Wednesday, April 01, 2009

And now for something completely different...

By Jim Arkedis

Hi everyone -

For the past several weeks, Michael has been kind enough to cross-post a few pieces I've written for my own national security/foreign policy blog -- AllOurMight. A few days ago, Michael asked me to join The Reaction as a co-blogger, and I readily accepted. I aim to do several posts here per week, though my primary home on the internets will remain AllOurMight.

By day, I run the National Security Project at the Progressive Policy Institute -- a Washington, DC think-tank that pushes a centrist-progressive message. I'm also a member of the Truman National Security Project, which is a kind of cabal of center-left security/foreign policy practitioners. And prior to all this, I slaved away in the bowels of the Washington Navy Yard as a counter-terrorism analyst for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, or NCIS. ("Wait!" I can hear you giggle, "Isn't that a TV show on CBS with Mark Harmon?" Indeed.)

My areas of interest are quite diverse in the security/IR sphere, but generally stick to terrorism, defense spending, intelligence, Russia, European politics, Israel/Palestine, and the obligatory Iraq and Afghanistan.

And with that, here's my first post:

Mr. Medvedev Misses the Point

What’s missing in the first paragraph of Russian President Medvedev’s Washington Post op-ed?

It is hard to dispute the pessimistic assessments of the Russian-American relationship that prevailed at the end of last year. Unfortunately, relations soured because of the previous U.S. administration’s plans — specifically, deployment of the U.S. global missile defense system in Eastern Europe, efforts to push NATO’s borders eastward and refusal to ratify the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. All of these positions undermined Russia’s interests and, if implemented, would inevitably require a response on our part.

Now I’ve read that paragraph a good three times, and I still can’t find the words “invaded Georgia” or “keep shutting the gas off to Europe” anywhere.

In one sense, it would be easy to move past such omissions by chalking them up as a sunk cost towards greater diplomatic progress. “Sigh…” says the wistful American diplomat, “Oh well, that’s how the Russians will always be. But we’ve got bigger fish to fry - on to the next item!”

This is a tough pill to swallow - the Obama administration obviously wants to move forward with Russia, and that is an unambiguously good thing. But if Medvedev’s government is going to retain the Soviet-era mindset that eschews any notion of accountability, Russo-American relations will remain difficult. Without a sense of national responsibility for the strained relations, Russia simply won’t feel like it should make the big compromises necessary. If you haven't done anything wrong, why give some thing away?

What to do? I’d suggest a dual-track: Begin with areas of known mutual interest, like the need for a new START. Pun intended. Simultaneously, soften them up to admitting (publicly) their fair share of the blame. This approach builds basic confidence while impressing the need for accountability. Diplomacy with Russia needs both.

(Cross-posted to AllOurMight.)

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