Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Realpolitik Goes Farther Than Rhetorical Bluster

U.S. and Russian officials have done well to defuse the recent spat over Washington's plans to place missile defense sites in Central Europe and President Vladimir Putin's outspoken attack on U.S. "unilateralism."

The world does not need a new Cold War, or even Cold War-style rhetoric, when there are so many global issues that would benefit from better cooperation between Washington and Moscow. As was demonstrated in the collaboration between the United States, Russia and China in the deal over North Korea's nuclear program, the world's powers have much to gain by working together on security. With the wider Middle East in crisis, much more remains to be done that can only be done through cooperation.

Washington must recognize that its unilateralist security policies raise suspicions elsewhere. It is reasonable for Russia to question U.S. plans to locate interceptor missile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic. American officials argue these defenses are not directed against Russia but against rogue states such as Iran, which Sunday claimed it had fired a missile into space. Moscow is entitled to raise questions, however, especially as there are doubts about both the capacity of rogue states to develop effective intercontinental missiles and U.S. ability to shoot them down.

The United States, like any nation, is entitled to prioritize its own security. It is also justified in responding to perceived threats by tapping its huge military and technological resources. But it must bear in mind that riding roughshod over the security concerns of others -- especially Russia, a former superpower -- breeds insecurities that could make the world less safe for all, the United States included. The fight against state-sponsored terrorism -- whether from Iran or elsewhere -- is the battle that should unite the United States and Russia.

But Moscow is a difficult partner. It is trying to recover from the loss of the Soviet empire by reasserting its authority in the region. As well as using energy as a political weapon it is resorting to cruder methods such as recent remarks about targeting nuclear missiles at the bases proposed for the Czech Republic and Poland. Threats to pull out of arms control treaties aren't likely to reassure anybody. How can Moscow hope to make common cause against extra-European threats such as global terrorism while aggravating divisions within Europe?

But even if Russia is a far from ideal global partner, the U.S. must do what it can to work with Moscow on global security. Realpolitik, not rhetoric, is the key.

This comment appeared as an editorial in the Financial Times.