Five steps for preventing a new Cold War

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MOSCOW. (Sergei Rogov for RIA Novosti) - Many pundits, when analyzing Russian-U.S. relations, have been talking about the return of the Cold War. I beg to differ - all the more so after the two presidents met in Kennebunkport. I see five pluses in this context.

First, after a long absence, the words "strategic partnership" returned to Vladimir Putin's vocabulary. He mentioned it as an idea that could become reality if we managed to coordinate our strategic positions. George W. Bush called Russia a "significant international player" and "solid partner."

Of course, some people may brush all this aside as politesse, but I still think it is important that both presidents talked about potential partnership, especially in the midst of no-holds-barred ideological and propaganda campaigns on both sides. Putin emphasized again that we shared common democratic values and were moving toward the same goal. Bush spoke in much the same vein. Neither side backed down from its positions, but there was no talk about ideological incompatibility. To sum up, the prospect of strategic partnership emerged on the basis of national interests and democratic values.

We haven't heard anything like this for a long time, either in the media or at the official level. This is the first plus.

The second plus was the Russian-U.S. decision to begin serious talks on the follow-up to START-I. This is vital because if negotiations to do not continue, what will happen with the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT)? Up to now, the U.S. has refused to talk about new international commitments on verification, for one. How can we discuss ceilings on deployed warheads if we don't know what these are? How can we check their presence?

If SORT does not enter into force, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty will become pointless because there will be no limits on strategic offensive and defensive weapons.

What will happen with tactical nuclear weapons? Agreements which prohibit one class of nuclear weapons and allow all others are devoid of any sense.

The talks will be very difficult because all previous treaties on offensive nuclear arms control did not consider the number of warheads - they only registered the number of carriers that could deliver a certain number of warheads. SORT is all about warheads and does not even mention carriers. But how will we know where warheads are deployed and how many?

These talks are not likely to be completed by the current presidents because they will soon leave office. They could, however, begin the talks. If their successors start the talks from scratch in 2009, they will have very little time left - START-I expires in December 2009. Moreover, if Bush and Putin reach an agreement, which is not impossible, we can seriously hope to come to terms on the follow-up to START-I. I believe that the beginning of these talks is a major gain.

There is one more point. The START-I force level is 6,000 warheads; START-II had 3,000-3,500 but never entered into force, while SORT's ceiling is 1,700-2,200. But if we agree on the counting rules, we can negotiate a reduction schedule. For instance, we could agree to cut the number of warheads to 3,500 by 2010 and to 2,500 by 2011 with a view to approaching the SORT levels.

After the Putin-Bush meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed a very short statement about "their intention to carry out strategic offensive reductions to the lowest possible level consistent with their national security...." Thus, it will be possible to lower the level from 1,700-2,200 and have no more than 1,500 warheads by 2015.

This is a very serious opportunity which allows the talks to continue. It is linked with the third issue, notably, the Declaration on Nuclear Energy and Nonproliferation. The presidents discussed both nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. Prospects here are very good, and cooperation is possible not only between the United States and Russia, but also with third countries, for instance India. I think this is a very interesting direction.

After the accident at Three Mile Island, the Americans did not develop nuclear energy for more than three decades and have problems with nuclear fuel. Despite lobbying against cooperation with Russia, there is hardly any alternative to it. The Americans may find themselves in a predicament when the agreement on weapons-grade uranium expires because half of their nuclear power stations are already adjusted to accept Russian fuel.

Iran is the fourth case in point. Bush called Russia a "solid partner" in this context. When the United States failed to resolve the North Korean problem single-handedly, it had to agree to multilateral talks with China as a go-between. The situation with Iran is much the same and here Russia can be a mediator. We can cooperate with the Americans even if we are dead set against a military solution. Judging by Bush's statement on this score, the Russian and U.S. positions are coming closer.

The Iranian issue is linked with anti-ballistic missile (ABM) problems. Here I see the fifth plus. The Russian-U.S. discussion of building a defense against medium-range missiles is developing into talks rather than an exchange of mutual recriminations. For the first time, Bush made it very clear that if the United States and Russia sent a joint message to Iran, it would have to respond to it. I believe that he was referring not only to a diplomatic message but also to ABM cooperation.

I think it will be another 20 years before Iran has intercontinental ballistic missiles. But the real threat is posed only by medium-range missiles, which, in theory, could carry an Iranian warhead in five years. This is a threat to us, too - six countries have a total of 400 medium- and short-range missiles along our border. Can we cooperate with the United States in ballistic missile defense? What do 10 ground-based interceptors, which are supposed to be deployed in Poland, have to do with this effort?

Any medium-range missile defense system would have to be tested using the appropriate type of missiles, but both the United States and Russia destroyed their medium-range missiles as part of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Hence, we must start serious talks with the Americans on an ABM system.

We offered them the Gabala radar - our first card. They agreed to take it but want to continue with their own plans. Then Putin pulled out a second card - the new-generation modular Voronezh-M radar near Armavir, in southern Russia. We can build a radar station in a year or even sooner, while it will take the Americans four years to deploy their radar in the Czech Republic. Unlike Gabala, the Voronezh-M is dual-purpose and can be also used for targeting.

Finally, there is a third card - we can offer the United States our systems for the destruction of medium-range missiles, for instance, S-400s, which can deal with ballistic missiles of any range. Each side could form a security zone for which it will be responsible; NATO could join in. All we need is trust and an honest approach.

Despite the difficulties in Russian-U.S. relations, both presidents have acknowledged their strategic partnership and agreed to hold talks in four directions (three military and one civilian).

There is strong reason to hope that there will be no Cold War while they are in power. They have bequeathed to their successors the potential for cooperation. The chill in Russian-American relations is not yet over, but a new Cold War is much less likely. This is a no small gain.

Sergei Rogov is director of the Institute of U.S. and Canadian Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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