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Main | Archive | Issue 7/2007

U.S.-Russian Mutual Relations: Five Major Areas
Column: Russia - U.S. - 200

On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Russia, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the U.S. to Russia William Burns contributed an article to Diplomat magazine.

Alexis de Tocqueville, an astute observer of both our societies, concluded in 1835 that "there are at the present time two great nations in the world... the Russians and the Americans. Their starting point is different and their courses are not the same; yet each of them seems marked out by the will of Heaven to sway the destinies of half the globe." At some moments in the years since then, especially during the period of Cold War confrontation, de Tocqueville's observation about the impact of our relationship on the rest of the world was remarkably prescient.

Today, of course, America and Russia are joined by a number of Great Powers - China, India, the European Union, and Japan among them - in a post-Cold War international system whose contours are still evolving. But what remains true is that the relationship between Russia and America matters greatly to our mutual interests, and to the future of global order, on issues that range from energy security to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. We will have moments of competition as well as partnership, of friction as well as common purpose, but one thing we will not have is the luxury of ignoring one another.

Whatever our frustrations with one another, we are no longer enemies or strategic adversaries. We have had enough of Cold War, and enough of arms races. In a world which cries out for leadership from us both, it would be a huge mistake to lose sight of what we have to gain by working together.

Some Common Strengths

Amidst all the difficulties and uncertainties of our present relationship, and the diverging historical experiences of each of our societies over these last 200 years, it is easy to forget how much Russians and Americans have in common. Let me cite a few examples.

The first is about geography. We represent colossal nations, astride our respective continents, looking out at the world across multiple time zones. I don't need to tell any of you that modern Russia, covering one-eighth of the world's landmass, extending 9,000 kms from Europe to China, bordering 14 countries, and possessing the largest energy deposits in the world, cannot afford to be a parochial power. Americans, straddling both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, share a perspective shaped by open space and abundant natural resources. While Russia's history is marked more by its geographic vulnerabilities and America's by its geographic isolation, the point I would make is simply that our ambitions and responsibilities as nations have always reflected our geographic sweep.

The second connection between us flows from the fact that we are frontier nations. Exploring new territories, on land or in space, comes naturally to us. Whether it was Russian fur traders unlocking the wealth of Siberia or American pioneers traveling into the unknowns of the Oregon Territory - the spirit of adventure, of testing limits, of charting unmarked territory animates both Russians and Americans. All of us remember how American and Russian pioneers raced each other into space and, yes, as we mark the 50th anniversary of Sputnik in 2007, we have not forgotten who won the first test. But Yuri Gagarin's first orbit, and Neil Armstrong's first step on the moon, launched a partnership between equals that will continue to lead human efforts in space for many years to come.

Third, and to paraphrase the American poet Walt Whitman, a great country is that which has the greatest men and women. The most important capital in both our countries has always been human. This is particularly true as we transition to a global economy powered by the flow of information, generated by the talent and intellect of its citizens. Russians and Americans have proven themselves historically to be great people - capable of making significant contributions to the development of world civilization as a whole. Whatever their differences, Shostakovich and Duke Ellington, Tsar Alexander II and President Lincoln, Bulgakov and Hemingway, Sakharov and Martin Luther King, Bill Gates and Sergey Brin helped define and propel the 19th and 20th centuries.

Fourth, we are - oddly enough - united by our differences, by the fact that we embody multiethnic and multiconfessional states. According to your latest census, a Russian citizen can be one of 140 nationalities and 40 ethnic groups, enriched by 150 languages. That a Bashkiri Buddhist and a Tatar Muslim and a Ukrainian Orthodox Christian share a Russian passport is deeply appealing to Americans, whose own identity reflects the bloodlines and beliefs of our millions of immigrants. Just as our shared diversity is a source of strength in a globalized world, building tolerance is an obligation we cannot afford to ignore in safeguarding against xenophobia and ethnic conflict.

The Road Ahead

As the third century in our relationship begins, I am not naive enough to think that the road ahead will be easy or neat. We will have our share of troubles and disputes and rivalries. But it's important to keep a sense of perspective, to keep a careful eye on areas of common ground on which we can build. I'd like to suggest five such areas which should be at the top of our shared agenda in Moscow and Washington. Much of the history of the 21st century is going to depend on how well and how responsibly we advance that agenda.

Nuclear cooperation is the first of these opportunities. America and Russia have a unique history in the nuclear field, with capabilities and responsibilities that no other two nations can match. Today, we both face transnational terrorist and criminal networks trafficking in nuclear technology, as well as regimes that pursue nuclear weapons under the cover of peaceful energy programs. Globalization has democratized access to nuclear weapons technology.

The challenge for U.S.-Russian nuclear leadership in such a world is how to best develop peaceful nuclear technology, make it available to developing countries in a way which guards against proliferation of weapons by states or terrorists, while demonstrating responsibility in the management of our own remaining nuclear arsenals.

Toward those ends, our two Presidents are leading a number of crucial and inter-related initiatives. Russia and the U.S. have just launched a new Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, and have already been joined by 11 other partners. We have begun a new bilateral strategic security dialogue on how best to proceed after START's expiration in 2009. As we reflect on the 15 years of successful joint efforts under the Cooperative Threat Reduction program - including the denuclearization of Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, the deactivation of over 7000 nuclear warheads, the destruction of more than 600 ICBMs, the demolition of 600 submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and the removal of highly-enriched uranium from more than a dozen sites around the world - we have much more work to do. At the same time, we are negotiating for the first time in our history a bilateral agreement on peaceful nuclear cooperation, and considering new ways in which we can collaborate on new civilian technologies. We are also looking hard at ways in which we can reinforce existing non-proliferation regimes, even as we deal together diplomatically with the extremely difficult challenges of Iranian and North Korean nuclear ambitions.

A second area for expanded U.S.-Russian cooperation involves energy security in oil and gas - by this, I mean security for energy producers and consumers alike, governed by the market, supported by stable and predictable regulatory and tax regimes, and shaped by a long-term vision of the need to diversify sources and transit routes. Russia, the world's largest producer of hydrocarbons, and the United States, the world's largest consumer, have, by definition, a powerful obligation to provide responsible leadership on energy security. We already have a strong basis for partnership. The very effective relationship between ConocoPhillips and LUKOIL is one good example. Another is Exxon-Mobil's work with Rosneft and other partners on the Sakhalin-I project.

A third area for cooperation is the expansion of our commercial relationship and deepening of Russia's integration into the global economy. Last November's bilateral agreement on Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization was the biggest single achievement in our economic relationship in more than a decade, and Russia's entry into the WTO will be the culmination of 15 years of revolutionary economic reform.

U.S. firms are among the most energetic investors in Russia, with American direct investment increasing 50 percent last year alone. The range of American firms is dramatic evidence of the diversification of Russia's economy. Alcoa, Citigroup, International Paper, John Deere, Dow, Cargill, Procter and Gamble, United Technologies and General Electric are all increasing their presence. Intel, Motorola, Boeing and IBM are looking for new opportunities to collaborate with Russia's well-trained engineers and scientists. Significantly, today's Russia is an increasingly important investor in the U.S. economy, with the $2.3 billion merger of Evraz and Oregon steel just the latest sign of the growing two-way street in trade. Economic ties have a dollars and cents benefit, but equally important are the values that the market rewards, including transparency and rule of law.

A fourth area of cooperation revolves upon the fight against infectious diseases, against which physical borders offer little protection. Our Presidents have pledged to make the fight against HIV/AIDs a priority, recognizing this illness for what it is: a national security threat to both nations. America and Russia have a unique advantage, in pooled resources and knowledge, to slow the progress of the disease, to ease suffering, to develop a vaccine, and to share our knowledge with partners around the world.

Finally, the struggle against terrorism demands continuing U.S.-Russian cooperation. We have made significant, quiet progress in cutting off the flow of money to violent extremist groups, sharing intelligence and coordinating law enforcement activity. We are also working together to resolve the regional conflicts and economic hopelessness on which terrorists feed, in particular, in our mutual efforts through the Quartet to accelerate progress toward a two-state solution for Palestinians and Israelis. Afghanistan's reconstruction and combating drug trafficking in South and Central Asia are other problems that can best be solved through joint efforts.

These are only a few of the areas in which partnership benefits us both, and benefits the rest of the world. I am not naive. I know that today there is no shortage of concerns about our relationship in either Moscow or Washington. But I remain optimistic about the potential of the third century of Russian-American relations.

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