New Delhi: The cooperation of the United States and Russia in securing the Iran nuclear deal has led to hopes that the two Great Powers can sit and discuss other things. The two things that need urgent discussion are the Ukraine crisis which has brought NATO into friction with Russia and the Islamic State (IS) threat to the Middle East. The Barack Obama administration labelled Russia a “regional power” and refused talks that would confer any kind of parity. Whilst Russia’s continuous decline points to serious economic blunders, it nevertheless retains an outstanding understanding of world politics, something that cannot be said with equal certainty about the United States. The two Powers are better off cooperating than fighting, because it is distracting to strategies to contain China, whose rise is no longer peaceful.

The first crisis the two Powers must engage to end concerns Ukraine, and it is the easiest to resolve. Europe’s psyche has been wrought by its wars fought since the advent of the Modern Age. Of all the European wars and conquests, three stand out for how they have moulded Russian politico-military thinking from the time of the Tsars through the November Revolution to the present. These are Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Russia, the harsh peace imposed on Russia when it was no longer in a position to fight the Great War, and the Nazi Blitzkrieg. From the era of Joseph Stalin, Russian leaders have vowed never to permit the repetition of this history. This explains the Iron Curtain without justifying it and answers to Russia’s paranoia about Ukraine, the traditional route for attacks to the Russian heartland. History cannot be wished away, especially for a people who have brutally suffered its assaults.

The trouble for the West is that its great levers of NATO and the European Union are past their prime, standing on shaky ground, and in the case of NATO, certainly lost its raison d’etre. NATO was purpose-built for the Cold War but showed a chink from the earliest that was never tested in battle. For all the United States’ commitment to aid (West) Germany in the immediate post-War period in the event of a Soviet invasion, would it have nuked Russia without any similar provocation targeting the homeland? The Germans did not count on this happening, which partly explains Willy Brandt’s politics. Neither did Charles de Gaulle trust the Americans, which formed the basis of the French deterrent. Possibly Britain also had low confidence in the “cousins” across “the pond” jeopardizing their security for Europe and had its own nuclear weapons. If throughout the Cold War, peace held in Europe, without Germany ever having to test the limits of NATO security, why should it not hold now, with the Soviet threat gone? The Russian action in Ukraine has been provoked by NATO’s eastward push, with all the historical fears rushing to haunt Russia. If Russia is permitted buffer zones, and there is genuine engagement to rescue its economy, in addition to the lifting of Ukraine-related curbs, the crisis would dissolve.

The truth is this. The Greece issue has exposed the soft underbelly of Europe’s monetary union. It is not working. It will not work. A powerhouse like Germany cannot be in a monetary union with the low-rent Mediterranean economies. The racing engine of Germany will tear apart the battered shell of Greece and the rest. Perhaps for Europe’s sake, this doomed marriage must continue. But it is pointless straining such peace as Europe has by resurrecting old fears in Russia especially when Europe can ill-afford military adventures. Germany and France probably understand this better than the United States which must be convinced of the sanity of a comprehensive, all-embracing dialogue with Russia. Russia is not unreasonable. It has suffered much. It deserves the respect that Western Europe has rarely accorded it or the United States.

With Ukraine put behind, the United States and Russia can address the destabilization produced by the Islamic State terrorists. IS threatens the already unstable Middle East order. The United States’ approach to this region was muddle-headed till it reached the deal with Iran. There is a serious issue concerning Iran and it centres on its support of terrorism against Israel. Iran is even more violently pushed along that path by the terrorism that takes its inspiration from the Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia. The support to the Syrian regime flows from that compulsion. The United States’ selectivity in destabilizing Syria while mollycoddling Saudi Arabia is not the best policy for the region. US selectivity in overthrowing the Saddam Hussein regime spawned the Islamic State as everyone knows.

Outside of the United States’ role in quelling the 1956 Suez Crisis and enabling Egypt-Israel peace, it has had no striking successes in the region, not counting the Iran deal. That deal was the product of fresh thinking and greatly assisted in the execution by Russia. Because of Russia’s long engagement with Turkey and the predecessor Ottoman Empire, it has a fine understanding of the region. This historical linkage is also available to Germany, France and Britain but far less to the United States which came late on the scene.

On a broad policy understanding that status quo must be maintained on the post-War borders of the region and particularly the nations of Iraq and Syria, there is much that the United States and Russia could do together to bring peace. The first priority must be to defeat the Islamic State. It must be followed by a Middle East peace conference involving all parties, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel, Turkey, Egypt and Syria, and jointly underwritten by the United States and Russia. A sort of Middle East economic union might be contemplated, where a slow and steady encouragement of market economy might produce the earliest fruits of pluralism. It is a long road ahead, and the United States simply does not have the political and intellectual capital necessary to get the warring parties going without Russia’s participation and encouragement.

Whilst at this, they might also beat some sense into China, which is simply throwing away the gains made by Deng Xiaoping’s wise leadership. China’s marauding in the South China Sea and strategic competition with India would hurt it in the long-term. Its economy is in decline. As declined Great Powers, the United States and Russia may have wise counsel to provide to China not to replicate their blundering arms-racing of the Cold War. In his final months, President Barack Obama would lose nothing and gain everything by embarking on a new statesmanship with Russia for a fresh stab at international peace.