Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

East of Prague

Ralitsa Kovacheva, April 10, 2010

When a year ago the American president Barack Obama promised in Prague a new START Treaty with the Russians, probably no one then even imagined that only a year later he would stand next to the his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev, would call him a “friend and partner”, Medvedev would admit “the inter-personal chemistry” between them and that they would sign the so called new START Treaty, discussing future common talks about a global missile defense system.

The Russian president Dmitry Medvedev himself noted that, only a few months ago, the treaty looked like mission impossible. The significance of the document is not only in the large reduction of strategic weapons (the total number of warheads will be reduced by a third and the threshold level for strategic delivery systems will be lowered by more than two times). The signing of the Treaty demonstrates the determination of both the United States and Russia - the two nations that hold over 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons stockpiles - to pursue a responsible global leadership and to keep their commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Mr. Obama said. And more:

President Medvedev and I have also agreed to expand our discussions on missile defense. This will include regular exchanges of information about our threat assessments, as well as the completion of a joint assessment of emerging ballistic missiles. And as these assessments are completed, I look forward to launching a serious dialogue about Russian-American cooperation on missile defense.”

Dmitry Medvedev said in his turn that Russia appreciated the steps taken by the current U.S. administration in terms of decisions in the area of anti-missile defense, and that this had led to progress:

We offered to the United States that we help them establish a global anti-missile defense system, and we should think about this, given the vulnerability of our world, the terrorist challenges and the possibility of using nuclear arms by terrorists existing in this world.”

The understanding between the leaders of the US and Russia was not disturbed even by the delicate issue for possible sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. Dmitry Medvedev signaled that he did not rule out this option:

Regrettably, Iran is not responding to the many constructive proposals that have been made and we cannot turn a blind eye to this. Therefore I do not rule out the possibility of the Security Council of the United Nations will have to review this issue once again.”

The same evening in Prague President Barack Obama had a dinner with eleven Central and Eastern European leaders, including the Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov. According to the media, the purpose of this meeting was to comfort the fears of the former "Eastern bloc" that "restarting" Russian-American relations would not reduce U.S. interests in the region.

Bulgaria should be an active part in the process of building missile defense. Currently neither we, nor other countries have any protection and any capacity for operative reaction. If a missile defense system is implemented, it would protect the whole of Europe, Borissov commented after the meeting.

Some European media didn’t hide their disappointment from the absence of high European officials: neither the President of the European Council Herman van Rompuy, nor the High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton were invited to the dinner. In a special statement Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the ALDE Group in the European Parliament, called the meeting a "lose-lose" situation:

At a time when the European Union is struggling to shape its foreign policy structures to have more influence on a global level this meeting represents a "lose-lose" situation for both the EU Member States attending the dinner summit and the European Union. Building a coherent trans-Atlantic relationship and framing lasting solutions for the European Security requires EU involvement. This dinner points yet again to the fact that the European Union needs to make a common foreign policy a reality so that President Obama knows whom to call or who to invite for dinner.”

The first meeting between the European Council president Herman Van Rompuy and US President Barack Obama will take place on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit on 12-13 April in Washington.

The event puts an end to a series of impressive achievements of president Obama related to nuclear disarmament. Only in couple of weeks he scored a hat-trick: he presented the Nuclear Posture Review, where The United States denied the possibility of a nuclear response to biological and chemical attack, signed the Treaty on reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms with Russia and organized a Summit on Nuclear Safety, with the participation of 47 countries.

Mr. Obama will appear at the forum, armed with new solid arguments to insist on a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty observation. And with a new strategic “partner and friend” - Russia. Because, whatever is lying behind the formality and protocol, the joint press conference of both Presidents showed something unprecedented: openness, business intimacy, understanding without redundant talks. All this can be reached only after long, difficult and exhausting negotiations with a high stake. Negotiations, being performed without ties and with sleeves rolled up in the early hours of the day. Following such meetings Mr Obama can now ring Mr Medvedev any time and simply ask him: "Hey, how are you doing, pal?"