*Adam Stern is the author of this piece, not Pat Frost
According to the New York Times, “President Obama sent a secret letter to Russia’s president last month suggesting that he would back off deploying a new missile defense system in Eastern Europe if Moscow would help stop Iran from developing long-range weapons, American officials said Monday. The letter to President Dmitri A. Medvedev said the United States would not need to proceed with the interceptor system, which has been vehemently opposed by Russia since it was proposed by the Bush administration, if Iran halted any efforts to build nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles.”
States have no friends, only interests. With a clever leak, it seems likely that the Obama Administration clearly buys into this oft-held realist notion, especially where U.S. foreign policy towards Russia is concerned. It seems as if just yesterday Vladimir Putin and Moscow were up in arms over the Pentagon’s plans to install missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. Russian leadership has remained adamant since that an American missile shield not be constructed on their watch. Their argument, and a reasonable one at that, is that Russian national security would be unduly compromised if NATO missiles were located within striking distance of their borders. In the early 1960’s, JFK had a similar reaction when nuclear components reached Cuban shores courtesy of our comrade Nikita Khrushchev.
Fast forward to the present. The U.S. is engaged in multiple conflicts abroad, a rise of terror in Pakistan and holding together a tenuous peace in Gaza. It’s clear that the Obama Administration has bigger foreign policy issues to contend with than Cold War era spat. It seems logical and in America’s best interests not only to diffuse unnecessary tension with Moscow, but, best case scenario here, enlist Russian support in curbing Iran’s nuclear aspirations.
It’s too early to tell if Vice-President Biden is serious when he expressed an interest in “hitting the reset button” on U.S. foreign policy towards Russia. The U.S. still harbors serious concerns over the amount of power wielded by former President (and current PM) Vladimir Putin. In addition, Russia’s handling of relations with its neighbors and former members of the USSR often leave much to be desired.
If states have no friends though, it might also be said that states have no enemies. At least not on a permanent basis. Currently, it’s in the American interest to take symbolic steps to bring Russia on board. President Obama’s letter and Vice-President Biden’s rhetoric might not amount to much in the long run but for time being these symbolic gestures indicate that the Administration recognizes there are far more pressing challenges on the horizon. Challenges like Iran, which will be far easier to confront when allies lend support.