Commentary Magazine


Stopped on START

One of my colleagues, Trey Hicks (who despite freelance foreign-policy reporter Barbara Slavin’s ace fact-checking skills works not at the Hudson Institute but at the American Enterprise Institute), draws my attention to this article in Defense News:

MOSCOW — Russia announced Feb. 26 that it intended to fulfill its contract to supply Syria with cruise missiles despite the turmoil shaking the Arab world and Israel’s furious condemnation of the deal. “The contract is in the implementation stage,” news agencies quoted Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov as saying. Russia initially agreed to send a large shipment of anti-ship Yakhont cruise missiles to Syria in 2007 under the terms of a controversial deal that was only disclosed by Serdyukov in September 2010. The revelation infuriated Israel and the United States and there had been speculation that Russia would decide to tear up the contract amid the current turmoil plaguing North Africa and the Middle East.

The Obama administration spent months courting Russia, seeking a reset in relations. It allowed Russia to run rings around the United States in the new START negotiations, and it sought to fast-track the START Treaty through Congress before senators could adequately study the devil in the details. It made START its marquis foreign-policy achievement, something akin to bragging about being valedictorian of a summer-school class. Now, there is nothing wrong with disarmament deals, but they are only worth the paper on which they are written if an adversary is sincere. The Russian sale to Syria is not a violation of START, but it is a sign that Obama’s reset of relations took us back to the era of Carter rather than to that of Reagan.

Vladimir Putin seeks not mutual understanding but rather advantage. He looks at treaties as an asymmetric strategy in which he can weaken opponents by seizing upon their own naïveté. Unfortunately, it looks like Obama was his perfect victim.

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