The haste with which President George Bush announced this week’s arms control treaty with Russia -minutes after negotiators for the two sides claimed to have been working on the text, and days before they had finished work on the side document on missile defense – must have been embarrassing for President Vladimir Putin,
The disclosure allows almost two weeks to examine what has been drafted before Bush and Putin will sign the documents. Already, it is plain that the only concession Washington has made to Russian concerns is to call the warhead limits document a treaty, even though it isn’t binding in any of the specific ways nuclear arms control has been mandated between Washington and Moscow for a generation.
Bush’s aides have already conceded it was the U.S. Senate’s demand to have Putin’s signature on a treaty that would be subject to ratification that was more compelling for Bush than Putin’s demand to sign a document called by that name.
In fact, there are so many loopholes in the treaty, and so much time in which to fudge, the text may encourage even more suspicion between the adversaries than was meant to be put to rest.
Americans have already started asking, for example, whether Russian nuclear warheads will actually be more secure, and less threatening, if they are taken off their rocket launchers and inventoried in a warehouse, rather than dismantled and destroyed?
If Imelda Marcos, the notoriously acquisitive wife of the former dictator of the Philip-pines, had publicly signed a promise to reduce her gargantuan shoe collection in the presidential palace of Manila, would that have reassured anyone that she was committing herself to limiting the profligacy of her personal spending out of public funds?
The Bush-Putin treaty of 2002 has the Imelda quality – a promise to restrain profligacy, which depends on the character of the profligates to honor it.
But wait a minute! Whatever may be said about those who run the military-industrial complex of Russia, Putin cannot be judged to be profligate with public funds. Indeed, most interpretations of why he has agreed to Bush’s treaty credit him with accepting the need to conserve funds by reducing the arms budget as much as possible.
So what else is driving the leadership of Russia to accept Washington’s terms? The answer becomes clearer from the bulletins of the U.S.-oriented brokerages and investment houses.
It is their assessment that dramatic improvements in the atmosphere of political relations between the United States and Russia reduce investor wariness, and allow the boards of trustees, managers, and credit committees of large U.S. investment funds and banks to pump more cash into Russian assets.
This happened often enough during the Yeltsin period that now, when Russia is one of the few emerging market risks to be generating acceptably high rates of return, there is a potentially enormous sentiment on Wall Street in favor of a repeat.
The reasoning is straightforward. No matter what performance the Euro economies turn in, it is the headquarters of the dollar that continues to dictate economic terms to the rest of the world.
The dollar looks for the best rate of return that can be justified in line with the risk. If Putin can convince Wall Street that he can do two things – sustain domestic growth rates and maintain amiability with the Bush administration – then Russian risk shortens, and the spread between risk and profit grows more attractive. Accordingly, investment analysts start betting that the inflow of American portfolio and direct investment into Russia will skyrocket.
From Putin’s perspective, if this happens, he may be able to turn fantasy growth rate projections into real ones, and generate a far bigger tax take. And of course, if government revenues expand in step, there just may be enough of a windfall to fund the military-industrial complex after all.
And if that happens sometime before the year 2012, the loopholes of the Bush-Putin Treaty will have served a Russian strategic purpose and not simply an American one.
The three-pager Bush and Putin are about to sign makes more sense as a treaty with Wall Street than with Washington. If so, it may prove to be a better, longer-lasting deal for Russia than the one Imelda Marcos had with her shoemakers.