This week’s meetings between Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in the cordial atmosphere of the Texas ranch offer five important opportunities to deepen and further improve relations.
These include understandings on limited missile defense, a post-Taliban Afghanistan, Iraq, joint efforts to help India and Pakistan negotiate peace, and Western investment and U.S. support for World Trade Organization membership to help Russia move from dependence on military production and exports to a consumer-oriented economy.
After September 11, President Bush has emphasized that missile defense is all the more urgent given the demonstrated fanaticism of the Islamic extremists who hate and plot against both the U.S. and Russia. During the next few years, it is Russia that is likely to be at greatest risk of attack by medium-range ballistic missiles armed with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons that have been developed with Chinese help by Iraq, Iran, Libya and Pakistan.
Changes in regime or regime policy in these dictatorships could result in Islamic extremists obtaining control of these weapons and threatening or attacking Russia in revenge for Chechnya and other actions it has taken to suppress other armed Islamic groups. These real risks to Russia give Mr. Putin reasons to agree on missile defense against rouge states.
Now is the time to revive the accords reached in 1992-3 between Presidents Boris Yeltsin and George Bush on the need for both countries to have such a missile defense and to act against proliferation of mass destruction weapons.
This should occur whether or not U.S.-Russian discussions about a new “strategic framework” produce final agreements on further mutual reductions in offensive strategic warheads below the currently agreed ceiling of 3,000. In reducing further, both the U.S. and Russia need to keep in mind that China with 900 nuclear warheads, and more than 350 deployed nuclear armed medium-range ballistic missiles that can reach Russia, is currently deploying two additional types of intercontinental-range missiles. The Defense Intelligence Agency estimated China could have 1,000 of these by 2007 and many could have multiple warheads.
The second opportunity is to agree on means to help anti-Taliban Afghan armed groups defeat the Taliban and establish a moderate, constitutional government which will have good relations with all its neighbors. This Russian-U.S. agreement and coordination should provide the basis for success. It could also prevent China from covertly using its extensive relations with the Taliban and pro-Taliban elements of the Pakistan government to keep both Afghanistan and Pakistan in its sphere as a means of pressuring India. For several years, China has provided economic support and weapons to the Taliban; days ago, a Taliban commander revealed that China continues “extending support and economic cooperation to the Taliban.”
Another issue of mutual concern is Iraq’s continued violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions by developing and stockpiling chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. For years, Saddam Hussein’s regime has been and continues as a secret partner of the Osama bin Laden/ al Qaeda terrorist networks. In late August 2001, Iraq hosted a meeting with more than 100 of the most active Islamic terrorists who in turn reportedly have since recruited an estimated 6,000 additional terrorists with many of these now receiving instruction in Iraqi terrorist training camps. It is likely that Saddam Hussein hopes to fend off future U.S. counterstrikes by mounting a terrorist offensive through his secret terrorist partners and by using his long-established connections with anti-U.S. elements in Russia to have Mr. Putin oppose any action against his regime.
Mr. Bush has the opportunity to persuade Mr. Putin that Iraq’s existing and developing weapons of mass destruction are an enormous lethal threat to nearby Russia and that many of the terrorists helped by Iraq have attacked Russia and will continue to do so in the future. The goal should be Russian assent to a politicalparamilitary strategy that helps the good people of Iraq replace the current brutal regime with a moderate government that would end all aid to terrorists and destroy the chemical, biological and nuclear weapons on its territory. The opposition Iraqi National Congress has negotiated an agreement among moderate Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders and has a workable political leadership and coalition.
China would object to this action since it has spent the last 10 years courting the anti-U.S. regimes in the Middle East by selling Iraq and others weapons of mass destruction components. China’s purposes have been both to gain access to oil and to see the U.S. bogged down in problems and conflicts so it would be less likely to oppose Beijing’s territorial and power ambitions in Asia, starting with Taiwan.
For the same reason, the Chinese regime is likely to be dismayed by the new cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan. It does not want any weakening in its de facto alliance with Pakistan. China uses this to pressure India, which China views as one of its major competitors in Asia. Therefore, it should be expected that China will attempt to undermine the renewed cooperative relationship between Pakistan and the U.S.
Mr. Bush could point out to Mr. Putin that on India and Pakistan the U.S. and Russia have similar, not diverging, interests and these are different from China’s view. Since Russia and the United States have good relations with democratic India and the U.S. now is cooperating with Pakistan, the fourth opportunity is for both the U.S. and Russia to agree that they will encourage a rapid, peaceful settlement of the Pakistan-India conflict. This would remove a major regional risk of nuclear conflict and could also contribute to stability in all of the Islamic regions on the southern border of Russia.
A fifth opportunity for Mr. Bush is to offer Russia help in moving its economy away from its current heavy reliance on military production and exports by supporting its joining the WTO and by encouraging financing and constructive investments in Russia, such as the just announced $4 billion ExxonMobil development of Russian oil. At present, Russia plans to sell China about $20 billion in advanced weapons systems in the next four years. Since all would be aimed at U.S. Pacific forces and might someday threaten Russia, this is not in the best interests of either country. Russia should avoid repeating the mistake Josef Stalin made in selling materials to the war machine of the Hitler dictatorship, which later invaded. Therefore, there is a mutual interest in Russia reducing the sale of its advanced weapons to China. The U.S. and its allies would then provide resources for Russian production of consumer goods to help make up those earnings and move the economy toward peace.
The ranch in Texas may be just the place for Presidents Bush and Putin to build on their cooperation against terrorism by taking further actions in the national interests of both countries that can provide a basis for broader cooperation for peace and security.
Constantine C. Menges, a senior fellow with the Hudson Institute, served as special assistant for national security affairs to President Reagan. His forthcoming book is “The United States, Russia and China: Geopolitics in the New Century.”