- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 9, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President Obama went to Moscow this week to hit the reset button with Russia, but he invoked the Stalin era as the last example of fruitful cooperation between our two countries. The relationship isn’t going back to the future any time soon.

Mr. Obama praised U.S.-Soviet cooperation during the Second World War. That brief, shining moment was an alliance of necessity when both countries were fighting Nazi Germany. Once the war was concluded, Stalin hit his own reset button and returned to promoting global communism and Soviet state interests.

Taken in broad strokes, the United States and Russia do have some shared interests: stability, prosperity and an end to the spread of Islamic radicalism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. But policies founder on the details. Upon closer examination, the points of cleavage in the Washington-Moscow relationship are greater than commonality.

Russia has unequivocally opposed the U.S. missile-defense system slated for deployment in Poland and the Czech Republic. The Obama administration, which, in general, has a weak position on missile defense, unexpectedly delinked the deployment from proposed nuclear-arms reductions. Instead, the United States has advanced the proposition that if there is progress on the Iranian nuclear-weapons front, the missile-defense system will be less important and thus might be dispensed with.

The administration would be wise not to place too much hope in the ability of Moscow to influence events in Tehran. The day has passed when even a full halt to Russian-Iranian cooperation would make a difference in Iran’s pursuit of nuclear-weapons capability. Likewise with trying to curb North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, Russia does not have the kind of leverage the Soviet Union did.

NATO expansion is another area in which Russia and the United States have no common interests. America has pursued a dramatic increase in the number of NATO members, including the former Soviet Baltic States. East European countries view this as insurance against a future round of Russian expansion, and Moscow sees it as encroachment on their traditional sphere of influence. The proposed membership of Ukraine and Georgia is seen as a step too far. NATO membership is an either/or proposition, and it will be difficult to work out a compromise.

Russia’s promised overflight rights to help supply the war in Afghanistan are commendable, but if America becomes dependent on Russian airspace to fight the war, it becomes a point of leverage in Moscow’s arsenal. And while the Russians have no interest in Afghanistan falling again to the Taliban, there is no particular reason they would want that war to conclude any time soon. It doesn’t hurt Moscow to have the United States bogged down, bled and distracted in the Afghan deserts and mountains much the same way the Soviet Union was in the 1980s, so long as the Taliban does not actually win.

Planned reductions in nuclear stockpiles, as delineated in the July 6 Joint Understanding for the START Follow-On Treaty, make sense for both countries, but the most dramatic drawdowns in warheads and delivery systems already took place in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. What is left is merely fine-tuning. The critical nuclear issue is not the size but the composition of our stockpiles.

The Obama administration is resisting the modernization and testing necessary to maintain our nuclear deterrent. It is a form of slow-rolling unilateral nuclear disarmament. All Russia has to do is modernize, test and wait.

Overall, the summit was a useful step in relationship-building, but it will be difficult to find meaningful overlapping interests between America and Russia. Current geopolitical circumstances will not generate the kind of cooperation witnessed during World War II. And given that it led directly to the Cold War, it is hardly a model for the future.

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