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Competing Visions of the International System: Role-identity Incommensurability and U.S.-Russian Relations

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U.S. and Russian foreign policy elites view the international system in fundamentally different ways. The predominant view held by American elites is that the United States is a unipolar power with unique leadership responsibilities. Russian elites view the international system to be a multipolar arrangement, one in which a group of great powers, including the Russian Federation, possess roughly equal international responsibilities and prerogatives. This essay reviews the key doctrinal statements produced by the Russian and U.S. governments since 1991 that outline the assumptions underlying each state's foreign policy, and discusses how these doctrines developed from each sides' experiences in the post-Cold War era. Particular attention is given to the United States' National Security Strategy, which is published every four years, and to the Russian Foreign Policy Concept, which has been published at the beginning of each Russian presidency. The essay also addresses the consequences this role-identity incommensurability will likely have on the prospects for future cooperation between the two states.


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