From Donald to Donald

Sergei Strokan talks about the legacy of the former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

The news of Donald Rumsfeld’s peaceful death at the age of 88 got lost in the shuffle of other “hot” news stories about ongoing political and military conflicts between East and West in all spheres, including cyberspace.

In Russia, almost no one noticed the news about the death of a prominent military officer. That is a shame: A lot of Rumsfeld’s actions, including the ones concerning strategic stability, significantly determined the current state of U.S.-Russian relations.

It was during the time we have almost forgotten: when Rumsfeld was the head of the Pentagon under the Republican administration of President George W. Bush and had a reputation of being one of the most influential “hawks” in Washington.

At that time, current democratic President Joe Biden was just a chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and could not make key decisions. He presented himself as an opponent of the White House key defense initiative, the National Missile Defense strategy.

It is important to note that this defense project, promoted by Washington shortly after Bush became president of the U.S. in 2000 and Vladimir Putin became Boris Yeltsin’s successor in Russia, triggered the first massive crack in U.S.-Russian relations after the Soviet Union had collapsed.

The countries have not yet succeeded in eliminating this disastrous conflict.

Exactly 20 years ago, in the summer of 2001, key members of Bush’s administration visited Moscow one by one, fruitlessly explaining the logic behind the NMD and trying to allay Russia’s fears that it would nullify the arrangements under the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972 and trigger an uncontrollable arms race.

At that time, every U.S. official in Moscow got the same uncomfortable question: What will the parameters of the future national defense strategy be? How do they correspond with the 1972 treaty?

The answers they gave were very vague; in a nutshell, the U.S. representatives claimed that it was impossible at that point to know all the parameters of the NMD. They argued that to determine the configuration of the future defense system, the U.S. needed to perform more tests, which were prohibited under the ABM treaty.

So, let’s be realistic, they said: The provisions of the 1972 treaty have become anachronistic; thus, sticking to them is an impossible task.

That was the U.S.’ official position at the negotiations with Russia at the time. Moscow reacted highly negatively, and the anxiety surrounding the NMD was only increasing.

In the summer of 2001, on his way to Moscow, where he had to head a yet another round of complicated, never-ending negotiations, the “hawk,” Rumsfeld, made a shocking announcement on the possibility of creating a new basis for strategic partnership between the U.S. and Russia. He added that soon Russia would likely turn from a staunch opponent of the U.S. missile defense program into its active supporter.

At some point, the head of the Pentagon thought that he could reach an agreement with Moscow given the fact that he was going discuss the issue with Sergei Ivanov, Russian Minister of Defense, Putin’s alleged confidant. Ivanov spoke English fluently and knew how Western countries operated.

However, the idea turned out to be fruitless.

Moscow and Washington did not reach an agreement. When a disappointed Rumsfeld returned to Washington, he said, “Russia is still, I think, captured to a certain extent by the old Cold War mentality and fear and apprehension and concern about the West. And our country, of course, is a country that is open, it’s transparent … And they know that.”

It is notable that before the failed negotiations of 2001, Rumsfeld had visited Russia nine times. His first visit took place in 1974 when he accompanied President Gerald Ford to Vladivostok on the way to his meeting with Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev. At that time, the two leaders reached a breakthrough arms control deal, which had been initiated in 1972 with the ABM treaty.

That is why, when 25 years later, Moscow officials adamantly stated that Rumsfeld should not reject the legacy of his predecessors in missile defense, he was confused; he was that predecessor, together with Ford. It was his legacy, which he decided to adjust in accordance with the reality of the 21st century.

In general, Rumsfeld’s work in different U.S. administrations represents the depth of mutual misunderstandings between Moscow and Washington.

We could observe this unwillingness to hear and understand each other in its full scale during Donald Trump’s term as president. Trump enthusiastically destroyed the arrangements that the previous Republican administration could not ruin.

At one point, Biden opposed the U.S. president in the Senate. Yet, his administration’s attitude toward Rumsfeld’s legacy will remain unknown for a few years to come.

About this publication

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply