What's at Stake
In a 1939 radio broadcast Winston Churchill famously called Russia "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." The line is quoted often. But most leave out the rest of Churchill's statement, where he offered a key to understanding Russia, and "that key is Russian national interest." What is Russia's national interest today? At the risk of oversimplification, we can say that Vladimir Putin, who is seeking a third term as Russian president in 2012, aims above all else to preserve his power, stoking Russian nationalist passions to maintain popular support, and using wealth garnered from energy and arms sales to stave off economic calamity. With the Kremlin's leverage over the energy supplies of Central and Western Europe, its stockpile of nuclear weapons, its recent history of aggressive military action, and the power it wields in multilateral institutions like the United Nations, Russia is a destabilizing force on the world stage. It needs to be tempered.
President Obama famously sought to "reset" U.S. relations with Russia. The ambiguity of that term cannot mask that the Obama administration has failed to move Russia toward a more beneficial working relationship with the United States and our allies. President Obama began his reset policy by withdrawing, without reciprocal concessions, from President Bush's plan to place a missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, a move Russia strongly desired. He continued the same "we give, Russia gets" policy by signing the New START treaty in 2010. While the agreement compels the U.S. to reduce our nuclear launcher and warhead limits, the levels it sets for Russia are above what the Russians possessed at the time the agreement was reached. In other words, New START gave Russia room to expand its arsenal while requiring the United States to reduce our own. In any event, even if we put aside the demerits of the treaty, it was a squandered opportunity to extract concessions from the Russians that would have advanced our interests. Thus, President Obama failed to press for meaningful reductions not only in Russia's strategic nuclear arsenal, but also in its extensive tactical nuclear force. And he failed to elicit Russian help in dealing with North Korean and Iranian nuclear ambitions.
Upon taking office, Mitt Romney will reset the reset. He will implement a strategy that will seek to discourage aggressive or expansionist behavior on the part of Russia and encourage democratic political and economic reform.
Review New START
Mitt Romney will review the implementation of the New START treaty and other decisions by the Obama administration regarding America's nuclear posture and arms-control policies to determine whether they serve the best interests and national security of the United States.
Decrease Europe's Energy Reliance on Russia
Mitt Romney will pursue policies that work to decrease the reliance of European nations on Russian sources of energy. He will explore increasing technical assistance to the Eastern European nations currently developing the Turkey-to-Austria Nabucco natural gas pipeline, which will supply Europe with a cheaper source of energy and options apart from Russian oil and gas. A Romney administration will also work with the private sector to spur access to untapped shale energy resources in Western Europe.
Build Stronger Relationships with Central Asia
A Romney administration will build stronger relationships with the states of Central Asia by enhancing diplomatic ties, increasing military training and assistance, and negotiating trade pacts and educational exchanges.
Support Civil Society
A Russian government that respects the civil and political rights of its people and that is truly representative of their wishes will be a more productive participant in an international system based on liberal trade and political values. Deepening authoritarianism and centralized control of the economy serves only to impede Russia's economic development and turn the country into a more menacing presence on the world stage. A Romney administration will be forthright in confronting the Russian government over its authoritarian practices. Mitt Romney will support measures to increase the flow of information into Russia that highlights the virtues of free elections, free speech, economic opportunity, and a government free of corruption. A useful additional step would be to bring more leaders of Russian civil society organizations to the United States on exchanges programs, which would raise their profile and empower them with ideas that can be shared with their fellow Russians upon their return.