside a sovereign state, it also violates the state’s sovereignty if the government refused to allow the intervention to proceed. But if the government became discredited (in the eyes of the potential interveners) as a result of its handling of the aforementioned humanitarian crisis, then the case could be made that that government is illegitimate[43][44] and has no right to stand in the way of the said intervention. R2P could then even be used as a pretext for regime change[45]. International legal principles and the subjective understanding of what constitutes universally accepted human rights (and consequently, their violations) make R2P a highly polarizing concept.

            2e) Forecast: US and NATO’s Ideological Development

If a war for ulterior motives could be waged under what were perceived to be the ‘selfless’ grounds of simply protecting the oppressed from violations of their Creator-endowed unalienable(human) rights, (as understood by the American Declaration of Independence as specifically including life and liberty), then the moral justification would be extremely difficult to argue against.  Even more, if such a ‘moral justification’ could be institutionalized into being perceived as a type of international norm, then states that oppose such military measures under R2P would be discredited among their peers. If such opposing states were present in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and hindered a resolution authorizing military intervention under R2P pretenses, then an alternative body (perhaps NATO military proxy organizations like the African Union) would have to be tasked with implementing such unilateral (in the sense that they violate the UN Charter) actions on a regional scale[46]. Stephen M. Walt writes about the necessity of ‘ideological solidarity’ for alliances, believing that ‘a commitment to similar basic goals can help sustain an alliance long after its original rationale is gone’[47]. In this sense, the official pronouncement of R2P military enforcement by NATO as one of its new goals could imbue the organization with a much-needed ideological stimulus to assist it in maintaining relevancy in the post-Cold War world. Taking into consideration NATO’s history of ‘humanitarian intervention’ in Kosovo, it seems logical that the organization itself could fulfillthe roleof R2P enforcer on a global scale, thereby potentially reinventing its identity from Cold War alliance to 21st century champion of human rights.

Suffice to say, R2P has bestowed the US with an additional weapon to complement its arsenal of war-making arguments. The guise of R2P provides the moral legitimacy needed to cover the otherwise blatant aggression behind American foreign policy. The US can then continue its pattern of selectively applying international law, violating state sovereignty, and most importantly, promoting its ideology while plausibly maintaining international credibility and legitimacy for its actions. Conveniently, the US could also assist its NATO allies in reinventing their purpose in the 21st century, giving them an added impetus to continue subsidizing American military operations abroad through their direct participation andthe support of their populations. The successful application of all of the aforementioned would be the epitome of an evolved form of American Exceptionalism.

It can now be seen that the ideology of the US involves a multiplicity of factors, but that it is driven by three primary considerations: American Exceptionalism, democracy promotion abroad, and R2P/Humanitarian Intervention support. The US feels entitled to spread democracy as a result of American Exceptionalism, and it is now moving in the direction of co-opting the idea of R2P/Humanitarian Intervention in order to provide justifiable moral cover for its ideological aims. The idea of democracy promotion via R2P/Humanitarian Intervention also serves the purpose of reinventing the identity of NATO. It seems likely that NATO may metamorphosize into a club of democracies dedicated towards advancing their system of governance and protecting human rights (with both ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ being subjectively defined by the Western interpretation)[48].

Such a development would lead to the formal creation of an ideological bloc, the first one of its kind since the end of the Cold War. If one is to take former President Bush’s words to heart, the mantra may even aggressively evolve into ‘Eitheryou’re with us or against us’[49]. As can be seen by the resistance of Serbia, Iraq, and Libya, this does seem to be the case. Relatively weak states that cannot adequately defend themselves, nor have the means to deter a Western-supported military intervention, have fallen victim to invasion and destruction in recent times.

The formal incorporation through the vehicle of American Exceptionalism of the US values of democracy promotion and R2P/Humanitarian Intervention into the NATO military alliance would destabilize the entire world. In that sense, American ideological expansionism poses a critical threat to world peace. The US’ messianic mission can be seen as following a secular version of extreme militant Islam (albeit militarily supported by more modern means), as it is spread with the vociferousness of a religious zealot, and just like radical Islam, itwill (or has it already?) place the US and its military allies into direct confrontation with opposing value systems and civilizations. While extreme Islam spreads recruiters to mosques to proselytize jihad, for example, the West spreads its believers via ‘NGOs’ and the media to proselytize its subjective standards of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’. Both are disseminated via soft power and infiltration, and the introduction of such belief systems into states unaccustomed to them can lead to the fracturing of once-unified strong national identities. Militant Islam has divided Nigeria and Syria much in the same way that ‘democracy’ has divided Iraq and Libya. The expansion of extreme Islam may bring with it the scourge of terrorism, just as the expansion of US values may bring with it military intervention.

The imposition of unfamiliar cultural values onto a society inevitably leads to some degree of conflict, and the value systems under threat may even strengthen their identities in order to protect themselves[50]. The strengthening of civilizational identity may even result in its defensive expansion. When taken on a global scale, this may herald in the fabled ‘Clash of Civilizations’ that Huntington prophesized in 1996, further undermining global peace and dividing the world into hostile civilization-based spheres[51].

V Ideology as Influencing the Role of International Law

Since the identities of both Russia and the US have now been firmly established and expostulated upon, it is now time to tie them in with the earlier mentioned great power competition between the two countries. In regards to their approaches over international law, Russia and the US have very little in common, and their policies are directly influenced by their identities and ideologies. Russian identity and ideology hold that the strict observance of international law as defined in the UN Charter is necessary for preserving world peace[52]. The precepts of such law, especially concerning the sanctioning of military force through the UNSC, feature prominently in Russian foreign policy discussions and statements, with the most recent concerning the crisis inSyria[53].Russia wants to retain stability in the world in order to further its goal of Eurasian integration and the strengthening of its Eurasianist position between Europe and Asia. In this way, Russia can be seen as a conservative power that is not trying to revise established international norms and standards.

The US, loyally following the ideology of its own exceptionalism, selectively interprets international law as it sees fit[54]. The motions of seeking UN approval for any type of action are undertaken solely to achieve enhanced international legitimacy and justification for its own predetermined plans. The prerogative to ‘go it alone’ has become a common theme in recent American history, and the country does not feel militarily restrained by the UNSC’s decisions, as recently evidenced by its escapades of destruction across Serbia, Iraq, and Libya. As one of the founding members of the UN, as well as the country which hosts the organization’s headquarters, the US is ironically dismantling some of the very same international standards that it itself had created. Because the US always seeks to stay on the forefront of international developments and trends, the introduction of new norms such as R2P/Humanitarian Intervention (or the selective violation of established ones) leads to it being labelled as ‘the most creative power’. The US’ selective ‘creativity’ in the international system thereby makes it a pseudo-revisionist power.

VI Ideology as Influencing Approaches to Sovereignty

1. Russia

The influence of ideology on international law seamlessly provides an explanation for the conflicting approaches to state sovereignty, as practiced by Russia and the US. Derzhavnost, a policy of building a strong state, is the current trend in contemporary Russian domestic politics[55]. It is justified by the concept of ‘sovereign democracy’[56], and it finds itself on the opposing end of Western-led hypocritical criticism over what is perceived as ‘natural totalitarianism’[57]. Russian foreign policy projects the concept of sovereign democracy abroad through supporting the Westphalian standard of allowing a state to govern its territory and citizenry as it deems fit.  The same concept also importantly applies for civilizations. The uninvited involvement of outside states or civilizations over the internal mechanisms of another is strongly opposed by Russia[58]. As is seen, Russia’s approaches towards international law and sovereignty complement one another and demonstrate ideological consistency.

2. US

Paradoxically, the USalso demonstrates an ideological consistency, albeit of a vastly different nature. While the US appears to support its own interpretation of sovereignty for some of its allies (Saakashvili’s decision to bombard Tskhinval, Bahrain’s militant crackdown on dissent, etc.), it has also demonstrated that it will strategically abandon others if it finds it politically expedient to do so. Recently, the US has repeatedly violated the sovereignty of its ‘ally’ Pakistan in conducting numerous drone strikes on its territory[59].The decades-long partnership with the governments of Tunisia[60] and Egypt[61] was discarded as a result of the ‘Arab Spring’ and US statements in support of regime change. The National Security Strategy of 2010 specifically mentions America’s commitment to supporting all peaceful democratic movements and institutions in what it subjectively terms ‘fragile democracies’, but the extent and limits of such support are not defined[62]. This holds open the possibility for covert activities centeredaround ‘pro-democracy’ regime change.

2a) US Patterned Approach

The dichotomy of approaches to sovereignty indicates a disturbing ideological pattern – it appears as though the US unilaterally violates the sovereignty of states that it views as non-democratic, regardless of whether or not they are allies, should it feel that the long-term goals outweigh the short-term risks. The Arab Spring provides a stunning case where the US sacrifices regional stability and long-term governmental partnerships for the sake of reshaping international architecture and norms. It should be stated that Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have thus far been spared from America’s revisionist political blueprints possibly as a result of their close military cooperation with Washington (Saudi Arabia is an American military anchor on the peninsula and staging ground for involvement in the regional interior, and Bahrain hosts the US Fifth Fleet). It therefore seems that some states may retain elements of domestic political sovereignty if they subserviate their military independence to the US. Tunisia and Egypt, although partners of the US’ regional military architecture, did not hold the same geopolitical weight as Saudi Arabia or Bahrain in overall grand strategy, thereby resulting in their political sacrifice for the sake of ‘democracy’. By this order, it could be suggested that there is a hierarchy of sorts, dependent on the intensity of military cooperation and contemporary geopolitical/geoeconomical objectives, in determining America’s ‘betrayal’ of allied partners and/or military/covert intervention to resolve any of their crises.

Incidentally, the 2010 National Security Strategy proclaims that ‘America’s commitment to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law are essential sources of our strength and influence in the world’[63]. It also alludes to the Democratic Peace Theory by stating that ‘nations thatrespect human rights and democratic values are more successful and stronger partners’[64]. Clearly, ideological considerations are the driving force behind America’s subjective approach to sovereignty, with the greater aim of its actions being to export democratic values under the cover of human rights arguments.

VII Ideology as Influencing Military or Diplomatic/Political Solutions to Crises

Building upon the previous, one can now segue into better understanding how conflict resolution is also tinged by ideological factors. Being a conservative actor in relation to international norms and conduct, as well as strongly supporting state sovereignty, Russia does not agree to unilateral military intervention to solve crises. Putin’s 2007 Munich Speech chides the unilateral and illegitimate actions of the US that have caused new problems in the world[65]. He believes that the hyper use of military force is a dangerous and unsettling trend, and that only the UNSC can be the legitimate mechanism for making decisions about the use of force[66]. The Russian policy stands in clear opposition to American unilateralism, and no compromise can be made on this position.

The US, unlike Russia, openly engages in military force to resolve international crises, and of course, ideology plays a determining role in its decisions to do so. The National Security Strategy of 2010 speaks about the rights and responsibilities that all nations have, specifically the right for their citizens to ‘enjoy more freedom and opportunity’, and that ambiguous consequences will be levelled against irresponsible states[67]. The world is also reminded that ‘there must be consequences for those nations that break the rules—whether they are nonproliferation obligations, trade agreements, or human rights commitments’(emphasis added)[68]. Although officially shying away from imposing universal aspirations (defined as freedom and dignity) by force, recent American intervention in Kosovo and Libya proves the hypocrisy behind such a pronouncement[69]. Those two military actions speak louder than diplomatic words, and the US may have included such an inaccurate statement in its official strategy in order to falsely assure others that it is not as ideologically aggressive with global human rights and democracy promotion as the Soviet Union was perceived as being with the crusade of international communism. 

VIII Future Projections

1. Russia

As for the future of Russia, Putin’s great power pragmatism has been successful in once more catapulting Russia into high standing across the international community[70], but the state continually retains a psychological complex of insecurity[71]. This disconnect between Russia’s confidence and its feeling of insecurity further amplifes its threat perception of the US and NATO. As a result, Russia is strengthening its civilizational identity[72] and selectively embracing globalization to meet its integrationist ends via the SCO and the Eurasian Union[73]. Russia has recently made progress in its identity formation through the implementation (although not to the full ideological degree as elucidated byAleksandrDugin[74]) of Eurasianism, and has lately begun its great power resurgence. It views its role as being that of ‘a Eurasian power whose existence and integrity guarantee the stability of the vast Eurasian territory’[75]. The US, however, has already voiced its displeasure with Moscow’s plans by referring to them as a ‘move to re-Sovietize the region’, asserting that ‘we know what the goal is and we are trying to figure out effective ways to slow down or prevent it’[76]. This sets the stage for increased future competition in the region that Tatiana Shakleina refers to as the ‘Small Eurasia’ subsystem[77].

2. US

American grand strategy can best be summed up by the current Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul. In speaking about democracy promotion and human rights in ‘The Liberty Doctrine’, he confidently boasts that ‘the United States must become once again a revisionist power — a country that seeks to change the international system as a means of enhancing its own national security. Moreover, this mission must be offensive in nature’[78]. Putin is aware of this trend, as he noticed that ‘independent legal norms are, as a matter of fact, coming increasingly closer to one state’s legal system’[79]. He rhetorically questions how any state can be happy about the hegemonic imposition of American-based‘economic, political, cultural and educational policies’ and values the world over[80]. Such statements illustrate why Putin believes that ‘The United States has overstepped its national borders in every way’[81].

The US expresses impatience towards other states’ democratic transitions, even those of allies, although this is currently only selectively applied based on political, economic, and military resultant advantages[82]. Alexei Bogaturov suggests that ‘the concept of the freedom of action, combined with a belief in its historic calling, is embodied in America’s mission, which is to carry the ‘light of democracy’ to all corners of the globe’ and that ‘democracy remains the only universal ideology aspiring to a historic victory worldwide’[83]. This ‘ideological extremism’ is characterized by ‘democracy by any means’[84]. In keeping with its values of democracy and human rights promotion, the reformulation of NATO’s identity and mission to support such endeavors would logically present the alliance’s most probable development.


As has been explored throughout the preceding paragraphs, Russia and the US’ great power competition is based on an incompatibility of identities. Both nations have opposing views of international affairs, as well as differing approaches to international law, sovereignty, and conflict resolution, and these are all determined by ideology. Russia’s ideology favors adherence to international law, the preservation of state sovereignty (preferably via a strong state), and diplomatic resolutions, whereas the US inconsistently applies all of the aforementioned in order to maximize its international standing and to promote its view of democracy and human rights. With such foundational differences being present, it is impossible for the great power rivalry to be overcome. On the contrary, it will only intensify.

American ideological expansionism and resurgent Russian resistance make for a destabilizing combination. The US is positioning itself to make inroads into the former Soviet sphere in order to sabotage Russia’s integrationist projects. It is evident that the US will muster all of its resources short of direct military intervention (due to mutually assured destruction) against Russia in order to oppose it, although Moscow’s nuclear second-strike defensive capability may one day become nullified with the successful construction of the global anti-missile defense system[85]. The skyrocketing intensity of such future great power competition, as motivated by ideological criteria, may very well result in the fulfilment of Brzezinski’s ‘Eurasian Balkans’ concept[86]. Such a ‘zone of percolating violence’[87] (as initiated by subjective democracy promotion and human rights intervention[via both overt and covert means]) would generate a Eurasian ‘arc of crisis’[88] that could pose an existential threat to the very survival of the Russiancivilization.

[1]Shakleina, Tatiana. “US-Russian Engagement in Global Issues.”RUSSIA AND THE UNITED STATES IN CONTEMPORARY INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, Selected papers. Moscow: Website of the Chair of Applied Research of International Problems, 2013. 38. PDF.

[2]Yurievna, Tatiana. “National and Regional Dimension of Global Security.” MGIMO. Russian Federation, Moscow. 02 Oct 2013. Lecture.

[3]“SECURITY COUNCIL REQUIRES SCHEDULED DESTRUCTION OF SYRIA’S CHEMICAL WEAPONS, UNANIMOUSLY ADOPTING RESOLUTION 2118 (2013).” Security Council, United Nations. Department of Public Information, News and Media Division, New York, 27 Sept 2013. Web. 29 Oct 2013.

[4]Bogaturov, Alexei. “The Sources of American Conduct.”Russia in Global Affairs. Russia in Global Affairs, 09 Feb 2005. Web. 30 Oct 2013

[5]Shakleina, Tatiana. “Russian-American Relations in Retrospect.”RUSSIA AND THE UNITED STATES IN CONTEMPORARY INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, Selected papers. Moscow: Website of the Chair of Applied Research of International Problems, 2013. 66. PDF.

[6]“Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation.”The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the

Russian Federation. 12 Feb 2013. Web. 27 Oct 2013.

[7]“Why Russia is Standing by Syria’s Assad.” BBC News. BBC, 15 Jun 2012. Web. 29 Oct 2013.

[8]Guillory, Sean. “Repression and Gay Rights in Russia.” The Nation. The Nation, 26 Sept 2013. Web. 29 Oct 2013.

[9]“Russia’s Medvedev congratulates Belarus President Lukashenko on reelection.” RIA Novosti. RIA Novosti, 25 Dec 2010. Web. 29 Oct 2013.

[10]“No ‘Color Revolutions’ in Russia – Security Council Chief.”RIANovosti. RIA Novosti, 18 Dec 2012. Web. 29 Oct 2013.

[11]“Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Charter.” China Daily. China Daily Information Co, 06 Dec 2006. Web. 29 Oct 2013.

[12]Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation.”The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the

Russian Federation., Op. Cit., 31-B.

[13]Rosenberg, Steve. “Inside Russia’s Caucasus cauldron.” BBC News. BBC, 08 Jun 2006. Web. 29 Oct 2013.

[14]Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation.”The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the

Russian Federation.Op. Cit., 13, 30.

[15]Ibid., 14.

[16] Ibid.

[17]Ibid., 8.

[18]Ibid., 54.

[19]Ibid., 56.

[20]Shakleina, Tatiana. “Russia between East and West.”RUSSIA AND THE UNITED STATES IN CONTEMPORARY INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, Selected papers. Moscow: Website of the Chair of Applied Research of International Problems, 2013. 17-18. PDF.

[21] Ibid.

[22]Ibid., 19.

[23]Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation.”The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the

Russian Federation. Op. Cit., 44, 46.

[24]Walt, Stephen M..”The Myth of American Exceptionalism.”Foreign Policy. Foreign Policy, 11 Oct 2011. Web. 29 Oct 2013.

[25]“The Declaration of Independence: A Transcription.” National Archives.National Archives and Records Administration.Web. 29 Oct 2013.

[26]“People & Ideas: God and the Constitution.” PBS. PBS, 11 Oct 2010. Web. 29 Oct 2013. <>.

[27]“The Pledge of Allegiance.” Hall Association.Web. 30 Oct 2013. <>.

[28]“America, The Beautiful Lyrics by Katharine Lee Bates – 1913.” USA Flag Site.USA Flag Site.Web. 30 Oct 2013. <>.

[29]“Manifest Destiny.” The History Channel.A&E Television Networks.Web. 30 Oct 2013. <>.

[30]Lieven, Anatol. America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism. 1st ed. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 30-31. Print.

[31]Weeks, William Earl. Building the Continental Empire: American Expansion from the Revolution to the Civil War. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1997. 61. Print.

[32]Bogaturov, Alexei. “The Sources of American Conduct.”Russia in Global Affairs.Op. Cit.

[33]Lieven, Anatol. America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism.Op. Cit., 34.

[34]McCrisken, Trevor B. 2002. “Exceptionalism.” In Encyclopedia of American Foreign

Policy, vol. 2, 2nd ed., ed. Alexander DeConde et al. New York: Scribner.

[35]“A SHORT HISTORY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE: A Return to Isolationism.” U.S. Department of State: Office of the Historian. Office of the Historian, Bureau of Pulic Affairs, United States Department of State.Web. 30 Oct 2013. <>.

[36]Bogaturov, Alexei. “The Sources of American Conduct.”Russia in Global Affairs.Op. Cit.


[38] Ibid.

[39]Roberts, Adam. “NATO’s ‘Humanitarian War’ over Kosovo.” Survival. 41.3 (1999): 102-23. Web. 30 Oct. 2013. <>.

[40]Nazemroaya, Mahdi Darius. The Globalization of NATO. Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2012. 67-113. Print.

[41]Chomsky, Noam. “It’s imperialism, stupid.” The Noam Chomsky Website. Noam Chomsky, 4 Jul 2005. Web. 30 Oct 2013. <>.

[42]“The Responsibility to Protect.” Office of the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide.The United Nations.Web. 30 Oct 2013. <>.

[43]Condon, Stephanie. “Obama: Qaddafi has lost legitimacy and must leave.” CBSNEWS. CBS Interactive, 3 Mar 2011. Web. 30 Oct 2013.

[44]Anishcuk, Alexei, and Steve Gutterman. “Calling Assad illegitimate is “counterproductive”-Russia.” Reuters. Thompson Reuters, 16 Mar 2012. Web. 30 Oct 2013..

[45]Breakey, Hugh.‘The Responsibility to Protect: GameChange and Regime Change.’Chap. 1 In

 Norms of Protection: Responsibility to Protect, Protection of Civilians and Their Interaction, edited by Charles Sampford, Angus FrancisandVesselinPopovski, 11-39. Geneva: United Nations University, 2012.

[46]Nazemroaya, Mahdi Darius. The Globalization of NATO.Op. Cit., 249.

[47]Walt, Stephen M. “Alliance Futures.” Survival. 39.1 (1997): 156-79. Web. 30 Oct. 2013.<>.

[48]Volker, Kurt. “The Collapse — and Rebirth?– of Transatlantic Relations.” The Elliott School of International Affairs. George Washington University, 25 Feb 2010. Web. 30 Oct 2013. <>.

[49]“‘You are either with us or against us.” CNN. Cable News Network, 6 Nov 2001. Web. 30 Oct 2013.

[50]Huntington, Samuel P. “The Clash of Civilizations?.” Foreign Affairs. 72.3 (1993): 22-49. Print.


[52]Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation.”The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the

Russian Federation. Op. Cit., 4C.

[53]“Russia made sure UNSC Syria resolution leaves no loopholes for use of force – Lavrov.” RT. TV-Novosti, 29 Sep 2013. Web. 30 Oct 2013.

[54]Scott, Shirley V. International Law, US Power: The United States’ Quest for Legal Security. New York: Cambridge University Press, 20. Print. <2012>.

[55]Merry, E. Wayne. United States. United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Helsinki Commission Hearing.Web.<>.

[56]Shakleina, Tatiana. “Russia’s Foreign Policy Strategy.”MGIMO. Russian Federation, Moscow. 17 Sep 2013. Lecture.

[57]Bogaturov, Alexei. “The Sources of American Conduct.”Russia in Global Affairs.Op. Cit.

[58]Shakleina, Tatiana. “Russian-American Relations in Retrospect.”RUSSIA AND THE UNITED STATES IN CONTEMPORARY INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, Selected papers. Op. Cit., 66.

[59]Almasy, Steve. “Report: U.S., Pakistan had secret agreement on dozens of drone strikes.” CNN. Cable News Network, 25 Oct 2013. Web. 30 Oct 2013.

[60]Spencer, Richard. “Tunisia riots: Reform or be overthrown, US tells Arab states amid fresh riots.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 13 Jan 2011. Web. 30 Oct 2013.

[61]“Obama Administration Urges Mubarak to Step Down.” US News and World Report. US News and World Report, 04 Feb 2011. Web. 30 Oct 2013. <>.

[62]United States. The White House. National Security Strategy May 2010. Washington, D.C.: , 2010. 5. Web

[63]Ibid., 2.

[64]Ibid., 5.

[65]Putin, Vladimir. Russian Federation. Speech and the Following Discussion at the Munich Conference on Security Policy. 2007. Web. <>.

[66] Ibid.

[67]United States. The White House. National Security Strategy May 2010. Op. Cit., 2.

[68]Ibid., 3.

[69]Ibid., 1, 5.

[70]Tsyvankov, Andrei P. Russia’s Foreign Policy: Change and Continuity in National Identity. 2nd. Lanham, MD: Rowman& Littlefield Publishers, 2010. 25. Print.

[71]Ibid.,  5.

[72]Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation.”The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the

Russian Federation. Op. Cit., 45.

[73]Troitskiy, M. Going “Relativistic”: the Changing Vision of “Just International Order” in Russian Foreign Policy. In Russia and Globalization: Identity, Security, and Society in an Era of Change. Blum, D.W., Ed. Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2008.225-226. Print.

[74]Dugin, A.G..”Manifest of the Eurasist Movement.”Arctogaia.Arctogaia, 01 Jan 2001. Web. 2 Nov 2013. <>.

[75]Troitskiy, M. Going “Relativistic”: the Changing Vision of “Just International Order” in Russian Foreign Policy. In Russia and Globalization: Identity, Security, and Society in an Era of Change.,Op. Cit., 213.

[76]Clover, Charles. “Clinton vows to thwart new Soviet Union.”Financial Times. Financial Times, 06 Dec 2012. Web. 31 Oct 2013.

[77]Shakleina, Tatiana. “New Trends in Subsystem Formation in the 21st Century.” RUSSIA AND THE UNITED STATES IN CONTEMPORARY INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, Selected papers. Moscow: Website of the Chair of Applied Research of International Problems, 2013. 114, 116-19. PDF.

[78]McFaul, Michael. “The Libery Doctrine.” Policy Review.112 (2002).Web. 31 Oct. 2013. <>.

[79]Putin, Vladimir. Russian Federation. Speech and the Following Discussion at the Munich Conference on Security Policy.Op. Cit.



[82]Shakleina, Tatiana. “Russia’s Foreign Policy Strategy.”, Op. Cit.

[83]Bogaturov, Alexei. “The Sources of American Conduct.”Russia in Global Affairs., Op. Cit.

[84]Shakleina, Tatiana. “US-Russian Engagement in Global Issues.”RUSSIA AND THE UNITED STATES IN CONTEMPORARY INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, Selected papers. Op. Cit., 40.

[85]Nazemroaya, Mahdi Darius. “Military Encirclement and Global Domination: Russia Counters US Missile Shield from the Seas.” Centre for Research on Globalization., 04 Nov 2012.Web. 31 Oct 2013.

[86]Brzezinski, Zbigniew. The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy And Its Geostrategic Imperatives. New York: Basic Books, 1998. 69. eBook.

[87]Ibid., 28.

[88] Brzezinski in 1978 defines this as being an area filled with “fragile social and political structures in a region of vital importance…threatened by fragmentation…(that) could be filled by elements…sympathetic to…enemies”.

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