Russia and Arms Control: Are There Opportunities for the Obama Administration?

  • March 01, 2009
  • Dr Stephen J Blank

Russo-American relations are generally acknowledged to be at an impasse. Arms control issues feature prominently in that conflicted agenda. Indeed, as of September 2008, the Bush administration was contemplating not just a break in arms talks but actual sanctions, and allowed the bilateral civil nuclear treaty with Russia to die in the Senate rather than go forward for confirmation. Russian spokesmen make clear their belief that American concessions on key elements of arms control issues like missile defenses in Europe are a touchstone for the relationship and a condition of any further progress towards genuine dialogue. This impasse poses several risks beyond the obvious one of a breakdown in U.S.-Russian relations and the easily foreseeable bilateral consequences. Since the outbreak of the Russo-Georgian war in August 2008, both sides have further hardened positions and raised tensions apart from the war itself and Russia’s quite evident refusal to abide by its own cease-fire terms. Nevertheless, for better or worse, arms control and its agenda will remain at the heart of the bilateral Russo-American relationship for a long time. For these reasons, neither the political nor the military aspect can be divorced from the other. And for these same reasons, we cannot refuse to participate in the bilateral effort to resolve those issues.