Yes, you read the title correctly, “Success is confrontation.” So says one-time US Ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker in an article for the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), one of the more reliably Russophobic think tanks in Washington. “Success is confrontation.” Think about the implications for a while.
The subject of Mr Volker’s article is the forthcoming meeting between America’s president Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. Volker wants you to know how should measure the meeting’s “success”. The basic answer is that the meeting will be a success from the American point of view if it fails utterly, miserably, and totally. The worse the outcome, the better it will be.
Now, with relations between two heavily armed nuclear powers about as bad as anyone can remember, one might imagine that success would be if the leaders of the two powers found some way of patching up their difficulties, or at least reaching agreement on some minor matters of mutual interest while leaving major differences between them unresolved. But Mr Volker views things rather differently.
For you see, if the meeting between Biden and Putin ends without a major bust-up, or worse produces some minor agreements that overall contribute to “predictability and stability”, that will be a victory for Putin. And what is good for Putin must by necessity be bad for America. As Volker puts it,
It is surely not in the interests of the US, the EU, NATO, and other allies to see a summit in which Putin leaves convinced that he has blunted the United States and faces no consequences for his behavior. It would send a signal that authoritarians can get away with aggressive acts at home and abroad, and that the US and the West will not take any meaningful action to stop them. … any outcome that seems reassuring and benign on the surface actually works in Putin’s faor.
Consequently, Volker concludes that:
For the US, therefore, the best possible outcome is not one of modest agreements and a commitment to “predictability,” but one of a lack of agreement altogether. Success is confrontation.
Volker points out that Biden and Putin might discuss issues such as climate change, Iran, and Afghanistan. Is it really better that they fail to reach agreement on those issues? Whose interests would that actually serve? I damned if I have an answer. And Volker doesn’t provide one either. His view seems to be that the world can go to hell in a handcart as far as he’s concerned, if the alternative is failure to confront the evil dictator Putin. Frankly, it’s nuts.
In fact, it’s obvious that Volker doesn’t want the meeting to go ahead at all. He writes that, “an ideal scenario would have the US Administration announce tough, new sanctions against Russia and its enablers in Western Europe in advance of the Geneva summit.” Of course, were that to happen, Putin would cancel the meeting there and then. But I guess that’s the point. Volker thinks it’s wrong not only to come to agreement with the Russians but even to talk to them. To reverse-quote Churchill: In the eyes of Volker, “War, war is always better than jaw jaw.”
One can argue that one should prepare for the possibility of conflict. But the idea that one should actively prefer it to agreement on the international stage, especially when dealing with the largest country in the world, a nation endowed with some 1,500 nuclear warheads, is, in my opinion, quite staggeringly irresponsible.
Now, you might say that this is just one guy’s opinion. We can ignore it. It doesn’t mean anything. But Volker isn’t just some guy. From 2017 to 2019, he was the US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations – so in effect America’s point guy for its relationship with Ukraine and for negotiations concerning a peace settlement for that country’s civil war. On the basis of this article, one shudders to think what advice he was giving the Ukrainian government. Certainly not advice conducive to peace, I imagine. It’s more than a little scary.
So, this is more than just one man. This article is a window into the way that an influential part of the American foreign policy establishment thinks. It rejects negotiation. It regards compromise as dangerous. It openly prefers conflict. “Success is confrontation” – the worse the better. Wow!