But some things never change. We are continually faced with the challenge of dealing with human reactions, partisan perceptions and the need to develop greater skill in dealing with our differences. Just as the nuclear risk-reduction centers were the first achievable agreement between Reagan and Gorbachev back in 1985, before agreements on arms control, it might be most productive now to focus again on nuclear risk-reduction measures. Some have called for bilateral U.S.-Russia discussions on how to insulate nuclear systems from cyberattack and other new risks, which could be expanded to include the other recognized nuclear powers, looking to draw in China. It would be very hard to have such a dialogue, but it is necessary. The gravity of new threats could push the United States, Russia and China to unite to combat non-state actors and start a dialogue on the full range of new risks.
Negotiation tools could enable a critical dialogue: listen; think like a Russian, and vice versa; see the world as the other sees it. Sometimes the simplest and most human of reminders can help move things a little forward, like a bit of folk wisdom my colleague likes to quote when tempers flare: “There is a reason that God gave us two ears and only one mouth.”
Bruce Allyn is a senior fellow and affiliated faculty at the Program on Negotiation, Harvard Law School, and a former director of the Harvard-Soviet Joint Study on Nuclear Crisis Prevention.
This essay was published in the July/August 2017 print magazine under the headline “Russian to Judgment.”
Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a wreath laying ceremony to mark the Defender of the Fatherland Day at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin wall in central Moscow, Russia February 23, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin.