Theory vs. Practice

As Yogi Berra put it in theory there is no difference between theory and practice; in practice there is. While I agree wholeheartedly with George P. Schultz’s, William J. Perry’s, and Sam Nunn’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal warning us about the urgent need for action by the United States to reduce the likelihood of a nuclear confrontation, I’m concerned that the practice will prove elusive. Here’s their prescription:

The U.S. must first address its own dysfunctional Russia policy, and Congress must lead the way. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should convene a new bipartisan liaison group of legislative leaders and committee chairmen to work with senior administration officials on strengthening the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and renewing dialogue with Russia. This model was used in the arms-control observer group led by Sens. Robert Byrd and Bob Dole in the 1980s. The group was able to build bipartisan consensus for a defense modernization program that strengthened America’s defenses and bolstered NATO’s deterrence, as well as a Russia policy that led to negotiations eliminating missiles in Europe. These policies helped end the Cold War.

Second, Presidents Trump and Vladimir Putin should announce a joint declaration reaffirming that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. This would renew the 1985 Reagan-Gorbachev statement that Americans and Russians received positively as the beginning of an effort to reduce risk and improve mutual security. A joint statement today would clearly communicate that despite current tensions, leaders of the two countries possessing more than 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons recognize their responsibility to work together to prevent catastrophe. This could also lead other nuclear states to take further steps to reduce nuclear risk. The timing of such a statement would also signal Washington and Moscow’s commitment to build on past progress toward disarmament, as next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Third, the U.S. and Russia must discuss a broad framework for strategic stability—including increasing decision time for leaders—in a period of global destabilization and emerging military technologies. In a positive step, Presidents Trump and Putin apparently agreed in Helsinki last summer to open a dialogue on strategic stability, focused on nuclear dangers that threaten both nations. Yet their inability to follow up by empowering their military and civilian professionals to follow through underlines how dangerously dysfunctional relations have become.

And this is the most vital part of their op-ed:

This effort must begin now. America’s leaders cannot call a “time out” to wait for the aftermath of the Robert Mueller investigation or other issues to play out in Congress or the courts. Nor is there time to await a new U.S. administration, a new leader in the Kremlin, or the gradual resolution of current international disputes. The risks are simply too grave to put America’s vital interests on hold.

As the late Mayor Daley used to say, let’s look at the record. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union the United States has invaded and/or attacked a dozen countries without United Nations Security Council Authorization. Those include Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya and not one of which threatened U. S. security. Arguably, Russia has invaded and/or attacked two: Georgia and Ukraine. Both of those were actual parts of Russia for hundreds of years. We have no real analogy. It would be as though we had invaded North Dakota after it declared independence.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union NATO has been expanded to include 13 more countries, all of them former Soviet republics or Soviet allies. U. S. security has not been enhanced by even one of those additions. Russia sees every single addition as an actual or implied threat.

From reading the U. S. media you would get the impression that the greatest challenge to the U. S.-Russian bilateral relationship is Russian meddling in U. S. domestic politics. Any but the naive realizes that is what countries do. We meddle in Russian politics; Russia meddles in ours. China, Israel, and even the United Kingdom all meddle in our politics.

From the Russians’ viewpoint the greate challenge to the U. S.-Russian bilateral relationship is an aggressive and expansionary United States and NATO. That can’t be healed by revitalizing a NATO that has expanded to Russia’s borders.

5 comments… add one
  • TastyBits Link

    As Russia’s nuclear threat increases, the Russia hawks are becoming Russian chickenhawks.

    Russia, especially Putin, meddled in the US election, and most likely are the reason Trump got elected. If it takes a nuclear war to set things right, so be it. I am sure that the Democrats and #NeverTrumpers will agree.

    Additionally, our top scientist (AOC) has stated that we must do what is necessary to stop Global Warming, and if it takes a nuclear war to create a nuclear winter, so be it. I am sure that the other scientists (Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio) will agree.

  • Gray Shambler Link

    With a robust conventional military, why do we even need nuclear weapons to deter nuclear war? So we pose an even greater threat than our adversaries?

  • The absence of our nuclear deterrent would motivate a first nuclear strike by a prospective adversary.

  • steve Link

    While I think you are broadly correct that our Cold Warriors have made tons of mistakes in our treatment of Russia, I still think it in our interest to have a nuclear treaty. It would be nice if it were as strong and invasive as the one we had with Iran, but I will settle for something approximating the old agreement.

    Would not that the authors are using this as an excuse/reason to upgrade our nuclear arsenal. I think we need to make sure ours is safe and functional. I would spend as little as possible on that.


  • Gray Shambler Link

    What, outside of terrorism or irrationality, would provoke a first nuclear strike against a non-nuclear adversary?

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