Why Putin Deserves a White House Meeting With Trump | Opinion

There are many reasons not to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to the White House, and many reasons why Congressional Democrats and Republicans are panning the idea. Trump’s tweet lashing out at Iran hasn’t helped make the case he’s acting rationally on foreign affairs. Yet, in addition to preventing a war with Iran, there are issues that compel further meetings with Putin, regardless of the arguments against them.

Putin and Trump have the capacity and responsibility to cooperate to make sure we are not humanity's last generation. There are existential threats to all lives within their unique purview which they must address. Whatever else they may do, they must not ignore their duty to reduce these dangers.

Over 14,000 nuclear weapons still hang as swords of death over the world, and risk being used by accident, design or madness. In Helsinki, Trump and Putin alluded to the need to address nuclear threats, but didn't commit to any concrete steps.

Virtually nothing substantive was said in Helsinki about the despoliation of the global commons. Yet the living systems upon which we all depend—the climate, the oceans, the rainforests—are under threat. 50-70% of our oxygen comes from phytoplankton, which requires healthy oceans. Protecting them requires global cooperation.

The U.S. and Russia must work closely together on these and other issues, despite leaders’ characters and profound differences in our systems.

Putin has inherited an opportunity to put Russia on a new course, away from a highly stratified resource-extraction economy, toward a modern, dynamic society. Admittedly, he lacks some prerequisites, such as a grasp of why the rule of law is preferable to the rule through law, why democracy is preferable to dictatorship, and why human rights are inviolate. But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t work with Trump to defuse existential threats.

RTX6CGMR U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

Trump has inherited the legacy of the first nation founded on a legal instrument, the Constitution, based on the rule of law, checks, balances, principles and processes. From this foundation a complex set of institutions evolved which provided expanded civic engagement, rights and liberties, voting protections, secure markets and greater gender equity. Because of these opportunities, America has freedoms which have been the envy of the world.

When U.S. values and principles are ignored, as they were in the invasion of Iraq or the war in Vietnam, suffering and catastrophe has followed. When they are honored, such as their expression in the UN system and the Marshall Plan, and more recently in the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by all nations at the UN, they spawned vision and inspiration, and success beyond expectations. Americans should be proud of this heritage.

Admittedly, Trump isn’t its best advocate currently. He lacks appreciation of international law and institutions, and has promoted gross domestic political divides. But none of that means he shouldn’t work with Putin on behalf of Americans, and people everywhere. 

They must extend the START Treaty, which lowers the number of deployed nuclear weapons. It will expire within a few years unless they state their support clearly. They must take nuclear weapons off launch-on-warning, hair-trigger alert to prevent a nuclear catastrophe being triggered by computer or human error. They must restate the enduring truth articulated by President Reagan that a nuclear war cannot be won and therefore must never be fought. They must fulfil their commitments to advancing nuclear disarmament under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, such as a negotiating a fissile material cut-off agreement, ending nuclear testing by bringing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty into force, and reducing the size of nuclear arsenals. As required by unanimous ruling of the International Court of Justice, they must commence good-faith negotiations for universal legal elimination of nuclear weapons.

Last July at the United Nations, 122 nations voted to support a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. Russia and the U.S. opposed it, saying it impaired strategic stability. Instead, they pledged to upgrade and modernize their nuclear arsenals. That would make their use more likely and degrade legal impetus for nuclear disarmament.

Presidents Putin and Trump have a fundamental responsibility to go beyond rhetoric and work together to protect the planet and eliminate nuclear weapons. Ensuring humanity’s survival trumps other concerns. Not only is another meeting in their personal and political interests, it’s in the national and global interest.

Jonathan Granoff is president of the Global Security Institute, and United Nations Representative and Senior Advisor of the Permanent Secretariat of the World Summits of Nobel Peace Laureates. He chairs the Task Force on Nuclear Nonproliferation of the International Law Section of the American Bar Association, and he is a fellow of the World Academy of Arts and Science. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.

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