Task Force Prescribes Steps to Advance U.S. Interests in Russia

Contact: James Smith
Phone: (617) 495-7831
Date: October 31, 2011

• How will Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin impact American national interests?
• Can the U.S. work with Russia to reduce risks that the rise of China disrupts the global order?
• Should the U.S. allow Georgia to block Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization?
• How can the U.S. engage Russia to reach further cuts in nuclear arsenals and reduce the global threat of nuclear terrorism?
These are just some of the thorny policy questions tackled in a new report by the Task Force on Russia and U.S. National Interests released today in Washington and Cambridge, Massachusetts by a group of business leaders and former military officers, senior government officials and diplomats.

The task force report assesses Russia from the perspective of American national interests and offers prescriptions for coherent, realistic management of the U.S.-Russia relationship as the two nations approach the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union on Dec. 25, 1991.

The study also makes the case that Russia remains one of the handful of countries in the world that can deeply affect American economic and security interests, demanding constant U.S. attention. The report argues that Vladimir Putin’s decision to return to the Kremlin as Russia’s president next year will make maintaining focus, care, and determination even more challenging for American policymakers.

While recognizing that the Obama Administration’s reset policy has led to significant improvements in U.S.-Russia relations, the task force report warns that relations remain fragile -- and that an undertow of mutual distrust is more at fault than specific disputes.

“This suspicion of one another’s motives may in fact be a greater obstacle to cooperation than sometimes divergent national interests and values,” the executive summary says.

It concludes that a sustainable cooperative relationship that protects U.S. interests will require American policymakers to move forward “without illusions regarding either Moscow’s sometimes neo-imperial ambitions, or the pace of democratic change in Russia.”

The task force was co-chaired by Graham Allison, director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and Robert D. Blackwill, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and former U.S. ambassador to India. The project director was Dimitri K. Simes, president of the Center for the National Interest. The Center’s executive director, Paul J. Saunders, served as editor for the report.

The report offers dozens of specific policy prescriptions on key issues that shape the relationship: Nuclear weapons and proliferation; arms control; energy security; fighting terrorism; trade and investment; and democratic values.

These include:
• The U.S. should engage Russia to develop a joint roadmap for security of nuclear weapons, weapons-grade plutonium and highly enriched uranium everywhere in the world.
• The U.S. also should engage Russia to get the world to agree to halt all new HEU enrichment and plutonium reprocessing.
• The U.S. and Russia should rapidly agree on Russia’s WTO accession.
• The U.S. should accept that Russian democracy will evolve in its own forms and will occur gradually.
• The U.S. should press for human rights conditions clearly and firmly, without a patronizing tone.
The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and the Center for the National Interest co-sponsored the Task Force.

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