The American Committee for US-Russia Accord
A call for a new era of diplomacy and engagement between the U.S. and Russia
The dangerous and in many ways unprecedented deterioration in relations between the United States and the Russian Federation must come to an end if we are to leave a safer world for future generations.
For many years now, relations between the US and Russia have been marked by sanctions and counter-sanctions; the passage of ”foreign agents” designations on media outlets and NGO’s; the curtailing of people-to-people exchange programs; and the end of cooperation in areas of mutual interest such as counter-terrorism, drug interdiction, and the environment.
The Trump era and Russiagate brought about an unprecedented credulity among the media and the Washington punditry — or perhaps more, a willingness to assign blame to Russia for the outcome of the 2016 election [this has now been discredited]. It has now in turn given birth to two much more dangerous phenomena: an escalating militarism reminiscent of the darkest days of the Cold War; and a dangerous erosion of the decades-long bilateral arms control regime negotiated even during that Great Power standoff.
These developments imperil not just the two principal players, but are a threat to global peace, prosperity, even survival. They must be addressed. This will not be easily accomplished: hostility toward Russia profits some–it fuels the military-industrial complex and strengthens the hand of the hard liners in both Russia and the United States. It throttles diplomatic engagement and obliterates the space for dissenting views from the dominant anti-Russia narrative.
Still worse, the Trump era continued a dangerous deterioration of the decades-long bilateral consensus on arms control that had been established between the two countries during the first cold war.
For a just and secure future, these trends will have to be reckoned with – and then reversed. We believe cold wars are inimical to US national security – indeed they are inimical to global peace and prosperity. They empower the military-industrial complex and the war parties on both sides. Nationalist fervor rises, diplomacy is sidelined, and the space for dissent closes.
As for diplomacy, in an unfortunate continuation of the downward spiral that began under Presidents Putin, Obama and then accelerated under Mr. Trump, both countries have recalled their ambassadors home, an unprecedented move that was not even done at the height of the first cold war. We might do well to recall that during the Cuban missile crisis, the Soviet Union and the U.S. kept their Ambassadors in place. And good thing they did: the backchannel Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy established with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin was one of the reasons the crisis was solved peacefully.
With this history in mind, we, the undersigned, call for an end to the cycle of recriminations between the U.S. and Russia.
We believe that it is imperative that both the US and Russia abandon the cold war mentality that has plagued the relationship over the past decade and initiate a process of dialogue and diplomacy leading to the normalization of relations between the two countries.
For too long, as our esteemed board member, former Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Jack Matlock reminds us, there has been too much emphasis on summits as solutions in themselves. Successful ones have to be prepared quietly. Both sides have to want them to succeed and they cannot if one is convinced that the other side is out to remove the leadership of the other country.
Instead we need to find ways to “do no harm” and halt the deterioration of relations and the seemingly endless cycle of recriminations. We need to start thinking in new and creative ways – in short, it is time for a new approach – one that focuses on conciliation.
For such an approach to succeed, the U.S. might focus more on getting its own house in order, and less on lecturing Russia on “human rights.” We might valuably differentiate between contentious issues that are vital to our national interests and those that are not. We might usefully recognize that Russia has its own national security issues of concern, especially in its own neighborhood.
In the spirit of detente, a concept that launched our committee in 1974, we propose taking the following steps to build trust and facilitate dialogue:
i. We urge the Biden Administration to reopen the Consulates and reverse its recent decision to halt Visa services for most Russians.
ii. President Biden should invite President Putin to join him in reaffirming the declaration first made by President Reagan and Soviet leader Gorbachev at their 1985 summit in Geneva that “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” This went a long way during the Cold War to reassure the peoples of the two countries and the world that even though we had deep differences we were committed to never fighting a nuclear war. It would go a long way to do the same today.
iii. Reengage with Russia. Restore wide contacts, scientific, medical, educational, cultural and environmental exchanges. Expand people-to-people citizen diplomacy, Track II, Track 1.5 and governmental diplomatic initiatives. In this regard, it is worth recalling that another of our board members, former US Senator Bill Bradley, was the guiding force behind the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX), based on his conviction that “the best way to ensure long-lasting peace and understanding between the U.S. and Eurasia is to enable young people to learn about democracy firsthand through experiencing it”.
There is so much more we need to take on, but we believe these would serve as the foundation for progress in other areas down the road. To make progress on arms control and establishing rules of the road for cyber, we should take these steps to reduce tensions, and to rebuild trust. We should recognize that we do have areas of common interest: in combating climate change, fighting terrorism, and working together to address global public health challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
We believe that the time has come to resurrect diplomacy, restore and maintain a dialogue on nuclear risks that’s insulated from our political differences like we did during the Cold War. Without communication, this increases the likelihood of escalation to nuclear use in a moment of crisis.
We must sustain diplomacy and a dialogue with Russia — or explain to future generations why we took no action — at a time so fraught with peril.
Christopher Charles Dyson, Executive Vice President of the Dyson-Kissner Moran Corporation, Member of the Board of the American Committee for US-Russia Accord (ACURA)
Cynthia Lazaroff, Founder of NuclearWakeUpCall.Earth, Member of the Board of ACURA
Anatol Lieven, Sr. Fellow, The Quincy Institute, Member of the Board of ACURA
Jack F. Matlock, Former U.S. Ambassador to the USSR, Member of the Board of ACURA
Donald F. McHenry, Former U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Member of the Board of ACURA
Krishen Mehta, Sr. Global Justice Fellow, Yale University, Member of the Board of ACURA
Ellen Mickiewicz, Professor Emeritus, Duke University, Member of the Board of ACURA
John Pepper, Former Chairman and CEO of The Procter & Gamble Company, Member of the Board of ACURA
Nicolai N. Petro, Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island, Member of the Board of ACURA
David C. Speedie, Sr. Adviser and Member of the Board of ACURA
Sharon Tennison, Founder of Center for Citizen Initiatives, Member of the Board of ACURA
Katrina vanden Heuvel, Publisher and Editorial Director of The Nation, Member of the Board of ACURA
William J. Vanden Heuvel, Former Ambassador to the United Nations, Member of the Board of ACURA