MOSCOW BLOG: Meaningless acronyms spread like VIRUS

By bne IntelliNews April 22, 2010

bne -

There is a new buzzword in Washington: "VIRUS". It is an acronym coined by the policy wonks to describe an alliance between Venezuela, Iran and Russia that is designed to do in the US.

Professor Sean H. Goforth, who teaches world politics and international political economy at Coastal Carolina University, said in a recent paper for the Foreign Policy Association: "Venezuela, Iran, and Russia constitute a VIRUS of instability that threatens the US and Western order. This recognition is needed, but the US should learn from past mistakes and avoid a hard-line path similar to the one that resulted from branding the axis of evil."

The paper is a concrete example of the lingering Cold War fears that dominate Washington's thinking and a lame attempt to create a marketing term to encapsulate these ideas that doesn't even work very well (the acronym should be VIR).

It is the foreign policy antithesis of the hugely successful BRIC acronym that has become de rigeur amongst economists, coined by Goldman Sachs' Jim O'Neill. BRIC was a marketing tool dreamed up by the investment bank to help sell equity and is necessarily exclusive of countries that have most of the same characteristics (but are not as big or sexy as the main four countries). Indeed, in O'Neill's latest note on BRICs he splits the paper into two parts that talk about the affect of the crisis on the BRICs, but goes on to discuss the N-11 - the other main emerging markets that have also benefited from the crisis - to fill in the gaps. VIRUS is a nice catchy term that is meaningless. Its flaw is it phrases the argument in a bipolar way that sets "them" against "us."

Super egos

Professor Goforth writes: "The VIRUS is a political pact that bolsters military capacity and extends diplomatic cooperation to magnify regional influence. Russia yearns to renew its superpower status, becoming once more a key variable in any international calculus."

What he fails to point out is that just as Russia yearns to return to superpower status, the US is yearning to maintain its superpower status - and is clearly losing it; the obvious slow move by many countries to drop the dollar as a reserve currency is the clearest manifestation of the US' waning power.

Taken in these terms, the US is reacting to what it sees as a threat to its status and focusing on those countries actively moving together to reduce its influence. However, this isn't the building of a economic-military alliance that will one day invade the US, but part of the transition from the unipolar world dominated by the US since the end of WWII towards a multipolar world where the fast growing countries in regions around the world are allying to promote each other's interests in the face of American bullying on the international stage.

Professor Goforth highlights the combined economic and military nature of the alliance, but if this is what defines VIRUS membership, then China should be included in the acronym, as Russia and China are now actively tying their economies together as seen by the new gas pipeline on the table that will run from Russia to China and the fact that the Chinese along with India are Russia's biggest customers for military hardware. Indeed, the alliance between Russia and China is far more advanced than that between Moscow and Caracas. And a host of other countries should be included in this axis, like Vietnam and Algeria to mention two more that have done combined energy-arms deals and are batting for the Russians these days. Even the US' traditional friends Germany and France have noticeably taken steps to improve their ties with Russia.

As long as this bipolar attitude exists in Washington, then relations between Washington and Moscow will always be bad. The acronym that should be driving US policy is WUASTC (wake up and smell the coffee).

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