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Russia’s Question

Yesterday, Moscow took one more step away from the West when it announced that it would not support tougher sanctions against Iran for failing to halt its efforts to enrich uranium. The U.N. Security Council is scheduled to discuss implementing a third set of coercive measures against Tehran. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his country wants to give the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, additional time to obtain cooperation from Iran pursuant to a deal arranged last month. On Friday, China announced its desire to see more negotiations with the Iranians, thereby supporting the Kremlin.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, at the conclusion of his meeting with Lavrov in Moscow, said yesterday that, should the Security Council fail to impose new measures, the European Union should create a sanctions regime similar to America’s. That set off Lavrov: “If we decided to act collectively on the basis of consensual decisions in the U.N. Security Council, what good does it do to take unilateral decisions?”

The assumption implicit in Lavrov’s question is that the world’s great powers, acting together, can solve the world’s great problems. It is the basis of Bush administration policy. It is the notion that all of us want to believe. It is, unfortunately, no longer true—if it ever was.

Why? On Monday, IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, trying to forestall the talk of war over Iran, asked the West to remember the lessons of Iraq. I do, and here they are in ascending order of importance: the American military can destroy almost any adversary, democracy cannot be imposed by force, and the concept of collective security no longer works. Before President Bush talked about democracy in Iraq, even before he mentioned weapons of mass destruction, American diplomats discussed the failure of the United Nations to enforce its own resolutions against Saddam’s regime.

Russia and China this week have made it clear they will side with Iran until the theocrats announce they have the bomb—all the while saying they are defending the concept of joint action. As Thomas Friedman says, we are entering the post-post-cold-war period. And in that period the West has no choice but to realize that the world’s authoritarian nations are banding together, and Russia and China are undermining the concept of collective security. Whether we like it or not, we are now engaged in a series of global struggles, with neither Beijing nor Moscow on our side.


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