On the eve of the American mid-term Election Day, Tomas Graham, former Senior advisor on Russia in the US National Security Council under George W. Bush, talks on possible implications of the outcome of the vote in terms of the Moscow-Washington relations. Mr. Graham, now a senior director in the Kissinger Associates consulting firm in New York, shares his views on the US-Russia economic dialogue, ratification of the new START in the Senate and other issues in an interview with the RIA Novosti New York Bureau Chief Dmitry Gornostaev.
Dmitry Gornostaev: Mr. Graham, what is the general influence of these mid-term elections on the US foreign policy and in particular, towards Russia?
Tomas Graham: The key issue in the election campaign now is the American economy, internal American affairs. And to the extent to which foreign policy has impacted on the election it has been more in terms of jobs that may have gone overseas. And that’s one of the reasons that China has been a factor in the campaign and appeared in a lot of campaign literature and the debates among the candidates.
Foreign policy otherwise hasn’t figured at all in the campaign, it’s not going to be the reason an individual, or most Americans, make a choice on November 2.
Will there be consequences for the foreign policy? Obviously, yes. Particularly, if the Republicans take of the one or both houses you’ll have different chairmen for the foreign relations committees which will give a different tone to the hearings they hold, and to the way they react to the White House.
With regards specifically to Russia and US – Russian relations, if the Republicans win the majority in the House the chairman would become someone who has significant questions about Obama’s reset, how closely Russia’s working with us on Iran, Afghanistan, other problems.
So, I expect that you’ll hear more criticism, and the administration will be under greater pressure to explain its policies. Whether that leads to different changes in its policies – it’s a question. I don’t think so. But it will be under more pressure to walk back a little bit from the reset that it pursued over the past 18 month.
D.G.: Will the election outcome impact the process of the new START treaty ratification in the Senate?
T.G.: There will be an impact. Although I believe that at the end of the day the START Treaty will be ratified. There’re many in the administration hope to do it in the lame duck session. My sense is that it’s probably too early, and it’ll happen in the next congress. But I think – in the first two or three months of 2011.
You have to remember that when it comes to the START Treaty the Republican leadership does not believe it is plain politics with this issue. It believes that it raises the serious question of the American national security which is, first and foremost, the modernization of the American nuclear infrastructure. And they want assurances from the Administration, that it understands the seriousness of this problem and it’s going to devote sufficient resources to it.
If you’re a Republican leader and you believe that you’re going to pick up seats in the Senate in the mid-term elections you have no incentive in a sense to close that deal with the Administration now. If you pick up a few more seats, if, by chance, you get a majority it will be in a much more powerful position to demand demonstrations from the Administration of the commitment to national security.
Once you have that then I believe that the Republican leadership will decide that they should proceed with the ratification of the START Treaty. Obama Administration understands the nature if this debate and it had several conversation with the key Republican senators on this. And I think that because the Administration has its interest in ratifying the new START as quickly as possible that it will quickly come into the agreement on the future of the American nuclear forces in the first part of the next year.
Finally, the Republicans are opposed to the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). One of the things they’re demonstrating in the position they’ve taken on START is that it’s the last arms control agreement that this administration will get through Congress in the Administration first term. Which is another way of saying: we’ll ratify START, but don’t even think of sending the CTBT to the Senate.
D.G.: Will these elections impact the US-Russia economic cooperation, specifically in terms of the Russia’s access to the World Trade Organization?
T.G.: I don’t think these elections will have big impact. The congress does play a role in setting an atmosphere around US-Russian economic relations. But at this point congress has very little to say on WTO. This is really a matter between the two governments, the executive branches in both countries. And also things need to be worked down with the Europeans and a few others that will close the WTO negotiations for Russia.
Once that’s done the process needs to be followed within the WTO so that Russia will be accepted for membership. But congress can’t prevent that.
The decision that the congress will have to make is that whether to repeal the Jackson-Vanick Amendment or not.
Once Russia has entered the WTO the Jackson-Vanick Amendment actually works against the interest of the American businessmen. So it’s a much easier argument to make before the congress that repeal is necessary and you don’t need to expand as much political capital. And I believe that that is what will happen in the end.
The question about Jackson-Vanick is not so much whether it will be repealed or not when Russia enters the WTO – it’s about how it will be repealed. Clean repeal with no conditions attached or certain conditions on Russia’s respect for intellectual property rights, there may be things connected with human rights and so forth, that will require the Administration to make reports or to conduct certain types of policies to push back against Russia. That is what I think the debate on Jackson-Vanick is going to be about. If the Republicans are in control of one or both houses of the congress the greater is likelihood that you’ll have conditions put on the repeal of the Jackson-Vanick Amendment.