[eDebate] Russia Topic--Why We Fight

Calum Matheson u.hrair
Sat Apr 5 20:10:40 CDT 2008

It has come to my attention that someone somewhere is considering topics
other than Russia.  In my opinion this is a grave mistake.

As others are already working on a Russia area paper, i will probably not
contribute much (if anything) to it, although i do intend to work on a
wording paper once the objective laws of history have resulted in its
victory.  I favor a bilateral US-Russia resolution.  My purpose in writing
is simply to get people thinking about this.  I hope that this comes off as
objective and balanced.  I also feel that i could not look my poster of
Stalin in the eye if i didn't at least attempt to drum up some early
support.  This is for you, Uncle Joe.
The first bit of this is propaganda, the last part is more
debate-technical.  There are no cites.  I can provide them if necessary.

Why Russia?
The simple answer to this question is that the relationship between Russia
and the United States is the single most important relationship between any
two states in the world.  The Russian federation is the largest country in
the world, spanning two continents, dozens of unique ecosystems, and eleven
time zones.  Every single international problem is easier to resolve with
Russian support, and more difficult to resolve without it.  Whether through
its weakness or its strength, it affects everything.

This may be cliche, but it is worth remembering:  besides the United States,
only Russia has the ability to bring history to a halt by annihilating the
entire planet.  We talk about nuclear war a lot in this activity, but this
is the Big One:  smoldering cities, rains of ash, silence forever more.
Personally, that's all it would take to convince me.  The shadow of the Cold
War left its mark on all aspects of American life for fifty-some years, from
the racial segregation of American cities (an idea hatched in part by
nuclear planners), through popular culture, the highway system, to the
disposition of American armed forces overseas.

This legacy has never been resolved, only subducted by other concerns,
themselves tied into the history of US-Soviet hostility.  Russia is like a
blank canvass for the United States, where the greatest fears and hopes can
be painted on in any extreme, with any contradiction.  Those who remember
the Cold War may remember duck-and-cover drills, the images of the inhuman
Soviet Red Army rolling through the streets of Prague, Warsaw, and Kabul.
Russia was the ultimate enemy, embodying mechanical inhumanity, faceless
oppression, and hatred of the "West," all with an undertone of racial or
cultural inferiority.  At any minute, the Asiatic horde was to come pouring
through the Fulda gap, or even parachuting down across the Pacific
Northwest.  It doesn't get much better than that.  But it never happened.

With glasnost, perestroika, and final collapse of the Union came a period of
hope.  Gorbachev's promise of a "common European home" might be realized,
NATO and the WTO might dissolve, and superpower conflict might end forever.
There were heady proposals for a US-Russian "condominium," and a desperate
belief in a Europe whole, free, and undivided.  But this didn't happen
either.  Russia limped weak, chaotic, and broke through the 1990's, until
the strong leadership of Vladimir Putin hauled it back into order.

Why debate Russia now?
There has never been a better time.  After eight years of economic growth
under Putin, Russia is powerful again beyond its nuclear arsenal.  Companies
like Lukoil and Gazprom dominate European energy markets, while Sukhoi-led
OAK and Rosoboronexport flood world markets with weapons (second only to the
United States).  Most significantly, the transfer of power between Putin and
Medvedev has created an entirely new situation that we should not pass up.
For the first time in Russian history, a ruler who could retain power has
voluntarily surrendered it (Yeltsin knew he could not be reelected).  The
government is divided between two powerful leaders, and there is much
speculation but little evidence about how it will act.  Medvedev is
portrayed as reformer, as puppet, or as business-minded nationalist.  Putin,
now the powerful prime minister, occupies an unprecedented position.  The
siloviki, the ultra-nationalists, liberal democrats, Communists and
moderates struggle for influence outside of the state-dominated media.

Russia today meets the same speculation that it did twice before.  In 2000,
Putin was a virtual unknown, and the direction of Russian policy was
opaque.  At the end of the Cold War, the questions were similar--was
Gorbachev truly a reformer?  Was Yeltsin?  Would the Red Army take over?
Most fundamentally, was Russia enemy, ally, or neither?  In a few years,
Russian policy will probably be more evident, and the new US president will
have staked a stable position.  This is why now is the time to debate this
topic--within a narrow resolution, there are many possibilities for
controversy at the most basic levels.

US-Russian relations are in flux.  There are tentative discussions of
Russian cooperation in Afghanistan.  There is cooperation on arms control,
counterterrorism, and peacekeeping.  At the same time, Tupolev bombers have
begun testing American air defenses, flying over Alaska, buzzing carriers in
the Pacific.  Missile systems are being deployed specifically to counter
American defenses.  Russian troops may not be planning to wash their boots
in the Mississippi anytime soon, but the situation has become a lot more
ambiguous.  The last time Russia was directly involved in a topic was the
treaties topic of 2002-2003--quite a while ago, in a very different
political context, and the area was not explored as fully as it could have

I don't wanna talk about nuclear war and stuff.  What's in it for me?
Granted, not everyone will be happy with the Russia topic, or any other
topic.  But as choices go, this could be pretty good.  I've already talked
about some of the policy ground that exists here.  For people who want to
talk about war, energy markets, and the rise of a global hostile power with
all the attendant dangers including nuclear exchange, you could now do it
with the minimum of ludicrous internal links.  Remember the courts topic?
This is the opposite of that.  It's great.

If you are of more philosophical bent, the US-Russia relationship is a vast
area of unexplored opportunity.  Russia is the greatest challenge to
American exceptionalism--besides the obvious military aspects, the Soviet
Union offered a viable counterweight to liberal capitalism.  Russia today is
authoritarian but capitalist--a mix that some see as the next ideological
model to offer alternatives to American/European/Japanese capitalism.
Russian history similarly challenges this exceptionalism--Russia, like the
US, built a contiguous multinational empire, spreading east to "tame the
wild field" just as the United States forged itself in the bloody crucible
of westward expansion.  It's hard to find a philosophical outlook in debate
that doesn't have something to say about nuclear war, superpower conflict,
or communism.  Extreme beliefs can clash meaningfully on this topic--insipid
framework debates are not as necessary when the topic contains so many
sharply contesting views.  They will still happen, of course.  But at least
the excuses are weaker.

Nuclear representations?  This post has half a dozen at least.  This is
something that has been shallowly developed in past, but that could now be
brought home to the context that spawned it.  Russia is the ultimate
Rorschach test--friend, enemy, chaos, tyranny, villain, hero.  And forget
Bard CD--no one hates Nazis like the Russians hate Nazis.  There are a
million frozen Germans somewhere on the steppe along the Volga who would
agree, if only they had an answer to the T-34.  They didn't, and that makes
me smile.

That's it.  If you like debate, support the Russia topic.  There's a fair
chance Vladimir Putin will personally assassinate you if you don't.
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