This month, Jeffrey Tayler wrote a piece responding to Donald Trump’s unprecedented shrug over whether the United States would uphold its treaty obligations if a NATO ally were invaded during his hypothetical presidency. Tayler argued, in effect, that Trump had stumbled on a good idea in thinking about radically reassessing America’s commitment to NATO, an alliance that raises no end of trouble with Russia and is, anyway, an anachronism. Tayler advocated what he called a “Détente 2.0,” pushing for American foreign policy to do whatever it takes to return to the halcyon days of the Brezhnev era when, Tayler said, things were trending friendly with Russia.
I agree that détente likely did produce better results than its alternatives in the Brezhnev era, and that NATO’s post-Soviet expansion in central and eastern Europe may have been a strategic blunder. As I noted in a recent interview with the NATO scholar Michael Mandelbaum, Russia under Putin has made numerous military incursions into Chechnya, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine—all non-NATO countries. Tayler is also right in his analysis that Russia’s geopolitical ethos is based on grievance—grievance as a great historical society laid unfairly low, subject to perceived disrespect and mistreatment by the West—and so Putin is likely to respond more favorably to flattery and bribery than to threats. But something’s off here.
Tayler asks us to “see matters from Russia’s perspective.” While this may be a necessary exercise for policymakers trying to make predictions about Moscow’s policies, it often entails assuming untruths and accepting false moral equivalence between Western action and Russian “reactions” on the world stage. The West inviting an independent country to a defensive alliance should not be equated with Russia sending tank columns into Georgia to seize territory. This is not a matter of perspective. Yet Tayler frequently argues as though Russia’s self-pitying viewpoint is the salient one.
NATO, too, is perturbed by Tayler’s claims. Tayler published a response to his piece by alliance spokesperson Oana Lungescu as a note, along with his own rebuttal. Lungescu complained, rightly, that while Tayler has tremendous sympathy for Russia’s viewpoint, he carefully avoids assigning any blame to Moscow. For example: