If the meeting takes place, one can hardly expect a miracle – there will be a long and winding road ahead. Some people believe that the Obama administration is a lame duck, so it’s more prudent to wait till a new US administration takes office on January 2017. If somebody asked me, I’d say the Obama legacy is here to stay for a long time. It’s imperative to take the first step and send the right message to bureaucrats of the both sides, as well as the international community, saying the worst times are behind in Russia-US relationship. The 2017 effort needs a starting point. Losing a year and a half is not what the world can afford. Will terrorists wait? Will the Middle East crisis wait? Is there a guarantee the non-proliferation regime will remain to be effective?
Talking to Le Figaro on September 9, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the West and Russia should join together in the fight against the Islamic State. According to him, the West made a big mistake starting a new Cold War with Russia. It should turn a new page and start to cooperate where it’s possible leaving the differences on Ukraine and other controversial issues aside to be addressed separately. Sarkozy emphasized the need for Europe to launch a new dialogue with Moscow.
The Ukrainian conflict and the wars in the Middle East overshadowed other global security challenges. The international arms control regime (IACR) has become a victim of a creeping crisis. The truth is, the entire system of limiting existing nuclear arsenals and preventing further proliferation of nuclear weapons could unravel with devastating consequences. Beginning with the signing of the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963, the IACR has been in place to limit existing nuclear arsenals and prevent further proliferation of nuclear weapons. Today nearly all talks on nuclear arms reduction and nonproliferation have become suspended while existing treaty structures are eroding and may collapse at ant moment in the near future. Even the fate of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty – the only two that remain valid – is in question.
The United States has abandoned the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and no longer accepts any restrictions on its missile defense deployments. It has not ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) almost two decades after negotiations finished. For the foreseeable future, there is little prospect of the United States accepting new obligations. At the same time, Washington has accused Russia of violating the INF Treaty. As a result, Republicans in the U.S. Congress have suggested retaliation by renouncing the treaty and even by withdrawing from START-III (New START).
It appears that some forces have embarked on a course of destruction of everything that state leaders, diplomats, and militaries have so painstakingly built in this realm over several decades. More to it, the other seven states with nuclear weapons are as reluctant as ever to join the disarmament process and limit their arsenals. Negotiations toward a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, an agreement on preventing the new production of fissile material for weapons, have been stymied for many years. The prospects remain bleak. A conference to discuss the establishment of weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the Middle East has been postponed for several years in a row. The 2015 NPT Review Conference ended in failure.
The current period of disintegration is unprecedented with literally every channel of negotiation deadlocked and the entire system of existing arms control agreements under threat. The lack of attention to this situation is also unparalleled, but it fits within the drastic deterioration in broader relations between Russia and the United States.
The arms control regime that has existed since 1963 is about to give up the ghost. The only thing that can prevent further unraveling of nuclear arms control regime is a new-found determination by national leaders to fix the strategic and technical problems.
In the nearly quarter century since the end of the Cold War, the US (frequently with allies) has actively attempted to create a unipolar world order. It tried to resolve regional conflicts (in the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, Syria) and build a new system of European security through poorly judged NATO and EU expansions. Its actions have often led to substantial harm. Russian President Vladimir Putin has spoken repeatedly about the negative consequences of the actions of the United States and the West in general.
Evidently, the United States’ ability to affect the course of world events (even with help from NATO) has been declining steadily. The West has also been less willing to shoulder the material and human costs of involvement in regional conflicts, as demonstrated by its operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria.
In 2013-2014 Russia and the United States joined their efforts during Syrian chemical weapons crisis. It was a daunting challenge, a kind of leap into unknown, but it paid off well. We’ve just reached a success on Iranian nuclear program. Back in history the both countries managed to cope with great challenges, they curbed the arms race in 1960s and found a compromise while balancing on the verge of WWIII during the Cuban crisis. This is the time to say: “Yes, we can!” The world is watching. It would be a folly to miss the opportunity.