NATO’s bombing campaign may have won the war in Kosovo but damaged relations between Russia and the West were part of the price of victory. The decision by Moscow and Washington to open new talks on arms control and renew efforts to integrate Russia into the world economy is a welcome sign that the breach in ties is beginning to be bridged.
Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and U.S. Vice President Al Gore announced last Tuesday that the two countries will launch START III talks in August. The negotiations will aim at reducing U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads to a maximum of 2,500 each. Also on the table for discussion will be amendments that Washington wants to make to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to allow the U.S. to develop a national missile defense system.
Several obstacles must be surmounted before an agreement can be realized. Washington is insisting, justifiably, that the 1993 START II treaty be approved by the Russian Parliament before a START III agreement can be signed. START II, which was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1996, would halve the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals to between 3,000 to 3,500 warheads each. Conservative and Communist hardliners in the Duma, the Russian Parliament, have longed balked at ratifying the treaty, claiming that it would damage Russian security. The legislative body appeared close to ratifying the treaty last December, but U.S. raids on Iraq scuttled that debate. NATO’s air campaign against Yugoslavia in the spring kept the issue shelved. The picture now appears more promising, however. Prime Minister Stepashin has vowed to push for START II’s ratification this fall when the Duma reconvenes, saying that both Russian President Boris Yeltsin and the Russian government are “convinced” that ratification of the treaty is in the interests of Russia.
U.S. efforts to revise the ABM Treaty also represent a delicate issue in negotiations. Russia has long resisted any changes to the 1972 agreement, which bans deployment of a defense system against nuclear ballistic missiles, and has sharply criticized U.S. research efforts in this area. Last week, however, Moscow softened its stance on the issue. Acknowledging the dangers posed by rogue states armed with ballistic missiles — a threat that Washington intends to address with its missile defense system — President Yeltsin agreed to discuss possible treaty amendments. In Washington, Prime Minister Stepashin indicated that his country may cooperate with the U.S. in the development of a missile defense system.
Although the START III talks are of critical importance in their own right, they are only a part of the greater issue at hand: how to best enhance cooperation between Russia and the international community. A democratic, cooperative Russia is of vital importance to global stability. Unfortunately, the NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia — however justified from the alliance’s point of view — served only to confirm Moscow’s worst fears of Western intentions. Despite recent conciliatory words, a huge gap remains between NATO and Russia on Balkan policy, particularly regarding the distribution of reconstruction aid.
A decision by the International Monetary Fund last Wednesday to grant an extra $4.5 billion to Moscow reflects a realistic recognition that despite many problems efforts must continue to facilitate Russia’s integration into the global economy. The loan, though relatively small, will greatly ease the Russian government’s financing needs this year. However, the significance of the IMF loan extends far beyond monetary value. It paves the way for fresh financial help from a number of bilateral lenders, including the Japanese, as well as from the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. It also will enable Moscow to enter formal debt restructuring talks with the Paris Club of sovereign creditors and the London Club of commercial creditors.
The experience of Weimar Germany has taught us that broke and embittered nations bode poorly for international stability. This goes doubly so for Russia, a nuclear power. Because potential threats from Russia stem from weakness rather than strength, it makes sense to overcome the vestiges of Cold War thinking and embark on policies that increase Russian influence and confidence. The Western problem is not simply to mollify Moscow, but to find sensible ways of dealing with Russia’s problems and continue to pursue policies aimed at firmly integrating Russia into the international community.
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