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Trump and Putin Change the U.S. – Russia Conversation

by John Brian Shannon

Q: What could be worse than another Cold War between the United States and Russia?

A: Nothing. There isn’t anything that could be worse than another Cold War breaking out between nuclear armed superpowers that could conceivably destroy all life on the planet many times over. At the push of a button.

Boom! In an instant we’d be blinded by a flash and our bodies would heat up to 3 million degrees within seconds and everyone on Earth would end up floating around as carbon dust at 100,000 feet before finally settling down on top of the nuclear-winter snow that would cover the entire planet for about 40-years. (Nuclear weapons experts call that snow/radioactive carbon dust mixture, ‘grey goo’)

It’s a miracle it didn’t happen during the 40-year long Cold War, but we came within seconds of such annihilation many times over the course of those perilous four decades.


What the Helsinki Meeting Represents

For some people, the meeting between America’s President Trump and Russia’s President Putin represents an opportunity to catch either president in some sort of verbal gaffe, or to capture a sound-bite and milk it for all it’s worth — while for others, a meeting between the two major nuclear powers represents the best opportunity in the 21st-century to reverse the downward spiral in relations between the two nuclear hyperpowers.

That’s what is at stake here.

Anything else (and that means everything else!) just isn’t important when you’re playing at that level.

Whether 12 or 13 Russians may or may not have interfered in the 2016 U.S. election is orders of magnitude less important than the chance of nuclear war breaking out between the nuclear superpowers.

Also orders of magnitude less important is the purported (but not proven) collusion between Trump’s people and certain Russian citizens who may, or may not be spies or some kind of fixers or operators, and also orders of magnitude less important is Hillary’s purported carelessness in using a non-government (and therefore, non-secure) server to send or receive classified emails that Russian agents (purportedly) were able to hack and read. (That’s a lot of ‘purportedly’s’ — but everyone in America is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law)

And yes, those are all very interesting stories that will probably have a long shelf life and keep reporters buzzing until a bigger story replaces them.

But let’s not get distracted by sensational headlines, nor should we be complacent and forget what’s really at stake.

The leaders of two nuclear powers met, apparently had a businesslike and friendly meeting, and important matters were discussed. That in itself was almost a miracle after the goings-on between the two superpowers over the past decade, which between them, possess over 13,300 nuclear warheads, while the rest of the declared nuclear powers in the world account for a total of 1065 nuclear weapons.

G7 comparison: Estimated Nuclear Warhead Inventories, 2018. Federation of American Scientists

Estimated Nuclear Warhead Inventories, 2018. Federation of American Scientists


Building On A Successful Helsinki Meeting

Rather than let the present momentum lapse, President Trump and President Putin must ‘strike while the iron is hot’ and schedule some arms control talks.

“If not us, who? If not now, when?” — President John F. Kennedy

In 1963, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (which banned atmospheric atomic and nuclear bomb testing) was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union and in 1996 was passed by the UN General Assembly.

The Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I) was signed and ratified by both sides in 1972 which paved the way for SALT II in 1979 which was signed by both parties in 1979 but not ratified due to unrelenting bad press in the United States. However, both sides decided to adhere to the terms of SALT II even though it was never ratified. Which is the only reason we see near-parity in nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles between the United States and Russia today.

To keep the present momentum going, SALT II could be re-signed and ratified to pave the way for a SALT III treaty to be created — as per the original plan.

The logic of the SALT agreements is clear: The SALT I treaty limited Anti-Ballistic Missile sites and froze the number of missiles each side could possess, while SALT II established numerical equality in nuclear weapon delivery systems and also limited the number of Multiple, Independent Re-entry Vehicles (bombs) per missile, while the proposed SALT III was designed to draw down and place firm and verifiable caps on the nuclear bomb arsenals of both the United States and the Soviet Union to around 2400 each.

Before the present momentum between the two leaders fade, both men should push their respective administrations to re-commit to SALT II (as a formality) and ratify it before the end of 2018.

That would allow the necessary time to author a fresh SALT III agreement and schedule a signing ceremony for both SALT II and SALT III at the same time.

It’s not rocket science, it’s politics. But previous leaders just couldn’t get it done. Both sides have wanted to do this for almost 40-years, but (very suspiciously) something always cropped-up at the last minute to prevent forward progress on this most important of geopolitical issues.

“Things don’t happen, things are made to happen.” — President John F. Kennedy


Turning Nuclear Bombs into Electricity

At the end of the Cold War a deal was struck between the United States and Russia whereby excess nuclear bombs (remember; any number of nuclear bombs higher than 2400 for the United States and for Russia is complete overkill from a strategic defense perspective) were sold-off to nuclear power plants and used to produce many years worth of high grade, clean electricity.

The program was called the Megatons to Megawatts program and was called one of the greatest diplomatic achievements ever by Harvard’s Matthew Bunn.

The problem is that it had just begun to hit its stride when President Barack Obama cancelled the program unilaterally, and after not much fanfare (only one NPR article) M2M ended.

Assuming both superpowers want to pare-down their nuclear arsenals to 2400 each, that leaves them with 4050 bombs (United States) and 4450 (Russia) to dispose-of. That’s 8500 bombs-worth of clean nuclear power, folks! For example, that’s enough nuclear fuel to power America until the year 2100 at present rates of nuclear fuel usage.

It’s a shame that this noble program was ended long before the most amount of good could be obtained from the Megatons to Megawatts program.

Right now, President Trump could phone President Putin and offer to resume this super-successful program — and he might find a willing partner in Putin who seemed fine with M2M until it was suddenly cancelled in 2013.

Building on success is so much better than re-inventing the wheel, as the saying goes.


A Plug for the Big 5 – as Opposed to the G7

The trouble with the G7 is that the United States GDP, military, number of nuclear bombs, and balance of trade (and in many other metrics) is bigger than all the other G7 nations combined! The U.S. is just too big! It’s the proverbial elephant in the room. The other countries just can’t relate, so they overcompensate.

The recent problems between the U.S. and other G7 members at the recent Charlevoix G7 summit are systemic — the fault isn’t with any of the members. Whatsoever.

And now is as good a time as any for the United States to champion the creation of a new organization, an organization dedicated to superpowers and near-superpowers like Russia, China, Japan, and the EU. Alternatively, if one of those countries or blocs didn’t want to join, The Commonwealth of Nations bloc could join instead.

In such an organization, members would find that the problems that superpowers and near-superpowers encounter would be similar problems and that solutions might also be found to be similar. At best, the world’s major powers could work together on their common problems, while middle powers could create the middle-power ‘Next-20’ Group, or N20.

In that way, superpowers and near-superpowers would be grouped together (logical) and middle powers would be grouped together (also logical) and the previously noted systemic problems would disappear, allowing politicians to roll up their sleeves and get to work on common issues instead of struggling with one giant stuck in a group of middle powers.

Read about the astonishing differences between the U.S. and the other G7 powers here.


Geopolitical Momentum is Vital and Precious – It Must Never Be Wasted

Now that the two presidents have had their first major meeting that seemed to go very well, it’s time to capitalize on the goodwill before events sweep away those good feelings and opportunities bigger than the sky are (again) allowed to slip away!

Whether the next phone call between the two men is about restarting the highly-successful Megatons to Megawatts program, or plans to meet with President Xi Jinping to discuss the Big 5 organization, or build onto the world-changing SALT treaties — or to discuss some other plan the two presidents discussed — now is the time to build on the initial meeting success and thereby positively change the conversation between superpowers and change the entire conversation that is happening in the global media because no other, better story appears to replace all that sniping.

One of the ways leaders lead effectively is to know when it’s time to change the conversation the media is having with itself and with its viewers.

I respectfully suggest, that time is NOW.