The revelation about secret talks between the Obama administration and Iran, leading up to the interim agreement on nuclear development, brings to mind President Obama’s March 2012 overheard “off-microphone” request to then Russian President Medvedev to relay to Vladimir Putin that Obama would be able after his re-election to show more “flexibility” in future nuclear arms and missile defense negotiations. The “flexibility” pledge was made a year and a half after the President successfully sought lame-duck Senate ratification of the New START nuclear weapons treaty following the November 2010 elections. The President obtained the votes, despite calls for hearings after the installation of a new Congress, by promising to modernize American nuclear forces. This promise, however, remains unfulfilled despite Russia’s modernization beginning with Yeltsin’s regime and continuing with Putin’s.
At the very time the New START treaty was ratified by the Senate, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, wrote an article in the Russian (and previously Soviet) Foreign Ministry Journal, International Affairs, where he asserted, “The need to draft and sign fundamentally new, wide-ranging international treaties is long overdue.” Lavrov promoted what he called, “a system of military-political guarantees, a kind of global security matrix.” Furthermore, he made reference to “the Russian initiative to draw up and sign a comprehensive European security treaty” as well as Russia’s desire to create “multilateral arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament regimes.” The first of these, Lavrov wrote, was the New START Treaty “designed to become a key instrument in a system of safeguards as part of the global security matrix.” Lavrov also looked forward to “the day when the last nuclear warhead disappears and the ‘great equalizer’ becomes a thing of the past.” This must refer both to Israel’s last resort nuclear option and to America’s umbrella of extended deterrence to allies, who feel increasingly uneasy with the reliability of U.S. commitments.
While we already know of President Obama’s support for nuclear zero, despite the risks of cheating by several powers, including Russia, one can only speculate if President Obama already accepts the concept of a “global security matrix” or if he has made a private commitment to Russia supporting a European security treaty as part of his pledge of “flexibility.” In addition to Europe, the Middle East offers another opportunity for Russian expansion through the Jordan-Israel peace treaty, which was an American diplomatic triumph in 1994. Despite the advantages of the treaty to Israeli, American and Jordanian interests, the document leaves open a door for mischief by Moscow. Article IV of the treaty expresses a desire “to aim towards a regional framework of partnership in peace” that specifically includes a commitment to create a Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Middle East modeled on the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
With Russia’s client, Syria recovering, Iran moving forward and Moscow taking advantage of the U.S. move away from Egypt, Russia, unfortunately, has a number of the aforementioned diplomatic instruments at its disposal that bears close watching.