For forty years after World War II, the United States viewed Russia—as the central part of the Soviet Union—as the world’s leading threat both to U.S. interests and to world peace. In an October 1999 speech at Harvard University, deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott noted that “when Russia was the core of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, it posed a threat to us because of its size; its military might; its habit of intimidating and suppressing others; its doctrinal and geopolitical drive to extend its power on a global scale; . . . its hostility to American interests and values. That was the Russia whose strength we confronted and contained.”
The collapse of the Soviet Communist dictatorship profoundly changed the nature of Russia’s influence on the outside world. Russia’s hold on Eastern Europe has been broken, and its once-formidable military machine has shrunk. The size of the Russian armed forces decreased from its peak of more than 5 million members to 1.2 million in 1999. Russia has changed from being a military superpower to an economically weak developing nation—albeit one with nuclear weapons. “Russia has gone from being a strong state to a weak state” concludes Talbott.
However, he and others note that Russia’s weaknesses have created their own set of problems. The weakness of the Russian government in enforcing laws has assisted the rise of organized criminals whose activities have expanded to other nations. The debilitated state of Russia’s military establishment has caused concern over its ability to control Russia’s remaining nuclear arsenal and prevent weapons and materials from falling into the hands of terrorists. The viewpoints in the following chapter examine some of the ways in which Russia might yet remain a threat to its neighbors and to the rest of the world.