What makes potential threats real
Anyone who has more than two years in journalism knows that there are some topics that return to air, pages and computer screens regularly. One such topic here in Russia is “United States sees Russia as main threat – report.” This week, this news arrived again and I would like to study, if not the reality of the threat, then at least the attitude of fellow journalists and politicians to this ever-returning issue.As we can learn from today’s reports, Russia is described as a menace in the 2009 National Intelligence Strategy Report – a key document outlining the US intelligence strategy for the next four years. Other key threats are: Iran, China, North Korea and failed states; Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups; the current economic crisis; climate change; and even the development of technology. The list is eclectic and covers almost all spheres of life.
At the same time, a closer look at the report reveals that often it studies not actual, but rather possible threats, and this is precisely the case with Russia. Reuters quoted the document as reading that Russia “may continue to seek avenues for reasserting power and influence in ways that complicate US interests.” As far as I personally can understand this phrase, authors of the report hold that, at present, Russia’s power and influence are too small to be of any problem, but in theory it is possible that Russia may try to change this and that the way Russia chooses to exercise this may or may not in some way complicate the United States. In other words, headlines outlining that Russia was called a threat are an exaggeration, but I am not going to analyze the work of fellow journalists.
Let’s have a look at the report instead. There is of course some truth in it. Russia’s official military doctrine sees the US and NATO as potential enemies and Russia pursues its own goals in the international economy, sometimes acting against US interests. The fears of an energy crisis that grip Europe every New Year’s Eve as Russia and Ukraine negotiate the renewal of gas transit agreements, as well as the full scale Russian military operation launched after Georgia attacked South Ossetia last August can be seen as examples. But in what way are natural gas deliveries to Germany and Greece a concern to US intelligence? And in what way should the territorial conflict near the Russian border pose a threat to US security? If we write off the absurd theory that the authors of the report suffer from paranoia, the answer will be that the United States intelligence holds that the interests of its country cover both the territory of the Earth itself and all fields of human activity.
This becomes all the more obvious if we look at the failed states that are also mentioned as a threat in the report. The term is relatively new, and the official list of failed states was only published in 2005 by the Fund for Peace. According to the think tank, 38 countries are in the “alert” state, which is the worst in the index, so these should be considered “failed”. The list ranges from relatively prosperous nations like Iran and Nigeria, to war-torn Afghanistan and obscure states like Eritrea and East Timor. (Interestingly, the index rated only 13 countries as “sustainable” and the United States itself is in the “moderate” part of the list).
So, again, the report takes it for granted that the United States’ interests lie all over the surface of the Earth and suggests that the government deals with all issues that could be of possible threat to these interests, even if the probability is not very high. Analysts, then, should not be surprised by the growing alienation – a traditional response to attempts to secure world dominance, especially when such attempts are carried out through military force.
Ironically, this makes the report a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, and Tuesday’s headlines don’t seem so very wrong to me after all.
Kirill Bessonov, RT