What a difference a year can make! Last year, President Putin's speech at the Wehrkunde Security Conference in Munich sent shock waves through the international system. His uncompromising declaration that Russia was back on the world stage and a force to be reckoned with generated an immediate debate in Washington. With Secretary of Defense Robert Gates due to speak the next day, the foreign policy establishment stayed up late arguing how to respond: to slam Putin back, or use a lighter touch. Evidently it was Gates himself who insisted on humor: "One Cold War was quite enough," he said in his famous response—and that has been the U.S. official line toward Russia ever since, through a year of extremely harsh rhetoric from Moscow.
So it was refreshing when Sergei Ivanov took to the same podium in Munich one year later and spoke about Russia's interests, couching them in terms that would be well-understood in Washington and the European capitals: "We respect the values cherished by America and Europe for centuries. Democracy is our main guideline too"—as long as it takes account of Russia's culture, religion, convictions and mentality. Instead of a Russia at odds with the West, Ivanov portrayed a Russia fitting in with the West—although strictly on its own terms. The message was overall a positive one, even if conditioned on "Russia’s uniqueness."
For gurus of security policy, however, the speech was even more interesting, because Ivanov declared Russia’s intention to get into the new game of nuclear arms reduction and control. In January 2007, Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn published an article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) calling for the United States to revitalize its efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons. They followed it up in January 2008 with a second WSJ piece outlining more detailed ideas about how to move forward.
With two published statements, these four influential Americans reversed the Bush Administration's insistence that nuclear arms control was an old-fashioned notion that did not need to be actively pursued. American experts began to look with new eyes at nuclear arms reduction and control policies that a future U.S. president might embrace.
As long as Russia was taking a hard line toward the West, the Kremlin appeared to be ignoring or outright rejecting this new initiative. The Russian leadership concentrated on criticizing U.S. missile defense deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic, emphasizing the importance of nuclear weapons in Russian military strategy, and upping the readiness of Russian strategic forces. While Russian bombers were resuming threatening patrols off Europe, Japan and Alaska, Moscow did not seem ready to engage a major international discussion on the total elimination of nuclear weapons.
Sergei Ivanov's speech in Munich reversed this impression. He reiterated the existing Russian position that the U.S. and Russia must replace the START Treaty with a new legally-binding nuclear arms reduction regime, one that would ensure "the highest possible predictability"—in other words, measures of verification and monitoring for strategic nuclear weapons. Then he went further. He said that Russia and the United States must show leadership in bringing other countries into the process, so that gradually control over nuclear weapons and their further reduction could be handled on a multilateral basis. This idea is at the very heart of the proposal offered by Kissinger, Shultz, Perry and Nunn.
Thus, Ivanov's remarks open all kinds of doors to considering a broad-ranging nuclear security agenda as the next Russian and U.S. presidents take office. Just as Ivanov has done, the American team has placed a high priority on negotiating a follow-on agreement to START, since that treaty will end at the close of 2009 and it must either be extended, or a replacement must be ready to enter into force by that time. New measures to de-alert strategic nuclear weapons are also a high priority for the Americans, as are further measures to control fissile materials. A new U.S. approach to the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) might therefore be in the offing, and the U.S. and Russia together could ensure that the negotiations have strong international momentum behind them.
Moreover, the Americans seem willing to re-engage the U.S. Senate on ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. With a larger Democratic majority likely to be voted into Congress in November 2009, they just might succeed. Russia could help in this process by being willing to pursue joint transparency measures such as those that were undertaken in 1988 with the Soviet-U.S. "Joint Verification Experiment"—an exercise that was important to Senate ratification of the Threshold Test Ban Treaty, which entered into force in 1990.
Further reductions in nuclear weapons could also be pursued, including short-range nuclear weapons deployed in Europe. In fact, if Russia plays its cards right, it might accomplish one of its dearest and oldest strategic goals—removal of all nuclear weapons from NATO countries. NATO’s upcoming 60th anniversary in 2009 represents an opportunity for the alliance to review its policy in this area and possibly end nuclear deployments in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Russia would have to be willing to implement controls on its own short-range nuclear weapons, consolidating them to central storage facilities geographically distant from Europe. These steps would also have to be verified, as Russia would want to verify removal of nuclear weapons from NATO.
But with new willingness to exercise leadership on these issues in Moscow and Washington, anything is possible. Sergei Ivanov's speech in Munich shows the way, joining four senior American visionaries who have laid out a compelling plan for vigorous nuclear arms reduction and control. Let us hope that we are entering a new era when we can make new progress on these critical security goals.
Rose Gottemoeller is Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center.
This article originally appeared in Russian in Nezavisimaya Gazeta.