Hillary Clinton argued this week that the 2009 Russian “reset” was a success, if temporary, in part because it got Vladimir Putin to sign off on missile-reduction treaties. Andrew Peek responded with the inconvenient truth that the Russians needed those missile treaties more than the US did, even if Hillary and Barack Obama seemingly acted as though they were desperate for the agreements. Peek also noted that while the Obama administration has argued all along that they needed to buy Russian pressure on Iran, Putin was cooperating there too — at least to a point:
The administration’s prize pig, UNSCR 1929, was a diplomatic success. But it was not disproportionately more severe than the steadily escalating UN sanctions achieved by the Bush administration – and U.S. concessions certainly were. In particular, President Bush had achieved prior resolutions without giving Putin a free hand among America’s wartime allies. And since the real bite on Iran’s economy came through independent U.S.-EU sanctions, the administration could have sacrificed less for an even more watered-down UN resolution and still instituted effective independent sanctions with Europe. …
Without wading into an agreeably retro discussion of nuclear mega tonnage, throw weight, and strategic triads, we should remember one important point: The Russians needed START more than we did.
Why? Prestige. Remember, by virtual any measure of power – economic, military, diplomatic, etc – the United States ranks at or near the top of the world. But Russia’s entire claim to great-power status rests on its vast arsenal of nuclear weapons. It’s also much poorer than the United States, and upkeep of those weapons is thus relatively more of a burden. To reduce them unilaterally simply weakens Russia’s claim to global significance; but to do so through a great-power agreement with the U.S. not only maintains its relative nuclear prominence (and thus status) more cheaply, but lets Moscow negotiate with Washington on the high stage. It gets the same prestige for half the price, and a nice signing ceremony to boot.
It is absolutely not wrong to pursue a nuclear reduction treaty that Russia wants. But it is absolutely wrong to do so without extracting explicit concessions in other areas. START wasn’t a relative benefit to us: It was a relative benefit to them. So please, Hillary: stop treating it – and Iran – like major victories.
Why bring this up now? Putin has provided a belated reminder of Russian commitment to those agreements that Obama and Hillary were so desperate to sign. The White House accused Putin of violating a 1987 treaty that forbids the testing of ground-based cruise missiles, heightening tensions in a Cold War replay:
The United States has concluded that Russia violated a landmark arms control treaty by testing a prohibited ground-launched cruise missile, according to senior American officials, a finding that was conveyed by President Obama to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in a letter on Monday. …
At the heart of the issue is the 1987 treaty that bans American and Russian ground-launched ballistic or cruise missiles capable of flying 300 to 3,400 miles. That accord, which was signed by President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, helped seal the end of the Cold War and has been regarded as a cornerstone of American-Russian arms control efforts.
Russia first began testing the cruise missiles as early as 2008, according to American officials, and the Obama administration concluded by the end of 2011 that they were a compliance concern. In May 2013, Rose Gottemoeller, the State Department’s senior arms control official, first raised the possibility of a violation with Russian officials.
The New York Times reported in January that American officials had informed the NATO allies that Russia had tested a ground-launched cruise missile, raising serious concerns about Russia’s compliance with the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or I.N.F. Treaty as it is commonly called. The State Department said at the time that the issue was under review and that the Obama administration was not yet ready to formally declare it to be a treaty violation.
This raises a question about Hillary’s explanation of the “reset” button. If the US knew about the violations in 2011, why didn’t Hillary know about it? If she didn’t, then she must have been asleep at the switch. If she did know about it, then her defense of the “reset” button makes no sense. Why brag about arms-controls treaties while our opponent is violating the agreement that preceded them? There are several ways to describe that, but “smart power” isn’t one of them.
In better news, the US and EU have apparently resolved their differences on sanctions against Russia in the wake of the shootdown of Malaysia Air 17. The West will expand sanctions to entire sectors of the Russian economy in an attempt to force Putin to retreat from his war in eastern Ukraine:
The United States and the European Union, finally in synch on how to deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin, are preparing a powerful one-two punch against Russia’s economy, with EU ambassadors meeting on Tuesday to discuss a dramatic escalation in the trade bloc’s sanctions.
Frustrated by the apparent ineffectiveness of previous sanctions and outraged by the deaths of 298 people aboard the Malaysia Airlines plane downed over eastern Ukraine, ambassadors were considering measures including limits on Russia’s access to European capital markets and a halt in trade in arms and dual-use and sensitive technologies.
The BBC confirms that Europe plans wide-ranging sectoral sanctions:
The European Union is set to agree new sanctions against Russia, targeting its finance, energy and defence sectors over the conflict in Ukraine.
Top Russian individuals and entities are already subject to EU sanctions for their alleged role in Ukraine’s crisis. …
Europe’s leaders did not want to move to economic sanctions but they were moved by two considerations: the outrage at the way investigators have been blocked from access to the crash site of the downed plane and, secondly, the fact that Russia, since the incident, has been allowing heavy weapons across the border into Ukraine.
The calculation in Europe is that it had to act for its own credibility and that it may have to go further to ensure that President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle understand that their actions carry consequences.
At least this is smarter power. The West has woken up very late to the ambitions of Putin for a rebuilt Russian empire. The fomenting of the rebellion in Ukraine after seeing Putin’s puppet Viktor Yanukovich get chased out of Kyiv has created the first European war since the Balkans in the 1990s, and it cost the lives of almost 300 civilians on an airliner earlier this month. Putin’s flouting of the 1987 cruise-missile treaty shows that this was a very long wake-up call, stretching back three years or more, and perhaps all the way back to 2008 — which might have explained why the Bush administration got tough with Putin in its final year. That makes the “reset” button even more reprehensible in retrospect than it was contemporaneously … and that’s saying something.