Despite the recent deterioration in the West's relations with Russia following the August war in Georgia, two scholars at a recent panel discussion in Washington, DC, urged the next US presidential administration to engage the Kremlin and explore possibilities for new arms control agreements in Eurasia.
Rose Gottemoeller, one of the participants at the October 29 round-table sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, foresaw a period of unpredictability in Russian-American relations due to the presidential transitions in both countries. She therefore advised that in coming months both sides should strive to "hang on to the superstructure of our relationship, as it has existed in the many treaties and agreements that we have put together over the years."
Responding to Defense Secretary Robert Gates' call for fresh efforts to bolster the US nuclear deterrent, outlined in a speech given at the Carnegie Endowment on October 28, another round-table speaker, George Perkovich, reaffirmed his support for abolishing nuclear weapons as an "idea we can actually take seriously." [For additional information, click here]. Perkovich, the Carnegie Endowment's vice president for studies, acknowledged that "we can't do it alone," and urged the United States to promote this aim in collaboration with other countries. "The first condition that would have to be met, obviously, is US-Russian leadership."
Neither speaker was optimistic about achieving reductions in the large stockpile of Russian tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Eurasia. Perkovich pointed out that Moscow would require major concessions since this is one of few areas in which Russia enjoys numerical superiority over NATO.
While supportive of the status quo over the near term, Gottemoeller suggested that modifications to existing arrangements should ultimately be explored. "I am not in anyway advocating preserving agreements as they have existed in the past and simply leaving them alone," she said, adding that Moscow and Washington ought to view "these [existing] treaties and agreements as building blocks for our further relationship."
For example, Gottemoeller said that, even though "we are now casting around for a vaunted new security system in Europe" following the war in Georgia, Washington and Moscow should try to revitalize the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. She went on to claim that "the data exchanges, the notifications, the verification and inspection measures that were at the core of the CFE treaty" have helped dampen Russian concerns about NATO enlargement. While Moscow may have acquiesced to the incorporation of the Baltic States into the Atlantic alliance, the Kremlin, it deserves mentioning, remains adamantly opposed to the admission of either Georgia or Ukraine. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Referring obliquely to the ongoing situation in Georgia, Gottemoeller asserted that "we need to review and again embrace key CFE principles," especially "the principle of host nation consent to the presence of foreign troops on their territories," a norm that also underpins the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Gottemoeller, a Carnegie Endowment expert on non-proliferation issues, argued that a distinct advantage of using the CFE process rather than other European security institutions is that "it gets everybody to the table, not only the NATO countries, new and old, and not only Russia, Ukraine and Georgia, but also countries we have been very concerned about because of instability between them, like Armenia and Azerbaijan."
In response to a question from EurasiaNet about the effects of the Georgian War on WMD proliferation through the South Caucasus, Gottemoeller agreed "that this whole area of what has loosely been called threat reduction cooperation is a very good area not only" in order to reduce nuclear threats (the original purpose of the Nunn-Lugar program), "but also to help us to address the agenda that was raised by Russia's invasion of Georgia." [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].Gottemoeller urged the next US administration to work with Moscow in curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions. "There are certain ways that I think we should look again at what are some Russian proposals" to give Iran alternatives to developing the means to manufacture indigenous nuclear fuel though uranium enrichment, since the same technologies could enable Tehran to produce nuclear weapons. She specifically urged renewing support for Moscow's offer to allow Iran to participate in the International Uranium Enrichment Center in Angarsk, a joint venture between Russia's Tekhsnabeksport and Kazakhstan's Kazatomprom that is open to tightly controlled third-party involvement regarding non-weapons related nuclear technologies.
Richard Weitz is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC.