New START: The U.S.-Russian Reset Gets A Booster Shot?

By Andrei Fedyashin

The U.S.-Russian reset policy was certainly beefed up by the Senate’s ratification of the New START treaty on December 22. But does this injection of anabolic steroids actually serve to undermine it or to help it bulk up? This second outcome is by no means a done deal.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the treaty in the Czech capital Prague last April and agreed that their respective parliaments would strive for simultaneous ratification. However, the Republicans were so obstructive that the process drew on virtually until Christmas, with the treaty finally ratified only during Congress’ notorious “lame duck” session.

Had the departing Democrat-controlled Congress failed to ratify it, the process could have continued ad infinitum, because the next Congress, slated to meet on January 3, 2011, will only contain a handful of Democrats, and ratification needs at least two thirds of the vote.

The numerous problems plaguing its ratification have already been described in considerable detail. But the most interesting question is how often this sort of thing will happen and what documents will be similarly affected?
Is Obama a reliable business partner?

Russia and the rest of Europe are desperate to see whether Obama and Congress have adjusted to each other and what one can expect from them. All reasonable statesmen in Europe backed New START because a logical next step would be U.S.-Russian talks on a tactical nuclear arms reduction treaty.

Tactical nuclear weapons are even more dangerous than their strategic counterparts because the temptation to use them is considerably stronger and in densely populated Europe there would be little difference between a 3-kiloton nuclear explosion and a 100-kiloton one.

Historically, ratification of U.S.-Russian agreements has always been easier under a Republican administration, because Democrats were viewed as liberal (read: unreliable) and stood unfairly accused of betraying U.S. national interests and risking its security.

The SALT-1 and ABM treaties, signed with the Nixon administration, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), signed by Ronald Reagan, the START-1 treaty, signed by George H. W. Bush, and the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions (SORT) treaty, better known as the Moscow Treaty, signed by George W. Bush: all took place under Republican administrations. A considerably smaller number of comparable treaties have been signed by Democrat administrations.

All agreements initiated under the Democrats encountered strong resistance in Congress because the Republicans preferred to keep the glory for themselves. This is not a recent phenomenon, it did not come into being yesterday or even 50 years ago: its origins lie much further back, and it is still going strong. The New START treaty is merely the most recent example of the Republicans’ political egoism.

There would have been less cause for concern if this were limited to the United States. But it appears that U.S. political traditions and parliamentary realities (at least during Republican administrations) not only run counter to global trends but are decidedly retrograde.

There is no single prevailing climate in the U.S. Senate and across the broader political landscape, in the United States, as in Europe, nor should there be. This is only logical. Any such convergence of opinion would inevitably result in the erosion of the system of extensive checks and balances, thereby encouraging governments to overstate their importance. But not only is obstructing the ratification of treaties under Democratic administrations anachronistic, it is sheer parliamentary irresponsibility.

Since the signing of New START, the Republicans have been filibustering and trying to undermine the treaty. They have not made a single pertinent remark, instead trying as hard as they can to approve a myriad of amendments to the agreed text of the treaty.

Moreover, these amendments did not concern the essence of the treaty. Some provided for cuts to the numbers of U.S. and Russian tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, although the START-3 treaty was drafted as the first step toward talks on such reductions.

Paradoxically, New START has gained support from the entire U.S. top brass, from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a man Obama “inherited” from George W. Bush, to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen and former Republican State Secretaries such as Condoleezza Rice and Henry Kissinger, not to mention Democratic State Secretaries, as well as George W. Bush himself.

The previous U.S. President personally encouraged the Republicans to ratify the treaty. This is probably why its ratification took so long: Bush has a very low rating even in his party.

Spoiled by the “Russian question”

The trouble is that internecine struggle in the U.S. Congress has escalated to an inadmissible level and could become even more dramatic in the next Congress.

If New START is the first (and so far only) result of normalization in U.S.-Russian relations, how will the sides tackle other, more difficult issues on their agenda? Such as, for example, the balance of U.S. and Russian interests in the world, regional problems in the countries adjacent to Russia, WTO accession, cooperation in the nuclear industry, on Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, NATO, and the ballistic missile shield in Europe.

Discussion about New START revealed a deep rift in the U.S. Congress over the “Russian question” and that the reset policy stands little chance of yielding further fruits during Obama’s remaining term. The fact that the treaty has been ratified is of no consequence, because it is in any case purely symbolic, the first landmark on the long and winding road to nuclear disarmament.

The New START treaty is very modest across the board. If we are to make any progress along that road we will need to be more energetic in resetting our relations. But are we up to the task?

When Putin and Bush signed the Moscow Treaty in 2002, the Senate approved it 95-0. John Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and leading neo-con ideologue, offered a very simple explanation why deeper cuts could be agreed in 2002 than in 2010: “The difference between this treaty and the Treaty of Moscow is the different environment. Russia is a lot more assertive than it was back in 2002.”

Can Obama hope for re-election?

In fact, the problem is far broader than any reset in U.S.-Russian relations.

Can Obama be re-elected for a second term, or should we reassess the situation and not pin our hopes on him? He has not fulfilled a single one of the promises for which he was preemptively awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Can one, in reality, even deal with a president whose parliament is set on burying all his foreign policy initiatives? This is why

Obama himself is currently being reassessed both in Europe and in Asia.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.


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Ria Novosti

Ria Novosti

RIA Novosti was Russia's leading news agency in terms of multimedia technologies, website audience reach and quoting by the Russian media.

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