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[START-3 EXCERPT] "Back to Planet Earth"
By Jim Hoagland
Sunday, January 26 1997; Page C07
The Washington Post

President Clinton went after the vision thing with a vengeance in his Inaugural Address, a bright kaleidoscope of sparkling but unconnected images from Utopia. Now he turns to a laundry list of earthly tasks he will set for Congress and himself in his State of the Union message.

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The part of the State of the Union message devoted to foreign policy should be substantial and specific this year. The president should not accept the argument that America is at peace, and he need not worry the public with foreign policy.

He should use this speech above all to refocus attention and energy on America's relations with Russia and the central role that relationship still plays in global stability.

Clinton and Congress have been fairly diligent in assessing and responding to the confused developments in Moscow over the past four years. But this has not prevented "a downward drift toward mutual alienation" that is now accelerating dangerously.

The quote and the warning come from an important Rand Corp. study that merits wide attention, especially by the incoming Clinton foreign policy team. Titled "Stopping the Decline in U.S.-Russian Relations" and written by former senator Sam Nunn, Robert Blackwill of Harvard and Arnold Horelick of UCLA, the paper lays out a consistent, comprehensive approach to a major foreign policy problem. It is the opposite of ad hoc-ism.

The authors -- whose views have tended more to hawkish than otherwise -- argue that Boris Yeltsin's "precarious hold on power" immobilizes Moscow and requires Washington to take the initiative in arranging "a soft landing" for NATO enlargement. They make a plausible case that the effort to negotiate a security treaty (to be known as a charter) with Russia before July's NATO summit as a way of getting Moscow to accept expansion willingly is doomed to fail.

"If all of the enlargement issues that upset the Russians most deeply are left to the NATO-Russia Charter, the burden placed on the charter will be much greater than it can bear," they write. "Russia's European security concerns must be reasonably addressed before Moscow is likely to negotiate and sign a formal new cooperative arrangement with NATO."

Washington also needs to move quickly to revise and consolidate "the nuclear and conventional forces arms control regimes that have been the legal anchors securing the post-Cold War peace" but which are now unraveling. In particular, the authors recommend an urgent effort to reach agreement now on the principles of a new nuclear arms reduction treaty that would leapfrog the stalled Start II accord and remove many of the strategic and economic disadvantages the Russians see in Start II.

Their report is built around the old Chinese principle of building a golden bridge for a defeated but still dangerous adversary to leave the battlefield.

The State of the Union address is the right moment for the president to call on the Republican majority in Congress to join him in a bold initiative to break the developing deadlock with Russia. He could use his speech to propose a new era of minimal nuclear arsenals and promise to negotiate to get each side to cut its nuclear warhead total to 1,000, or less, if possible.

That is the kind of big, specific and dynamic proposal this moment of rededication demands. The moment is not one for a laundry list or a repetition of generalities about enlarging democracy. After Jan. 20, the reaction to either approach could only be: Been there. Heard that.

Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company