Prof. Dr. James Goldgeier (Dean of School of International Service, American University; USA)

06.01.2011 - Interview conducted by Katie Dickmeyer


Q1. With the US’s effective role as the defender of ex-Soviet States against Russian influence, have recent incidences, such as the condemnation of Russia’s acceptance of South Ossetia as an independent State, affected current US-Russian relations?

Certainly the war with Georgia in 2008, and the Russian recognition of independence of the two breakaway regions, was a real low point for US-Russian relations and gave rise to tremendous concern in the US about what Russia’s intentions are in the region. The US was able to keep most countries in the world from recognizing that independence. Indeed, there were only a couple of countries that joined Russia in recognizing that independence and even countries like China refused to do so. So Russia really didn’t gain a lot of support for that. While the Obama administration continues to make clear that it opposes what occurred, it has tried to move forward in other areas to try and improve US-Russian relations while still trying to figure out a way to deal with this problem.

Q2. You have written on the necessity of the enlargement of NATO. Do you think it could grow to encompass Russia, and if so, do you feel that this is desirable?

Well, Article 10 of the NATO treaty opens the possibility for NATO membership to any European state that can meet the criteria of the alliance, namely: democracy, human rights, respect for borders, changing only through peaceful means, and also countries that could contribute to alliance security. So, based on the treaty, theoretically, the door is open to any European state, and that would include Russia. The US, even in the mid-1990’s when the US was enlarging NATO’s central Europe, made it clear to Russia that theoretically the door was open. I think the problem was that because of the increased authoritarianism of Russia, it is further from meeting those criteria, and it has also gone back and forth from whether or not it would be interested in this. I think the likelihood of membership is quite low, but I think it is important that the door remains open. It would be a very different NATO and a very different Russia if it were ever to occur.

Q3. Do you believe there to be a lack of cultural understanding of Russia amongst the US public?

I think there has always been a fascination with Russia in the US. Even when there was tremendous hostility between the governments during the Cold War, there was still affection for the population of Russia. Appreciation of Russian literature, Russian art, the tremendous Russian advances in various fields, including math and science, and admiration for Russian chess-playing has always existed no matter the state of the governments. It think that as the Cold War disappeared, the American public interest shifted to other parts of the world, so we have seen less Russian language study and an overall lesser interest in Russia, while interest in other parts of the world has simultaneously grown.

Q4. Some experts have proclaimed a coming shift in the prime axis of international affairs from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Do you agree with this and how will the coming multi-power world affect NATO and the Trans-Atlantic relationship?

I absolutely think that the world is shifting dramatically. We are seeing this rise of tremendous, dynamic economies in Asia. We don’t know whether China will continue to grow as it has, but clearly the economy there is very dynamic. The potential for India will continue to grow. Other countries in that region, such as Indonesia, are beginning to also rise. So you really have a situation where the US attention will continue to be drawn away from Europe. That is in part due to the fact that the policies pursued by the US after the Cold War have been successful in Europe. Europe is rich, it is stable, and it is secure, so the US can afford to pay less attention to Europe and more attention to Asia. But that does mean it will be difficult to continue to maintain close ties with Europe. The real question is will NATO, whose role within Europe is not as significant as it was previously, make the transition to becoming a more global actor, as it has tried to articulate with its most recent strategic concept? There is still a lot of concern, especially within Europe, that NATO should focus more on Europe and less on other parts of the world. If that is what happens, the US will grow less interested in NATO.

Q5. In your book “Power and Purpose: US Policy Towards Russia After the Cold War,” you state that by the beginning of George W. Bush’s presidency, the talk was not about transformation in Russia, but rather how it had been lost.  Do you feel that the expectation of improvement in relations between Russia and the US after the collapse of the Soviet Union has not yet been fulfilled, and if not, do you think it can be fulfilled in the foreseeable future?

Well, I think the expectations were too high after the end of the Cold War, both with what Russia could do internally in terms of transformation, and also Russia’s ability and interest in integrating into the west. I think we are all a lot more realistic in our expectations. Russia and the US can have good relations, as they have begun to do in the Obama years, and Russia and Europe can have good relations, but there still is a vast difference between Russia and the West. Different interests, different values, different philosophies, different positions in the world- I think that we can have good relations, but we need to be realistic about what the limits are to those relations, otherwise we are bound to be disappointed. We have had these periods since the end of the Cold War, when things got better, and we think “Wow, it’s a new era and it’s great,” and then something negative happens and we get so upset.  We need to be a little more moderate in our reaction towards all of this.

Thank you so much for speaking with us.