Senior Editor, Outlaw Patriot News
As President-Elect Trump begins to formulate his policies and strategies over the course of his term, it is imperative that he address the growing tension between the US and Russia and work to alleviate the damage done over the past twenty years in US-Russian relations. A good first step would be re-addressing the confidence and security building measures and partnerships that arms control treaties negotiated by the Reagan administration provided.
Many point to the accomplishments of President Ronald Reagan and his policies in dealing with the Soviet Union as what led to the US winning the Cold War. However, this popular theory is somewhat incorrect as what caused the ultimate dissolution of the Soviet Union was its inability to keep up with the US as a global power because of the structure of the socialist system and the tremendous burden of that system on the economy of the country. Planned economies have no way to deal with the realities of changes in the market and changes in supply and demand which will inevitably cause the downward spiral of such economies. Reagan and his administration understood this very well, and understood that there was a groundswell of support within the general populace of the Soviet Union for change, something that the Communist Party was not willing to embrace. Gorbachev was willing to institute some free market policies into the economic plan of the Soviet Union, but didn’t understand that once the Soviet people tasted the freedom and fruits of capitalization, that they would push for more and greater freedoms across the entire spectrum. It was this organic push that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union more than anything that any outside pressure could have done.
Nonetheless, where Reagan and his administration excelled in their relations with the Soviet Union, and this was in large part due to his own personal relationship with the Soviet Premier, was in solidifying the treaty framework around arms control inspections. It was understood on both sides that something would need to be done in order to de-escalate tensions within Central Europe, where tens of thousands of pieces of military equipment were at the ready, staring down the barrels at one another in a dangerous game of chicken. Within each side’s homelands, thousands of nuclear missiles were pointed at one another, capable of destroying the Earth several times over. The problem was that neither side, due to the tangled history between the two powers, trusted one another to give up a piece of defense and be assured that the other side wasn’t doing something behind the scenes to further endanger their national security. And hence was born the inspection regime of on-site inspections for treaty compliance which embodied the famous statement of President Reagan, and which became the motto of the US inspection verification agency, “trust, but verify”.
While it is true that many of the arms control talks had been ongoing since the 70s and there were even some agreements brokered as far back as the 60s, it was Reagan’s administration that was able to finalize many of the agreements and bring the Soviets to the table for more agreements. The formula that the Reagan administration was able to use involved looking at where the Soviets were hurting economically and socially, aiding them and lifting embargoes that would help the Communist Party retain some semblance of power while also helping the Soviet people. It is important in any negotiation process between powers that both sides are able to “bring something back for the people” that they represent. In the US, this was the allaying of fears of nuclear apocalypse, something the Soviet people were somewhat unaware of due to the closed media. However, despite the best attempts of the state-run media of the Soviet Union, the people could look at their store shelves and realize the state of their own economy.
In April, 1981, Reagan announced the lifting of the embargo on grain exports to the Soviet Union. By November of that year, Reagan released the Strategic Arms Reduction Proposal, focusing on a reduction in all types of arms and becoming known as START (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks), and also began negotiations on the INF (Intermediate Nuclear Forces) treaty. Following martial law being declared in Poland in December of 1981 and sanctions being placed on the Polish and Soviet governments and an up-tick in tensions following disputes over reduction limits, the United States agreed to sell 23 metric tons of grain to the Soviet Union in October of 1982. In March, 1983, following the statement of Reagan on the intent of the US to pursue SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative), there was another round of INF talks. Despite ending the ban on negotiations for the long-term purchase of US grain by the Soviet Union in April, 1983, the progress forward would again be stymied by the Soviet shoot-down of KAL 007 in September of that year. In that same month, the US and the Soviets would meet for more INF talks, followed in October by START talks. However, the INF talks would breakdown in November, followed by the breakdown of START talks in December.
Almost a year would go by before Reagan proposed future arms control talks in September, 1984, where he introduced an umbrella framework covering everything from nuclear arms talks to cooperation and confidence building measures aimed at not just limiting forces but building military to military contact to build confidence and trust between the two states. In January of the next year, the Secretary of State of the US and the Soviet Foreign Minister met in Geneva and announced an agreement to resume arms reduction talks, INF, and space issues. By March, 1985, arms control negotiations resumed, and in May of that year, the US and USSR announced new bilateral trade agreements. A November Geneva Summit between President Reagan and Premier Gorbachev would include the creation of Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers, which are still in use today. By December of 985, the US and NATO introduced the Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction Proposal, offering a joint US-Soviet reduction of forces in Central Europe and a subsequent 3-year “collective no-increase commitment” on Eastern and Western forces. By March of 1986, the Nuclear Test Moratorium was proposed and by April, commercial flights between the US and USSR resumed.
Throughout the rest of the 80s and Reagan’s time in office, further advancements would be made in the realm of arms control and de-escalation of tensions between the US and the Soviet Union. What should be evident in the preceding paragraphs is how the Reagan administration used what the Soviets needed in order to lure them to the negotiation table. It was in the best interest of both sides to conclude these agreements, not just in terms of reducing threat and reducing military expenditures, but also in the realm of bilateral trade and social interaction. Many people have compared the Trump rise to prominence with Ronald Reagan’s, but he would be well advised to reach back to Reagan’s formula in dealing with the Russians going forward.
During the George W. Bush presidency, arms control issues took a backseat and were seen as an inconvenience, and possible even security threat, while at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Bush administration was interested in modernizing the force and introducing new equipment, to include new additions to our nuclear arsenal. The structure of the existing arms control treaties meant having to provide the Russians with a chance to view the equipment. Continued inspections on units in the European theater were viewed as disruptive to their preparing and recovering from deployments into the Middle East. Expenditures providing for the verification regimes were seen as too costly at a time when the US was spending billions in its war against terror. Though lip service was paid to arms control issues, it was clear to all involved that the US was not truly interested in arms control and its attention was, rightly so, diverted to the war it was fighting.
Many of the arms control treaties agreed upon in the 80s were not ratified until the early 90s and then did not enter into force until the mid-90s. In a world of the early 90s where the geo-political landscape of Eastern Europe transformed almost overnight, many of these treaties were almost outdated by the time inspectors were beginning to perform verification. As an example that I, personally, am very familiar with, the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, was negotiated in 1989, signed in 1990, but didn’t enter into force until July, 1992, more than 6 months after the Soviet Union collapsed and more than a year after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. Yet the treaty was based upon political bloc limitations – namely, NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Especially following the integration of former Warsaw Pact members into NATO, this left a heavy burden on many of the former pact members. Although attempts have been made to update the treaty, it usually comes with a stipulation placed by NATO on the Russian side that is more stick than carrot. Because of this and NATO expansion into what Russia views as its sphere of influence, Russia suspended activity in the treaty in 2007, citing concern for its national security.
How could arms control treaties aimed at increasing national security on both sides create a concern? I think anyone with a rudimentary understanding of intelligence collection can see the benefit of having boots on the ground inside a potential adversary’s base, inspecting equipment, talking to troops, and observing training. At the time of the suspension by Russia, however, they were often times showing up to inspect a unit that was currently deployed, wasting resources on empty bases with no equipment to inspect. Because of the structure of the “surprise inspection” regime, the inspected party didn’t know what site the inspecting party was going to select ahead of time, and therefore when they would declare the site, the verification escorts would tell them the status of the site and give them a chance to look at another site. However, due to the rotations into war zones, often times there was no other site that could be inspected. On the other hand, Russia was not in a state of war, and so when our inspectors would go there, they were still able to fulfill their mission.
Russia suspended activity, and since, they have restructured their military and introduced modern equipment. As should be noted from recent press reporting on exercises within the UK, the conduct of the campaign in Syria, and, depending on if you believe some accounts, the incident surrounding the USS Donald Cook, it should become evident that without our inspections on the ground, we are at the mercy of media reporting on Russia advances in military technology, and that simply isn’t good enough. The UK used outdated museum pieces in its exercise that likely wouldn’t be used in a conflict with Russia unless it was on their soil and they were on their last leg. Russia has updated its ground, air, and naval forces in an ambitious program the likes of which haven’t been done since the Soviets upgraded their WWII era equipment in the 60s. In addition, from what can be garnered through media reporting, they have restructured their military from the old Soviet model to a newer model more in line with most Western militaries, and giving more power to leaders on the ground rather than the old outdated Soviet model of centralized control. Even as the US and NATO military machines are struggling to field more modern equipment and downsizing, Russia is re-tooling and restructuring for a modern battlefield. And while they might not yet rival the US in military strength, they are clearly not the wounded bear of the 1990s that we could simply push around.
Even though I don’t believe that the US is in a position of submission to Russia when it comes to arms, what we clearly need right now is a reinvigoration of the arms control issue. The US clearly is in no position to begin a new arms race with a Russian government fueled by ample natural resources that have been left greatly untouched. However, this is not a crumbling Soviet empire, nor a Russia on its knees from the 90s that we are dealing with, but a Russia that is surging economically (despite US and Western sanctions), militarily, politically, and diplomatically. The stick that has been used to bring Russia to the table in the past needs to be put aside in exchange for a carrot.
Trump could solidify his legacy by pursuing a fresh approach with Russia that draws on Reagan’s formula for bringing Russia to the table.
- As a show of goodwill, Trump should direct his State Department to ease visa restrictions on Russian travel to the US. A 2012 easing of visa restrictions was recently cancelled due to ongoing political disagreements between the countries. Easing restrictions would show that the Trump administration is prepared to work with Russia. It would also encourage other Western countries to do the same and open Russia up to more ease of movement.
- Announce a comprehensive arms control negotiation proposal that draws on previous agreements while making quicker revision of treaties possible. Make the agreements flexible to new technologies and methods which would extend the lifespan of such treaties.
- Propose a schedule of military to military contact that will include confidence and security building measures under the auspices of existing agreements and also extend into bilateral contact and exchanges. Include cooperation of assets in Syria (including the abandoning of funding for “moderate” rebel groups and the insistence of regime change in Syria) and limited intelligence sharing on terrorist and criminal networks within this program.
- Announce the intent to request Congress to lift some sanctions against Russian businesses and government officials in return for negotiations on the arms control and military contact proposals, with more sanctions being lifted as negotiations move forward.
- As negotiations continue and agreements are reached, increase military contact and propose bilateral economic arrangements that will allow the US to free itself from Saudi entanglement in oil, break the OPEC cartel, and strengthen ties with Russia.
While this five part plan is in no way comprehensive and would definitely need to be changed as realities on the ground change, this would enable us to have closer ties with Russia while also looking after our own interests. The economic stimuli of a possibly resurgent American economy investing in Russian business and infrastructure would give Putin incentive to continue the relationship. Closer military contact provides trust and confidence in what each side is doing and the arms control agreements would not just limit tensions, but give reassurance of military developments on both sides.
Given the particularly harsh rhetoric that Hillary Clinton and the mainstream media were using against Putin and Russia during the election campaign, it should be evident that in refusing her platform, the US dodged WWIII. By developing a closer relationship to Russia built on arms verification, Trump could cement a very different partnership with Russia that the US has not seen for some time. Putin is not the person that many in the alternative media paint him out to be, as far as being some great hero, but he is not who the mainstream media paints him out to be as a power mad psychopath, either. It is critical that the US use this period of reflection on the path we have been on to construct a new policy on Russia that is not based on the old Soviet model or the Russia of the 90s model. Mutual benefit and mutual respect in terms of negotiation could very well solidify a new mutually favorable relationship for ourselves, and the world, in the 21st century.