Saturday 7 February 2009

Steinmeier calls for more disarmament at the start of Munich Security Conference

Walter Steinmeier, German Foreign Minister and SPD Chancellor candidate, has opened the international security conference in Munich calling for more disarmament of both conventional and nuclear weapons. (German; and a short English version).

He described the political situation in Russia and the US (with Obama and a Russian President not so attached to Cold War ideas) as "Das Fenster der Geschichte ist für eine Weile geöffnet" - a window of history has opened [for disarmament and security]. US Vice-President Joe Biden will address the conference later today, with a speech that's expected to set out the new Administration's foreign policy course. Hopefully it will include plans to open new arms control talks to put together a treaty to replace the expiring START 1 treaty.

Russia is in an interesting position at the moment. It's worsening economic condition makes any aggressive foreign policy (or one that might be perceived as aggressive) more risky. Putin, like Obama, has to fix the economy. Putin is still very popular in Russia, but the growing economy was the basis of his popularity, and a lot of his government's legitimacy, and now he is more open to criticism, if only indirectly - The Irish Times has an interesting article noting how it has become acceptable to criticise the government (as a whole) after Medvedev began to criticise the government for its response to the crisis.

Putin is still very much in control, but perhaps the power could slowly shift over time to Medvedev. The US and Europe may prefer to deal with the more liberal President rather than the Prime Minister, but this situation may make it even harder for outsiders to know who they should be talking to in order to "talk with Russia".

Arms control talks would be a good start to relations with Russia, and will probably be popular with the Russian government too. Hopefully any temptation (however remote) to sabre-rattle to distract people's attention from the economic crisis will be cancelled out in Moscow by the need not to frighten off business and investment.

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