Why does the United States perceive Russia as a threat?
Great powers like the United States have always viewed other powerful countries (or rising powers) as threats. Thucydides wrote on why Athens felt threatened by the rise of Sparta. The United Kingdom and France have historically viewed one another as threats, and both countries viewed a rising Germany as a threat on the road to World War I.
The threat of the “other” nation is also a matter of perception. Like individuals, nations find it difficult to perceive reality objectively. Their perceptions are instead processed through and conditioned by their own historical, nationalist and cultural beliefs and biases. The resulting distorted perception (including perceptions of threat) is taken as reality.
The United States’ perception of Russia is obscured by the shadow of the Cold War. The Soviet Union not only challenged the United States politically and militarily but was seen by the U.S. as ideologically threatening and unassimilable. Russia today is seen as openly defiant and dangerous. Whether it’s facing off against Washington over Syria, interfering in the U.S. election or refusing to democratize, Russia is large, powerful and plays by its own rules.
Is Russia a threat to the United States? This is largely a question of perception. Perhaps it’s only natural for the United States to view powerful countries like Russia (or rising powers like China) as threats to its own power. In Russia’s case, however, America’s perceptions are further clouded by memories, beliefs and assumptions arising from the Cold War. The result is a distorted view of Russia, the so-called threat.
– Thanks to Marco, a dear friend; and Bilal, a beloved nephew