Philip Gordon Expresses Hope for a “Useful” U.S.-Russia Summit Meeting in Moscow, Especially on Arms Reductions     Print Email

Striking a pragmatic tone ahead of the upcoming U.S.-Russia summit, a top U.S. policy-maker said that the meeting is intended to “do some useful things” including renewed momentum on arms control.

Phillip Gordon, the new Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasian Affairs, made the point in a speech to a European Institute audience, including many European ambassadors in Washington - on June 18. It was his first public-speaking engagement speech since assuming his new position, which includes responsibility for policy toward Russia.

“We don’t want just a nice summit just for the sake of having a nice summit,” he said. But he suggested that pragmatic cooperation between Moscow and Washington offered a way forward amid so many global challenges for both countries.

His remarks - in response to questions about his talk - seemed intended to moderate any expectations of a major breakthrough in strained U.S.-Russian relations at the two governments’ first major encounter.

Both governments have said that they see the meeting as a stepping stone to a new treaty on strategic nuclear weapons to replace the START treaty that is due to expire in December. “There is a strict timetable because we need [that new agreement] agreed and ratified by the end of the year and the summit can push that ball forward,” he said.

A round of deeper cuts in the two main powers’ arsenals of missiles and warheads could improve prospects for the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which is up for review next year. That meeting will have to confront challenges about how to curb the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, but many countries are reluctant to support tougher wording in a revised treaty because, they say, the nuclear-weapons states have done too little to reduce their own nuclear stockpiles.

On the thorny dispute about a U.S. missile-defense system based in Eastern Europe, Gordon hinted at a new, more cooperative formula for overcoming Russian objections. “If we can put our minds together and find ways to contribute to a missile defense that would protect Russians, Central and Western Europeans and Americans, we are open to that,” he said.

He did not mention another potential summit topic that has been discussed in the New York Times: divergences between Moscow and Washington about how best to counter a growing threat of cyber-war attacks on nation’s computer systems. Russian officials have said that they want an international treaty of the classic type, but the Obama administration prefers to approach the problem through improved international cooperation in identifying and combating criminal hackers - defensive measures that could also be effective against well-organized cyber-wars. The issue is particularly sensitive because some large-scale cyber assaults have been launched from computers in Russia.

In re-affirming the Obama administration’s hopes for more “constructive engagement” with Russia, Gordon said that “the famous reset” with Moscow could not involve American acceptance of a privileged sphere of influence for Russia covering countries on its borders. “We strongly believe that democratic countries in Europe should be able to choose the alliances they want and orient themselves in the direction they want” - apparently a reference to Georgia, where Washington has vowed continued non-recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But, he added, “we see no reason why we can’t continue on that course while also [building] a more constructive relationship with Russia.” Turning to Ukraine, the biggest country in this zone of unfinished business, he said: “Ukraine, I think, needs our support as it tries to overcome political difficulties and stabilize its economy.” He did not specifically mention NATO, but he said that the Obama administration’s priorities in Europe include “the completion or extension of a long-term project of extending stability and democracy eastward.”

Offering a wider vision of the Obama administration’s view of Europe, Gordon stressed U.S. interest in closer cooperation with European allies. Confronted with problems in many parts of the world, he said, “it has really sunk into the [American] population at large that we need friends and allies.”

Looking at the recent record of transatlantic cooperation, he depicted a positive trend: “I think we’re doing pretty well,” he said. He stressed the need for U.S. cooperation with the European allies and pledged that Washington would make no damaging concessions to appease Russia’s ambitions on Europe’s eastern periphery.

Gordon is a an author and policy expert who for two decades has specialized in European affairs, initially in Western Europe and more recently on frozen conflicts on Europe’s eastern periphery, especially the issues dividing Turkey and Armenia. As U.S. experts frequently point out, success in normalizing that frozen relationship would dramatically improve the prospects for getting natural gas in Central Asia to be able to flow to Europe.

Since 2000, he has held top positions at the policy-oriented Brookings Institutions in Washington. (He worked closely there with the new U.S. ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder.) An early opponent of the Iraq war, Gordon was a close Obama adviser on foreign policy during the campaign. “Phil’s calm demeanor and instincts in many ways embody the Obama style and diplomatic philosophy of calmly and clearly pursuing U.S. interests, but doing so working closely with allies and multilateral institutions,” Karen Donfried, a prominent diplomatic analyst in Washington, told the National Journal.