The subsequent negotiations produced the much-vaunted New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which, despite doing little to advance disarmament, provided a political boost to both sides and bolstered the bilateral relationship. However, progress soon stalled, with Russia rejecting US proposals for further reductions, especially of tactical nuclear weapons — an area in which Russia dominates.
Russia, whose nuclear arsenal represents one of the last remaining pillars of its “great power” status, declared that it would agree to further cuts only after the US offered a legally binding agreement that its proposed anti-ballistic missile (ABM) shield in Europe would not be aimed at Russia. In Russia’s view — which is, probably, fanciful — such a shield could intercept its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), thereby posing a strategic threat.
In the hope of breaking the deadlock, Obama signaled his willingness to compromise. However, Putin had little reason to reciprocate, not least because agreement on the issue would have opened the way to further nuclear arms reductions. Moreover, members of Russia’s military and political elite hoped to use some of the country’s oil revenues to deploy a new generation of ICBMs. And it seems that some Russians began to believe their own propaganda about the danger posed by a European ABM shield.
By focusing on nuclear disarmament and New START, Obama’s reset strategy remilitarized the US-Russia relationship, while marginalizing issues that could have reoriented bilateral ties toward the future. In this sense, the initiative was doomed from the start — and the whole world has suffered as a result.
Both countries’ leaders should acknowledge what should now be obvious: nuclear weapons reduction can no longer serve as a reliable basis for bilateral relations.
Either the US and Russia resort to undercutting each other whenever or wherever they can, or they can use the current break in their relationship to devise a new, future-oriented agenda for cooperation that focuses on global problems, such as the ongoing chaos in the Middle East. Neither Russia nor the US can resolve global problems alone. However, together — and with China — they could lead the world toward a more stable and prosperous future.
Sergei Karaganov is dean of the School of International Economics and Foreign Affairs of the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow.
Copyright: Project syndicate