March 24, 2013
The new conventional wisdom among Russia experts in the U.S. seems to be that the U.S.-Russia relationship will be limited to issues of nuclear arms control only. Even in this area, it is difficult to expect breakthroughs. According to this view, the U.S. and Russia cannot increase their level of cooperation due to the divergence of their political systems and interests.
The two nations are divided over how to handle the Middle East, missile defense, human rights, differences in how fast Russia can become a full-fledged democracy, in addition to lesser issues––further, Washington doesn't see a meaningful role for Russia in today's changing world. Why? Russia's leadership prioritizes stability over democracy––and this runs counter to America's values and policies. Also the U.S. doesn't view Russia as sufficiently strong to be a global partner on issues from the Middle East to Asia. Finally, the United States advocates arms reductions, whereas Russia (in anticipation of greater instability in its nearby Eurasia neighborhood) feels it must rebuild its nuclear capabilities.
What is missing is real leadership: leadership that will offer a bold vision to tackle the world's problems jointly, acting on this vision––and accepting possible risks. As Jack Matlock, the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, reminds us, a good example of real leadership is how former Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev jointly ended the Cold War in the late 1980s thereby moving the world toward a new era of cooperation.