Last Friday, Dmitri Trenin, director of Carnegie’s office in Moscow, wrote an analysis of European-Russian relations for Strategic Europe. John Kornblum, former U.S. ambassador to Germany and now a consultant with the Munich law firm Noerr, strongly disagrees with Trenin’s conclusions. Europe’s future, Kornblum writes, lies with the United States and Asia. Russia has made itself largely irrelevant. Strategic Europe publishes his letter to Trenin.


I follow your excellent analysis down to the final sentence, but there we diverge. You set forth a clear picture of Russia and its troubles. The problem is that neither Europe nor the United States offer much prospect of the strategic self-confidence which you are hoping will develop. I believe that goal can only be achieved when we begin to understand the dramatically new geo-political situation which will affect both European and American ties to Russia in years to come.

For the foreseeable future, the growth in Russian nationalism is likely to be matched by a concurrent growth of provincialism, bordering on isolationism, in both the United States and Europe. Our own economic difficulties have suppressed strategic thinking as severely as in Russia, and are causing leaders to look inward. Richard Haass’ new book which seems to suggest defining American foreign policy goals on the basis of domestic criteria is a glaring example. Equally interesting is the bizarre debate over where German gold is housed. The Bundesbank is not worried about the safety of gold in Paris or New York. But in an election year, public demands to "see" German gold have led to an expensive and useless program to get it back "safely" into German hands. There are many equally ridiculous examples from the United States.

One can be critical of such tendencies, but they are not illogical. The U.S. deficit debate and the euro crisis are mirror images of each other. In each case, officials are desperately seeking ways of dealing with the upheavals of globalization, without fully understanding what is going on. As was also the case in the 1930s, playing with national budgets has little to do with what is really going on, but budgets are all our leaders know how to do. And they are afraid to tell their voters the truth—that the post-war gravy train has left the station. The tensions are likely to get worse before they get better. Any hope for a strategy toward Russia or anywhere else for that matter will be lost in the smoke.

At the same time, regardless of what happens in Russia, globalization is creating a radically new strategic equation. After years of debate, the United States and EU are, for example, slowly moving towards the start of negotiations on a North Atlantic free trade agreement. This decision is being taken with full recognition of the many difficult issues which are likely to block rapid agreement. But the pressure of global economic change is pushing the two sides of the Atlantic closer together, rather than dividing them, as many commentators are still arguing. The talks will be tough, but their strategic implications are almost as important as the economic and trade issues. The traditional post-war focus on security structures and multilateral diplomacy has already been overtaken by events. Future international cooperation will be forced by the pressure of integrated markets into new molds. Here again, the euro crisis is more typical of the future than is cooperation on energy. My recent foray into Georgia made clear to me how much even the Caucasus and Central Asia countries are turning west. Why? Because as the famous American bank robber Willy Sutton used to say, that’s where the money is.

European industry has known for years that the real economic future lies with the United States and Asia. Russia has made itself irrelevant, except for energy, and shale gas is undermining even that advantage. There will be little incentive either for the United States or Europe to find new ways of cooperating with Russia. The diplomatic fallout over Syria, the crackdown on NGOs, etc. have made it politically difficult to even contemplate another restart. And dreams of building a common security community now seem a part of a distant past.

Your final point about Europe gaining strategic confidence is thus made inoperative. The example of Mali shows once again that there is no strategic unity in Europe, nor will there ever be. Jan Techau of Carnegie Europe and I participated in a security dialogue in Berlin last week. The agenda for the discussion was mostly about the morality of the military, the defense industry and of international interventions. Except for our two presentations, there was little discussion or even care for strategy as such. This was two days before the beginning of the French adventure in Mali.

But even more important is the probability that the next chapter in this story will not feature a more strategic American or European approach to Russia, but rather a new transatlantic bargain. Given the Obama administration's almost inborn inability to think strategically, this bargain will probably take some time to be defined, but just as the euro crisis has already changed the EU beyond recognition, so will the pressure of global integration open a new chapter of Atlantic history. My hope is that Europe will grab the initiative on trade, thus opening the entire relationship up to renegotiation. Security will follow trade in an ironic replay of history; after all, the founding of NATO followed the Marshall Plan. The difference is that today, European and American industry are already integrated, with China joining the club very rapidly. Policy makers have not yet quite caught up to this fact, but they will. Central Asia will end up being integrated by Russian, Chinese, and German railroads. Believe me, they are already working on it.


John Kornblum

John Kornblum is former U.S. ambassador to Germany and now a consultant with the Munich law firm Noerr.