Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The "Cool War"?

Elements of Cold War tensions between the United States and Russia seemed to resurface during missile defense talks last week. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates traveled to Russia in an effort to address Russian concerns regarding the U.S. plans to build a missile defense system in the Eastern Europe.

Yet Rice's talk of "promises," "the common good," "commitment," and the issues that "unite" the two countries apparently did little to calm Russia's concerns, especially when preceded by statements that the plan to build receptors in Poland and place radar in the Czech Republic was non-negotiable. According to Reuters, Rice commented, "we have been very clear that we need the Czech and Polish sites."

Though the Bush administration claims that the sites are necessary to intercept Iranian missiles, Russia fears that such a system could make ineffective its own ability to launch ICBMs and deter a nuclear attack. Putin opened the talks with sarcastic remarks at what was supposed to be a photo-op, rebuking the administration for its plans and touching on the topic of U.S. imperialism in world affairs, and again threatened to withdraw from the Conventional Forces in Europe pact and the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

As much as Bush might want to argue that countries "are either with us or against us," the world is much more complex than such a dichotomous description allows. While that may have been appropriate for the bipolar Cold War world, our relationship with Russia is, though less immediately threatening, in a number of ways more complex. Russia may be an adversary on some issues, including its friendliness with Iran, we nevertheless need its cooperation on this and other issues.

The level of tension between our two countries has the power to drastically impact our other foreign policy goals. The tension exhibited at last week's meeting in response will prove a formidable challenge to negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, as well as other non-proliferation issues such as negotiating a successor agreement to START in 2009.

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