Recent Russian history provides a vivid example of what is needed in the United States today. When the Russian people finally realized that the Soviet media were lying to them, the people turned to unauthorized sources -- foreign broadcasts and publications, and samizdat. When the Soviet regime lost the ear of the people, the fate of that regime was sealed.
If the American corporate media is to survive, it must abandon propaganda and return to the responsible, verifiable reporting which, at one time, was the envy of the world. And if that is to happen, the people must demand it.
2. Citizens of both countries must take the initiative toward reconciliation. They must not wait for each government to act responsibly.
A dramatic and successful example of such an initiative by scientists on both sides took place some thirty years ago, and it succeeded in forcing the US government to agree to a mutual cessation of nuclear weapons testing. While I was not involved in this initiative, I was personally acquainted with several individuals who were.
In the mid-eighties, it was the firm policy of the Reagan Administration to continue nuclear testing, despite the voluntary suspension of test by the Soviet government under Mikhail Gorbachev. Central to the American policy was the insistence that compliance with a test-ban agreement was impossible to verify.
Seismologists on both sides knew full well that this official claim was flatly false. And so a few American scientists proposed to set up seismic monitors near the Soviet test site at Semipalitinsk in Kazakhstan. To their amazement, Gorbachev readily agreed. Soon thereafter, Soviet monitors were installed in Nevada. In the face of this fait accompli, official American resistance crumbled and an informal test ban followed. (For a fuller account of this Soviet/American scientific initiative, see my "Just Do It!" at my website, The Online Gadfly).
3. Economic links, and thus co-dependence, between Russia and the United States must be established. As noted above, powerful economic incentives are pulling us toward a renewed Cold War. Countervailing economic incentives can and must be established to pull in the opposite direction -- toward peaceful accommodation. To quote a popular American phrase, we must seek to do well (economically) by doing good (morally).
Several European nations are leading the way. These nations, most notably Germany, are dependent of Russian energy resources. These same nations are resisting strong sanctions against Russia proposed by "hawks" in NATO and Washington. Perhaps, with significant investments and market potentials in Russia, American corporations and investors might think twice about promoting a new Cold War.
4. Americans and Russians must learn to perceive and treat each other as persons, and not as abstractions. It is much more difficult to target a personal friend than it is to target an alien "other." War propagandists know this full well, as their over-arching task is to "depersonalize the enemy."
Like David Hume, many moral philosophers (and I include myself), identify empathy as the foundation of morality. This fundamental principle is central to all the great world religions. And empathy presupposes the capacity to perceive others as human persons like themselves -- as individuals with hopes and fears, with families that they love, with careers to which they are devoted, and with moral ideals which guide their lives.
Empathy is a human quality that is best engendered through a personal acquaintance with individuals. Consequently, if peaceful coexistence and cooperative prosperity is to be achieved between the United States and Russia, exchanges and meetings of students, professional colleagues and business partners across our borders must be encouraged. Cross-continental media conversations, like the popular Donahue/Pozner "Spacebridge" of the mid-eighties, should be renewed. Better than commentaries about Russia by Americans, our media should invite commentaries by Russians such Vladimir Pozner and Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who have excellent video "presence" and can speak to us directly in their flawless English.
Do American diplomats, scholars and journalists appear on Russian television and publish in Russian print media? I encountered a few during my visits to Russia: a few, but not enough. Many of these Americans can speak to the Russians in their language which, I am confident, would astonish and impress that Russian audience.
At a time of increasing tension between our countries, personal exchanges and conversations are becoming more difficult, and for that very reason are more urgent. However much the new cold-warriors strive to suppress such exchanges, this suppression cannot succeed if people of good will on both sides insist upon promoting a mutually respectful conversation.
5. Reform NATO and then invite Russia to join. The objective of NATO was stated explicitly in its 1949 charter: "contain" the Soviet Union through the threat of military force, and prevent the spread of Communism.
But now that the Soviet Union is no more, what remains of that original objective? If nothing, then why the persistence of NATO?
The answer may lie less with an abiding Western hostility toward Russia, than with "institutional inertia" -- the historically familiar capacity of established institutions to persist long after their initial objectives have become irrelevant. Monarchies in Western European countries are a prime example: politically inert and purely "ceremonial."