The revelation that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer promising derogatory information on Hillary Clinton reaffirms the need for a full accounting of how our democracy may have been subverted in the 2016 election. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the claims of Russian interference in the election, of collusion with the Trump campaign, and the possibility of criminal malfeasance by President Trump or his associates is essential, and it must be allowed to reach its own conclusions without interference from the White House. Beyond protecting this existing investigation, Democrats should seek an independent commission to lay out steps for protecting the integrity of future elections.
None of this should be controversial. At the same time, there is another set of facts that needs to be reckoned with in this precarious moment—facts concerning the abject failure of US policies toward Russia and the dangerous path down which our two countries are currently headed. These facts also concern real and present threats and cannot be ignored. Indeed, the crisis we are now facing makes clear that it’s time to fundamentally rethink how we approach our relationship with Russia.
As US-Russian relations have deteriorated, the risk of a nuclear catastrophe—including the danger posed by a nuclear-armed North Korea—has risen to its highest level since the end of the Cold War. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists now rates the danger higher than when the Soviet Union tested its first nuclear device, in 1949. The new Cold War is punctuated by perilous military face-offs in three arenas: in Syria, in the skies over the Baltic Sea; on Russia’s western border, with 300,000 NATO troops on high alert and both Russia and NATO ramping up deployments and exercises; and in Ukraine. Between them, the United States and Russia possess nearly 14,000 nuclear weapons—more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear arsenal—and keep almost 2,000 of them on hair-trigger alert. So the extreme danger of nuclear war can only be reduced through cooperation between our two countries.
At the same time, the era of cyberwarfare has arrived without any of the agreed-upon rules that govern traditional war or, for that matter, nuclear deterrence. There is now a rising threat of hackers breaching not only e-mails and elections but also power grids, strategic warning systems, and command-and-control centers. For years, there has been discussion of the need to establish clear rules of the road for cyberwarfare. Now, reports of escalating interference make it imperative that cyberweapons, like conventional, chemical, and nuclear arms, ought to be controlled by means of a binding, verifiable treaty. Again, however, this cannot happen without a more constructive US-Russia relationship.
Given these significant threats, the escalation of tensions with Russia serves neither the national interest nor our national security. Expanding sanctions will only drive a wedge between the United States and the European Union, spur Russia to take retaliatory measures, and make it more difficult to negotiate. This moment calls for diplomacy and dialogue, not moral posturing and triumphalism.