The American Committee for US-Russia Accord: Symposium: Which Way Forward For US-Russia Relations?

The Board Members of the American Committee for US-Russia Accord have come together to lend their insights and suggestions as to how we might find a peaceful and productive way forward for the US-Russia relationship.

Jack F. Matlock:

The United States will not be able to deal successfully with the most important challenges facing it unless it can work in tandem with other large countries to manage threats that are global in nature: nuclear weapons, pandemics, global warming and ever more destructive technologies if used in warfare.  The same, of course, can be said of Russia. The vital interests of both countries are endangered when their governments treat the other as a threat, or worse, an enemy, rather than as a potential and necessary partner.

In 2009 the Obama administration announced that it wished to “reset” relations with Russia. This policy produced the important “New START” Treaty which, to their credit, Presidents Biden and Putin have agreed to extend. But “reset” had its limits. When “reset” was mistranslated into Russian as “overload” and in practice burdened with efforts to influence the internal politics of Russia and some of its closest neighbors, cooperation became difficult-sometimes impossible-even when the two countries shared vital interests.

Is it realistic to advise replacement of the operating system? It will not be an easy task, but there is a precedent. Beginning in 1983-84, and the height of the Cold War, the Reagan administration developed a strategy to move away from the zero-sum mentality that was blocking agreements to tame the nuclear arms race. This included quiet diplomacy to identify common interests, confidential communication before public announcements, and dealing with the Soviet leaders with personal respect, even as we criticized their system of government. The Cold War came to a rapid end and both the Soviet Union and the United States were safer and better off when it ended. It was not a victory of one side over the other. The Soviet Union subsequently disintegrated as a unitary state as the result of internal pressures, not because it was defeated in the Cold War.

Both the United States and Russia are wrestling with serious problems at home. Only Americans can solve theirs and only Russian citizens can solve theirs. It does not help either country for outsiders to take sides in the other’s disputes. Nevertheless, the life-threatening dangers, the truly existential dangers, face both countries equally-as they do the rest of the world. Presidents Biden and Putin now have the opportunity to find ways to cooperate in dealing with global threats, and encouraging others to do so as well. That would constitute a new operating system, suited to the threats of the present and future rather than replaying follies of the past.

Jack F. Matlock Jr. is a career diplomat who served as US Ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1987-1991.


Katrina vanden Heuvel:

While nuclear conflict has largely faded from public consciousness, it still poses a clear and present danger. America is now locked in a new Cold War with Russia, with multiple direct engagements between the two countries’ forces and rising tensions between Russia and the United States’ NATO allies. Meanwhile, the United States and Russia still maintain nearly 2,000 atomic bombs on hair-trigger alert.

Fortunately, President Biden has long championed stronger nuclear arms controls.

Last month Biden announced his Administration will renew the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) between the United States and Russia. Negotiated by the Obama administration, the pact limits the capabilities of the two countries’ respective nuclear arsenals. Allowing it to lapse would represent yet another blow to the international arms control framework that is being systematically dismantled.

The good news is that both Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin will begin to reverse that dangerous trend and extend New START – which is achievable through a simple exchange of diplomatic letters.
But preserving New START, while an important step, should also be exactly what it sounds like: a start. There are many other actions Biden should take to reduce the likelihood of nuclear conflict – and move our nation further toward the ultimate goal of abolishing all nuclear weapons.

Former defense secretary William Perry and nuclear scholar Tom Collina offer a series of important steps: Retire the nuclear football that gives presidents the sole discretion to launch atomic attacks. All presidents should have to share this authority with a select group from Congress.

Scrap the Trump administration’s plans to spend $264 billion on a new generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). These land-based weapons offer little military value, since our nuclear-armed submarines can already retaliate against another country’s first strike. And building more ICBMs only heightens our very real risk of accidentally launching a nuclear war.

These actions should be accompanied by a broader reimagining of our national security. America is poised to spend $2 trillion over the next 30 years replacing every Cold War submarine, bomber, missile and warhead. These expenditures aren’t driven by military necessity or a grand strategic plan, but they do have the support of hundreds of defense industry lobbyists. Protracted cold wars with powers like Russia and China aren’t just dangerous – they’re also expensive and distracting. We can improve the US-Russian relationship by balancing sober realism with well-calibrated diplomacy. As former California governor Jerry Brown argued in a recent Open Letter to Biden, reopening dialogue with Russia around the nuclear crisis would allow us to end the arms race and free up resources to enact the core elements of Biden’s agenda – from delivering covid-19 relief to combating the climate crisis to advancing racial justice.

Katrina vanden Heuvel is Editorial Director and Publisher of The Nation.


David C. Speedie:

High on the list of likely foreign policy priorities for the Biden presidency is the resolve to “get tough” on Russia.  This would be both regrettable, and quite possibly dangerous—dangerous, because on the very day that we expect to see an extension of New START, the fact remains that the United States and Russia between them some 90 percent of the planet’s strategic nuclear weapons and tensions between the two are at their most acute in the thirty-plus years since the Cold War ended.

Regrettable, because this is avoidable with a mutual resolve to put aside flame-throwing rhetoric and accusations and to seek accord where it is achievable [pandemic control, climate change alleviation and combatting international extremist movements come to mind.]  Instead, we have the view from Washington of an expansionist Russia under autocratic leadership meddling maliciously in the U.S and Europe [witness the furor over the improbable farrago of “Russiagate”].  Moscow sees a U.S.-led military alliance first expanding to Russia’s very borders, then playing ever-more aggressive war games in the Baltic and Black Seas, all the while abetting “color revolutions” in neighborhood, with Russia itself as the ultimate prize.

In an already volatile world reeling from the effects of a pandemic, it is desperately important to get beyond this zero-sum contest between two great powers who can contribute so much to future recovery.  How to get there is truly not that difficult: for us, let Russia be Russia, not as we wish to see it; and vice versa.  This involves the classic definition of the true diplomat: one who can understand the point of view of the person on the other side of the table—understand, not capitulate; it’s a start.  And if the man on the other side alarms us, anyone who has closely followed Russia over the last decade may well conclude that there are worse options for the West than Putin and his policy of “strategic patience.”

ACURA strongly advocates diplomacy and dialogue at all levels: Track One involves the Department of State and consulates reopening in Russia where they have closed.  Track Two joins experts on both sides in climate, energy, science and other vital disciplines where there is strength in both the United States and Russia.  Finally, citizen-to-citizen programs—a kind of mutual soft power exchange that enhances mutual understanding.  Whatever the echelon, as Churchill reputedly said, “it is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war.”

David C. Speedie served as the Chairman of the Program on International Peace and Security at the Carnegie Corporation and was a Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.


John Pepper:

First of all, we have to recognize that we embark on answering this question at a very inauspicious moment.  Navalny under arrest.  Protestors being beaten down.  Factions of the Russian government breaking into our systems.  President Putin harboring a deeply embedded, simmering conviction that the United States and the West continue the campaign to undermine Russia’s quest to assure its proper place in the world.

Republican and Democratic congressional leaders are aligned on few things more than their antipathy toward Russia and President Putin’s actions, including in Syria and Ukraine.

Trust, already fragile, is in tatters.  And this attitude doesn’t only exist at high levels of government.  The attitudes of the citizens of the two countries toward each other have become sharply negative over the course of the last 15 years.

And yet…we do have to work together and both nations know it.  Where and how?

First and foremost, in controlling the risk of nuclear annihilation.  By advancing treaties between our two countries and reaching out to include other nuclear powers to reduce the risk of further nuclear proliferation and to control the enormous risk that already exists.

Success on this will depend on relationships.  Relations based on three things:  transparency, truth and trust.  Individuals on both sides need to come to know each other, just as Gorbachev and Shevardnadze came to know Reagan and Baker.

Overarching trust will be built not by words but by accomplishments, by concrete actions, above all in the province of nuclear proliferation and cybersecurity.

On cybersecurity, we should create a multi-national group of experts to define the right policy and then seek multi-national agreement to it for mutual protection.

There is one other initiative I would prioritize.  Building relationships among the Russian and American public, person-to-person, group-to-group.  Through my association with Procter & Gamble’s business in Russia over a period of 30 years and with the University of St. Petersburg over almost the same period, I have come to know Russian men and women and they have come to know me.  We’ve come to trust and respect one another as competent, caring individuals of good character, with different views of history and of the current situation in some areas, for sure, but with a deep conviction we can and must work together for our common good.

Sharing experience and, most importantly, building personal relationships can happen at many levels and in many ways.  They need to include young people, and they also need to include legislators from the Duma and from the U.S. Congress.  They should include businesses.  Some exchange programs already exist and should be built upon.  New ones will need to be established.  This opportunity area deserves careful strategic consideration.

To be sure, this is a long-term, indeed generation-spanning, undertaking.  I see no other way.

John Pepper is the former Chairman and CEO of The Procter & Gamble Company.  He also served as Chairman of The Walt Disney Company and of the Yale Corporation.


Anatol Lieven:

The Biden administration has one significant domestic advantage when it comes to dealing with Russia: unlike Trump, it cannot possibly be accused of being pro-Russian. This should allow it greater flexibility in seeking compromises.

The administration has taken a good first step with the renewal of the START Treaty. The next step in the nuclear field must be to seek a return to agreed limits on intermediate nuclear missiles, and to confidence-building measures including mutual overflights. Any talks will however have to involve some recognition by the US side that the expansion of NATO eastwards has created a new security situation damaging to Russian interests.

A second field where some early progress is possible is in cyberspace. The Biden administration should take up Russia’s proposals for negotiations on a cyber-treaty. The aim should be not to ban influence operations or espionage by both sides (which is hardly practically possible) but to draw clear and absolute lines against cyber-sabotage.

Thirdly, the USA should agree to a series of formal meetings with Russia in support of the Afghan peace process. An invitation to Iran should be made part of negotiations with Tehran for a renewal of the nuclear deal. This initiative should be based on a recognition by Washington that Russian and Iranian (and Pakistani) support will be essential if any Afghan peace settlement is to survive.

Ideally, the Biden administration should give full support to the Minsk Group proposals for a solution to the disputes over Ukraine, involving a federal constitution with internationally-guaranteed enhanced autonomy for the Donbas. This should be accompanied by an offer to recognise Russian sovereignty over Crimea if this is supported by a majority in a UN-supervised plebiscite there. Realistically, alas, this may not be possible for US domestic political reasons.

Any US attempt at new agreements with Russia must however be based on a willingness by Washington to compromise with Russian interests, and not simply to try to dictate to Moscow, as has generally been the pattern to date. 

Anatol Lieven is a professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, Qatar.



Krishen Mehta:

Does it really serve our mutual best-interests to exclude Russia from the G8 and from the OECD? And let us not forget the WTO: it took 18 years of negotiations before Russia was finally admitted to the WTO. We are talking about a country that is the largest territory in the world, from St Petersburg to China, a formidable military and nuclear power, having immense natural resources that are essential to the global economy, and a world class science and education program. This is the same country that sacrificed over 26 million people to enable the West to secure victory against the Axis powers in WWII. And let us not forget the contribution to our civilization by Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Alexander Pushkin, Igor Stravinsky, and Boris Tchaikovsky, among many others.

Here are three simple steps to revive the US Russia relationship – One, welcome the young and engage with them. It is this younger generation that US policy cannot afford to lose with a sanctions policy that encourages them to believe that the West only seeks to undermine Russia and their futures.

Two, Reduce the nuclear threat and revisit the role of NATO. A realist step to renew confidence with average Russians is to go beyond extending the New Start and to revive all arms control talks. Just as we do in America, Russians also feel more secure when active arms control talks and agreements make less likely the triggering of an accidental war.

And three, revisit the sanctions policy and our view of Crimea. To recalibrate our sanctions, we must recognize that Crimea will remain Russian. Its population was always heavily Russian – many of them retired naval military living near the large naval port of Sevastopol. Crimeans identify with the historical struggles of Russia against invasions from the West.

During my recent trip to Sevastopol I encountered memorials both to the tremendous losses during the Nazi occupation of Crimea during 1942-44, but also to the invasion by the British, French, and the Ottomans in 1854. It was clear to me that the people of Crimea will not relinquish the pride in their traditional Rusian identity and accept a return to Ukraine.

I believe therefore that it is time to improve relations between Russia and the West with a policy of realism about Russia. It will yield benefits in the long-term that our current policy of sanctions and isolation will not. And the time to act is now.

Krishen Mehta is a Senior Global Justice Fellow at Yale University.



Ellen Mickiewicz:

I don’t think Russia a noisome actor nor do I think turning one’s back and ignoring what’s happening there is the best policy. Such a policy will not bear fruit.  There are several other options open to both them and us.

One is a push to insist on accuracy and facts for the American public.  Take, for example, the New York Times and others.  In reporting the most recent and daring hack of government institutions, the Times echoed the official report:  It identifies Treasury, Agriculture, State and Homeland Security and NIH as “also believed to have been affected” but these victims have not confirmed it.  Nor is it known how extensive the hacks were.  The official report says several times, following the USG report, that Russia is the likely source.  

It’s the word “likely”.  It is clear that by identifying hackers’ methods and their success of lack of it, the victims give away still more.  However, the word likely is now used by media and by US government institutions as well.  These institutions need our good will and support, but do not supply us with solid information.  The previous administration did not appear to trust experts also to be good citizens. That chapter is closed and we should have new ideas.  

Overall, it would help enormously, if we did not demonize Russia and Russians. The leaders of the future in Russia resent the broad brush stroke and don’t understand it.  They are not keen on Crimea as part of Russia; they know it will be costly and the budget cannot absorb it without hurting other sectors:  household income, medical care, increasing social and educational mobility.  Triumphalism both there and here has outrun its utility. 

President Biden, in speaking about America, insisted on respectful relations – and that is true on the international level as well.  There are specific areas in which we have cooperated and could do so again fruitfully.  Russian scientists have, for years now, collaborated with us in determining the composition of the next flu virus vaccination.  It would be useful to resurrect the CDC-Russia interchange of scientists.  We forget that Russia has had a long history of science Nobel Prize winners.   And even broaden it with exchange or hosting students in U.S. high schools.

Ellen Mickiewicz is James R. Shepley emeritus professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Duke University.



Cynthia Lazaroff: 

Humanity can breathe a sigh of relief with the extension of New START by the United States and Russia. Setting caps of 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers for each side is a good start, a critical step back from the brink.  But it’s just a start.

At a time when former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry warns we are at a greater risk of a nuclear catastrophe than at any time in history, it is incumbent upon the U.S. and Russia, the two countries that possess over 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, to pursue negotiations to end the arms race and achieve total disarmament as they are mandated to do by Article VI of the NPT.

This would demonstrate leadership to the other seven nuclear-armed states and give the U.S. and Russia the moral standing to encourage them to follow. China has made it clear they will not consider reductions in their nuclear arsenals until the U.S. and Russia come down to their level of an estimated 320 warheads.

Despite deep political differences and high toxicity in U.S.-Russia relations, our two countries have a larger shared interest in eliminating the existential threat of nuclear war. It is neither alarmist nor naïve to say that it is an existential imperative that we seize the opportunity afforded by the extension of New START to reduce tensions and the nuclear risk, rebuild trust and move towards a world without nuclear weapons.

Here are five steps the U.S. and Russia should take now:

-Reaffirm the declaration – made by both Reagan and Gorbachev – that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.
-Adopt a no-first-use policy for nuclear weapons.
-Eliminate launch on warning.
-Maintain a dialogue on nuclear cooperation and nuclear risk reduction.
-Pursue a verifiable agreement among nuclear-armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

Outside the nuclear dimension, it is critical for the U.S. and Russia to resume wide people-to-people contacts and educational, cultural, medical, scientific and environmental exchanges.  This will serve to further reduce tensions and advance cooperation and understanding.

It’s time to reimagine U.S.-Russia relations for the 21st century. We need to start working together to address the most urgent challenges of our time – the pandemic and climate change – and to implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The stakes are existential – for Americans, for Russians, for the world.  We can change the game in U.S.-Russia relations and back ourselves away from the nuclear precipice if we adopt these steps now.

Cynthia Lazaroff is an award winning documentarian and author based in Hawaii.


Christopher Charles Dyson:

President Biden’s willingness to extend the New START Treaty is undoubtedly a step in the right direction for US-Russian relations. But the goodwill that accompanies the treaty’s extension needs to be the basis for a more comprehensive, constructive and respectful relationship.  It is past time for de-escalation of tensions.

The echo-chamber, anti-Trump-Putin Establishment and media campaign over the past five years effectively demonized improved diplomatic efforts to normalize US relations with Russia. This campaign was dangerously counterproductive for world affairs.

We must challenge leading figures who employ tired Cold War bromides to preserve a failed status quo.  What we need is new thinking, a reimagining of what security means.

The best relationships are based on trust and mutual interest.  We need to work together to repair trust;  the United States and Russia have much more to gain by focusing on areas of agreement and benefits.  Perpetually inflaming tensions does little but distracts from the bigger opportunities and alternative pathways.

What is required now is a maturity and courage that transcends cultural narcissism and comfortable groupthink ideology. This requires honest self-reflection and some admissions that are uncomfortable to acknowledge.  There also needs to be a firmer embrace of diplomacy, and substantive talks about reducing militarization generally.

A better understanding of history humanizes and in turn allows us to see the world in a more collaborative fashion. Those who subvert this overdue conversation should not be celebrated.

The US and Russia are uniquely proud and regional powerhouses and while we may not always view the world the same way, we need to recapture the spirit of promise and respect that formed the basis of the end of the Cold War.

So as we hope the extension of New START heralds improved relations, we must be also deliberate in our steps towards a more lasting peace– and soberly identify the clear impediments to progress along the way.

Christopher Dyson is executive Vice President of the Dyson-Kissner-Moran Corporation.


Sharon Tennison:

The entire world will profit if the U.S. and Russia can once again work together to insure Nuclear safety and goodwill among these two nations.
My recommendation is to begin immediate Zoom relations between Americans and Russians who are involved with reducing the chances of a Nuclear War.  We at CCI have access to numerous such VIP specialists in Russia, and ACURA has access to numbers of such VIP specialists here in the US. We can set up non-official Zooms between these two groups within the next month. The Zooms could continue to meet weekly or monthly, which as they will decide. New members on both sides can be brought in by mutual agreement.
Sharon Tennison is President, President and Founder (1983 – present) of the Center for Citizen Initiatives (CCI)



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