- Tuesday, February 26, 2019

If anyone needed proof that former Sen. Sam Nunn, Georgia Democrat, and former Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz were right when they recently wrote in Politico that the U.S. and Russia are sleepwalking toward nuclear disaster, it came last week during Vladimir Putin’s annual address to the Russian parliament.

Mr. Putin warned Washington against deploying new missiles in Europe after the collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, saying Moscow would install its own weapons targeting not only European missile installations but “decision-making centers” in the United States as well. He said that Russia‘s reaction to any deployment would be resolute and that U.S. policymakers should calculate the risks before taking any such steps.

Washington and NATO condemned these threats as “unacceptable” and in turn called on Russia to focus on “returning to compliance” with the INF treaty.
However, Ted Postol of MIT presented a more balanced opinion in The New York Times, saying that the Russians have some valid reasons to accuse U.S. of non-compliance as well. This began 10 years back, when the Obama administration started deploying the “Aegis ashore” defense system in Europe, supposedly to shoot down Iranian missiles. Mr. Postol argued that those systems actually would be useless as defense against ballistic missiles but are capable of firing offensive U.S. cruise missiles. Because these Aegis systems are located in Eastern Europe and close to Russia, those offensive capabilities are rightly worrying Moscow.

Without going into technical details, one obvious point made by Messrs. Nunn and Moniz is that when we have the crisis of this magnitude “re-engagement with Russia is too important to wait for the Mueller probe to end. That means it’s time for Congress to take the lead.”

That is easier said than done since in this highly divided and partisan Congress one can hardly find more than two or three members who would listen to these smart gentlemen. Republicans and Democrats disagree on practically every issue except when they vote to condemn Russia and introduce yet more punitive measures, including a “sanctions bill from hell,” whatever that means.

Moreover, when anyone who dares to say that there is an urgent need for the resumption of U.S.-Russia dialogue is called a Putin stooge even Messrs. Nunn and Moniz, perhaps in the hopes of avoiding such label, took care to blame Moscow for aggression.

Still, in the current atmosphere of hatred those few American “dissidents” who dare to continue expressing their belief that without such dialogue we are moving to the brink deserve credit. One such individual is the distinguished history professor from NYU and Princeton Stephen F. Cohen, despite undergoing continuous attacks in the media and even from an academia which in the not too distant past was in the anti-war mood but now turns against one of their own because of what he says in his book “War with Russia.”

According to Mr. Cohen, this new Cold War was instigated in Washington, not in Moscow and is more dangerous, and more fraught with the peril of a hot war. He calls for a new detente and sees both Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin as potential partners. He criticizes “mainstream media malpractice” in their coverage and commentary on Russia, Mr. Putin, Mr. Trump, Russiagate, and many foreign policy issues.

Mr. Cohen reminds us of the Soviet dissident and nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov, who accused his government and the Soviet media (compare today’s CNN and MSNBC) for their malpractice and called for dialogue with the United States.

Accepting the bitter reality that Congress with its dismal approval rating is not ready to listen to Messrs. Nunn, Moniz and Cohen, it is left for American people to follow the example of Soviet dissidents to speak out clearly and defiantly against the march toward a nuclear holocaust.

In 2016, Mr. Trump was elected on the pledge to concentrate on domestic problems, extricate the country from the endless wars and end America’s role as the “world policemen.” Unfortunately, so far he has not delivered, but as 2020 approaches, his base needs reassurance that these pledges are not dead.

The reality is belatedly sinking into sober minds that we live in a world where America, despite its economic and military might, can no longer be a hegemon and dictate the rules to the rest of the world. Whether U.S. policymakers like it or not, multipolarity is a reality. The question is whether they are willing to risk extinction of the U.S., and the rest of mankind, in a futile bid to hold onto a “unipolar moment” that has passed, and which brought Americans nothing but debt and danger while it lasted.

A good start would be a trilateral summit of the leaders of U.S., Russia and China — or better yet, a quartet that includes India — to start work on parameters of a new, constructive international consensus. Everything depends on Mr. Trump, because the other troika members have already met and they would definitely accept his invitation. Such a move by Mr. Trump could not only turn around the sleepwalk toward nuclear war but would help solidify his 2020 win by reminding us why he was elected in the first place.

Edward Lozansky is president of the American University in Moscow.

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