George Bush (with Russia’s Putin, below) has never been very articulate on nuclear matters, and he showed his muddle-headedness on the subject once again yesterday when he canceled an agreement to cooperate with Russia in the peaceful development of nuclear technology.
His reasoning was that this action somehow punishes Russia, but he should realize it will be just as bad for the United States. It is especially bad news for companies involved in worldwide trading of nuclear resources. One such company is Japan’s Toshiba Corp., which owns U.S.-based Westinghouse Electric. The agreement would have simplified international trade in nuclear materials and helped safeguard the world from the danger of (further) nuclear proliferation. Here’s what U.S. Ambassador to Russia William Burns said when the pact was signed:
The U.S. and Russia were once nuclear rivals. Today we are nuclear partners with unique capabilities and unique responsibilities for global nuclear leadership.
Burns added that the nuclear cooperation agreement would contribute to the development of civilian nuclear energy and check nuclear proliferation. Russia’s Rosatom chief Sergei Kiriyenko agreed. Here’s how he put it:
Both sides find themselves in a win-win situation after signing this agreement, as huge opportunities open up for the companies of Russia and America, in cooperation on their national territories and third countries.
The U.S. would have been able to draw on Russia’s highly developed nuclear technology (photo of new Baltic power plant at left), and Russia would have gained access to markets in the U.S. and Europe, in addition to boosting its efforts to import and store spent fuel. With the world running out of fossil fuels and the massive development of “green” energy sources still years away, one response to the worldwide energy crisis could well be safe generation of nuclear electricity and safe disposal of nuclear waste. It would seem like a good idea to encourage international cooperation to achieve this goal. And it seems rather childish to tell Putin he can no longer play with our nuclear toys because he has been a bad boy.
There must be other ways to show our dismay at his invasion of neighboring Georgia – ways that don’t set back the world’s painfully slow progress toward nuclear safeguards.
The Russia-Georgia conflict is complicated, and the United States may not be morally justified in backing Georgia without considering the rights of the ethnic minorities in Georgia’s two breakaway provinces. There’s no gainsaying that Putin is a dangerous KGB spook who cannot be expected to share western ideas of right and wrong. And it might be emotionally satisfying to try and slap him around. But there’s too much at stake for that kind of emotional indulgence.
Bush would be a lot wiser to have a quiet chat with his former pal, Putin, in an effort to find some common ground in the ticklish dispute over Georgia. As Winston Churchill said, jaw-jaw is better than war-war, and that goes for a Cold War, too.