TCS Daily


Adding Carrots to Putin's Strategic Diet

By Melana Zyla Vickers - August 2, 2001 12:00 AM

The U.S., it appears, is buttering Russia up.

President Bush met Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Slovenia and paid him blushingly personal compliments. He met again with him in Genoa and put on more of the same charm. He has invited Putin to his ranch, and dispatched top administration officials to hold talks this month with their Russian counterparts.

That's the right first step when it comes to missile defense: If Bush can strike a U.S.-Russia deal that gets around the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, he can proceed with tests without taking the politically unpopular step of withdrawing from the treaty unilaterally. That would successfully defuse domestic critics who charge that going it alone on missile defense alienates Europe and provokes Russian belligerence. These critics aren't necessarily right. But proceeding with missile defense will certainly be easier if Bush can quiet them.

While it's by no means certain Russia will actually cut a deal, there are ways Bush can maximize his chances of clinching one. First among them is the step Bush has taken already: Giving Putin and Russia a spotlight. Putin is a young leader with few political achievements under his belt. And Russia is a faltering power rife with humiliating economic, political, and military problems. Both the nation and its leader will find attractive the prestige of high-level negotiations and the good-citizen reputation that would come from cooperating on a shield against missile launches from the world's rogue states.

Moscow has actually headed down this road with the U.S. before. In 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev raised the possibility of a joint-warning system against ballistic missiles. And in 1992, Bush I officials and their counterparts in the government of Boris Yeltsin held a series of talks about sharing early-warning information, cooperating with the U.S. and NATO on missile defenses, and amendments to the ABM treaty. Russia's top negotiator in the 1992 talks remains in that position today.

Specific incentives for the Russians to join a deal are proposed in a paper due this month from the National Institute for Public Policy, headed by Keith Payne. In discussions with lower level Russian security officials, the institute has come up with a list that includes:
  • Trading mutual reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons for agreement on the ABM treaty.
  • Using Russia's network of early-warning radars, which have coverage over much of the Eurasian land mass, as part of a missile defense system.
  • Using Russia's advanced surface-to-air missiles, such as the S-300, as a component of theater missile defense.
  • Using Russian boosters, such as the SS-18, as target vehicles for testing missile defenses. The liquid-fueled boosters are the basis for several rogue-state missiles such as Iraq's Scuds.
To be sure, the fewer such accommodations the Bush team has to make, the better.

More seriously, if the Russians are all talk and no agreement until the spring, it'll be time to conclude their tactics are an attempt to veto missile defense. The U.S. will then be right to announce it is withdrawing from the ABM treaty in order to continue its testing schedule.

But until then, it's worth pushing for a deal. Not only Putin, but also the Bush administration, stands to gain much from it.

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