Sen. John McCain‘s University of Denver speech on nuclear security and non-proliferation came as a surprise to many. In a clear break with the Bush administration, McCain called for new arms control agreements with Russia. McCain also agreed that legally binding verification measures should be incorporated into the renewed version of the START Agreement. Finally, he promised to "seriously consider Russia’s recent proposal to work together to globalize the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty."
Granted, little of what McCain has said hadn’t been articulated before by his Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama: first, in a speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and later, in a polished version of the same speech published in the July/August 2007 issue of Foreign Affairs.
It was the unusually measured tone of McCain’s presentation that seemed to surprise observers the most, especially when compared — as The National Interest’s Nicolas Gvozdev points out — to McCain’s Los Angeles verbal crusade.
Even folks in Moscow were impressed. Konstantin Kosachev, head of the State Duma International Affairs Committee, said that Russia "should not ignore this signal" and that McCain can expect Russia’s positive response.
Are we witnessing the emergence of a kinder, gentler, perhaps even wiser (knock-on-wood!) McCain? I wish.
Yet, in politics, like in investment, prior performance is the best predictor of future results, and McCain’s attitude towards Russia is too well known and documented to be forgotten after a single speech. McCain is experienced enough to understand that any serious arms control negotiations require, first and foremost, a critical mass of mutual trust between the two countries, something that he’s been systematically undermining for years.
In order to be taken seriously, both in Moscow and in Washington, McCain should first outline his positions on the whole spectrum of U.S.-Russia relations. He could start, for example, with giving his assessment of the Sochi Declaration signed by presidents Bush and Putin in April. He could proceed with explaining to which extent he’d be willing to take into account Russia’s legitimate concerns with respect to the U.S. anti-missile defense in Europe and NATO expansion. He could tell whether he’s going to press Congress to graduate Russia from the anachronistic Jackson-Vanik amendment.
And what about the so-called 123 Agreement with Russia, which would allow Russia’s entry in the U.S. nuclear fuel market and which seems to be solidly stuck in the U.S. Congress? Why won’t McCain call on his colleagues in the Senate to approve it as one of the "confidence building measures" he advocates in his speech? Or is it Westinghouse‘s donations to his campaign that prevent McCain from doing so?
Having said "C", McCain now has to say "A" and "B." Otherwise, his Denver speech is not only insufficient; it’s simply irrelevant.