Jacob Heilbrunn

Dmitri Medvedev's Nuclear Bluster

Someone should tell Dmitri A. Medvedev to can it. The Russian president announced in an annual state of the nation address that a new arms race will emerge if the U.S. Senate doesn't approve the New START treaty. But threatening a new arms race is no way to persuade any senator, Republican or Democrat, to back the treaty.

On the contrary, Medvedev appears to be trying to blackmail the Senate into approving the treaty, something that would be intolerable for any nation. Coming on the heels of a Wall Street Journal report that Russia has begun stationing short-range nuclear missiles near NATO forces, Medvedev's bluster is not going to make President Obama's life any easier. According to the Journal

U.S. officials say the movement of warheads to facilities bordering NATO allies appeared to run counter to pledges made by Moscow starting in 1991 to pull tactical nuclear weapons back from frontier posts and to reduce their numbers. The U.S. has long voiced concerns about Russia's lack of transparency when it comes to its arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons, believed to be many times the number possessed by the U.S.

In reality, Russia has no conceivable interest in embarking on a new arms competition with America or in trying to threaten Europe, its best customer for natural gas. Just look at the results of the last one. The Soviet Union collapsed. Russia was denuded of most of its post-World War II acquisitions. It was, in essence, the last great European empire to go under. And Medvedev really thinks that Russia can launch a new competition with America?

The truth is that Medvedev is desperate for the START treaty to be signed. So is Obama. Both need a foreign policy victory. My own view is that the treaty should be approved. The huffing and puffing of Sen. Kyl about the potential perils of the treaty is grossly disproportionate to its actual insignificance. But cooperating with Russia to ensure further on-site inspections and dismantle obsolete weaponry is a no-brainer.

Too bad Medvedev felt it was necessary to engage in his own posturing about the START treaty. No doubt some Russophobes in America will treat his remarks as the moral equivalent of Stalin's February 9, 1946 address at the Bolshoi Theater announcing that "world capitalism proceeds through crisis and the catastrophes of war"--a remark that western policy makers not unreasonably interpreted as constituting a battle cry against the western democracies. The Cold War was on. That won't happen this time. But whatever does transpire with the START treaty, it seems abundantly clear that the U.S.-Russia relationship is about to endure a few more bumps.