There’s No Refund on the Russia Reset

So what is the conventional thinking behind the new U.S. administration pursuing the “reset” of relations with Russia?  We are likely to hear well-intentioned words about opening up a new chapter in bilateral relations, and improving frayed ties for the good of both nations, but at the end of the day there are of course interests.  First, Obama expected to be able to sign a major arms accord with Russia before 2009 ended, such as the replacement for the START treaty.  Second, they thought that canceling plans for a missile shield in Eastern Europe would buy them Russian cooperation on Iran sanctions.  Though positive gestures have been made in this direction, neither political objective has been achieved by the reset.  Writing in the New York Times about the diplomatic exchanges over arms control, Ariel Cohen points out a few reasons why the reset isn’t panning out…

Preoccupation with the Start follow-on treaty is a major part of Mr. Obama’s effort to “reset” relations with Russia. The completion of the Start follow-on, as well as the ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty by Congress, are seen as a key stepping stone of “getting to zero” — achieving a world without nuclear weapons.

The Russians, however, quietly scoff at Mr. Obama’s goal. While the Russian government publicly champions the U.S. nuclear disarmament effort, Russia’s military and security elite deride it. “Russia will develop offensive weapons — because without them there is no other way to defend our country,” Mr. Medvedev said in the recent TV interview.

Moreover, Russian nuclear policy and statements clearly reveal anabiding commitment to nuclear weapons. The U.S. national leadership andarms control negotiators should examine the Russian nuclear doctrineand policy as they are, not as they want them to be.

Russia is boosting the role of nuclear weapons in its nationalsecurity strategy and doctrine. Russia’s nuclear doctrine considers theUnited States its “principal adversary.” With deficiencies in itsconventional forces and difficulties procuring and deploying high techweapons, Russia will increasingly rely on nuclear weapons, includingfirst-use use in local conflicts, such as with Georgia last year. Thisis what Russia’s National Security Council Secretary, General NikolayPatrushev recently announced.