- By Christian BroseChristian Brose is a senior editor at Foreign Policy. He served as chief speechwriter and policy advisor for U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from 2005 to 2008, and as speechwriter for former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2004 to 2005.
It makes a lot more sense to focus a visit on something like the nuclear issue, where U.S. and Russian interests are roughly in alignment and some high-level discussions stand a decent chance of bearing fruit.
I’m all for “de-linkage” in U.S.-Russia relations — working together where our interests converge, agreeing to disagree where our interests conflict, and preventing those disagreements from impeding constructive cooperation. In short, what Bush and Putin spelled out last April in Sochi.
That said, let’s be honest about what that means for our interests: It means that Obama has just invested a lot of time and effort to secure an agreement to reduce U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles to a level that could still annihilate the world several times over. This may be an achievable goal, but it is hardly a pressing one — not when Iran is speeding toward a weapon of its own, and the United States and Russia cannot seem to find much agreement on how to proceed on that.
Indeed, the question of Iran is illustrative, because Russia has solid national interests in never, ever wanting to see Iran open to the world — the critical carrot that the West holds out in every diplomatic gambit it has conceived on the Iranian nuclear question. The reason? Gas. Nick Gvosdev explains:
One potential concern for Russia is that if it joins in putting real pressure on Tehran, Iran could eventually negotiate a Libya-style settlement with the West, clearing the way for major new Western investments in Iran’s energy sector.
Right now, Moscow benefits from Iran’s isolation from the West. Not only are Iran’s formidable gas reserves not accessible to European users, preserving Russia as the Continent’s major supplier, but alternate routes for Central Asian energy that could traverse Iran are also not possible.
Yet resolution of the nuclear issue could open up the vast reserves of Iranian natural gas for use through the Nabucco line, the major pipeline on the drawing boards for getting energy to Europe without going through Russia. The project is currently nearly moribund because there isn’t enough supply to justify the huge investments. Iran would be a game-changer.
So color me skeptical that Russian interests will ever lead it to be an effective partner in pressuring Iran on its nuclear weapons ambitions. And what’s more, anyone who thinks the U.S.-Russian nuclear reductions that Obama just won will help to halt the Iranian nuclear program needs to refrain from operating heavy machinery. Something tells me that Iran’s rulers will be none too persuaded to give up their nuclear aspirations simply because the United States and Russia have now agreed to retain a couple thousand fewer nukes apiece between them.
As for the other accomplishment of Obama’s trip — Russia’s offer to open its airspace for U.S. military re-supply of the war in Afghanistan — I’m of two minds: Given the uncertainty still surrounding Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan and the insecurity of supply routes through Pakistan, it’s nice to have another option; but we are now directly at the mercy of Russia for a service that they can use against us as a political weapon if they see fit. Just ask Ukrainians with gas-heated homes how that’s working out for them.
All of this should raise a fundamental question for those who harbor high hopes for hitting that reset button with Russia: How good should we feel about a U.S.-Russia relationship where we can make progress on many issues of questionable importance while we disagree over most of the important stuff?
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a senior editor at The National Interest. Prior to Fletcher, he taught at the University of Chicago and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Drezner has received fellowships from the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Council on Foreign Relations, and Harvard University. He has previously held positions with Civic Education Project, the RAND Corporation, and the Treasury Department.| Daniel W. Drezner |
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |