Below is an unedited set of notes from a lecture given by former U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union Jack F. Matlock, Jr. sometime in Fall of 2016. This was before I started blogging about lectures seriously, so the notes may seem patchy in places.
All the usual disclaimers; shadowquoted to the max.
On allegations of Russian interference in the elections
Can Russia influence the campaign? Sure! Anybody they endorse is likely to lose votes.
Ambassador Matlock is skeptical of interference allegations.
I cannot imagine that if our election system is well managed, that any external actor can hack and change the election results.
He also believes the idea that the Russians prefer Trump is shaky. Many Russians prefer Hillary due to her predictability.
What does the new president need to understand?
U.S. foreign policy is in many respects not serving the national interest.
- trapped in never-ending wars
- politically split at home into two antagonistic factions
- tied to “allies” whose interests aren’t the same as ours – might be drawn into conflicts that are not in our interest
- estranged from potential partners
- infrastructure in need of repair – gross overspending in military, 100+ bases abroad
- current policy threatens new nuclear arms race
Why has this happened?
U.S. foreign policy has become too concentrated on militarism and the use of force to solve problems.
The most serious threats facing the world today are:
- Nuclear weapons
- Global warming/environmental degradation
- failed states/terrorism
- International crime and corruption
All are only exacerbated by military force, and none can be managed without active cooperation with Russia and china.
Ambassador Matlock says the future of the world, and indeed mankind, will not be determined by geopolitical conquest or control of territory. The greatest challenges transcend national boundaries and can only be solved through international cooperation.
How did we get off track?
- triumphialism/unilateralism after the Cold War – the U.S. started treating Russia as a defeated nation. However, the U.S. did not defeat the USSR. The USSR collapsed due to internal pressure.
- behavior seen abroad as imperialist
- failure to understand others’ perceptions
- insistence on democracy promotion/regime change. If a country isn’t a democracy, change the regime. This is based upon the assumption that democracy is the natural state of mankind. However, it takes time to develop democratic institutions, and the people must be ready for it.
- overreaction to US/NATO/EU moves
- military invention with neighbors
- violation of prior agreements and international law
- annexation of Crimea will be costly; Donbass fighting is a bleeding wound in Russia’s most important neighbor
These mistakes have costs aside from Western sanctions.
On sanctions. They don’t incentivize a Russian change in policy and allow Russians to claim that the problem lies not with their own government’s policy, but with American hostility.
- Control of land and people equals strength
- The goal should be to maximize power (power for what?)
- We should not think of power as a hierarchy: Do more powerful nations have rights or privileges denied others?
- Rivalry for control of territory benefits nobody. It damages or destroys the area fought over.
- Military force cannot create democracy in another country.
- Restore nuclear cooperation with Russia and bring China into the loop.
- Stop military competition with China.
- Stop expanding the alliance system and make clear there is no blank check to defend risky behavior.
- With both Russia and China, seek areas where cooperation is possible to mutual benefit.
- Reduce the military component in foreign policy.
- Withdraw from others’ fights.
- Talk to everyone.
- End democracy promotion abroad, demonstrate its virtues at home.
- Give Russia and China incentive to feel part of the industrial/post-industrial 21st century world.
The situation is not hopeless.
Trump could be convinced he needs a different approach to be a “winner”. Hillary may want to overshadow the legacy of her husband and predecessor. Just as Reagan, elected on an anticommunist platform, surprised people, so could Hillary.
Matlock concluded the lecture with the following quote from Senator J. William Fulbright:
Power confuses itself with virtue and tends also to take itself for omnipotence.
And not one lesson has been learned since.