Developing trust can’t be completely divorced from the human touch. Ping-pong diplomacy was the opener to the thaw in U.S. – China relations in the 1970’s. It was real, not symbolic. Vietnam and the Philippines have been staging sports events on one of the Spratly Islands. In Southeast Asia, ethnic distrust is so widespread, the games are a useful step towards developing regard for someone from somewhere else.
Going up the ladder, international relations become increasingly intellectual and resistant to the personal touch. George Bush entertained Vladimir Putin on multiple occasions at his ranch, which did nothing to change Putin’s appraisal of Bush’s pipeline projects to bypass Russia. The Xi-Trump honeymoon has faded. Following Trump’s hosting of Xi at Mar-a-Lago, the China state press gushed optimism which, given the absence of inked agreements, must have been based largely on personal impressions. But the warmth faded fast.
The most comprehensive negotiation resulting in a U.S./Russia treaty was SALT 1 (SALT II was never ratified, though the terms were observed till 1986.) Henry Kissinger’s White House Years is unique in the annals of diplomacy, with personalities rendered in great detail. One can pretty much get the feeling of being there.
Subject to the confirmation or disagreement of Dr. Kissinger, this is how I read it. It was no Bush-Putin barbecue. Soviet hospitality was alien to our tastes, more trial than pleasure. In the demand on intellect, hard negotiating social skills, and memories acquired, it was like an astronaut’s rocket ride to the moon. Evenings of vodka toasts, with decline not an option, would be difficult for most. Mordant humor was shared between the parties. But pleasure was not of camaraderie, but of accomplishment.
The success of the SALT 1 negotiation was due to
- Identity of interest, valued by both sides at the level of survival. The success of SALT 1 occurred in a grim atmosphere of dire need, approaching desperation.
- Linkage. Several other negotiations, part of Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik, were in progress at the same time. These were desired by the Soviets as a formalization of the divided status of Europe, and opposed by elements of the West as a legitimization of Yalta. Although the term “linkage” was not originally coined for this, it fits well with a little stretching. The Soviets could not risk the backlash of a SALT failure.
- Trust, born not of friendship, but necessity. The consequences of cheating were too high. The arms agreements were well respected, even without formal ratification, until the recent violation of the 1987 INF treaty, with Russian deployment of a new cruise missile, discussed in The New Russian Cruise Missile – Geopolitical Implications.
So after a considerable time, trust was violated, because there was no longer identity of interest. Let’s take it philosophically: the Russians are not our friends, but we got some mileage out of the treaties.
SALT 1 did not occur in the atmosphere of, to put a point on it, “Leonid Brezhnev is our friend.” To Putin’s credit, the Russian proposal to “fight ISIS together” contains one of the three elements. Somewhat to our amazement, with this proposal in the midst of the Ukraine crisis, the Kremlin evinced no awareness of linkage. Whether explicit or not, whether used as a foreign policy tool or not, linkage is always present in the opposing viewpoint.
What elements from the above list can we find in the current U.S./Russia situation? To be continued shortly.