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U.S.-Russian Dialogue Is Needed to Head Off a New Cold War

Op-Ed, International Herald Tribune

April 3, 2001

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Strengthening Democratic Institutions Project

 

U.S.-Russian Dialogue Is Needed to Head Off a New Cold War
Graham T. Allison and Sergei Karaganov
International Herald Tribune
Tuesday, April 3, 2001

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts -- Mutual retaliation in the "spy wars" that broke out last month fueled what was already shaping up to become a new rhetorical Cold War.

Hyperbole about Russia as a new "threat" and "active proliferator," in the words of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, has puzzled some Russians and alarmed others. The critique of the United States by Sergei Ivanov - then the Russian national security adviser and now defense minister - at a gathering of security graybeards in Munich in February shocked American participants, including Mr. Rumsfeld. Competition in accentuating the negative about each other's actions and intentions revives an image of Russia and America as primary adversaries in international affairs.

As seasoned observers of U.S.-Russian relations, we are reminded of Marx's
observation that history repeats itself the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. In the increasingly dangerous and fragile world of the 21st century, neither the U.S. nor Russia can afford either.

Both governments should call a time-out to reflect on where this diplomatic warfare is leading. Each should start by reviewing its real national interests. Each should ask where the two nations' interests conflict and where they converge. Each should consider where cooperation is a necessary condition for its own success.

Who, for example, has a greater interest in preventing failure of Russia's early warning systems that could lead to an accidental launch of Russian nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles against American targets? It would be a supreme tragedy if unilateral American initiatives on national missile defense led Russia to heighten the hair-trigger alert status of its nuclear forces, thus making accidental launch more likely. Finding cooperative ways to address the real threat each nation faces from rogue states with missiles is an inescapable common interest.

Who should be more interested in preventing theft of Russian nuclear weapons or nuclear material that could empower terrorists to attack Washington or Moscow?

Who has larger stakes in arresting the process by which the great nuclear proliferators of the 1990s, India and Pakistan, now threaten to become contestants in a nuclear war?

Whose security would be most immediately damaged by acquisition of nuclear
weapons and missile delivery systems by North Korea, Iran or Iraq? While currently more hostile to American interests, these regimes can target Russia much more easily.

Sales of advanced weapons and dual-use technologies pose a more complex
challenge. While selling light-water nuclear reactors to North Korea, americans seek to prevent Russia from making equivalent sales to Iran. Having failed to raise sanctions against India for its declaration of an overt nuclear capability, the American government now seeks sanctions against Russia for supplying nuclear fuel to Indian civilian nuclear power plants.

Through Russian eyes, Americans have become unreasonably fatalistic about civilian nuclear power, reflecting American domestic paralysis in this arena. Americansmisunderstand the role that nuclear power must play to meet the world's demand for electricity in the 21st century.

Too many Americans imagine that Russia's deep internal problems and current weakness prevent it from acting in international affairs. But a hostile Russian government intent on proliferating nuclear weapons or missiles could simply sell Iran or China nuclear weapons and missiles. Alternatively, a Russian-American campaign could prevent most proliferation.

Toward that end, a renewed dialogue should begin not with renegotiation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which will surely only harden Russia's opposition and America's resolution to deploy its proposed missile shield. Rather, what should come first is a wide-ranging discussion of strategic stability. This will provide a context for specific issues, from arms sales to missile defense, where the United States and Russia
may not agree.

Russian and American leaders can, if they work at it, revive a new mini-Cold War -but at their peril. It would be wiser for both to hearken back to the approach of President George W. Bush's father, which combined realism and cooperation. As Secretary of State Colin Powell said after his first meeting with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov: "If one speaks openly and candidly, you can make progress as long as you don't shy away from the tough issues and as long as you don't forget that there are many areas of interest that we have in common."

We agree.

Mr. Allison is the director of the Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. Mr. Karaganov is deputy director of the Institute of Europe at Russia's Academy of Sciences. They contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.

Copyright © 2001 The International Herald Tribune

 

For more information about this publication please contact the Belfer Center at 617-495-1400.

For Academic Citation:

Allison, Graham T., and Sergei Karaganov. "U.S.-Russian Dialogue Is Needed to Head Off a New Cold War." International Herald Tribune, April 3, 2001.

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