In his September 4 commentary titled Who Wants Cold War II? , Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former Israeli foreign minister, proposes a new world order in which the United States and Russia can be strategic partners. This, according to Ben-Ami, would be a necessary step towards a more stable Pax Americana, for the political message conveyed by Russia’s recent occupation of Georgia reflects its new status as a resurgent power the United States can no longer afford to ignore.
Of course, Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, must have been thinking along these same lines, when his Wall Street Journal article of August 20  suggested that a partnership between the United States and Russia would be possible on the basis of “reciprocity” and thus mutual recognition of the two countries’ national interests.
Value judgments surrounding the nature of the above proposals notwithstanding , the idea that the United States and Russia can somehow steer clear of a second Cold War by forging a post-Cold War strategic partnership is worthy of critical consideration, not least because it takes for granted what actually needs be explained and thus carefully appraised, that is, the prospects for a lasting strategic partnership between the US and Russia as a basis for a new world order.
To begin, a close reading of Ben-Ami’s commentary would reveal his general concept of world order, which, unlike Sergey Lavrov’s, sees the post-Cold War global hegemony of the United States as not only benign for the world but also in need of urgent attention due to years of mishandling by an incompetent Bush administration. Ben-Ami’s concern, therefore, for the maintenance and thus preservation of the Pax Americana that emerged in the wake of the Cold War (or rather World War II) is not only grounded on a peculiar notion of integration which sees Russia as merely a junior partner, but also rooted in the mentality that the Middle East must forever remain a US sphere of influence; hence his fear of a resurgent Russia (and an emerging China perhaps) attempting to sideline the hitherto “sole global actor”, the United States, in that strategic region. Clearly, then, a strategic partnership between the US and Russia would not be forgeable on the basis of the above concern, just as it was impossible to forge prior to the advent of the first Cold War.
Viewed from an economic perspective, the prospects for a strategic partnership between the US and Russia would seem even more remote, not least due to such historical differences as arise from the two countries’ hitherto development trajectories. What is more, the combination of Russia’s statist economy, which relies heavily on the country’s oil and gas sectors, and the US domination of world economic institutions (e.g., the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization) can hardly be a formula for success when it comes to such strategic partnerships as those proposed by Ben-Ami and Lavrov. Russia’s financial crisis of 1998, which was a direct outcome of years of post-Soviet neoliberal restructuring, is a good case in point here. It followed the Asian financial crisis of 1997, itself a product of rampant liberalization policies and practices encouraged by the IMF and implemented by the governments involved.
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It is in the context of the above, therefore, that any NATO expansion to the east and US encirclement of Russia must be viewed, as these are merely the effects of a more grand imperial design on the part of the neoliberal foreign policy establishment in the United States. In other words, any serious appraisal of the potential for a strategic partnership between the US and Russia must first and foremost deal with the underlying aspects of such a potentiality rather than with what merely appears on the surface. Though idealism, defined here as the need for the realization of a more humane world order, must enjoy a privileged position in our thoughts and actions worldwide, the struggle for a more equitable world order cannot solely rely on such idealism, as Mikhail Gorbachev had to learn the hard way, when his 1988 vision of a new world order eventually led him to take part in George H. W. Bush’s war on Iraq, which laid the foundation for what later became the “war on terror”.
Alas, the specter of a second Cold War is haunting the entire planet as the United States and Russia strive hard to regain their lost privileges and pride in the world (their latest spat over Iran’s controversial nuclear program is a good case in point here). While Ben-Ami is right in blaming the United States for Russia’s renewed interest in power politics, he is deficient in his analysis of the underlying causes, which incidentally relate to the current economic situation in the US and beyond. As for the countries of the South, it seems, short of a democratic overhaul of their entire political as well as economic systems, which can potentially enable them to address issues of long-term growth, stability, and security, they will have to continue to suffer as a result of the renewed rivalry between the United States and Russia, as was the case during the first Cold War. Let us hope, then, that the specter of a second Cold War (or a third World War, for that matter) can be eliminated through the sort of wisdom and human agency that can foster a more humane world economy.
 For example, in his Counterpunch commentary of September 11, Noam Chomsky has rushed to the conclusion that Ben-Ami’s abovementioned proposal is not only “sane advice” but also somewhat comparable to that put forward by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988, which is hardly the case.
October 6, 2008 Jalal Alavi is a sociologist and political commentator residing in Britain.
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