The United States has had turbulent patches with Russia before and is currently going through another one.
On arms control, the most pressing dispute is over possible Russian violation of the 1987 treaty that eliminated all ground-launched U.S. and Russian intermediate range nuclear weapons forces, as noted in the July 2014 State Department compliance report.
It is a serious allegation and adds to U.S.-Russian disputes over the Russian seizure of Crimea, its intervention in Ukraine, its assistance to the despotic Syrian government and its decision to grant asylum to Edward J. Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor.
Not surprisingly, the Wall Street Journal jumped all over the cheating accusations. An August 12 editorial demanded the United States withdraw from the 2010 New START nuclear weapons reduction treaty and resurrect President George W. Bush’s plan to expand the national missile defense system to bases in Poland and the Czech Republic. Of course the Wall Street Journal opposed New START and has long been hostile to arms control.
Yet the long history of U.S.-Russian relations is that while the two sides raced to build massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons, they eventually were able to cooperate on issues of mutual concern. President Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan came to major nuclear arms control agreements and worked cooperatively on other issues with the Russians during the heights of the Cold War. This was even true when Reagan caught Russia cheating.
The two countries should continue to cooperate wherever possible today.
A primary example where joint work should continue is cooperation on nuclear non-proliferation programs to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. Since the end of the Cold War, the two countries have worked to safeguard nuclear weapons and nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union. This cooperation is not a favor to the Russians. It is a program critical to U.S. national security.
The two countries are also cooperating on negotiations with Iran to significantly and verifiably constrain its nuclear program as part of the P5+1 negotiations, an important step to avoid a nuclear-armed Iran or possible war.
And the U.S. and Russia worked together to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons, to continue scientific experiments on the international space station and to maintain the northern supply route to Afghanistan.
The English statesman Lord Palmerston once stated: “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.” This aphorism is never more true than today. While we have major quarrels with Vladimir Putin, we must work together to prevent a nuclear holocaust.
Rose Gottemoeller, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, recently gave an comtemporary version of that aphorism:
“History has shown us that when faced with obstacles, we always have several paths. When it comes to our current situation with the Russian Federation, I, for one, want to follow the path that President Reagan took, the path that President George H.W. Bush took. When confronted with a difficult and sometimes unpredictable partner in the Soviet Union, they did not take their ball and go home. They did not let strategic stability become a political punching bag. They set about the hard task of building up strategic stability through arms control treaties and agreements, and they succeeded in making this world a safer place. They worked hard, and achieved much.”