The ISCIP Analyst
Behind the Breaking News
The following review appeared in the Slavic Review (Spring, 1997)
In the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse, many western academics and policy makers have been engulfed by the feeling of optimism about the prospects for Russia's reentry into world politics as a nonimperial state. The primary goal of Russia: A Return to Imperialism? is to demonstrate the erroneous nature and the dangerous policy consequences of this optimistic belief. Based on the collection of perceptive essays written by American and Russian scholars and edited by Uri Ra'anan and Kate Martin, the volume does an excellent job of providing evidence to support the argument that Russian foreign policy has been recently characterized by a distinctly imperial trend. The book, however, goes beyond a mere description of Russia's behavior toward other former Soviet states and eastern European nations to analyze the western response to Russian foreign policy and to suggest the general ways in which Moscow's imperial tendencies can be countered.
Despite the warnings by influential observers of the increasingly assertive and nationalistic Russian foreign policy (e.g., Zbigniew Brzezinski, 1994), the recent debate on the evolution of post-Soviet Russian foreign policy has been replete with arguments that are at odds with Ra'anan and Martin's thesis. Thus, for example, there are those who claim that Russia is so weak militarily (as evidenced by the humiliating debacle in Chechnia) that, even if it does exhibit signs of imperialism, the west has no reason to be too alarmed. According to Max Singer (1994), Russian ground forces are now suitable for use only internally or against third-rate forces; Russia's air power and nuclear capabilities are also significantly less than they were in 1989. Yet others suggest that, although Russian should not be dismissed as an impotent giant, its "imperialism" is primarily rhetorical in nature and should be treated only as verbal concession by Yeltsin's government to the nationalist opposition. This view, which has been largely supported by the Clinton administration, is reinforced by the fact that the most visible and dramatic changes in Russian foreign policy have indeed occurred at the verbal level (e.g., Lena Jonson; Paul Marantz, 1996)
Russia: A Return to Imperialism? successfully challenges these arguments. The book is not a product of nostalgia for the simplicity of the Cold War, but rather an effective and timely reminder of the numerous problems faced by Russia in its postcommunist transition. Though deeply concerned about the recent trends in Moscow's actual international behavior, the contributors to the volume make it clear that Russia does not have to return to imperialism and that there is a lot that western nations can do to help Russia develop as a liberal, democratic state that respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbors.
Ra'anan and Martin's edited volume is likely to attract the attention of experts as well as general readers interested in Russian foreign policy and international security. The book's clear and concise style also makes it a good candidate for adoption in appropriate graduate and undergraduate courses. --Alexander V. Kozhemiakin, Georgia State University.