The Limits of Partnership
U.S.-Russian Relations in the Twentieth-First Century
Princeton University Press 2014
New Books in HistoryNew Books in National SecurityNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Russian and Eurasian StudiesNew Books in World AffairsNew Books Network November 3, 2014 Christian Peterson
In 2005, the Comedy Central Network aired an episode of “South Park” in which one of the characters asked if any “Third World” countries other than Russia had the ability to fly a whale to the moon. During a press conference that took place two years later, Russian President Vladimir Putin lamented that he was the only “pure democrat” left in the world. The United States did not deserve such a title, he explained, in light of its “homeless citizens, detentions without normal court proceedings, and horrible torture.” The willingness of a U.S. cartoon to mock Russia’s pretensions to “great power” status and Putin’s defense of his government’s democratic credentials raise important questions about the general trajectory of U.S.-Russian relations since the end of the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union.
Angela Stent addresses this important topic in her new book The Limits of Partnership: U.S.-Russian Relations in the Twentieth First-Century (Princeton University Press, 2014). Drawing on her experience as professor of history at Georgetown University and work in the U.S. State Department, she explores the question of why U.S.-Russian relations have often become strained despite having some successes cooperating on issues such as arms control. Do geographical, historical, ideological, and cultural differences make such discord inevitable? Just how much do “personal relations” and “domestic issues” shape this relationship? What steps, if any, can Americans take in the coming years to forge a more productive relationship with the Russian Federation? Whatever one thinks of Stent’s arguments and recommendations, she has succeeded in writing a thought provoking work that will help general readers and specialists better understand the vicissitudes of recent U.S.-Russian relations. Whether they like it or not, U.S. and Russian policymakers will have to continue dealing with each when addressing problems as diverse as the future of Ukraine, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and “global terrorism.” Over the long term, the question becomes: Can the leaders of these two nations put the past behind them and work together to create a more humane and peaceful world? Or, as Stent argues, will this relationship remain a “limited partnership” where U.S. and Russian policymakers continue to clash on most issues and only cooperate when their governments’ interests happen to coincide?