The key to the Bush administration’s new relationship with Russia is likely to be George W. Bush’s determination to push ahead with a national defense against missiles.
Russia won’t like it — nor will many U.S. allies.
Overall, more than a tactical adjustment is expected from the new president in Russia policy, although little has been revealed in Bush’s first few days in the White House.
Like former President Bill Clinton’s decision to expand the NATO military alliance, the ambitious missile defense program is sure to unnerve Russia and prompt the new administration either to respond with no more than a few placating words or to pursue a deal designed to entice the Russians into going along.
One approach could be to negotiate deep cutbacks in U.S. and Russian long-range nuclear warheads beyond the 50 percent reduction called for by the 1992 START II treaty. That might help ease Russia’s anxieties about the U.S. arsenal. But whatever choice Bush makes, Secretary of State Colin Powell made clear at his Senate confirmation hearing last week that “our relations with Russia must not be dictated by any fear on our part.”
For example, he said, if the new administration decides on another expansion of NATO, “we should not fear that Russia will object; we will do it because it is in our interest.”