Colleen Chiochetti

Guest Blogger

The Future of Multilateral Engagement: Treaties or Gentlemen’s Agreements?

This post was originally published on March 26, 2014. It has been reposted in light of the recent news that the Obama Administration is pursuing a climate agreement in lieu of a treaty for the 2015 UN summit meeting in Paris. 

In an increasingly globalized world, multilateral engagement is becoming even more critical for the planet’s survival. No longer can a nation act unilaterally without being left behind. In light of this, a debate has emerged about what is the best way to engage on the international level: through treaties or agreements?

In a 2013 article posted by Foreign Affairs, David Kaye argues that treaties create reliable expectations and impose consequences for violators that agreements do not. Kaye points out that because a systematic rejection of treaties has developed in the US, treaty commitment and full US participation is no longer expected, hindering the government's ability to engage in global policy making. While treaty opponents decry them as a threat to U.S. sovereignty, treaties actually create more stable and transparent relationships than gentlemen’s agreements, he says.

Protecting the INF just like Reagan

U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev signing the INF Treaty in 1987,

Since the beginning of 2014, Russia has been a constant agitator in the news. And the end of July was no exception when news broke that Russia had violated an international arms agreement, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). Now this is not the first time, but it has certainly sparked some of the greatest criticism in light of their other actions in the past year.

This news has arms control critics calling for abandonment of arms restrictions on our part as well as stopping the aggressor. However, this is one of the last things we should do.

Arms control treaties were created because our past leaders understood the inherent danger in tit-for-tat arms buildup, a practice they termed, “mutually assured destruction.” They understood that unless restrictions were put in place for both sides, the problems would not be solved; rather, they would spiral out of control until both sides were destroyed. This is still an ever-present danger that these arms control critics have chosen to forget.

Russia’s violation of an arms treaty should not be an argument against arms control and treaties, but rather an argument for imposing consequences for the violator. The US should not and cannot unilaterally go on the offensive every time a party violates a treaty. Diplomacy rather than force needs to continue to drive US actions, particularly where Russia is concerned.

In the past six months, Putin has proven that he has no qualms when it comes to over-stepping boundaries, but the last thing we need to do is give him validation for further action against arms trade treaties.

Putin's Political Moves

Over the past two weeks, the international community has seen the situation in Ukraine move from bad to worse as it devolves into violence and chaos. Russian-supported separatists are pitted against the European backed interim government in what seems to be rapidly escalating into a civil war that threatens to tear the country apart.

This violence easily overshadowed two crucial political moves Putin made that clearly signaled his intent to solidify Crimea as a Russian entity and reassert Russia's power over Ukraine. The first was his trip to Crimea on Friday, May 9th, which is Victory Day in Russia. Victory Day pays tribute to the Soviet defeat of the Nazis during WWII and is the single biggest holiday in Russia – the whole country celebrates and glorifies Russian power and strength. Putin purposefully chose to observe this holiday in Crimea to show that it is undoubtedly an integral part of Russia and that the referendum of March 16th was valid.

His second move was minting a new commemorative coin as part of a series naming himself “The Gatherer of Russian Lands.” This coin showed his face on the front and Crimea on the back, labeled as the Russian Federation’s Republic of Crimea. This coin will forever serve as a commemoration of the Russian adoption of the republic and as a symbol of their ownership of Crimea.