A Rose has bloomed In the Blinken/Sullivan/Biden desert of ideas on Ukraine. I refer to Rose Gottemoeller, 69, who was Under Secretary of State for Arms Control during the Obama/Biden second term and knows much more about the real world than the boys Biden has in the back room (if I may risk damning her with faint praise).
Looking for adults in the room? Gottemoeller could be the woman of the hour, if Biden’s ivy-mantled advisers would stop preening, sit down, and listen.
Lowering the Nuclear Temperature
Writing in The Financial Times two weeks ago, Gottemoeller referred to the "quiet bargain" that ended the Cuban missile crisis of exactly 60 years ago. As for Ukraine, she dismisses military options:
Which brings us to diplomacy. Is there any chance that negotiation could change Putin’s calculus? The Cuban missile crisis ended with a quiet bargain … some quiet nuclear diplomacy might produce results.
Two years ago, Putin offered to remove Russia’s new ground-based intermediate-range nuclear missile from Europe under verifiable conditions, thus underpinning a moratorium on such missiles in Europe. When Putin and Xi Jinping met in Beijing prior to the February invasion, they spoke of extending such a moratorium to Asia.
Perhaps it is time to launch discreet talks, if only at a technical level, to explore what the two men had in mind. It would not solve the horrendous crisis in Ukraine, but it might lower the nuclear temperature.
Now get this. Gottemoeller’s very sensible suggestion found its way past the Washington Post censors. Columnist Ishaan Tharoor was able to tack some of the former Under Secretary of State’s thoughts onto the end of an article Tuesday titled "The uncomfortable need to talk about diplomacy with Russia." Common sense in the Post on this issue is something of a breakthrough.
Biden: Still Looking for an Off-Ramp?
The day before Gottemoeller’s article appeared, President Biden lamented:
“First time since the Cuban missile crisis, we have a direct threat of the use (of a) nuclear weapon if in fact things continue down the path they are going … I’m trying to figure out what is Putin’s off ramp?”
It should be no secret to Biden that there is, as Gottemoeller suggests, in so many words – an off-ramp for both – a ramp with time-tested guardrails called "inspections." Trust but verify.
As I noted in an earlier piece, which compared the Cuban crisis to the current one in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned on Dec. 21, 2021 that "if US and NATO missile systems are deployed in Ukraine, their flight time to Moscow will be only 7–10 minutes, or even five minutes for hypersonic systems." [Emphasis added.] (Shades of MRBMs detected 60 years ago in Cuba.)
On December 30, 2021, Biden and Putin talked by phone at Putin’s urgent request. The Kremlin readout stated: "Joseph Biden emphasized … that Washington had no intention of deploying offensive strike weapons in Ukraine." [Emphasis added.]
The mood in the Kremlin was upbeat. The Geneva negotiations, just ten days away were off to a good start. Oops! A couple of days after those talks started, Biden’s promise on the non-deployment of strike weapons systems on Ukrainian territory had fallen into the cracks. This became clear during the next conversation between Biden and Putin (Feb. 12).
Putin may feel diddled – and not for the first time. Yet, his chief strategic concern, in my view, is the medium-range ballistic missiles (cruise and hypersonic) that can be inserted virtually overnight into capsules in Romania, Poland, and eventually elsewhere on Russia’s periphery. The evidence suggests that, in due course, Putin would be willing to deal on this issue.
Is Biden, Like Dan Quayle, ‘No John Kennedy’?
The jury is out. Harvard’s Graham Allison claims that:
"In Biden, we have a seasoned cold warrior who has thought about the Cuban Missile Crisis and has thought about nuclear war. He has thought about what a full-scale war would look like, he’s even gone through scenarios on this — I know, personally."
In my view, much will depend on whether President Biden can be brought to recognize how poorly served he, and the country, have been by his current coterie of advisers. Gottemoeller has a generation more experience than Jake Sullivan. She has dealt extensively with the Russians and with NATO. (From 2016 to 2019 she was Deputy Secretary General at the UN, so she knows how to mold the malleable Jens Stoltenberg, as well.)
Will the Biden boys let an adult into the room. They had better.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. His 27-year career as a CIA analyst includes serving as Chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and preparer/briefer of the President’s Daily Brief. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).