Argument

Take Reagan's Word for It

Why Republicans should embrace President Obama's nuke treaty with Russia.

The new strategic arms treaty with Russia is a gift for Republicans, not as a political weapon against President Barack Obama, but as the fruit of their own labors. The treaty is a logical, modest step down the long road of strategic nuclear arms control, led by Republicans from Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan. In all those years of the Cold War, whether by détente or confrontation, they sought to restrain an existential threat and create rules and stability in a world of mistrust and uncertainty.

The new treaty goes further toward those goals than the hawks of yesteryear could have ever imagined. Republicans ought to vote for ratification and tell voters they fulfilled Reagan's greatest wish, to lock in lower levels of the most dangerous weapons on Earth. Reagan often talked about "peace through strength," and this treaty measures up to the slogan.

The might of the United States as a strategic power remains unrivaled, while Russia's forces are a shadow of Soviet days, long overdue for modernization. Sure, in global politics, Russia loves hardball and will remain stubborn and aggressive. Its current leaders have not entirely broken free of the Soviet mindset. But we should not treat Russia as a threatening Evil Empire. It is a troubled petrostate with nukes, a country of enormous potential suffering a long and deep humiliation. The treaty is a good way to fasten down some predictability in the years to come.

In the Senate, Democrats are expected to vote for the treaty, but it will need eight Republicans for ratification. So far it is not clear which direction the Republican minority will choose, though the treaty has the support of Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, as well as a string of leading Republican statesmen and officials, including former Secretaries of State George Shultz and James Baker.

There may be a clue for today's Republicans in Reagan's twilight struggle with Soviet communism.

What's often forgotten about the Cold War is how easy it was to suspect the worst. The United States was engaged in a decades-long battle of immense proportions against a perplexing, secretive enemy. Forty percent of the CIA's resources were devoted to watching the Soviet bear. The fear of the other side gaining some kind of strategic advantage was palpable in the arguments of the day, as when a small group of American conservatives began warning darkly in the late 1970s that Soviet leaders were preparing to fight and win a nuclear war.

"We're already in an arms race, but only the Soviets are racing," Reagan declared in an Aug. 18, 1980, campaign speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Chicago. "They are outspending us in the military field by 50 percent and more than double, sometimes triple, on their strategic forces."

Reagan then quoted Paul Nitze, a leading voice against the 1979 SALT II treaty, as having said, "The Kremlin leaders do not want war; they want the world." Reagan declared: "For that reason, they have put much of their military effort into strategic nuclear programs. Here the balance has been moving against us and will continue to do so if we follow the course set by this administration."

"The Soviets want peace and victory," he added. "We must understand this and what it means to us. They seek a superiority in military strength that, in the event of a confrontation, would leave us with an unacceptable choice between submission or conflict."

The landscape of today would be startling to Reagan and Nitze. Their greatest fears were never realized. The strategic nuclear arms race with Moscow is over. U.S. military spending is about eight times more than Russia's. Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently noted that the United States operates 11 large and capable nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, and in terms of size and striking power, no other country has even one comparable ship. Russia's newest strategic submarine and missile have been plagued with delays. Alexander Golts, an incisive journalist on military affairs in Moscow, wrote recently that Russia's plans for defense modernization are likely to fail because the industrial base is antiquated and corrupt. Even a plan to convert the military to digital communications is "pie-in-the-sky," he wrote. Eighty-five percent of the army's technologies are still stuck in the analog era, he said.

Thus, it was strange to read Mitt Romney's recent criticism of the new strategic arms treaty in the Washington Post, saying it could be Obama's "worst foreign policy mistake yet." Among other things, Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, said the treaty should be opposed because it does not prohibit Russia from putting intercontinental ballistic missiles on bombers. It sure is hard to imagine that Russia would have any desire or need to attach a 47-ton Topol-M missile to one of its aging bombers, to say nothing of the engineering challenges involved.

This kind of crude exaggeration of the Russian threat makes no sense in today's world, which is far more transparent than in earlier decades. The first SALT treaty, in 1972, basically froze missile launchers but did not include precise numbers for missiles or warheads. Today, the New START treaty locks in equal levels of warheads and launchers, and requires unique numbers on each weapon that can be used for verification. Reagan and Nitze would be wide-eyed with wonder at this achievement.

But then there's Romney, who warns the treaty gives Moscow "a massive nuclear weapon advantage over the United States." If anyone really fears that Russia is poised to launch a Soviet-sized build-up of nuclear weapons, wouldn't it be wiser to restrain them with the new treaty than to leave them unbound?

Even after this treaty, there is big unfinished business in nuclear arms control, including the several thousand tactical nuclear weapons, most in Russia, and the "hedge," or reserve, of U.S. nuclear warheads in storage. There is also the nagging and unresolved danger associated with keeping land-based missiles in both countries on launch-ready alert status. Walking away from all this hardly seems to be in the Republican tradition of concern for national security.

Take Reagan's word for it. His frequent criticism of SALT II in the late 1970s was that the treaty only slowed the growth of the nuclear arsenals and did not actually cut weapons. Once in office, Reagan insisted arms control must mean really getting rid of the weapons, as he did in the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and in the negotiations for START 1, signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1991. The treaty now before the Senate is simply one more step in this direction. Senate Republicans who revere Reagan should see that this treaty is their inheritance. Instead of voting against it to wound Obama, they should adopt the treaty for what it is and focus instead on what's to follow.

Reagan never gave up his dream of missile defense, but he did not let it interfere with his determination to negotiate lower levels of nuclear weapons. Today's Republicans can champion missile defense long after ratification of this treaty, which, as the administration has pointed out, does nothing to restrict U.S. missile-shield plans.

Of all the problems facing the United States today, strategic nuclear competition with Russia is not one of them. Locking down these arsenals is the essence of prudence and conservatism. As Baker, the former secretary of state, said in his testimony recently, the START 1 treaty was a product of the Cold War, but is not a relic. It helped bring stability in the chaotic years after the Soviet collapse, and deserves to live on.

BILL SWERSEY/AFP/Getty Images

Argument

China's Billion-Dollar Aid Appetite

Why is Beijing winning health grants at the expense of African countries?

Back in 2001, I was the lead U.S. negotiator in international talks meant to transform the way that poor countries fight some of the world's most pernicious diseases -- HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. Our vision looked like this: Instead of each country spending on its own, rich countries would pool donations into one coordinated fund that would give grants to help resource-strapped countries purchase medicines, build health programs, and prevent the diseases from spreading. We imagined the bulk of the money ending up in places like Lesotho, Haiti, and Uganda, where these three diseases have reached crisis levels. So it might surprise and concern you -- as much as it still does me -- to learn that one of the top grant recipients isn't in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, or impoverished Central Asia. It's a country with $2.5 trillion in foreign currency reserves: China.

Over the eight years since the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria first launched, China has applied for and been awarded nearly $1 billion in grants, becoming the fourth-largest recipient of funds behind Ethiopia, India, and Tanzania. Already, the country has drawn nearly $500 million from this credit line and soon expects to receive $165 million in new grants. China's aggregate award from the fund is nearly three times larger than that of South Africa, one of the most affected countries from these three diseases. Moreover, China has won malaria grant money totaling $149 million (and $89 million more might be on the way) -- in a country where only 38 deaths from the mosquito-borne illness were reported last year. That is more than the $122 million awarded to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which reported nearly 25,000 malaria deaths during the same period. In fact, only seven sub-Saharan African countries receive more malaria aid than China -- and 29 countries in Africa get less. Combined, those 29 countries report 64,000 deaths from the disease each year.

China has aggressively pursued Global Fund grants and has continued to win significant amounts with every passing year. Beijing does make a nominal contribution to the fund of $2 million annually, meaning that it has donated $16 million over the last eight years. By comparison, the United States, the leading donor, has committed $5.5 billion, and France has offered $2.5 billion over the same period. These contributing countries expect no financial return for their gift, but China has recouped its spending by 60 times.

Even more alarming, China's persistent appetite threatens to undermine the entire premise behind the Global Fund. The organization's leadership is trying to solicit between $13 billion and $20 billion to cover its next three years of operations -- a tall order at a time of global recession. Donors will grow even more reluctant if they realize that substantial funds are being awarded to a country that can more than pay for its own health programs.

How did China ever become eligible for grants in the first place? In short, because of a loophole. The Global Fund decides eligibility for grants based on the World Bank's classification system, which divides countries by income. High-income countries such as the United States, the European industrial countries, and Japan are ineligible. Low-income countries, including many in sub-Saharan Africa, are grant-eligible. In between, so-called lower-middle-income countries like China are eligible if the grants are part of a cost-sharing program through which the fund pays up to 65 percent and the country pays the rest. (China stays in this lower-middle-income category because its huge population keeps per capita figures down.) The country competes with the likes of Bolivia, Cameroon, and India in this category. But because the fund's pot of money isn't allocated by income group, any grants that China wins reduce the remaining money available for all eligible countries.

For a country like Cameroon, cost-sharing grants make a lot of sense. By giving part of the full amount, the fund can spur the host government into investing more of its discretionary budget in health. The extra cash can build health infrastructure and capacity, preparing the country to wean itself from foreign funds. But in China's case, the argument for a Global Fund grant is tenuous at best. During the depths of the world economic crisis in 2008, China put forth a massive economic stimulus package of $586 billion that included new health and education spending of $27 billion. The government announced its intention to boost rural health coverage with $125 billion in spending over the next several years. Even a fraction of that promised amount would negate any need by China to draw upon the Global Fund.

This is not to say, of course, that China's health system does not face formidable challenges. Indeed, global health policymakers worry that HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis in particular could rise dramatically as the country urbanizes and industrializes and a new middle class veers away from traditional social mores. Everyone remembers the SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003 that practically shut down major cities in China. And beyond specific threats, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the chief implementer of the Global Fund portfolio and officiator of the government's public health strategy, has hard work ahead to build up China's health workforce and medical infrastructure.

But China might want these grants for reasons having more to do with politics than public health. The Health Ministry is the only member of China's policymaking State Council not led by a political party member. As such, its ability to compete for domestic funds pales in comparison with other assertive, powerful ministries led by longstanding party leaders. So the Health Ministry might be driven to external funding by political necessity. Or, China might value obtaining the technical assistance of international health agencies such as the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Global Fund grants provide a means of securing their advice and services. China's participation on the fund's board might also be useful to Beijing's global politics, confirming its importance on the world stage.

Whatever benefits China gains from seeking grants, however, stack up poorly against expensive opportunity costs exacted upon needier countries. The $1 billion awarded to China could have been used by the poorest countries to distribute 67 million anti-malarial bed nets, 4.5 million curative tuberculosis treatments, or nearly 2 million courses of anti-retroviral therapy for AIDS patients (a number equivalent to all those living with the disease in Kenya).

It is intriguing that health ministers from the poorest countries have expressed neither concern nor opposition to China winning grants. Nor has there been any substantial public challenge to or debate about the money China has received from the Global Fund. Part of the reason might be structural; the fund's large 26-member board (which includes representatives of countries, regions, organizations, and the Global Fund itself) operates based on consensus, and its meetings are time-constrained forums that pressure members to make rapid decisions. Changing eligibility policy, for example to exclude China, would entail time-intensive negotiations that may well pit groups of grantees against one another. The board also approves grants en bloc, relying upon the advice of technical experts who review them for feasibility and public health impact, not fairness, balance, or a country's ability to pay.

Even so, there is likely more behind the silence than just procedure. For many of the poorer countries that lose out, opposing China in international forums would risk incurring Beijing's diplomatic wrath. Health ministers are skittish to imperil their country's broader interactions with China, which in the case of African countries, often entails Chinese loans, grants, infrastructure projects, and investment -- and indeed, even further, health aid. In turn, African countries seeking access to the burgeoning Chinese market must curry Beijing's favor. Any country that openly opposes China at the Global Fund might see these economic links broken or be put at a disadvantage to competitors. And so the neediest countries endure a loss of grant money to China through their collective silence.

Donor governments have also been mute or reluctant to oppose China at the Global Fund, perhaps for similar reasons of not wishing to provoke a reaction that impacts other diplomatic or political equities elsewhere. In the United States, neither Congress nor the White House has voiced open concern that an amount equivalent to President Barack Obama's entire fiscal 2011 Global Fund budget request of $1 billion has gone to a country that can afford to pay its own way.

This has left the fund's leadership as the only front left for trying to change China's stance. Based on China's national income and the rate of other donor contributions, the Global Fund recommends that China should give $96 million over the next three years, amounting to 16 times its current annual donation. In 2007, prior to China's hosting of a board meeting in Kunming, the fund asked China's government to up its donor commitment, but the appeal went nowhere. In June, with fundraising pressures escalating, the fund's executive director, Michel Kazatchkine, met in Beijing with Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang, who issued a vague promise to cooperate with international organizations to expand disease prevention and treatment, but made no announcement to refrain from taking new grants or signaled any intent to become a major donor.

Not even a rival country's actions seem to have convinced Beijing. In recent years, nearby Russia has transformed itself from recipient to donor, and it has done so under arguably less favorable economic conditions than those in China today. In 2006, then President Vladimir Putin pledged to repay the Global Fund $270 million over four years, covering the past assistance it received, and announced $156 million in new domestic spending for HIV treatment. Now four years out, Russia has paid in $250 million to the Global Fund, essentially fulfilling Putin's pledge.

It is audacious for China to assert that it needs international health assistance on par with the world's poorest countries. In fact, at the same time it is drawing from the Global Fund, China is building its entire global image as one of economic growth, accumulating wealth and international stature. To boost its public profile and prestige, China spent billions to host the Beijing Olympics and the Shanghai World Expo. Surely it could spend another $1 billion of its cash on health as well. And why not take it one step further? By becoming a Global Fund donor, China could win acclaim with the West and the world's poorest -- earning exactly the kind of respect that a rising power deserves.

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