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18 July, 2017

TIME FOR SOBER REALISM ON U.S.-RUSSIA RELATIONS

It is a scary thought but do you realize that the United States and Russia possess nearly 14,000 nuclear weapons between them — more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear arsenal — and keep almost 2,000 on hair-trigger alert? It goes without saying then, that the extreme danger of nuclear war can be reduced only through cooperation between the two countries.  And we in Canada can only sit with crossed fingers and ultimate faith in an upholding of "the American way".

Currently, the era of cyber warfare has arrived without any of the agreed-upon rules that govern traditional wars or, for that matter, nuclear deterrence. There is now a rising threat of hackers breaching not only emails and elections but also power grids, strategic warning systems and command-and-control centers. For years, there has been discussion of the need to establish clear rules of the road for cyber warfare. Now, reports of escalating interference make it imperative that cyber weapons, like conventional, chemical or nuclear arms, be controlled by treaty. Again, however, this cannot happen without a more constructive U.S.-Russia relationship.

Given these significant threats, the escalation of tensions with Russia, rather than de-escalation, serves neither the American interest nor national security. This moment calls for diplomacy and dialogue, not moral posturing and triumphalism.

Needless to say, rebuilding a working détente with Russia will not be easy. It will take skill and persistence. Russian President Vladimir Putin heads an authoritarian government that tramples basic rights. U.S. President Trump has demonstrated that he has neither the temperament nor the advisers to sustain a coherent policy initiative. But the nations come to negotiations with the governments they have, not the ones that many wish they had. There is simply no other choice.

For Democrats, whose understandable desire to resist Trump has helped fuel the anti-Russia fixation, there is also another reality to consider. Focusing on Trump’s ties to Russia alone will not win the critical 2018 midterm elections, and it will not win meaningful victories on issues such as health care, climate change and inequality. Moreover, cold wars are lousy for progressivism. They strengthen pro-war parties and fatten defense budgets while depleting funds that could be put to better use rebuilding infrastructure and expanding social programs. They empower the worst forces in both parties and, importantly, close off space for dissent. This is as true in the United States as it is in Russia.

The bottom line is that opposition to Trump cannot become the same as opposition to common sense. Common sense dictates protection of democracy by strengthening election systems to counter outside interference. It dictates an independent investigation of claims of Russian meddling in last year's presidential campaign. But it also tells Americans that they cannot address many of their most urgent challenges — from Syria and climate change to nuclear proliferation and cyber issues — without the United States and Russia finding ways to work together when it serves mutual interests. North Americans in general do not have to embrace the Russian government to work on vital interests with it. And we cannot afford a revival of Cold War passions that would discredit those seeking to de-escalate tensions. Efforts to curtail debate could be a disservice to security in the U.S.A.

As editor of the Nation, a magazine with a long history of adopting alternative views and unpopular stances, especially on matters of war and peace, acclaimed commentator Katrina vanden Heuval correctly writes that she believes it is important to challenge conventional wisdom, to foster rather than police debate and to oppose the forces that vilify those advocating and pursuing better relations. And while arguing that both the United States and Russia have serious interests in maintaining a working relationship may not be popular, it also is not radical. It is simply sober realism.

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