I've been going to a heck of a lot of conferences recently because Nov 9 2009 saw the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I went to one last week where I listened to Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski in a round table discussion. Generally speaking, they were in agreement about everything they discussed, which was interesting considering that one worked for a Republican while the other worked for a Democrat.
What I found the most valuable was actually their discussions of America's relationship with Russia then and now. It's unfortunate that the best insights are always received in retrospect. Talking about today, they implied that it appeared that Russia was developing two camps with Putin representing a potential return to Soviet-Era "diplomacy" and internal repression and Medvedev representing a look towards the West and a new era of relations with Europe and America. Scowcroft was a lot more cautious, implying that Medvedev's behavior might be an act while he remains a puppet of Putin. At the same time, he suggested that it is important for the West to maintain a "hands off" approach. The argument, rephrased and simplified:
During WWI and WWII, the concepts of global power referred primarily to the ability of countries to exert military might. Those that could win their wars were also those most likely to get what they wanted legally, socially, and economically. This attitude carried over into the Cold War and beyond, and experienced a resurgence recently through Bush Jr. However, power no longer fits this definition. Armament has gotten to the point that the real superpowers would destroy each other completely in an all-out war. On the other hand, wars between a superpower and a minor power have also been fruitless due to the rise of guerrilla warfare and other battle tactics that cannot be countered with structured trench warfare or air raids. Therefore, in regards to Russia, American cannot say "don't do that" because it will aggravate Russia without allowing any method of reinforcing the threats. Russia is more likely to turn to the West but the West will just have to wait and see.
What he did not say, however, was what the new currency of power will be.