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  • Kissinger’s Fingerprints on the Trump Security Doctrine, 2017


    by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.


    Those who believe that Donald Trump is witless, a “moron” to quote Rex Tillerson, were proven wrong on December 18 when the President released his National Security Strategy (NSS).  Those who believe that the Deep State operates entirely on its own, without taking any cues from incoming presidents were also proven wrong.

    Going through this 68 page document issued in keeping with tradition by each administration at regular intervals, I find very important changes in language from where official America has been operating these past 25 years suggesting that, after all, Henry Kissinger has made a come-back and may well be this president’s mentor on international affairs, as seemed to be the case during the electoral campaign and into the first months following his inauguration, before the removal of Flynn and the running aground of Trump’s foreign policy initiative in March.

    In saying that, I am speaking not about the Henry Kissinger who was the implementer of Nixon’s détente with Russia or of Nixon’s great rapprochement with China that led to an informal partnership in managing world affairs of mutual interest. Nor am I speaking about Kissinger Unbound:  the strident exponent of Realism and critic of Idealism who authored the master work Diplomacy in 1994, when there was still no road map to post-Cold War American foreign policy and he hoped pragmatism would finally prevail over ideology, when he hoped that he would return to a position of influence from the decades in the wilderness that began with the Reagan presidency and Neocon ascendancy.


    What we have here is the contrite Kissinger who made his peace with the unavoidable political prejudices of our day and made certain that every appeal to national interest was accompanied by due genuflection before the altar of national values, Kissinger, the author of World Order (2015).

     We are told the following at the very first page of the Introduction: “[This] is a strategy of principled realism that is guided by outcomes, not ideology."

    Kissinger’s concepts as leading exponent of the Realist School of International  Relations permeate the document. We find here mention of “balance of powers,” a key Realist School term. In the NSS, it is used in matter-of-fact manner, whereas the notion had in the first Obama administration been condemned by Joe Biden, by Hillary Clinton as “passé,” as so very 19th century, an antiquarian object that is inadmissible in our modern age. We were told by our Liberal Interventionists that we are now living in the age of “smart power,” the latest version of “soft power” invented by Harvard professor and Democratic Party thinker Joseph Nye.

     In the NSS, there is the notion that states have always been in competitive relationships, are so today and will be so far into the future: the challenge is to position oneself to win in the competition. 

    By the same token, the given text is devoid of all the Cold War vintage legalistic argumentation against Russia or China that Kissinger found so galling and denounced in his memoirs.  The Dulles brothers’ thinking was still going strong under Bush and Obama. But lawyer statesmen are well and truly buried in Trump’s NSS. There is not a word about our competitors violating international law, only about their going against our interests in pursuit of their own interests. 

    Equally telling, there is not a word in the NSS document about malicious foreign leaders and their evil regimes. The personalization of politics, the denigration of foreign presidents and prime ministers that has characterized most official American pronouncements on international affairs these past 25 years and prepared the ground for open and covert attempts at regime change – all of that is absent. This is entirely in keeping with the overarching concept of Realism, namely that national interest is in the DNA of nations and not merely the whim of whoever has come to power.

    Moreover, when you characterize leaders of other states as evil, when you call Vladimir Putin a "Hitler," as Hillary Clinton did  a number of times during her campaign speeches, then you close the door on negotiations and have entered the antechamber of WWIII.

    What we see in the NSS is prioritization and true strategic vision as opposed to ideological cant and ad hoc responses to global developments, or, as one might have expected from Trump, given his reputation for a disorganized mind, some grab-bag of issues to be pursued, starting with the hot ones in his tweets, Iran and North Korea.  No, the stress in the NSS is on competition with two great powers, China and Russia, both described as revisionist, meaning that they want to re-claim their positions of influence at the world’s board of governors at the expense of the sole surviving superpower, the United States.

     This is in itself a wholly new appreciation. With respect to Russia, for example, Obama had foolishly told us it was just a “regional power.”  Putin replied with amused irony: which region? But the point was lost on Washington. Now we find that the United States is engaged in a hot competition with both China and Russia in virtually every corner of the globe.


    Fact versus Fake


    Over the past 18 months there has been a lot of talk in public space about “fake news” and about lies coming from high places.  The former has been the repeated message of Trump in his attacks on CNN, the BBC and other mainstream media.  The latter has been the push-back from the media and political opposition to Trump. By way of example, to this day a regular feature item in The Washington Post is a fact check on whatever Trump says, or Pinocchio index.

     The refreshing thing about the NSS is that it is fact oriented.  This is in keeping with the tenets of the Realist School of International Relations.

     Russia is very correctly identified as a military threat, first and foremost.

     “Russia is investing in new military capabilities, including nuclear systems that remain the most significant existential threat to the United States…”

     To be sure, the NSS also carries the fake news accusations against Russia for political destabilization of democracies through information and cyber war. This is part of a shared authorship issue which I will mention in a moment.

     China is identified in the NSS as a growing military power with great potential:

     “It is building the most capable and well-funded military in the world, after our own. Its nuclear arsenal is growing and diversifying.”

     But otherwise China’s threat to United States interests is shown primarily in terms of economic aggrandizement and unfair trading practices that do harm to the United States economy. The Chinese economic expansion is noted in all continents.

     The competitive pressure from both China and Russia taken together present a formidable challenge, which is described in almost but not quite value neutral terms:

     “…after being dismissed as a phenomenon of an earlier century, great power competition returned. China and Russia began to reassert their influence regionally and globally. Today, they are fielding military capabilities designed to deny America access in times of crisis and to contest our ability to operate freely in critical commercial zones during peacetime. In short, they are contesting our geopolitical advantages and trying to change the international order in their favor.”

     I would qualify that generalization as correct, and I commend its neutral tone.  Similarly Kissingerian is the description of what our yellow press likes to call “hybrid warfare.” In the NSS that is defined as “operating below the threshold of open military conflict and at the edges of international law.”  Note: “at the edges” not in violation of international law.  Note, too, the follow-on criticism of American policy-makers for having a hard time walking and chewing gum at the same time:

    “China, Russia and other state and non-state actors recognize that the United States often views the world in binary terms, with states being either “at peace” or “at war,” when it is actually an arena of continuous competition.”

     This remark comes straight from the Master.  So, too, is the call for sophistication in pursuing the overarching strategy in regional contexts:

     “The United States must tailor our approaches to different regions of the world to protect U.S. national interests. We require integrated regional strategies that appreciate the nature and magnitude of threats, the intensity of competitions, and the promise of available opportunities, all in the context of local political, economic, social, and historical realities.”


    Those realities can be appreciated only if the relevant area studies are sustained, which ceased to be the case in the United States years ago, when universal values hijacked foreign policy and regional differences were dismissed by the political bosses. 

    As for any contradictions in the text, we must remember that Trump is surrounded by officials who are carriers of the world view and prejudices of the preceding 25 years. Partly they are the holdovers whom he could not fire lest the bureaucracy be totally depopulated. Partly they are his own appointees as he sought to fill posts the easy way, without confronting the Senate on each and every appointee. We know that one officer in his National Security Council was responsible for the NSS text, and not all that she wrote was red-penciled. However, the dominant lines of the NSS were clearly written by others, who are close to Trump, and presumably close to his mentor Kissinger. So there are unavoidable wrinkles.




    The following pearl says in eloquent, Kissingerian terms what Donald Trump has been saying in his more tongue-tied way ever since he entered the presidential race:

      “We are…realistic and understand that the American way of life cannot be imposed upon others, nor is it the inevitable culmination of progress.”

     The NSS tells us that the United States will stand by the values of its Founding Fathers, will seek to be a beacon of light and hope to the world on behalf of democracy, the initiative and enterprise of citizens and rule of law, but it will not impose its ways on others.  This is what Trump said on the campaign trail, but here the notion is given more specific form. 

     The Neoconservative-Liberal Interventionist claptrap that has had a monopoly position in all International Relations literature and US government documents for the past 25 years is stripped away.  The theses of our post-Cold War secular religion, and in particular the conviction that only democratic countries can live in peace, are almost entirely absent from the NSS. The metrics of democracy promotion have been removed. What remains is the feeble statement that authoritarian countries, countries that do not allow women to participate equally for example, deprive themselves of major sources of economic strength and well-being.


    This is not a small matter.  To be sure, over the past 25 years the Neoconservative-Liberal Interventionist claptrap has been wrapped around a core of Realism that promoted not only U.S. ideological preferences but also U.S. hard power and economic interests.  But the claptrap was dangerous because the democratic and free market values, claimed to be universal values, were by definition not amenable to compromise. They were seen as the “End of History,” the ultimate berth of the ship of humankind. This justified the demotion of diplomacy to a weak supportive role for military policy. 

    Put in other words, a foreign policy based on universal values can only lead to war. However, when the driving force of foreign policy is precisely national interest, then diplomacy has a chance to thrive. By definition, national interest is subject to compromise based on unsentimental calculation of power equations.


    Words count


    Analysis of the NSS requires that we pay attention not only to concepts but to vocabulary. The key words in the NSS is “competitor” or “rival,” although we also find in the text the substitute word “adversary.”  “Competitor” is the word applied repeatedly to China and Russia. It is perfect for the purposes of Realist School foreign policy, precisely because it is descriptive, not judgmental, and not emotional.  The text reads: “Competition does not always mean hostility, nor does it inevitably lead to conflict…”

     The word “adversary,” also found in the text, is more troubling, because it is seen by some as a synonym for “enemy,” which in turn has within it the semantic load of “hostile.” These terms are emotive, not descriptive and are not far removed from the “axis of evil” thinking brought into public space by Ronald Reagan and picked up and propagated by George W. Bush.  Happily, in the National Security Strategy “adversary” is not spelled out, not applied to specific countries. 


    Unredacted mention of “authoritarian regimes” appears in the NSS here and there. but this donkey tail is also not pinned on specific targets.  The term stands in contradiction with the Realist School’s indifference to the nature of regimes and sensitivity only to raw power. This betrays the obvious fact that this new Security doctrine is the work of at least two agencies:  the National Security Council and unnamed individuals in the circle of the President who had the final say on the text.  Trump could not dispense with staff whom law and custom oblige him to retain but he could overrule them, resulting in the contradictions that appear in many places in this document.


    Words and Deeds


    As I have indicated in the foregoing, the thinking underpinning policy has changed dramatically in this new Security doctrine compared to the thinking highlighted by the presidential administrations of the past 20 years or so.  However, when we look at the recommendations for implementation, at the priorities, it is also clear that there will be no big changes in day to day US policy because, as I noted, the thinking behind US policy has always had both Realist and Idealist components to it. The question is the balance between the two and which is on the surface.

     For example, with regard to sanctions directed against Russia and the U.S. attempts to isolate and penalize the country especially since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, it is clear from this new doctrine that the sanctions may remain in place in perpetuity.  Not because of any violation of international law, as U.S. diplomacy has maintained loudly in every imaginable forum.  But simply because the United States reserves the right to apply these tools against every power which works against its interests, and in particular “to ensure that regions of the world are not dominated by one power.”  This matter-of-fact declaration violates directly the entire logic of the WTO and free trade.  But the notion of preventing the formation of local hegemons, whether Russia in its “near abroad” or China in Southeast Asia, has always been a principle of U.S. policy, though rarely in the past 25 years has it been stated so baldly.

     The change in justification from violator of human rights or of the territorial integrity of sovereign states to “acting against US interests” is of very great importance. This removes all justification for other countries to apply sanctions against whomever the United States is punishing except as their own interests are also threatened by the offender.  In the case of the European Union and Russia, national interests speak to the opposite policy – namely for full normalization of relations with Russia.


    It is also worth noting that the NSS makes clear that the US policy of fighting Russian energy dominance in Europe going back to the second term of Bill Clinton will continue unabated. But whereas until Trump that card was played by seeking to stymie Russia’s paths to market via gas pipelines, and to bring in gas from Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and other non-Russian sources via pipelines that do not cross Russian territory, the new game is to promote America’s own shale gas to displace Russia in its traditional markets.

     “As a growing supplier of energy resources, technologies and services around the world, the United States will help our allies and partners become more resilient against those that use energy to coerce”   - sums up this policy neatly.




    Without any question, expanding and upgrading U.S. military forces is seen by the authors of the NSS as one of the key tasks to ensure American security, alongside growing the domestic economy so as to support this burden.  However, the NSS makes an intelligent, almost impassioned argument in favor of “competitive diplomacy.”  And even the platitudes set down here have potential value if they will be implemented with any consistency:

     “Diplomacy sustains dialogue and fosters areas of cooperation with competitors. It reduces the risk of costly miscommunication.”

     Indeed, at a time when lines of communication with Russia built over decades have been severed unilaterally as “punishment” for its alleged transgressions, this is a powerful argument for a re-think in Congress and at Foggy Bottom.

    Nonetheless, it bears mention that the NSS speaks of negotiations being carried on "from a position of strength." That phrase also is a long-standing entry in the Kissingerian inventory of concepts.


    How has the NSS been seen by commentators inside and outside the United States


    Given the contradictory elements in this National Security Strategy, given the obvious contradictions between the many high-minded declarations of principle it contains and the actual words and deeds of the sitting President over the past year, it should come as no surprise that observers within and outside the United States have interpreted the document variously. I will comment on just three of them here.


    The Wall Street Journal was cautiously sympathetic to the key role given to economic and trade policies in the new national security strategy. The paper gave a factual account of highlights in the document, starting with its focus on the challenges presented by China and Russia. It attributes oversight of the project to Trump’s national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster and one of his deputies, Nadia Schadlow, whose writings are reflective of the Washington Consensus thinking of the Department of Defense and private research institutions in which she served before joining the NSC.  Who may have actually written the NSS text is a matter about which they do not speculate.


    The anti-Trump liberal journal of commentary The Atlantic takes a less generous direction in “Trump’s National Security Strategy is Decidely Non-Trumpian.”  They conclude that the plan “highlights the wide gulf between what the president says and what he does.”   However, that view comes from the attention they direct to the values passages in the NSS such as “The United States rejects bigotry, ignorance, and oppression…etc.”  They insist on Trump’s violation of the principles enshrined in the Bill of Rights, cited in the NSS, by his travel ban and “targeting of Muslim-majority countries.”  This is a fair line of attack, but one which has little relevance to the main contours of the security doctrine as I have delineated them.


    The Washington Post calls attention to the hard line on China which, they say, is mentioned 23 times in the doctrine

     In Russia, the new NSS immediately became a lively subject for discussion on the political talk shows, where it was generally viewed with ironic bemusement.  For its part, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a negative commentary, noting that the document’s idea of negotiating “from a position of strength” is a policy line that is not conducive to “constructive partnership on an equal basis for the joint solution of existing problems, but to confrontation.” They go on to say that the United States is “trying to preserve the noticeably weakened American domination in the international arena at any price.”

    This official Russian appraisal chooses to overlook Kissinger's long association with the offending phrase. After all, Kissinger is treated with high respect by the Kremlin to this day. But more generally, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs ignores the obvious switch in principles guiding U.S. policy from Idealism to Realism, although Russia itself builds its foreign policy primarily on the principles of the Realist School and should be pleased by what now will be a level playing field.  I would therefore characterize the Kremlin’s reaction as mere posturing that will change quickly as opportunities to enter into talks with Washington materialize.


    Kissinger for better or worse


    Surely some readers of this essay will express dismay that I put a positive value on Kissinger’s having influenced Trump’s security doctrine. Among many sincere, educated, right-thinking Americans, there is the belief that Henry Kissinger is a war criminal. His role in conducting the Vietnam War, and in particular events like the ferocious Christmas bombing of Hanoi in 1972  and the spread of the war into Laos and Cambodia still earlier are not forgotten or forgiven by his detractors to this day.

    It is also true that Henry Kissinger has spent the second half of his long life making amends for the misdeeds of the first half.  And in the present day environment, it is reassuring that we have at the side of Donald Trump not only generals known by their sobriquet “Mad Dog” but also a civilian expert with deep experience in statecraft and appreciation of how far you can go in applying pressure to the likes of Russia or China before all hell breaks loose.


    © Gilbert Doctorow, 2017


         * * * *


    Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide. See the recent professional review    For a video of the book presentation made at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C. on 7 December 2017 see

  • Russia-gate in the USA as officially encouraged paranoia


    In this essay we consider circumstantial evidence against the scenarios of Russian meddling

    Lire la suite

  • Speech to The National Press Club, Washington, D.C., 7 December 2017



     by Gilbert Doctorow. Ph.D.


    I am going to deliver a talk that will come in at 30 minutes in which I address in greater detail than you will find in the book the connection between the title question and the content of the book. To be more specific, I will explain why a book about the United States failing on the world stage deals so largely with what is happening in Russia.

     This is not an overview of the book. It is essentially a new chapter of the book. For those of you who want a quick listing of the merits and highlights of the book, I refer you to the thorough review by Alexander Mercouris that appeared on November 19th on the portal of The Duran. This was republished the next day on Johnson’s Russia List, the digest of writings about Russia that is hosted by George Washington University and is received daily by all US university centers and think tanks interested in Russian matters.

    When I began preparation of this book six months ago, I never imagined the title and overriding concept would be so timely as it is today.   Each new issue of The New York Times or The Washington Post provides additional material for the case. Each new revelation about “groping” or other sexual misconduct by US Congressmen reveals the Nation’s Capital as a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah. But that is today. The evidence has been piling up for at least as far back as the essays in this new book were being written.

    In particular, the questioning of America’s future has become a mainstream issue ever since the election of Donald Trump. 

    The movement to obstruct and take down Trump began immediately. Open and public attacks not just on his policies but on his intellectual faculties and mental balance have appeared in our mainstream press every day.  A beleaguered President is lashing out in all directions. We see chaos in policy formation. Executive staff contradicts one another and contradicts the President on a nearly daily basis. The President himself is flip-flopping on policy. He is issuing alarming tweets. 

    Some well considered observers have drawn dire conclusions from all of this. I think of David Rothkopf writing in Foreign Policy magazine on 10 May 2017. The title of his article: “Is America a Failing State?”

    The author was for five years chief editor of what is a respected International Relations  journal.  He believes that the United States is well on its way to becoming a banana republic. And for this he blames Trump and his cronies in high federal offices.  They are a threat to national security, a disgrace on the world stage. The cronies are feathering their nests at the expense of the broad public, while the Commander in Chief shows open admiration for thugs and authoritarians around the   world and disparages his federal employees, mocks the Constitution.

    In continuation of the same idea, an Op Ed essay by E.J. Dionne, Jr. in the Washington Post on November 30 was given the title “Our political foundation is rotting away.”  Dionne concludes: “The longer this president is in power, the weaker our country will become.”

    However, the gloom over the future of the US also appears in other, still                    more moderate and respected establishment publications. I take as my marker Foreign Affairs magazine, which has a subscription in the USA and abroad of several hundred thousand and may be called the bedrock of the Establishment. The essays there are issued in a neutral, scholarly tone, rather than deeply partisan                 attacks such as you find in the daily newspapers. 


    Tellingly, the September-October 2014 issue of Foreign Affairs ran on its front cover the headline:  See America. Land of Decay and Dysfunction.”

    More recently, in mid-August 2017, an FA article entitled “Kleptocracy in America”  takes us entirely away from the personality peculiarities of the 45th President into the broader and more important realm of the systemic flaws of governance, namely the extraordinary political power wielded by the very wealthy due to the rules on election financing and the self-serving policies that they succeed in enacting while the general public has stagnated economically for decades now, setting the stage for the voter revolt that brought Trump to power.     


    Then as one final straw in the wind, I would mention the remarkable Op Ed piece in The Washington Post on September 1, 2017 written by Senator John McCain. He described American politics at the federal level as simply not working due to overheated partisanship that compromises the national interest (a problem to which he has himself contributed handsomely) and due to a never ending electoral cycle.


    Indeed, a country which appears to be unable to govern itself is hardly the exemplar and all-powerful state suitable to govern the rest of the world.


    However persuasive these points of analysis may be, they overlook what I believe is the main determinant of the onset of America’s decline as a world power that we are presently witnessing and of its possible withdrawal into true isolationism:  the decision going back to 2007 to break the back of Russia.

    Why Russia?  Because it has been the only major power to publicly reject the US global hegemony both in word and in deed


    The US has applied all imaginable efforts to put Russia in its place, as Washington sees it – namely as just another regional power, a European state that is in decline, that nods approvingly to whatever policy line comes out of Washington.


    These endeavors have mobilized American Soft Power and Hard Power.

    Soft Power – attempts to foment a color revolution in Russia that removes Vladimir Putin from power by financing opposition figures, by imposing personal and economic sector sanctions in the hope of splitting the Kremlin elites from the broad population and from Putin, by denigrating the President of the Russian Federation in terms that no one would have dared to use during the original Cold War in addressing Leonid Brezhnev, for example. I think of Hillary and her repeated description of Putin as a “Hitler.”

    In parallel, there have been our attempts to contain Russia by our physical presence at its borders and off its shores through expansion of NATO going back to 1996 and more recently through positioning of NATO brigades in Poland and the Baltic States, and holding large scale military exercises in these advanced positions, within easy striking distance of St Petersburg and other Russian population centers.

    Then there has been the US drive to achieve a first strike capability, namely development of weaponry and systems intended to decapitate Russia or any other enemy, systems which are globally positioned and in space. 

    Less dramatic technically, but from the Russian perspective equally threatening has been the construction in Poland and Romania of US installations that are nominally designated as elements in a missile defense shield but are easily usable for the launch of intermediate range missiles, i.e. offensive weapons systems that can strike Russian targets in minutes. This, despite the oft repeated Russian objections and finally threats to respond effectively if asymmetrically.

    The end result of these several intertwined policies has been to create the very Frankenstein monster we have talked up.

    The few politicians and Pentagon generals who have identified Russia as the single greatest threat to American security are entirely correct. Today, as in the past during the original Cold War, Russia is the only country on earth capable of reducing the entire Continental United States to ashes within a day. 

    But it is also, as was not the case during the Cold War, the state most capable of deterring American military action against it by its advanced conventional warfare men and materiel, meaning precision bombs and cruise missiles launched from air and sea, with global reach. This conventional capability was developed from virtually zero in the past 15 years and implemented throughout the Russian armed forces over the past 5 years with very specific target metrics for modernization of the fighting units, not just parade units.

    This has been noted by US security analysis.  An article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs magazine by Ivo Daalder, who was for several years the US ambassador to NATO, makes precisely the point I just described about the new military capabilities of Russia.  However, Daalder gives you the end result of Russia’s modernization program and does not give you the information essential to respond appropriately: namely how and why this threat came about. That is precisely what you find in my books:  the action, reaction that has brought us to the present.

    Moreover, an article like Daalder’s is not what the general public is reading.

    Although Russia’s threat to American well-being features daily on the front page of our newspapers of record, this military threat is not what we read about. Instead, we are told about alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections with the aim of discrediting Hillary Clinton and so promoting the electoral chances of Donald Trump, about Russian attempts through social media advertising and otherwise to discredit the institutions of the American political system and to call into question the reliability of the voting procedures. 

    This is fake news that obscures the far more ominous problem of Russian military forces and the dangerous confrontations with Russia over the past year that were played down to the American public by the very same Pentagon sources.

    The closest that the media come to identifying a Russian military threat is talk of cyber warfare, itself only a small part of non-nuclear strategic and tactical means being deployed by Moscow.


    Let me be specific about how the US attempts to contain and control Russia over the past 25 years have backfired:

    Objective One:  cripple the Russian economy by reducing its single biggest source of export revenues:  gas and oil sales to Europe.  You can trace this economic warfare back, as I did in my 2012 book Stepping Out of Line, to the policies of the 2nd Clinton administration that are widely called the Pipeline Wars” or “New Great Game.” This entailed US promotion of new energy suppliers to Europe - Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and finally, most recently, the USA itself - and its promotion of new paths to the European market – whether pipelines that bypass Russia or LNG, as is the case today.

    The second dimension of this economic warfare has been sanctions, which the US first imposed in 2012, under the guise of punishing Russian violations of human rights –the Magnitsky Act - and which were vastly expanded in 2014 up to present to punish Russia for alleged violations of international law and of the post-Cold War world order by its annexation of Crimea and intervention in the Ukrainian civil war, in Donbass.

    Objective Two:   Isolate Russia and cast it as a pariah state, without friends or allies. Expel Russia from major international gatherings, like the G8.  Strip Russia of its veto in the United Nations Security Council. Impugn its integrity, as in the World Olympics movement. See the decision last week to strip two more Russian gold medalists of the awards received in Sochi 2014.   In these ways cripple Russia’s chances of interfering with American global leadership.

    A subset of the “isolate Russia” campaign is to cut off Russian access to military technology. Halt the two way flow of materiel and components.  We see this most recently in the decision by the organizers of the Farnborough Air Show to exclude Russian participation.

    What have we gotten for these efforts?

    First, the political effect of the economic warfare, especially of the sanctions, has been to rally the Russian population around the President and in defense of the nation, that is to say it has been precisely the opposite of what the authors of these measures in US think tanks and in the State Department had projected. All of this has driven the approval ratings of Putin from about 65% three years ago to over 80% for months on end this year.

    Secondly, these attacks have only strengthened the resilience and self-sufficiency of the Russian economy.  Indiscriminate importation of all possible consumer and investment goods has stopped. Import substitution is the slogan of the day, and it is heartily supported by the general population that has reversed its feelings about domestic products, which were formerly considered to be inferior, and encouraged a “buy Russian” mentality. With increased demand and less price competition from abroad, Russian producers have improved quality and variety of their offerings in striking ways.

    In response to sanctions and its own embargo on imported foodstuffs from those who imposed sanctions, Russian agriculture has boomed, attracting large domestic investment. The result is that this year Russia had its largest grain harvest in 100 years and replaced US and European suppliers on global markets. Russia this year also became the world’s largest exporter of sugar beet sugar, displacing France. Poultry and livestock are also well on the way to self-sufficiency. Even milk production, which was one of the least performing agricultural sectors seems to be turning the corner and attracting substantial investment with government encouragement.

    Thirdly, the Russians came up with other pipelines and other partners to ensure their dominant position as provider of imported gas to the EU.  Russia has maintained and even slightly expanded its share of the energy supplies to the EU.  But let us remember that Russia never was and is not today a monopoly supplier. It accounts for 40% of EU gas imports and 30% of gas consumption. 

    Russia continues to work on solutions that ensure that to the greatest extent possible those supplies pass directly from its shores to the EU consumers.    

    Despite all the objections and difficulties raised by the US, by Poland, by the Baltic States, Russia continues to pursue the Nord Stream II project and has replaced the frustrated South Stream project by the Turk Stream, which is in early implementation stage.

    Gas and oil production remain strong and Russia has been developing its markets in Asia. First and foremost is with China for pipeline supplied gas and oil.  Existing contracts call for supply to China of more than $300 billion in gas over 20 years via the Power of Siberia pipeline now nearing completion. New markets are being opened in Eastern and Southeastern Asia for LNG which is being supplied from new Russian fields in the Far North (Yamal) and Eastern Siberia.


    The government’s import substitution program in other economic sectors has been making some remarkable progress, achieving what was long beyond reach in Russia due to the key role and profitability of energy production in the economy and to an accommodating policy on imports within the context of WTO membership.  Government sponsored national heroes lead the way. We see this in the revived civilian aircraft production. Also in pharmaceuticals, to name just two sectors.


    1. Deterrence parity.

    The Russians have done exactly what Vladimir Putin said they would do:  react in asymmetrical ways, finding defensive solutions entirely designed and produced at home that are vastly less expensive to implement than the offensive systems developed by the United States, but having all necessary potency to neutralize the American initiative and to render useless all the US scheming at gaining a first strike capability that would decapitate the enemy and spell military victory at one stroke.  

     That objective today has been stymied on a Russian military budget that is 10 times less than the US spends, which consumes just 5% of Russian GNP.  For those who find the Russian military budget high, let us remember that in Soviet times the military consumed 25% of GNP. That was unbearable.  5% is wholly supportable by a motivated government supported by a patriotic minded population. Moreover, to put this 60 billion dollar annual spend in another context, let us remember that Russia spent 51 billion dollars on infrastructure projects to hold the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

    1. Geopolitics

    The most stunning dimension of Russia’s successful pushback to the US led Western world has been geopolitical, entirely neutralizing the efforts to isolate Russia.

    The historic geopolitical achievement of the Nixon-Kissinger period, namely making Washington closer to Beijing and Moscow than they are to one another, has been utterly undone.  Russia and China today are in a de facto strategic alliance that is changing the geopolitical landscape of the globe and promises to change the economic power balance as well as they pursue determinedly a policy of removing the dollar from its pedestal as the world’s leading reserve currency. The key measures have been to claw away at the Petrodollar, which going back to the 1970s is what built up the dollar to its unique standing. This position as prime reserve currency has been a major lever in US global hegemony.  Russian sales of oil to China are now in yuan, and this factor also explains how Russia overtook Saudi Arabia as the leading oil supplier to China. 

    The Chinese and Russians have put in place new global financial infrastructure to prevent the US from imposing on them what it did to Iran. These institutions are parallel and alternatives to the US controlled institutions dating from just after WWII, like the IMF and World Bank.

    Furthermore, Russia, like China, has been developing new sea and land lanes for global goods movements, including movement of hydrocarbons, that can replace and certainly reduce the importance of the US-protected sea lanes through the Malacca Straits and Suez Canal.  In the case of China, this is the well-known New Silk Road, or One Belt One Road.  In the case of Russia, it is the lesser-known but also game-changing Northern Sea route secured by the world’s largest ice breaker fleet,  and also the expansion of rail capabilities to and in the Far East.  The latter will include the building of a bridge from the Continent to Sakhalin Island, to be officially announced early in 2018, and the follow-on construction of a rail bridge to Japanese Hokkaido which will be the lynch-pin of the coming Russian-Japanese Peace Treaty.


    In speaking of the Russian – Chinese alliance, I fully acknowledge that this was not something arrived at naturally. The two countries have one of the longest common borders in the world, with a history of disputes going back more than a century. 

    There is the obvious point that the Russian side of the border is almost empty, while the Chinese side is brimming over with population.  That these sides have come together is the result of both simultaneously coming under threat and containment measures led by the United States and its allies.



    The US led effort to drive Russia from the Middle East by toppling the government of Bashar Assad in Syria, the one secular Arab state where the Russian Federation maintained a significant naval base supporting its presence in the Eastern Mediterranean, has been the bellwether in the US initiated struggle with Russia to maintain global “leadership.”  By all parameters, the US proxies in Syria have been defeated. 

    The tide turned for the Assad regime when the Kremlin sent in its air force in September 2015. The game is almost up, and the net result for Russia and net loss for the United States is vastly greater than Syria itself.

    The war zone became testing grounds for Russia’s latest precision weapons systems, command and control, space and drone reconnaissance.  Russia demonstrated capabilities in conventional warfare that none of the NATO countries has separately or even collectively without the United States participation.  

    Russian self-confidence allowed them to feature their actions on television and in real time. All of this, combined with their demonstrated diplomatic skills in working harmoniously with regional states that have difficult relations among themselves, by working in great secrecy, and by showing loyalty to their allies have won for Russia newfound respect in the region and in the world.

    A couple of weeks ago, we received still more interesting news demonstrating Russia’s upper hand in Syria and the Middle East. I have in mind the meeting of the Russian, the Iranian and the Turkish Presidents in Sochi to agree a common approach and procedures for a political settlement in Syria that brings in all domestic parties to the conflict. The three states will be co-guarantors of a congress of the Syrian parties to be convened in Sochi in order to define the parameters of a new inclusive Syrian constitution on the basis of which parliamentary elections can be held and the country can return to normal functioning.  Iran, Turkey and Russia:  once again an “unnatural” coalition brought together by common interest in putting an end to the civil war that is a hotbed of terrorism in the region and in the wider world. It is a major achievement of Russian diplomacy and political will in which the United States is now just a bystander.  The tables have been turned and US “leadership” in the Middle East is waning.


    My point is that by pursuing its at times vicious campaign against Russia, the United States has been setting itself up for humiliation.

    These are trend lines that preceded Donald Trump’s accession to power.  His personal contribution through his chaotic administration, inconsistent if not contradictory policy decisions from day to day, unconcealed boorishness and regular betrayal of his close aides and supporters has been to further undermine faith among America’s friends and fear among its detractors. His questioning of NATO has sent European politicians into a fit of confusion and despair. All of this gives greater impetus to the decline of US standing that it will be very hard for any successor in the White House to restore.


    However, all the foregoing pales in significance compared to the ongoing risk of WWIII and nuclear Armageddon from the present dismal state of US-Russian relations. There is little communication. There is still less mutual trust.  The two powers operate in war theaters like Syria and Ukraine within close proximity and without well-established rules of conduct that developed in the original Cold War in the immediate aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Missed signals, accidents in the field can lead unintentionally but surely to the outbreak of hostilities that would escalate very quickly from local events to worst case scenarios on the global level.

    I have little doubt that many of you see this statement as overdramatizing the risk of war.  However, I wager that your feeling of security comes from simply not being informed. 

    Regrettably, the information war that developed over the past several years has entailed news blackouts here in Europe and in the US regarding Russia-sourced news.  Not news about Russia but news coming from Russia, meaning the policy statements, the other side of the argument. 

    Hence, you were not aware of how grave the situation became in September 2016 when US led forces attacked the Syrian positions in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor on the Euphrates killing more than 80 Syrian troops and possibly some Russian advisers as well.  That attack dealt a coup de grace to the cease fire arrangements signed off by US Secretary of State Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov less than a week earlier.  As the Russians saw it, the Pentagon and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter overruled the Secretary of State and even the U.S . President who had backed the agreement with the Russians. The Kremlin saw a US government out of control, whose signature on a document means nothing. It cut the lines of communication with the US military command in Syria and threatened to shoot down allied aircraft over Syria.

    Another very sharp confrontation during which the Russians delivered an ultimatum to the United States came in the days following Trump’s cruise missile attack on a Syrian air base 7 April 2017.

    This and other key moments of stress in US-Russian relations that were underreported or simply absent from Western reporting are given due attention in my book.



    Did it have to be this way?


    That is, for my opinion, a strictly rhetorical question. The answer is a resounding “no.”  From 1993, when President Yeltsin visited Warsaw and consented to Poland’s accession to NATO, the Kremlin sought and expected to be admitted to NATO itself. This wish to be integrated into a single security architecture was a consistent theme of Russian foreign policy through the Putin era right up to 2010, when it was reluctantly abandoned for a go-it-alone policy and emphasis on the sovereign state not entangled with security obligations to others.

    Let us recall that in 2001, following the attack on the World Trade Center, Putin was the first foreign leader to call President George W. Bush to express support for the USA in its hour of confusion and fear. Putin did more than any of our allies to facilitate the US counter-attack in Afghanistan by opening up Russia’s backyard in Central Asia to American forces. He was repaid with a slap in the face: the cancellation of the ABM treaty and the pressing ahead with NATO expansion to the exclusion of Russia.


    Is there a way out? a solution?


    I do not come before you today with ready, definitive solutions. To do so would be to compromise the principle for which I and others have been fighting for the last several years when all debate and public discussion of our key security risks stopped. It would be to replace one solution arrived at behind closed doors with another arrived at behind closed doors. My first mission is to raise questions, to show that the answers which official Washington has been implementing are poorly conceived and ineffective, not to mention destructive for the Greater Middle East, where we have brought chaos from our democracy promotion.


    But having issued that warning, I do not shy from offering a tentative recommendation on how to step back from the abyss and enter on new, more promising paths to dealing with a world order in profound change.

    It took more than two decades for us to reach the present difficult and dangerous confrontation with Russia.  This cannot be resolved with wave of a magic wand.  But there is a way back. 

    And while some see a rosy day of US – Russian strategic cooperation in many areas, I would be content if the chances of accidental or intentional war between these two powers were vastly reduced. This is an objective which I believe is attainable fairly quickly. 

    The Neocons faulted the détente policy with trying to manage a relationship, a coexistence with the Soviet Union which they believed was the wrong goal, when the destruction of the Soviet Union was achievable.   They were almost right. The Soviet Union collapsed, but of its own weight, due to its own contradictions and the failures of Mikhail Gorbachev’s economic policies.

    However, the destruction of Russia, which is arguably the objective of US foreign policy today is unattainable, or comes at the price of collective suicide.  The Russian economy is today very well managed by world class professionals. It is a typically European mixed social and market economy.  Meanwhile, the broad population is mobilized around the leadership and quite patriotic.  We have no choice but to manage relations and coexist with Russia as it is.  In doing so, we will comply with the Kremlin’s insistent demand that its strategic national interests not be violated and that it be treated with respect which it will repay in kind.

    © Gilbert Doctorow, 2017


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     The Speech and Q&A moderated by Ray McGovern have been posted on youtube:


    Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was published on 12 October 2017. Both paperback and e-book versions are available for purchase on and all affiliated Amazon websites worldwide. See the recent professional review