The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama
should work hard on areas of common interest with Russia in order to build
a "partnership, however uneasy," that would serve Washington's interests
in key areas, including non-proliferation, energy, and counter-terrorism, according
to a new report
[.pdf] released Monday by the Nixon Center and the Belfer Center for Science
and International Affairs at Harvard University.
The 17-page report, the product of a bipartisan task force of two dozen former
senior government officials and independent experts with substantial experience
in dealing with both the former Soviet Union and Russia, calls, among other
things, for the new administration to shelve U.S. efforts to make Ukraine and
Georgia full members of NATO and move promptly to eliminate Cold War trade
restrictions with Moscow and bring it into the World Trade Organization (WTO).
"A new, more forthcoming approach to Russia is far from guaranteed to
succeed, but we are convinced that the risk in making the effort is smaller
than the costs of a slide into hostility," asserted the report, which
was presented by four task force members to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev
and his top national security aides in Moscow last week.
"If both Washington and Moscow are committed to improving their relationship,
gradually transform American relations with Russia into a
partnership, however uneasy, could considerably advance U.S. goals from Iran
to Afghanistan and beyond," it concluded.
The report, which has also been briefed by task force members to Vice President
Joseph Biden and Obama's national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, comes
amid indications that the new administration is indeed determined at least
rhetorically to establish a more cooperative bilateral relationship which
appeared to reach a post-Cold War low last summer during and after the brief
war between Russia and U.S.-backed Georgia.
In an important speech to the annual security conference in Munich last month,
Biden made clear that Washington was looking for ways to, in his words, "press
the reset button and to revisit the many areas where we can and should be working
together with Russia."
And in her first meeting with her Russian counterpart, Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton even presented Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a yellow
box with a large red "reset" button to drive the point home, although
what was supposed to be the Russian translation on the box turned out to mean
The new administration, however, has made clear that it is prepared to reconsider
its predecessor's determination to deploy a missile-defense system in Poland
and the Czech Republic a major irritant for Moscow in hopes of
gaining Russia's help on other priority issues. Most importantly, these include
pressing Iran to freeze its uranium-enrichment program and possibly helping
persuade the authorities in Kyrgyzstan to reverse their decision reportedly
inspired at least in part by Moscow to deny Washington continued access
to its Manas air base, a key hub for troops and supplies bound for Afghanistan.
The new report clearly favors such efforts, suggesting that they should be
part of a larger and more comprehensive strategy based on a "much clearer
definition of American interests and priorities and serious consideration of
Russian interests," as well.
That it will get a serious hearing both in the White House and the Kremlin
is virtually certain, given the stature of the task force's members, which
include several former U.S. ambassadors to Russia, including Thomas Pickering,
who served under Bill Clinton, and Jack Matlock, who served under both Ronald
Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
Other members of the task force, which was co-chaired by two former senators,
Republican Chuck Hagel and Democrat Gary Hart, included former national security
advisers Robert McFarlane and Brent Scowcroft; former Treasury Secretary Peter
Peterson; and the head of the Woodrow Wilson Center, Rep. Lee Hamilton, who,
like Scowcroft, has acted as an informal adviser to Obama and a number of whose
protégés now occupy key posts in the National Security Council
staff and the State Department.
Like the Nixon Center itself, the task force was also dominated by foreign
policy realists, most of them Republicans, who clashed frequently on a range
of issues including relations with Russia with neoconservatives and other
hawks in the George W. Bush administration.
That battle is expected to continue as neoconservatives, in particular, have
been arguing for months that Russia's foreign policy ambitions, particularly
its alleged desire to reassert control over former Soviet states of its "near
abroad" and Europe's energy supplies, as well as what they describe as
its increasingly authoritarian tendencies, are fundamentally incompatible with
both U.S. values and interests.
"Any 'grand bargain' the United States makes with Russia would be viewed
in Moscow as a sign of desperation," recently wrote David Kramer, a neoconservative
who led the State Department's human rights bureau under Bush, suggesting that
Moscow would be quick to take advantage. "[A]bove all, we must not bargain
away our relations with Russia's neighbors or our own values."
While the new report does not argue explicitly for such a "grand bargain,"
it makes a series of recommendations for finding common ground with Russia
across a number of issue areas and regions.
On nonproliferation, for example, it calls making Russia a U.S. "partner"
in dealing with Iran a "top priority." It also urges Moscow and Washington
to work together to strengthen the international nonproliferation regime through
existing and new international treaties and launching a "serious dialogue
on arms control," including discussion of the "'nuclear zero' goal
articulated" by both Obama and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
It calls for a "new look" at missile-defense deployment in Poland
and the Czech Republic to "make a genuine effort to develop a cooperative
approach to the shared threat from Iranian and other missiles" and to
"develop options other than NATO membership to demonstrate a commitment
to the sovereignty of Ukraine and Georgia."
"Close U.S. Russian cooperation in Russia's neighborhood is unlikely,
but the United States should avoid zero-sum competition for influence there,"
according to the report. "The United States must recognize
its interests are not identical to those of Russia's neighbors and avoid becoming
their instrument in dealing with Russia."
It also urges support for "European efforts to develop non-Russian sources
of natural gas," while working with both Washington's European allies
and Russia to "develop a mutually acceptable system of rights and responsibilities
for energy suppliers, transit countries, and consumers."
In addition, Washington should work for Russia's growing integration into
the global economy, through membership in the WTO, graduation from the Jackson-Vanik
Amendment that tied preferential trade treatment to free immigration from Russia,
and negotiating a Bilateral Investment Treaty.
On human rights, the task force said Washington should "call attention
to Russian leaders' formal commitments to democracy and international obligations
to protect human rights while respecting Russia's sovereignty, history, and
traditions, and recognizing that Russian society will evolve at its own pace."
Washington should also "ensure that U.S. behavior meets or exceeds the
same standards and that statements about Russian conduct are proportionate
to those directed at other governments."
(Inter Press Service)