Leaving the Cold War behind

By Lee Hamilton
Apr 6 2009

 Vice President Joe Biden recently said that Washington wants to "hit the reset button" with Moscow. President Barack Obama met last week in England with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and called for a "fresh start" in relations, starting with the negotiation of a new arms control treaty.


From our perspective, Russia has not been heading in a desirable direction. It has experienced democratic backsliding, widespread corruption, limited respect for political rights and a distressed economy, and has bullied its neighbors. The Russians complaints against us include the proposed deployment of a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, the eastward expansion of NATO, and our refusal to ratify the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe.

Though we're a long way from the Cold War's open hostility, there is an abundance of mutual distrust. Our efforts to get relations back on track must be comprehensive and coherent, guided by a clear vision of what both parties want.

Russia still matters. The U.S. and Russia possess approximately 95 percent of the world's nuclear weapons. Russia has 30 percent of the world's natural gas reserves and is the third-largest emitter of green-house gasses. Its people are talented, and it is a large consumer market. By virtue of its size, Russia is positioned to impact events in the Balkans, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Far East.

There are many issues ripe for U.S.-Russian collaboration.

They include: preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, fighting terrorism, strengthening the international non-proliferation regime, arms control and negotiating a successor to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) before it expires in December, managing the global financial crisis, achieving stability in Afghanistan, further integrating Russia into the global economy, and achieving a sustainable security architecture in Europe and Central Asia that advances stability and human rights.

Without Russian cooperation, our efforts to strengthen the international nuclear non-proliferation regime and contain Iran's nuclear program will founder. In addition to having veto power at the Security Council, Russia is one of Iran's biggest import partners and has long had ties to its nuclear program.

(Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University and Director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.)