Partnership of peace

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 May, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 May, 2002, 12:00am

George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin have not shut the door on their nuclear eras, but instead fostered hope that such a day may eventually dawn.

The signing by the US President and his Russian counterpart yesterday of the Treaty of Moscow nuclear disarmament pact was hailed by the Bush administration as 'landmark' and 'historic'. It was only the latter of these, a breakthrough in relations that have been steadily warming.

Landmark it was not. The threat of the former bitter rivals one day firing nuclear missiles at one another has been put aside by handshakes and smiles. Their arsenals remain active and although not as threatening, can still be mobilised.

In 2012, each will have about 2,000 active nuclear warheads and another 6,000 in storage. This is not disarmament, merely rearranging the war-readiness deckchairs.

What has not been achieved through treaties has been gained through photo-opportunities. Mr Bush and Mr Putin are good friends and they clearly would like the same for their countries, despite the lingering Cold War suspicions of many of their citizens.

Spy scandals and angry words over the American plans for a missile defence shield have fuelled doubts that the relationship can ever be completely pulled from the dark days of Cold War loathing.

But the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US and Russia's stagnant economy have created an atmosphere where co-operation is mutually beneficial.

Washington gets Moscow's diplomatic leverage over troublespots, ranging from the Middle East to Central Asia and the so-called 'axis of evil' states of Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Russia gets badly-needed economic incentives, such as promises of increased investment and aid and support in its aims of joining the World Trade Organisation.

It is a friendship based on necessity, but one which, given time, has ramifications beyond the bilateral partnership it now encompasses.

On Tuesday, Russia also forms a new partnership with the 19 countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which include the US. While there is doubt whether this is as significant an event as it is being billed, it is another step in Russia moving closer towards the West.

The collapse of the former Soviet Union created instability that has not been fully calmed. Russian co-operation with the US and Nato will help bring peace to these trouble-spots.

The US and Russia must make efforts to cut their nuclear stockpiles and banish the threat they pose.

But they should also strengthen their new-found partnership to tackle global threats such as terrorism. With resolve, they can make the world less dangerous.