Add this Page to Facebook!   Submit to Twitter   Submit to Reddit   Submit to Stumble Upon   Pin It!   Fark It!   Tell A Friend  
Printer Friendly Page Save As Favorite Save As Favorite View Article Stats
4 comments, In Series: Nicolai Petro: Russian-American Relations

OpEdNews Op Eds

The Sum of All Our Fears

By (about the author)     Permalink       (Page 1 of 1 pages)
Related Topic(s): ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; (more...) ; ; ; , Add Tags  (less...) Add to My Group(s)

View Ratings | Rate It


Become a Fan
  (1 fan)

opednews.com


(image by Citizen Wolfie)

First published in The Washington Times on May 9, 2013

Russia continues to be uniquely mistrusted and feared in the West. To understand why, it is helpful to distinguish between objective fears and subjective fears. Objective fears are those linked to actions that pose a clearly defined threat, and that can induce changes in behavior. Typically, these involve some form of military or economic coercion. On both these scores our fear of Russia does not seem commensurate with the objective threat.

For one thing, since the collapse of the USSR, the Russian military has been so chronically underfunded that many Western military analysts candidly doubt whether it can afford to mount a serious military mission. The rebuilding of Russia's military, which has just recently begun, will take decades, if it succeeds at all.

It is just as difficult to imagine Russia as an economic threat, since it has just a small handful of corporations that compete effectively in the global economy. In 2007 there were only twenty Russian companies among the Forbes Global 2000. Today there are eight more. By contrast, the United States has over five hundred such companies. Nor is Russia among the top forty nations in numbers of acquisitions of American businesses. Its purchases in the past five years amount to just one-tenth of one percent of all foreign acquisitions.

Nor should we be terribly worried about Russia using gas as a means of coercion. Being what energy analysts call "a single off-taker," European end users of gas have enormous leverage over pricing. This is one of the reasons why some Russian analysts question the benefits of building an eastern pipeline to China.

But if objective factors do not rise to a perceptible level of threat, what else can explain our inordinate fear of Russia? I believe the answer lies in a number of deep seated cultural orientations, which are essentially subjective in nature. We know them as "the truths we take for granted," and that define "the world as we know it." No matter how enlightened we may be as individuals, we rely on such stereotypes to make sense of the world, and to function in it.

These cultural orientations help to explain the visceral reactions that are evoked by the prospect of Russia joining the West. Given what we know of social psychology, it is scarcely surprising that the collapse of communism, while on the one hand welcomed for bringing an end to the Cold War, should also be a source of acute intellectual discomfort, stemming from the prospect of having to change Russia's position within our established cultural framework.

How is Russia a cultural threat to the West? The answer lies in "the values gap." The values in question are defined differently by different observers. Some give priority to the rule of law, while others emphasize media freedom, religious freedom, or human rights. Standards are never clearly defined or made explicit, and so boil down to the assertion that Russian political culture is, on some level, alien to Western civilization.  

The perception of Russia as a cultural threat does much to explain the West's hostile reaction to Putin's third term as president. By making Russia stronger, he has actually delayed the value changes that the country needs to be accepted by the West. The standard Western approach to Russia is therefore mired in paradox: As Russia becomes economically and politically stronger, and is therefore able to better integrate into Western institutions, it is more actively prevented from doing so because of ostensible differences in values.

This approach can no longer be sustained. For one thing, it is quite wrong to think of Western values as carved in stone. Individualism and collectivism, religious tolerance and religious bigotry, ethnic tolerance and racism all have deep intellectual and cultural roots in Western civilization.   The most important thing about "Western values" is not that they are unique, but that they are the subject of tireless discussion. In the past this discussion included Russia. It should again.

Our ideological confrontation with Russia ended more than a generation ago, but our old cultural stereotypes have proven much harder to change. Getting over these stereotypes might be easier if we approached the task of engaging with Russia not as one of instruction, but as one of respectful, mutual re-acquaintance.

Seen in this light, putting an end to Russia's cultural isolation could revitalize the West. It could even lead, as former German president Roman Herzog put it, to the healing of Europe's soul.

 

Nicolai N. Petro is professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island. He has served as special assistant for policy in the U.S. State Department (more...)
 
Add this Page to Facebook!   Submit to Twitter   Submit to Reddit   Submit to Stumble Upon   Pin It!   Fark It!   Tell A Friend

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

Writers Guidelines

Contact Author Contact Editor View Authors' Articles

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

Russia Can't Be Manipulated Through External Pressure

Ukraine: Why Culture Matters

What the Tagliavini Report Fails to Consider

Russia's New Cyberwarriors

Europe needs Russia and Ukraine together

Conflict Unfrozen: One Year After the Russo-Georgian War

Comments

The time limit for entering new comments on this article has expired.

This limit can be removed. Our paid membership program is designed to give you many benefits, such as removing this time limit. To learn more, please click here.

Comments: Expand   Shrink   Hide  
2 people are discussing this page, with 4 comments
To view all comments:
Expand Comments
(Or you can set your preferences to show all comments, always)

WOW! Mr. Petro plays both ways- he seems to be... by Mark Sashine on Saturday, Jan 18, 2014 at 8:01:17 AM
I do not perceive any "Eastern" values as distinc... by Nicolai Petro on Sunday, Jan 19, 2014 at 10:52:29 AM
A very strange way  of thinking- especially ... by Mark Sashine on Sunday, Jan 19, 2014 at 5:27:12 PM
And what i meant that for some strange reason you... by Mark Sashine on Sunday, Jan 19, 2014 at 6:00:29 PM