The New Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (New START) has been in the news for over a year now. First there were the negotiations with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in the fall of 2009. Then President Obama signed the new treaty with president Medvedev in April 2010. Now the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has two options: put the treaty up for a vote and send it to the Senate or acquiesce to a GOP request to release the negotiating record to the committee.
Before the Senate decides they should first consider whether this agreement is really going to change Russian behavior. It’s not. In fact it’s more of business as usual. Despite the Obama administration’s efforts to improve Russia-U.S. relations ,Russia has continued its push to regain lost influence in its near abroad. A new nuclear arms reductions treaty is not going to end Russia’s historical desire for neighbors that are not just friendly but supplicant.
Let’s start with Israel’s concern about Iranian nuclear capabilities. There has been enough speculation on if and when Israel will strike Iran’s nuclear infrastructure to fill several volumes on the subject. Scholars have given us a glimpse into what an Israeli strike and Iranian response would look like partly because an Israeli strike would not be unprecedented. In 1981 Israeli warplanes struck an Iraqi reactor at Osirak in Iraq and in 2007 Israel bombed a reactor in Syria.
Despite these past successes an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities has been made more difficult by the addition of Russian S-300s in the Georgian breakaway territory of Abkhazia. While totally Ignoring U.S. requests for a peaceful solution to the 2008 war Russia has been a powerful ally of Abkhazia.
The addition of the S-300s limits any strike on Iran from the north, giving Israel fewer good options should it choose to strike the core of Iran’s nuclear program at Natanz, Qom, Esfahan and Bushehr. Furthermore, S-300s are overkill for the types of “warplanes, missiles or drones” that Russia and Abkhazia would face from the Georgian military. Installing S-300s are like using a sledgehammer to kill a fly. The only reason to install them in Abkhazia is to limit the options for a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The installation of Russian S-300 battery was installed after negotiations on New START began and have continued despite the treaty signing in April. So much for a reset.
The reasons that Iran cannot have a nuclear weapon have been thoroughly documented. This move shows that Russia is more concerned with maintaining ties with its trading partner than really resetting relations with the U.S. This brings us to the next point. Why is Russia obstructing an Israeli military strike of Iran’s nuclear sites?
Money. The answer is found in trade, military hardware, gasoline, minerals and hydrocarbons. Despite the domestic problems that Iran is facing a shocking 20% of Iran’s overall imports were for its nuclear reactor program and Russia has been more than willing to supply them with technology and refined gasoline. While the U.S. is urging the international community to be tough with Iran, Russian has resumed gasoline sales into Iran. Russia is also selling Iran nuclear and missile technology which will only accelerate their push toward nuclear capability.
In all the back-and-forth about New START we should never lose sight of the realities we are faced with. Russia can’t always count on its petrodollars and Iran has said it wants to assume a hegemonic control over the Middle East and Central Asia. This means that each is going to find ways to make money and have influence. To that end, Russia and Iran have decided to collaborate in order to counter U.S. and international interests. It is irresponsible for any country to allow Iran to become a nuclear state. Worse still would be a country that actively helps Iran as it lurches on with its nuclear program. Russia is complicit on both counts. The New START should not be seen as a reset of U.S.-Russian relations. It is another stumbling block which will only give the impression that things have changed. In reality, it’s business as usual.
Philip Reboli is an intern with Heritage Action for America.