There is no guarantee of successful outcome. But at the very least there must be a commitment to work together and to dialogue. Thus, New START is a step in the right direction.
The agreement this week by the United States and the Russian Federation to extend the New START arms control treaty is a symbolic step of reengagement by both sides. That has to be welcomed.
Bilateral relations have deteriorated so badly in recent years that if the treaty was allowed to expire – as it was slated to do next week – then the world was facing the danger of a new, destructive nuclear arms race. The US had already abrogated other arms control pacts. This was the last line of defense, so to speak, for global security.
The fact that President Joe Biden made a phone call to Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin – a week after his inauguration – and agreed to extend New START shows that the American side understands the vital importance of securing strategic stability.
Biden and Putin agreed to an immediate five-year extension of the treaty. Already both sides have now opened communications on arranging procedures and mechanisms.
Significantly, President Biden accepted Russia’s insistence that the treaty be extended without any conditions. Under Donald Trump, negotiations on New START had floundered because his administration was wrangling to have China included in the treaty. That was always a non-starter for Russia (and China). The New START is a bilateral treaty originally signed by the US and Russia in 2010. It has nothing to do with another party, but the wrangling by Trump was indicative of the low-caliber diplomacy of his administration and failure to appreciate issues of global security. His attitude was that of a real-estate hustler completely out of his depth.
In any case, there appears to be a return to professional diplomacy in Washington under Biden. On agreeing to a five-year extension, both sides will now have the breathing space and opportunity to formulate a longer-term accord. There may in time also evolve a means for a new broader comprehensive treaty involving other nuclear powers, including Britain, France and China.
For now though the main thing – and it is a crucial cornerstone – is that the United States and Russia have agreed to maintain limits on strategic nuclear weapons as stipulated by the New START. The two powers possess over 90 per cent of the world’s stockpile of nuclear weapons. It is therefore of paramount importance for them to engage in mutual agreement for the sake of global security.
Russia’s deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov described the decision this week as mutually beneficial and the only right one to take.
“We now have a significant amount of time in order to launch and hold profound bilateral talks on the whole set of issues that influence strategic stability… So, we welcome the decision of the Biden administration to agree to our proposal of a five-year extension,” Ryabkov added.
Senior lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev, who is chair of the international affairs committee in the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, the Federation Council, said the agreement on New START was a promising development. He said it may “open doors to make progress on other problems”.
The phone call between Biden and Putin this week hardly marks a “reset” in the badly frayed relations. According to the White House version of the conversation, the American president brought up other subjects, including: allegations about Russian interference in US elections, as well as allegations of Russian cyber attacks, and running assassination plots in Afghanistan against US troops. Biden also raised the arrest of convicted Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
Russia has rejected all such allegations of malign conduct as unfounded. If the American side partake in genuine discussions it will find the truth of these matters in time.
But in the absence of any dialogue then the baleful result is that tensions, misunderstanding and distrust can only grow, sending relations into further downward spiral with potentially catastrophic consequences. There are a lot of issues that both sides need to engage on in order to dispel false and unnecessary problems.
President Biden and his team have shown serious misunderstanding and misconceptions about Russia. They are infected with Russophobia as is much of the American political class. This Russophobia has been allowed to fester in large part due to the lack of diplomatic engagement by the American side. The only remedy is to talk.
In a separate address this week, President Putin told the World Economic Forum that international powers must renew communication and partnership on a mutually respectful basis. Global security and many dangerous challenges depend on world powers abandoning Cold War-type mentality and animosities.
“We are open to the broadest international cooperation, while achieving our national goals, and we are confident that cooperation on matters of the global socioeconomic agenda would have a positive influence on the overall atmosphere in global affairs, and that interdependence in addressing acute current problems would also increase mutual trust which is particularly important and particularly topical today,” said Putin.
The first step mandates the engagement in dialogue. There is no guarantee of successful outcome. But at the very least there must be a commitment to work together and to dialogue. Thus, New START is a step in the right direction.