Throughout the 2016 primary cycle, the US-Russian relationship has been one of the most important issues on the campaign trail. Candidates have called for tough actions like sanctions, a military build-up to counter Russian forces, and even the severing of diplomatic ties. This rhetoric makes sense when looking at polling – approximately two-thirds of Americans have an unfavorable view of Russia since the Ukraine crisis. However, even as dim as the relationship has become, positive diplomacy between the United States and Russia is taking place – and these developments should be celebrated.
Today is the fifth anniversary of the New START treaty, which the Senate ratified five years ago to reduce the countries’ superfluous nuclear arsenals. Unfortunately, this encouraging development quickly turned sour. Disagreements over the Syrian Civil War, missile defense, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, and Crimea have all halted further arms control progress. As a consequence, just one of many, Congress voted in late 2014 to cut funding for the Energy Department’s program to help secure nuclear material in Russia after Russian officials indicated an interest in ending the partnership at a diplomatic meeting in Moscow; the cooperative program was in effect for over two decades.
Yet, as much as the relationship has darkened, we should acknowledge the continued success of the New START treaty. Inspections are still occurring between the two countries; just last month, Russian officials traveled to Vandenberg Air Force Base to verify reductions in deployed nuclear warheads. The partnership has been successful – as one START compliance officer put it, “There are very strict rules and it’s all very professional. The treaty is working well, and our working relations with the Russians are cordial.” Both Russia and the United States are fully meeting their commitments, which will ultimately reduce their deployed nuclear arsenals to 1,550 warheads – a 30 percent reduction from before the treaty.
New START’s inspections, data exchanges, and warhead limits provide greater transparency and predictability between the countries’ nuclear arsenals. This increases stability and reduces the likelihood of miscalculations.
Not only have the two countries worked together on global arms control, but they have also found common ground in Afghanistan. In October, US and Russian officials met in Moscow to discuss joint strategies for battling Afghanistan’s storied problem of narcotrafficking. The three-day planning session produced a consensus report and policy assessment, which officials hope can serve as a catalyst for further cooperation.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed with Iran has also been a bright spot of cooperation between the two superpowers. Under the deal, officials have worked together to transfer Iran’s highly enriched uranium to Russia for storage.
It’s perfectly clear that we can – and will – work with Russia on a number of mutually critical issues. This was even true during the darkest days of the Cold War. Examples include the Nixon Administration convening the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks with the Soviet Union – one of the greatest achievements in arms control – and President Ronald Reagan negotiating an agreement to eliminate intermediate nuclear forces.
Make no mistake: we should continue to vigorously oppose Russian actions that undermine international security in places like Ukraine and Syria. But instead of solely focusing on what drives us apart, let’s find the right areas to increase cooperation and improve the security of both countries and the world.