Retire the 'Reset' with Russia; but Normal Relations

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 16, 2012 | Go to article overview

Retire the 'Reset' with Russia; but Normal Relations


Byline: E. Wayne Merry, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

On March 9, following Russia's presidential election, President Obama telephoned President-elect Vladimir Putin to re-establish contact with someone he once publicly described as a man of the past but who will run Russia for the remainder of Mr. Obama's presidency. Mr. Putin genuinely believes Washington orchestrates Russia's domestic opposition in order to remove him from power and thereby weaken Russia. That's certainly not an ideal basis for bilateral cooperation.

However, Mr. Putin deeply values his legacy. His re-election slogan was dostroika - completion or fulfillment. He thinks he has laid the foundations for a strong and prosperous Russia and needs only time and authority to bring it to fruition. Others (myself included) doubt both his vision and his methods, but Mr. Putin is not a petty dictator. He knows relations with the United States will be key to his legacy, for good or ill.

Washington is overdue to retire the reset as a concept for ties with Moscow. The Russians never liked the notion because it implied restoring the pre-George W. Bush relationship, a period they recall as one of weakness and humiliation. In addition, the achievements of the reset in strategic arms control and Afghanistan hold diminishing prospects for future progress.

The New START may be the last for a long time because nuclear weaponry plays a vastly more important role in Russian strategy than in ours. If all nuclear weapons were to vanish from the earth overnight, American security would be enhanced because of our global dominance of nonnuclear military capabilities and technology. By contrast, Russia would face a profound crisis of security and, worse, prestige.

A large nuclear arsenal with global reach is one of the few attributes of great power status that Russia possesses. Russia also maintains a huge stockpile of nonstrategic nuclear weapons (a category we largely have abandoned) because of its different strategic context (mainly China) and the persistent weakness of its conventional forces and demographics. Russia cannot compete in cutting-edge military technologies, so it must maintain the one type where it enjoys dominance over all other Eurasian states.

Thus, Russia opposes anything that might diminish its nuclear advantage, such as deployments of missile-defense systems by the United States and NATO. We can assert until we are blue in the face that these have nothing to do with Russia, but Moscow sees them as the thin edge of a wedge to weaken its narrowly based national strategy. …

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