Russia and the United States are partners in one of those most consequential relationships in geopolitics. Together there is a lot of good they can do.
As two of the largest nuclear powers on the global stage, the relationship between the United States and Russia has been at the forefront of global security matters for a very long time. The importance of these two countries’ relationship provides them with a unique ability to influence the rest of the world especially in the sphere of global security. Tensions between the United States and Russia have been noted to be at some of the highest since the end of the Cold War, however, there are some reasons to have an optimistic outlook towards their relationship.
For instance, on May 20th, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and engaged in a constructive discussion on how the two countries could collaborate on issues in which their interests intersect.
Additionally, in an unprecedented move, the Biden administration has agreed to waive sanctions on entities overseeing the construction of the Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline into Germany. These two recent developments are positive indications of potential increased cooperation and a thaw in tensions between the two countries.
Further cooperation between the United States and Russia would not just benefit them both alone, but the world at large as well. Two such policy areas in which Russia and the United States share common interests while also having the ability to positively influence the rest of the world through their cooperation are nonproliferation of nuclear weapons and counter-terrorism. Cooperation on these two issues could not just usher in a new era of peace between the two nations, but also increase stability and order throughout the rest of the world.
As the top two holders of nuclear weapons, both the United States and Russia have been at the forefront of worldwide nuclear nonproliferation policies in the post-Soviet era. With their unique positions at the vanguard of this issue, cooperation between both powers is crucial to averting the further development and proliferation of nuclear weapons across the world. Both countries share a mutual interest in reducing the number of nuclear weapons and also preventing the expansion of nuclear capabilities of other nations globally, as a way to avoid engaging in costly arms races, among other things.
One instance in which US.-Russian cooperation on nonproliferation has had markedly positive effects on worldwide nonproliferation efforts is through the New START Treaty, which was recently extended for another five-year period in February of this year. The extension of the New START Treaty shows that both countries share a commitment to the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons domestically and internationally.
On top of reducing the risk of the US. and Russia engaging in a costly arms race and strengthening ties between the two countries, bilateral arms reduction efforts also support global strategic stability. Bilateral nonproliferation agreements, such as the New START Treaty, serves as a signal of commitment to nonproliferation and the reduction of nuclear arms capabilities for other nuclear powers. As the two countries are at the spear tip of nonproliferation, US.-Russia cooperation on non-proliferation strengthens the trend of nonproliferation abroad.
In addition to bilateral arms reduction efforts that support global strategic stability, cooperation between Russia and the U.S. has a unique opportunity to directly engage countries in nonproliferation efforts. Both nations have a vested interest in a denuclearized North Korea. The United States has largely reached an impasse in its negotiations with North Korea, while North Korea continues to advance its nuclear missile program. However, Russia still maintains economic ties with North Korea through trade as its second-largest trading partner after China with Russian exports to North Korea totaling around $27 million in 2020.
Due to these economic ties, Russia has the unique ability to leverage diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea, because it is one of the small number of countries that still maintain some diplomatic and economic influence over North Korea. Russia’s trade relationship with Pyongyang could provide an avenue to engage the North Korean regime in nonproliferation talks or apply economic pressure on North Korea. Additionally, cooperation between the United States and Russia on a commitment to North Korean denuclearization, could also serve to curb some of North Korea’s fears of engaging with the United States.
Similarly, the United States and Russia could mutually benefit by reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran. Both powers share an interest in preventing Iran from further developing their nuclear capabilities, as their developing a nuclear warhead could not only be devastating for both countries but also for stability within the Middle East. Both Russia and the United States would not benefit from having Iran rise to further prominence on the world stage as a result of them expanding their nuclear capabilities, as it would diminish both Russia and the United States’ influence and bargaining capabilities.
In addition, Iran frequently threatens to provoke violence in the Middle East, which would be greatly exacerbated if their nuclear capabilities were expanded. So, cooperation between the US. and Russia to revive the JCPOA would not just benefit both countries, but also increase stability and security in the Middle East. Furthermore, cooperation between Russia and the United States on a nuclear deal with Iran would be able to set a precedent for nonproliferation in the region as well as possibly setting up future US-Russia collaboration on other mutually beneficial policies in the Middle East.
Both Russia and the United States have a common goal in working together on counter-terrorism efforts throughout the world, as many groups outside of Russian and American borders pose significant threats to both countries. In recent years, recruitment for terrorist groups has not just been limited to one geographic region but has spanned across borders. Due to the growing reach of many terrorist organizations, combating terrorism has not remained an issue that would best be solved domestically, but one that would benefit greatly from cooperation between states where the mitigation of threats from certain terrorist organizations is a shared priority.
Since both nations have strong relationships and counter-terrorism cooperation with different countries, they have the ability to complement one another in their counter-terrorism activities. This cooperation would not just positively affect Russia and the United States, but the rest of the world as well, as a result of the increasing practice of cross-border recruitment for many terrorist groups.
One instance in which collaboration between Russia and the United States would benefit not just the aforementioned countries, but the rest of the world is counter-terrorism operations against on terror originating in the Northern Caucuses. Historically, terrorist groups operating in the Northern Caucuses have been mostly of concern for Russia but have become increasingly more vital to the United States and other governments across the world. This can be proven by the recruitment of many terrorists from Russia by the Islamic State, with an estimated 4,000 people migrating from Russia to join the Islamic State in 2017. The terrorist attacks of the Islamic State and in the region as a whole directly endanger both American interests and the stability of the region as well.
In this situation and similar situations involving cross-border terrorist recruitment, collaboration between Russia and the United States on counter-terrorism efforts would improve the efficacy of both countries’ endeavors to combat terrorism, while also positively impacting the security and stability of the world at large.
Alana Cross is a Policy Analyst at the Russian Public Affairs Committee (Ru-PAC).