Moscow and Washington must close the door into the past

Russia and the United States need new objectives and a new agenda for the next decade. While they should continue to cooperate on Iran and Afghanistan, they also need to move beyond these topics. The main conclusions of the report, “The U.S.-Russian Relations after the ‘Reset’: Building a New Agenda. A View from Russia,” is that the world has changed and Russia and the United States should formulate a new agenda or their relationship will roll back.

Sergei Karaganov, head of the Russian Council for Foreign and Defense Policies, who presented the report at the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, said it was primarily compiled by a new generation of experts. We wanted “new heads to tell us what to do, because the old agenda for Russia-America relations is no longer valid,” Karaganov said.

According to the scholar this U.S.-Russian relationship is still based on the old paradigm of arms control. Ballistic missiles, strategic and tactical nuclear weapons are often viewed as a priority in bilateral cooperation. However, this opens a door leading back into the past.

The report outlines the new areas that must be explored within bilateral and, more importantly, multilateral cooperation to avoid the weapons issue becoming the main, or virtually the sole priority on the agenda.

Russia and the United States have no geopolitical or ideological contradictions. On the contrary, they have every reason to become the partners on a number of international issues, the authors of the report argue. “The U.S.-Russian relationship must become part of the broader spectrum of international relationships,” Karaganov adds.

The report’s authors believe that Russia and the United States should involve China more actively in the international security system, at least in the Pacific. Then they could foster interaction in the Arctic, where a significant proportion of the resources cannot be developed without the consolidated efforts of international consortium of investors from many countries.

They also believe that the two countries should be especially careful regarding the post-Soviet space and arms control in developing their relationship. These are highly sensitive issues related to very different areas of the two countries’ interests, each of which could, if handled carelessly, spark a new round of confrontation between Russia and the United States.

As regards the CIS, they should start a serious dialogue on Russia’s interests in the post-Soviet space. The report’s authors wonder why the United States is free to maintain special relations with many countries, for example, with Israel, while Russia is barred from doing the same regarding the CIS states.

Russian experts recently conceded that Russia is not doing enough to defend its position and that it has failed to properly articulate its strategic and national interests in the CIS. The United States is not afraid of speaking about its strategic allies and interests when explaining its special relations with certain countries. Why does Russia find it so difficult to put it to its U.S. partners that it also has national and strategic interests?

The arms question is no less complicated, and should be tackled with even greater delicacy, say the report’s authors. Karaganov believes that the fact that the United States has struck the question of tactical weapons off the list of its priorities in relations with Russia is a significant achievement.

Washington’s persistence could stimulate a new round of confrontation, because the question of conventional arms in Europe is more important to Russia than the prospect of moving tactical nuclear weapons back into national territory, which was what Washington initially intended to demand.

However, strategic weapons also pose certain risks. There are groups of people in both countries who are lobbying hard for very different scenarios. Some say that strategic weapons should be cut to the lowest level possible, arguing that this is the only way to achieve that mutual sense of trust and partnership that is so necessary. Other experts and politicians claim that this would, on the contrary, undermine their countries’ military capabilities.

Solely spotlighting the weapons issue will push Russia and the United States back into the relationship they had last century. There will be a return to confrontation and they will once again miss their opportunity to find issues that could form the basis of a new partnership between the two countries.

The report was prepared within the framework of the Valdai International Discussion Club and is one in a series of reports on the elaboration of a strategy of Russia’s interaction with the main centers of power in the contemporary world.


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