Exclusive: The Missing Russian ‘Reset’ Button
by PETER HUESSY
April 7, 2009
When the U.S. Secretary of State met earlier this year with the Russian Foreign Minister, the latter was presented with a bright red button inscribed in Russian with the single word: "Reset". It was an attempt to redo U.S.-Russian relations and step back from the rather frosty relations that had emerged at the end of the previous administration. But where is the Russian reset button? While much has been made of prospective changes in U.S. policy, little has been said about what alternatives we can expect from Moscow. Congressman John McHugh writes: “With all the noise about policy shifts and breaks from previous…policies, there seems to be scant regard for what Russia actually says. This risks falling into the trap of failing to see Russia as it is, in favor of what we want it to be.”
As such, it is not too early for us to think of Russian behavior that needs to be “reset.” This includes reducing or eliminating Russia’s massive arsenal of theater nuclear weapons. And stopping the export of weapons technology to rogue states such as Iran and Venezuela, which may have been destined for Hezbollah and FARC for terror strikes against the U.S. And eliminating military pressure against members of NATO. And providing top cover for Iranian and North Korean criminal behavior. And curtailing the major new Russian investment in weapons technology including 14 naval vessels, 48 combat jets, 300 tanks, 70 strategic missiles and 30 Iskander short range rockets, even while the U.S. simultaneously announces deep cuts in its own defense procurement programs as it eliminates major combat systems and curtails critical needed missile defense programs.
But U.S. concerns with Russia shouldn’t stop there. Of particular note is Russia’s resource war against the West and its use of natural gas to blackmail its neighbors. It seeks to control the flow of oil and gas from Central Asia both to the East and to the West. Moscow also has growing control of critical mineral resources, such as palladium and platinum mining and processing. We have what Daniel McGroarty and Dr. Christina Lin, in two recent but separate publications, describe as “economics as the continuation of war by other means” and “utilizing the Russian resource sector to once again reassert Russia’s imperial status,” respectively.
Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post warned of the administration’s “willingness to embrace the priorities of… [others]…while playing down – or setting aside altogether – principal American concerns.” If shrinking American international influence or to borrow from Charles Krauthammer, a “leveling is the essence” of the new Washington, a host of new but unwanted tenants may show up and take residence in the new strategic structure that is under construction. Steve Blanks of the Army War College warns that Moscow has become the center of an enterprise more reflective of organized crime than a nation-state. How reliable can such a state be as a partner?
While Washington is right that the North Korean launch was “a provocative attempt to improve the rogue regime's long-range ballistic missile capability,” at the same time as part of a policy review, American diplomats are discussing whether the U.S. will eventually have to accept Iran’s insistence on carrying out uranium enrichment. Iranian bombs and North Korea missiles cannot be separated, however, and that is but one stark example of the dilemma facing America today. North Korea and Iran share technology development on both nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles just as the 1998 U.S. Commission on Ballistic Missile Threats to the United States warned. While it is undoubtedly important to keep ones ears open, as the Administration promises it will do, it is also true that, as Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post warns: “Listening is not a policy.”
Some time ago, a movie featuring marionettes was released entitled Team America: World Police. In one especially relevant scene, an exasperated Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s murderous leader, receives Hans Blix, the former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Administration, (IAEA). Kim angrily asks Blix what he wants.
Blix says the United Nations is very angry with North Korea because of its nuclear weapons testing and the program’s lack of transparency. He says he has a letter from the UN Security Council. Kim sneeringly asks: “Is that all?” Of course, Blix is terrified and meekly responds that yes, indeed, that is all the five great powers of the United States Security Council can muster – an angry letter.
Kim is well aware of the cowardly nature of the UN. He pretends to give in – saying to Blix that of course he will agree to the UN inspections. He asks that Blix move slightly to his left. Blix does. At which point, Kim pulls a lever near his desk and whoosh. Blix drops through a trap door in the floor and ends up floating around in a large fish tank, briefcase in hand, surrounded by a large shark that soon has Blix for lunch. At which point, Kim declares: “I hate Hans Blix!”
But the moral of our story is not that Kim has once again snookered the United Nations and the IAEA. It is that Hans Blix explains away the relative impotence of the UN by claiming that such letters really are effective. Says Blix at a book signing event, North Korea really does care what other countries say. And therefore, “international norms,” as Blix calls them, are critical to moving away from nuclear weapons.
And now we are having a rerun of the Team America movie. As John Bolton writes in the Wall Street Journal,
“Prior to North Korea's launch yesterday of a Taepodong-2 ballistic missile, President Barack Obama declared that such an action would be ‘provocative.’ This public statement was an attempt to reinforce the administration's private efforts to urge the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea (DPRK) not to fire the missile.
“Once the missile shot was complete, the administration's answer was hand-wringing, more rhetoric and, oh yes, the obligatory trip to the U.N. Security Council so that it could scold the defiant DPRK. Beyond whatever happens in the Security Council, Mr. Obama seems to have no plan whatever.”
It appears the UN has hit its own reset button. Weak as it is, it apparently is trying to appear even weaker. In 2006, the UN responded with unanimously approved resolutions imposing sanctions against the North. To follow-up as the UN has done with an inability to agree on any course of action simply takes us back to where we have been over the past half century. Once we find violations of arms control agreements, what do we do? We often dither, because the “international community” failed to establish effective procedures for dealing with violations. It is what Fred Ikle, former senior DOD official during the Reagan Administration, said would bedevil U.S. diplomacy.
The liberation of Iraq was in many respects fought as an “arms control” war. According to the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Myers, in his new book, Eyes On the Horizon, the war could have been effectively justified solely on the basis of an enforcement action to implement numerous Unarms control resolutions to fully eliminate Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction program.
We are facing the same problem with North Korea and Iran. To the extent we do not maintain the economic, military, and political pressure on the regime in Pyongyang, we not only give it yet more time to bargain, we give it more time to develop its weaponry. The same with Iran. And to the extent we rely on Russia to “lean on Iran,” we may end up with the same problems we have with respect to North Korea. For nearly a decade, the Bush administration relied on China to put sufficient diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea to convince the latter that it could safely get rid of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. While the six-party talks did yield an agreement in principle, we have not been able to secure agreement on the implementing procedures that would bring about a fully de-nuclearized Korean peninsula.
And thus we come back to Russia, for they resisted any enhancements to sanctions against North Korea at the UN Security Council meetings. They even claimed that North Korea was indeed trying to launch a satellite but either way, again as Ambassador Bolton explains, “North Korea has again defied the Security Council, gotten away with its launch with the support of Russia and China, and now will likely confront only pleas by Mr. Obama and others to return to the six-party talks.”
North Korea is once again rolling out its own 10 step-program, outlined some time ago by the current President of the Air Force Association, retired USAF general officer Michael Dunn, and the former President of the National Defense University. This program begins with a North Korean “provocation”, which is immediately blamed on the “hostile” U.S. and its allies, but which can be resolved through greater oil and food deliveries and other assistance to the DPRK. It continues until North Korea starts all over again, instigating a “crisis,” which of course cannot be settled without more assistance to the folks in Pyongyang long-suffering under a “hostile” U.S. policy.
As for Iran, Ambassador Bolton echoes the comments by Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post mentioned earlier.
“Tehran sees an American president so ready to bend his knee for public favor in Europe that the mullahs' wish list for U.S. concessions will grow by the minute.” He then concludes with this: “Russia and China must also be relishing this outcome. They will have faced down Mr. Obama in his first real crisis, having provided Security Council cover for a criminal regime, and emerged unscathed. They will conclude that achieving their large agendas with the new administration can't be too hard. That conclusion may be unfair to the new American president; but it will surely color how Moscow and Beijing structure their policies and their diplomacy until proven otherwise. That alone is bad news for Washington and its allies.”
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Peter Huessy is President of GeoStrategic Analysis, a defense consulting company in Potomac, Maryland.