The U.S. and Russia have agreed to a mutual reduction of nuclear arms. As an arms control measure, the agreement would seem to be meaningless, since both sides will retain all of the nuclear weapons they need. The treaty is of value only to the leaders who entered into it. President Obama can return home looking like a statesman, while Russia’s leaders can say they negotiated as equals with the world’s greatest power, just like in the old days.
Cosmetics aside, did either nation gain anything from the Moscow talks? Obama will point out that he secured overflight rights for aircraft supplying our forces in Afghanistan. But this is a double-edged sword. For, as Max Boot explains, this becomes “one more stick that Russia can hold over our heads, threatening to revoke those rights the next time they want to put pressure on us.”
As for the Russians, they obtained concessions on missile defense. Obama agreed to keep Russia’s leaders informed about a U.S. evaluation of whether the anti-missile shield planned for Eastern Europe will actually work. David Satter of the Hudson Institute says that a Kremlin spokesmen immediately characterized this a prelude to an American decision to drop the missile shield entirely. Moreover, as Charles Krauthammer notes, Obama himself has already stated that the anti-missile shield will be the subject of extensive negotiations with the Russians.
The course of future U.S. relations with Russia thus has been set. Future negotiations will center around the missile shield, not preventing Iran from obtaining nukes. Russia will press Obama to ditch the shield. If Obama doesn’t comply, it will revoke our right to use its airspace to supply our troops in Afghanistan and will threaten to blow up the relationship in which Obama has now invested. If Obama does comply, Russia will begin bullying him into concessions on some other matter.
A key in all of this will be Russia’s assessment of Obama’s resolve. In this connection, it is hardly encouraging that Obama kow-towed to the Russia dictators during the visit. Specifically, he acknowledged the “extraordinary work” that prime minister Vladimir Putin has done for Russia, describing him as “sincere, just, and deeply interested in the interests of the Russian people,” And he promised to take into account Russia’s “peculiar” view of its relations with Georgia and Ukraine.
Obama thereby disgraced himself and did his country no favors either. Rather, he has sent the worst kind of signals to Russia. As a general matter, he has shown his eagerness to please, and indeed appease, Russia’s dictators. And at the level of specifics, he has demonstrated his willingness seriously to consider abandoning the missile shield.
We will pay a price for this particular manifestation of Obama’s weakness, I fear.