While Steve liked to say it’s healthy to rethink, to have more questions than answers, there was a wise consistency to his political analysis. For example, as is clear from his many articles in The Nation in these last decades, he unwaveringly opposed American Cold War thinking both during the Cold War and since the end of the Soviet Union. He was consistent in his refusal to sermonize, lecture, or moralize about what Russia should do. He preferred to listen rather than preach, to analyze rather than demonize.
It was Steve who was the guiding force behind the Committee’s re-emergence in 2015, this time as the American Committee for East-West Accord. As Steve noted at the time, “The old Committee, formed mainly by corporate CEOs, was well funded, had offices in Washington D.C., and had supporters in many places – in the media, in Congress, in the two political parties, in the State Department, etc. We have none of these advantages now. Our struggle is therefore much more difficult, but therefore also more important.”
It was also Steve who, far earlier than most, saw the danger of the new cold war that was forming in the mid 2000s and which reached its apex in the months and years immediately following the 2014 crisis in Ukraine. Steve observed with dismay that many journalists, scholars and foreign policy practitioners acted as though the risks of a prolonged East-West confrontation were negligible. In his view, this was the height of reckless irresponsibility. He knew, as we know now, that the inherent risks of a confrontation between the U.S. and Russia, each armed with roughly 1350 strategic nuclear warheads, and with our militaries nose to nose across east-central Europe, the Black Sea, and Syria, were enormous. The role of the West in fomenting rebellion against a democratically elected government in Kiev greatly exacerbated the risks of confrontation.
Steve’s decision to re-establish the committee at the high point of what may fairly be characterized as a neo-McCarthyite stance toward Russia, was also very much in keeping with his character.
Historian Stephen F. Cohen spent the better part of 35 years researching and writing his latest book, The Victims Return: Survivors of the Gulag After Stalin. Part historical account, part personal memoir, Cohen’s book chronicles the post-liberation experience of the prisoners who managed to survive Stalin’s brutal Gulag, from their release in the late 1950s to the present. With first-hand accounts from countless victims, Cohen’s work places him in the rare position of being both intellectual observer and active participant in the political history of modern Russia.
The consensus view in Washington and in the U.S. mainstream media is that the Ukrainian crisis, which some have called the worst international crisis of our time, is due solely to Russian aggression under President Vladimir Putin. Stephen F. Cohen’s view, on the other hand, is that U.S. policy since the 1990s is largely responsible, and that unless this is acknowledged at least in part by Washington, no successful negotiated end to the crisis will be possible.
Writing in World Policy Journal in September 2009, Andelman observed that “As we stare into the abyss that over the past two decades we thought we would never again confront, Cohen leads us through the tortuous steps that have taken the world’s two superpowers from the age of Stalin and Bukharin to that of Putin and the oligarchs.”
Mikhail Gorbachev once said of his struggle for change inside the even more rigidly orthodox Soviet nomenklatura: “Everything new in philosophy begins as heresy and in politics as the opinion of a minority.”
Five esteemed foreign policy thought leaders argued for or against a number of motions revolving around some of America’s most pressing national security issues, including: Is it time to take a hard line on Iran? Is NATO no longer fit for purpose? And is the Russia threat overblown? Featuring Stephen F. Cohen, former State department official Derek Chollet, Professor John J. Mearsheimer and others.
Steve was the only major figure in America who insisted on remembering the Russian-speaking Ukrainians who, like my family members, distrusted and hated the new Kiev government. He spoke of neo-Nazi paramilitiaries who fought for the US-backed government committing war crimes against civilians in eastern Ukraine. He spoke the truth, regardless of how unwieldy it was.
The New Republic’s Julia Ioffe has penned a pretty extraordinary piece on TNR’s website attacking NYU Professor emeritus and Nation contributor Stephen F. Cohen’s latest article on U.S.-Russia policy, which he co-authored with his wife Katrina vanden Heuvel. Cohen, perhaps the country’s foremost scholar of Russian studies, certainly doesn’t need my help in defending himself against what amounts to a scurrilous – and frankly hysterical – ad hominem attack on his work and character.
History is not determined by fate. There is always an alternative. – Mikhail Gorbachev
With relations between the United States and the Russian Federation near their lowest in decades, one voice is seriously missed in the academic and policy conversations surrounding US-Russia relations and American national security–the late scholar and professor Stephen F. Cohen.