President-elect Donald Trump’s team has said that they hope to make their first foreign trip will be to Reykjavik, Iceland, to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump says hopes to use the meeting not only to resolve tensions about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime but also resolve nuclear tensions between the United States and Russia. After all, over the past decade and a half, Putin has directed an upgrade to Russia’s nuclear weapons arsenal, from tactical nuclear weapons to city-and country-killers.

Reaching a deal, however, is only half the battle. As Secretary of State John Kerry demonstrated during his tenure, it is very easy to reach a deal if plugging loopholes, protecting allies, and defending U.S. security redlines are not a priority. But, let’s give Trump the benefit of the doubt: He may believe his predecessors bungled Russia diplomacy and he may believe he can do better. The problem with such logic—common with new presidents and secretaries of state from both parties—is that it assumes that the problem is in Washington rather than in Moscow.

Suppose, for example, that Trump and Putin do strike a nuclear deal, what guarantee does Trump have that Putin will abide by its terms? Here, history matters. Putin grew up and was educated within the envelope of the KGB. He retains a Soviet view both of the world in general and of Russia’s competition with the United States more specifically. For Putin, diplomacy is not about a win-win compromise, but rather a zero-sum game to checkmate America. Trump and those surrounding him—National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, for example—should be aware of the Kremlin’s long history of cheating on arms control agreements.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, numerous reports surfaced that the Soviet Union was using biological weaponry in Laos, Cambodia, and Afghanistan in violation of the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. Lao tribesmen described clouds of colored gas or oily liquid emerging from bombs or rockets which exploded at tree top level, and twice in 1980, Dutch journalists filmed a Soviet helicopter dropping canisters emitting a yellow cloud outside of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan. After years of back-and-forth in the intelligence community about what became known as the ‘Yellow Rain’ incident, Soviet officials finally acknowledged their complicity both in the biological attacks and in the production of inhalation anthrax in Sverdlovsk, today’s Yekaterinburg, in the Ural Mountains.

In January 1984, Robert Jastrow chronicled in COMMENTARY a number of violations of the SALT I and Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaties. The Soviets used reported used dismantled SS-7 sites to support a new generation of missiles in violation of the SALT I treaty.

Then, in 1983, an American spy satellite detected a Soviet radar complex near Krasnoyarsk, in the middle of Siberia. Its configuration belied its military purpose, and its sheer size underlined the scale of Soviet subterfuge of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.  The Arms Control Association, the same group which accepted Ploughshares Foundation funding and worked as part of the “echo chamber” constructed by the Obama administration to paper over problems with the Iran nuclear deal, dismissed Krasnoyarsk as insignificant. Reagan felt otherwise. “No violations of a treaty can be considered to be a minor matter, nor can there be confidence in agreements if a country can pick and choose which provisions of an agreement it will comply with,” he explained in a 1987 letter to the Speaker of the House.  Two years later, after years of angrily denying the accusations, the Soviets finally admit that the radar violated the ABM treaty. Even Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze called it “a clear violation.”

Russian deception continues to the present day. Obama administration Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher apparently hid evidence from Congress Russian cheating on its existing nuclear obligations until after a vote on the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). Not surprisingly, it appears Russia has violated not only the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty but also the New START as well.

Trump fancies himself the ultimate deal-maker. He believes he can get Putin to the table to de-escalate tensions and perhaps even reach an agreement. Neither he nor Flynn appear to realize the problem with Russia has never been coming to an agreement but having Russia adhere to commitments it has made. Simply put, agreements are worthless when adversaries have a track record of viewing dialogue as an asymmetric warfare strategy rather than a means of conflict resolution.

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