relationship between the United States and Russia is on hold in 2012. The
intensity of domestic political debate in Russia following disputed national
elections and months of public protest, and in the United States leading up to
November's presidential contest, leaves little room for bold initiatives or
high-profile summit diplomacy. So for now, don't expect much progress - the
best case will be if there is no backsliding, and that outcome is by no means
Yet productive relations with Russia are important for the United States. While
Russia is no longer America's sole "superpower" counterweight, it
remains a large and important country with 147 million people, the largest
land area, and vast natural resources. It is also a pivotal player in Central
and Eastern Europe, in Central and South Asia, and a potential player in East
With its military and energy resources, Russia is still a nuclear superpower
and heavy hitter internationally, with the ability to project influence well
beyond its immediate neighborhood. The United States needs Russia's help to
tackle the problems that will matter beyond 2012, such as preventing a cascade
of new nuclear weapons proliferation, responding to natural and manmadedisasters that overwhelm the capacities of weak states, and enhancing strategic
stability as the Asia Pacific becomes the global center of gravity.
The precedent so far is positive: the United States and Russia have been able
to cooperate effectively on pressing security problems over recent years.
The "reset" worked in 2009 because it served both sides'
interests. For the Russian side, renewed attention from Washington helped
address resentment of perceived U.S. indifference to Russian interests,
especially in Russia's own "near abroad," and promised more direct
strategic dialogue between Moscow and Washington despite continuing
disagreements. For the U.S. side, it opened the door to more active cooperation
on obviously shared priorities, such as stabilizing Afghanistan and countering
the spread of violent extremism, negotiating with Iran to stop its uranium
enrichment program, and ensuring that binding limits on strategic nuclear
arsenals remained in force.
Yet even as both sides sustain and benefit from this cooperation, their
capacity to keep momentum behind improvement in relations is coming to an end.
By the time the dust has cleared from the 2012 elections, relations between
Moscow and Washington will be in need of new energy and a new agenda. Even
without the acute political pressure of an election year, running disputes over
Syria and Russia's human rights record demonstrate that there will be no
shortage of risk to the relationship. Thus, to sustain a productive
partnership, it is essential that Moscow and Washington sign up to a shared
roadmap for future cooperation, which includes sufficiently high priority interests
that neither side will be tempted to hold the whole relationship hostage when
the next crisis arises.
Certainly, the accomplishments of the recent past will continue to play a
central role. The United States should do everything possible to preserve and
continue to implement the New START treaty, which establishes binding limits on
strategic nuclear arsenals and serves both sides' interests in reducing the
threat to strategic nuclear stability and combating proliferation.
It must also continue to cooperate on transit of personnel and equipment
through Russian territory as forces leave Afghanistan. Work must also be
sustained on the multi-track Bilateral Presidential Commission (BPC), which not
only enables modest technical cooperation in areas ranging from education and
health to energy efficiency and emergency relief, but also encourages sustained
working contact between opposite numbers in Moscow and Washington. This
practical cooperation is an essential prerequisite to building a stable
However, priorities for cooperation linked to current crises are likely to fade
in importance over the coming years as new challenges arise, along with new
areas of potential disagreement. To succeed after 2012, the United States and
Russia must find common ground on a much broader agenda that clearly serves the
interests of both sides.
What should be the goals of U.S. policy?
First, the foundation of the relationship should be strong enough to endure
beyond any one presidential administration on either side. A starting point can
be encouraging greater engagement between our two societies and their people.
That means finally ending anachronistic Cold War style visa and travel
restrictions and working toward a visa-free travel agreement that would let
ordinary Russians and Americans engage more easily. The people-to-people agenda
will be set by individuals, business and civil society groups on their own, but
only if both governments drop persistent barriers to travel, exchange, and
Building a foundation also means making cooperation between governments
routine. Giving real support to the BPC, which has worked well so far largely
because it has received high-level attention from both presidents, would be a
significant step forward. It will work better in the future if it can stand on
its own, with an independent budget and permanent coordinators, to serve as astanding channel for Russians and Americans to talk to one another outside the
spotlight of international summits and treaty negotiations.
As publics on both sides are increasingly skeptical of bloated government
bureaucracy, it is essential that ineffective working groups be reconstituted
or cut and that resources are allocated to those groups making real progress
that can be clearly communicated to both publics.
Russia's entry into the WTO, which has already prompted a debate in the U.S.
Congress over repealing the trade restricting Jackson-Vanik Amendment, offers
an opportunity to do this. If trade relations are normalized and protected
within the framework of the WTO, U.S. firms are likely to gain ground quickly
in the almost $400 billion Russian services market.
Ford cars, Boeing airplanes, and Caterpillar heavy machinery are already
favorites for fast-growing Russian industry and the middle class, and the
energy and energy services sectors remain highly profitable. Normal trade
relations with enhanced visa-facilitation would also quickly boost investment
flows in both directions, which will mean new jobs. This is especially true inU.S. manufacturing and agriculture where they are badly needed, and in Russia's
burgeoning high-tech sector.
Some in Congress want to preserve the leverage they believe Jackson-Vanik
offers over Russia's human rights situation. The best way to do that is to
endow the BPC, (which has working groups on rule of law and civil society) with
some of the almost $70 million the US already spends every year on democracy
promotion in Russia. The Russians do not like being told by Americans how to
manage their democracy, but there has been bilateral agreement on worthwhile
projects to streamline access to courts, combat corruption, and address the
scourge of drug trafficking. Washington ought to meet Moscow halfway by
offering concrete financial support for any of these initiatives that would
serve U.S. national interests in enhanced rule of law and human rights.
Further ahead on the roadmap for U.S.-Russia cooperation, ambitions to forge a
genuine partnership on the global challenges that matter most to both countries
should be upgraded. In what is becoming known as the Pacific Century, the
center of gravity of global trade, politics, and security will move
increasingly toward the Asia Pacific region. China is now the single most
important trading partner for both Russia and the United States, and both
Moscow and Washington have officially declared a new strategic focus on the
Asia Pacific region. Yet the United States has been reluctant to engage Russia
in a discussion about responses to the emergence of a new Asia.
Moscow and Beijing do not hesitate to pursue their own strategic partnership,
ranging from coordination in the U.N. Security Council, to significant military
sales and infrastructure development, to joint leadership of the Shanghai
President Obama will not attend the September summit of the Asia Pacific
Economic Cooperation forum in Vladivostok. However, Washington should signal
its interest in developing a strategic partnership with Russia in Asia, byreviving proposals for U.S.-Russia energy cooperation in the Pacific region,
including a trans-Bering pipeline, and by beginning a dialogue on security
issues including maritime security, counter-terrorism, and a cooperative
approach to ballistic missile defense in the Pacific. An obvious first step
would be to make sure that appropriate lines of communication and procedures
for search and rescue cooperation are established between the U.S. and Russian
Pacific fleets, as both sides shift vessels to the region. In addition, why not
facilitate trans-Pacific business and tourism by reviving and expanding limited
visa-free travel zones for the U.S. and Russian pacific Islands, Alaska, and
During the first decade of this century, Americans were once again reminded
that oceans are no barrier to religious extremism, terrorism, or energy
insecurity, which have taken their toll in blood and treasure. With its rich
energy resources, simmering social and political unrest, and history ofinter-state conflict, the Middle East will remain a focal point for U.S.foreign policy for the foreseeable future. The crisis in Syria has underscored
Moscow and Washington's fundamentally divergent attitudes towards political
awakening across the Arab world. Yet neither side has an interest in further
bloodshed in Syria, failure of other already fragile regional states, or the
triumph of Islamism, which would all have much broader negative implications.
Even if consensus on new multilateral sanctions or intervention in Syria is
impossible, the sides should seek agreement on basic principles to assist with
post-conflict reconstruction and political stability.
In the Middle East, Central and South Asia, and North Africa, it is essential
for Moscow and Washington to reject the anachronistic notion of duelling
"spheres of influence," which persists on both sides. Rather, Russia
and the United States can easily find agreement on the need for a peaceful
transition from NATO to Afghan-led security, and both sides can calibrate their
investments in regional cooperation to promote Afghan stability - including
Russia's leadership of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, both sides'
security assistance to Central Asian states, and continuing U.S.counter-terrorism operations in Pakistan.
In addition, the United States and Russia each have unique capabilities to help
weak states in the region respond to crises that threaten not only humanitarian
disaster, but also widespread violence, the rise of militant sectarian or
Islamist movements, and ultimately state failure. Finally, neither Russia
nor the United States wants to see Iran acquire advanced weaponizable nuclear
capabilities, which would make a new regional war more likely and more
devastating. Thus, both can agree to apply maximum pressure to Iran to halt its
defiance of the international community, while coordinating efforts to reassure
Israel, where Russia has increasing influence.
A productive partnership with Russia in those regions critical to U.S.interests will require movement on other fronts. Russia's interests are
threatened by development of a U.S. missile defense shield in Europe that
excludes non-NATO participation. In addition to missile defense cooperation,
Moscow has called for a fully inclusive European security architecture based on
respect for the principle of "indivisible security - "that no state
can increase its security at another's expense.
Washington should recognize that making real progress with Moscow on Cold War
legacies in Europe will pay future dividends for cooperation with Russia
globally. For the same reason, both sides should work toward resolution of
protracted conflicts in the Euro-Atlantic space, such as those over
Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh, as top priorities. Both should also be
prepared to commit significant resources to supporting deep-seated
reconciliation and confidence building between societies in conflict.
Concerted efforts to eliminate such sources of tension within the Euro-Atlantic
security space will make U.S.-Russia cooperation far easier and more
The notion of a "grand bargain" in U.S. foreign policy - with Russia
or anyone else - has gone out of fashion. But that is no justification to
forego strategic thinking about the United States' future interests, especially
when it is under mounting pressure to manage costly commitments in far-flung
corners of the world, and to do so with limited resources.
For now, domestic politics is a brake on any real progress in U.S.-Russia
cooperation. But the election cycles and acute sensitivities of 2012 will pass.
When they do, both sides can benefit from an ambitious agenda based on
compatible--if not identical--global interests.
Endowment for International Peace