Home/Daniel Larison/The U.S. Hasn’t Abandoned or Betrayed Allies in Europe As Part of the “Reset”

The U.S. Hasn’t Abandoned or Betrayed Allies in Europe As Part of the “Reset”

It isn’t an exaggeration to say that almost everything in Arthur Herman’s review of U.S. Russia policy is factually wrong:

It meant cravenly abandoning our allies Poland and the Czech Republic on missile defense for Eastern Europe, in order to get a nuclear-arms-reduction treaty that reduced our nuclear arsenal while leaving lots of loopholes for Russia. It meant handing over nuclear secrets belonging to our ally Great Britain and offering Moscow top-secret information about our own missile-defense technologies.

The last point is correct in that there is the possibility of sharing information with Russia as part of a coordinated NATO-Russia missile defense system. Of course, that system doesn’t yet exist, and any such agreement remains to be negotiated, but it is an idea that was approved by the previous NATO summitin Lisbon. Considering traditional Russian objections to missile defense in Europe, this was a remarkable concession by the Russians at Lisbon. The claim about Britain reflects a complete misunderstanding of the terms of arms reduction treaties. The State Department explained this provision last year:

Under the 1991 START Treaty, the U.S. agreed to notify Russia of specific nuclear cooperation with the United Kingdom, such as the transfer of SLBM’s [submarine launch ballistic missiles] to the UK, or their maintenance or modernization. This is under an existing pattern of cooperation throughout that treaty and is expected to continue under New START. We simply carried forward and updated this notification procedure to the new treaty. There was no secret agreement and no compromise of the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent.

No one was “abandoned” in eastern Europe, cravenly or otherwise. Most Czechs and Poles didn’t want the installations their governments negotiated with the Bush administration. Regardless, Poland will be included under the new system. New START did not allow for “lots of loopholes” for the Russians. Fred Kaplan addressed some of the supposed “loopholes” when he dismantled Romney’s embarrassingly bad op-ed on New START:

First, neither Russia nor the United States has any rail-based ICBMs or launchers. Second, the treaty does deal with mobile ICBMs, in two ways. Article IV, Section 1 states that ICBMs can be deployed “only at ICBM bases.” If, in some perverse wordplay, the Russians claim that a railroad line is a “base,” Article III, Section 5b notes that an ICBM is counted under the treaty’s limits the moment it leaves the production facility (which other sections of the treaty place under constant monitoring); it doesn’t matter where the missile goes afterward, it’s still counted as an ICBM. So while mobile missiles might not be “mentioned” by the treaty, they are, in effect, restricted.

So no one was betrayed or abandoned, no secrets were handed over, and no one’s security was compromised. The core of Herman’s case against the “reset” is simply invented or based on distortions. Unfortunately, this is typical of almost all criticisms of the “reset”: they tend to be very long on moral outrage and demagoguery, and extremely short on facts. This matters to the electorate because Herman’s arguments are essentially identical to the ones that Romney has made into his Russia policy.

Herman’s idea for what U.S. Russia policy should be is not very promising:

America needs to reach out to dissident and democratic opposition groups that can shape a post-Putin regime that’s both friendlier to the West and more caring toward its own people.

If one starts from the assumption that Putin is reflexively anti-Western, it must seem tempting to think about what a “post-Putin regime” would be like. This is a misunderstanding of Putin. He has been willing to cooperate with the U.S. when he expects tangible gains for Russia in exchange. Herman’s answer is to give him every reason to believe that he will gain nothing by cooperation. The goal of the policy favored by Herman (and by Romney) must be to create very poor U.S.-Russian relations and an antagonistic Russia, because that is what will happen if these recommendations are followed.

More important, Herman’s democracy promotion idea ignores the attitudes of the majority of Russians. It seems unlikely that the U.S. could successfully promote democratic political change inside Russia given the backlash against U.S.-backed Russian liberals in the 1990s. If the attempt were successful, it wouldn’t advance a single American interest. Any regime that follows Putin’s system is likely to be more nationalistic and probably less cooperative with the U.S. and the West than the current regime. To the extent that Russian liberal opposition figures have been able to get anywhere in improving their popularity, it has been by aligning themselves with nationalists, many of whom have much less in common with the liberals’ Western sympathizers than Putin. Adomanis’ comment on the Duma elections is relevant here:

It also suggests that the result of any democratic breakthrough would very likely be the opposite of what Westerners expect: rather than a more pro-Western and economically liberal Russia, a more representative government would almost certainly be more overtly nationalist and left-wing.

Is it likely that a “more overtly nationalist” Russian government would be on better terms with the U.S. than the current government? No. There is certainly no way that relations with a more nationalist Russian government would be satisfying to critics of the “reset,” who already think that the relationship with Russia is too lopsided in their favor. A more democratic and therefore more nationalist Russia would be even more intransigent on NATO expansion and missile defense, and it would have even less flexibility to make deals for fear of being accused by hard-liners of selling out to the West. If a future democratic Russian government were also more leftist, it might be more “caring” towards its people by being less economically liberal in its policies, but this is presumably not something that conservatives in America would welcome.

Update: Mark Adomanis had a more dramatic reaction to Herman’s article:

Indeed, although it sounds like a cheap cliche, I literally spat out my coffee when I read Herman’s allegation that Obama had betrayed the British to the Russians: it seemed to be only marginally more credible than an allegation that Obama was secretly in league with the illuminati.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

leave a comment

Latest Articles