As the G-20 meeting in Argentina looms next week, the US-Russian relationship is on a unique trajectory that features a meeting between presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
It should be noted that the Buenos Aires meeting will take place 10 years after the first G-20 Leaders’ Summit in Washington, DC, when heads of state and government from around the world put together an action plan to address the 2008 financial crisis. Ten years later, new threats and real-world problems are dominating the G-20, particularly what will occur between Trump and Putin.
It appears that the talks will focus on America’s withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and Russia’s response. With US National Security Adviser John Bolton’s visit to Moscow last month, and a brief meeting between Trump and Putin in France early in November, the trajectory for a major discussion in Argentina may be taking shape.
US-Russian relations have been more fraught in the last couple of years because of a zero-sum mentality that leaves no room for compromise, the idea that traditional ideas about arms control and cyberwarfare are bringing the two countries into a clash, and a decrease in high-level official dialogue. To boot, Syria and a host of other issues are constantly putting US-Russian relations on a course that does not quite collide but provides a lot of theater.
Syria and a host of other issues are constantly putting US-Russian relations on a course that does not quite collide but provides a lot of theater.
Dr. Theodore Karasik
In Argentina, Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the INF will be front and center. The US and Russia are accusing each other of violating the 1969 accord. Moscow says the US runs a ballistic missile defense site in Romania and will do so soon in Poland. Washington claims that Russia has developed and fielded ground cruise missiles within the treaty’s prohibited range.
Putin says Russia is ready to continue dialogue with the US on the INF, which has become one of the cornerstones of nuclear disarmament. The Kremlin has said the US should “treat this issue with full responsibility,” and Washington’s decision to withdraw from the treaty “cannot and will not be left unanswered.”
Russia’s threats are not empty, as it has previously warned that sudden changes to arms-control treaties can be met with the introduction of hypersonic weaponry. This escalation of rhetoric is for numerous audiences.
Arms-control advocates may see a new opportunity in Argentina despite the harsh and threatening rhetoric. The very fact that there is dialogue is a positive development, and can be built upon in a valuable way by emphasizing constructive non-proliferation that narrows the scope of the intended objective. Here, what is important is to shore up strategic stability.
Avoiding a nuclear catastrophe is the ultimate objective, and how the US and Russia structure their nuclear forces in the future, based on technological advances, needs to be addressed now. This is why the Trump-Putin meeting is significant as it may very well set the tone for the outcome of the G-20 meeting itself in terms of alliances, relations and trust.
The meeting may lead to further discussions about establishing rules of engagement regarding cyberattacks and command-and-control infrastructure. Of course, last-minute issues, perceptions and optics may change the composition and outcome of the Trump-Putin meeting.
In the security sphere, much progress may be made in Buenos Aires, with follow-on discussions by groups of experts. But neither side at this point sees a way to improve relations in a real public manner.
Nevertheless, the idea is to continue discussions on the future of US-Russian relations in which arms control needs to be front and center. In Argentina, that appears to be the objective. Perhaps common sense will prevail in an increasingly hostile security environment.
• Dr. Theodore Karasik is a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC. He is a former RAND Corp. senior political scientist who lived in the UAE for 10 years, focusing on security issues.