For half a century after the Second World War, the fundamental reality of international relations was the Cold War between the United States and the USSR. Inseparable from that reality was the ever-present realization that should this rivalry ever get out of hand, a nuclear war would likely mean the end of both countries and, possibly, the end of human civilization itself.
The initiatives to end the first Cold War begun in the era of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev reflected the desire on both sides to end a useless and dangerous confrontation. This was encapsulated in President Reagan’s famous statement that also reflected his heartfelt conviction: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. The only value in our two nations possessing nuclear weapons is to make sure they will never be used.”
The steps taken by Washington and Moscow at that time were not limited to arms control, important as achievements in that area were to build a mutual sense of security. They also reflected a sincere desire to end the ideological and political nature of the hostile standoff that had raged with varying intensity since at least the 1940s.
At the time it was widely hoped that with the end of the ideological struggles that had roiled the 20th century America and Russia could become partners, perhaps even allies. There was strong optimism that the “long twilight struggle” would finally be over and that both countries could concentrate on domestic needs, free from the looming threat of nuclear annihilation.
Alas, that was not to be. There is no denying that a second Cold War is today a reality.
In some ways this second Cold War is even more dangerous than the first one. The instincts of restraint and prudence that had been built up over decades of confrontation have atrophied. While both countries still maintain massive nuclear arsenals, new military technology has continued to make rapid progress in such areas as hypersonic weapons and cyber-warfare. Also, while during the first Cold War American and Soviet planners consciously sought to avoid direct contact between their forces in Third World proxy wars, today American and Russian forces come into perilous proximity to one another. The consequences of an unintended mishap are not given the gravity they demand.
We believe this headlong inertia toward catastrophe can only be broken by the personal intervention of President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin. We therefore urge the two presidents to schedule a summit meeting at the earliest possible date. Further, we plan to post later today on the White House website a petition urging such a summit.
Starting tonight, those interested in endorsing this initiative may visit the Russia House website (www.russiahouse.org/wrf.php) where you will find the text of the petition and instructions for signing it.
• Edward Lozansky is President of the American University in Moscow. Jim Jatras is former US diplomat and former adviser to US Senate Republican leadership.