A Russian Rearmament Wish List

In 19% the Clinton administration appeared to take charge of American post-Cold War foreign policy with a single assumption in mind: Russia was now benign, a basket case, or both, and could therefore be taken for granted. So it was that, while various commentators warned of the fragility of Russia’s democracy and called for significant programs to promote the growth of civil society and the private economy there, the administration turned its attention elsewhere. With the exception of the 1993 Cooperative Threat Reduction (or Nunn-Lugar) Act that provides money and expertise to help the Russians dismantle nuclear weapons, the United States confined its Russian policy to moral support for President Boris Yeltsin and rhetorical nods to “strategic partnership” even as it went ahead with the expansion of NATO. The Russians, in turn, more or less loudly lamented their loss of superpower status, rued their military’s poor showing in the Chechnya conflict, and took to selling off sophisticated weapons systems to China, Iran, and other potentially mischievous regimes. Above all, Russia’s economic collapse and the near bankruptcy of its government seemed to squelch all hopes its nationalists, military leadership, and military-industrial complex harbored of restoring Russia’s weight in the global balance of power. In fact, Russia’s strategic position has only receded in the 1990s. Clearly unable to afford the Cold War military establishment he inherited, Yeltsin has cut personnel from the ranks, allowed the navy to rust, and de-emphasized all conventional weaponry in favor of nuclear deterrence.

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