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Belfer Center Experts Comment on Helsinki Summit

Belter Center experts comment on the significance and potential impact of the July 16, 2018 meeting between Presidents Trump and Putin in terms of national and international security.

Ash Carter - Director, Belfer Center and former Secretary of Defense
“In my almost four decades with national defense starting in the Pentagon under Ronald Reagan, I never saw or imagined so uneven a handover of American security interests and principles with nothing in return at a meeting.  It was like watching the destruction of a cathedral.”

Matthew Bunn – Co-Principal Investigator, Project on Managing the Atom
“Despite President Trump’s blame-America-equally press conference blunders, the Trump-Putin summit may have opened windows of opportunity for some areas of cooperation that would serve American and world security interests.  Both presidents emphasized the importance of working together to stop jihadist terrorism, stop nuclear proliferation, and control the dangers of existing nuclear arsenals, with President Putin calling for extending the New START nuclear agreement and expressing a willingness to address the serious problem of INF Treaty compliance. The two presidents have asked their security experts to follow up, potentially opening paths to address both terrorist and nuclear dangers. The United States has to be able to confront Russia when needed while simultaneously cooperating with Russia where our interests align.”

Nicholas Burns – Faculty Chair, Project on Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship
“When President Trump sided today with Vladimir Putin over the U.S. intelligence community on Russia’s cyber attack on the 2016 election, he failed in his basic responsibility to defend our country. Throughout the entire press conference, Trump blamed the U.S. for the woeful state of relations with Russia and did not offer one word of criticism over Putin’s annexation of Crimea, the Russian nerve agent attack in the UK and on its cyber aggression against our country. This was the weakest and most shameful performance of an American president at a summit in our lifetime. Following Trump’s demeaning of NATO and the EU, and his public attacks on Angela Merkel and Teresa May, his calamitous European trip weakened our global credibility.

Martin Malin – Executive Director, Project on Managing the Atom
“The political space for cooperation with Russia on arms control and nonproliferation may have just collapsed beneath Trump’s bizarre and disgraceful performance in Helsinki. But the risks posed by the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals and by the spread of nuclear weapons are real and may be growing. Both Democrats and Republicans have supported efforts to address those risks in the past. Even as the political fallout from the Trump-Putin summit settles, Congress should encourage the administration to work with Russia to extend New START, discuss ways of addressing INF violations and concerns, and restart cooperation on nuclear security.”
Steven Miller – Director, International Security Program
“Ironically, President Trump’s much-coveted summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin has proven to be a disaster for Donald Trump.  More importantly, it is a setback for American interests.  Widely regarded in advance as a bad idea that lacked purpose, agenda and adequate preparation time, the [Helsinki] summit pitted an inexperienced, amateurish, ill-informed, unprepared, and overly eager Trump against Putin, a tough, savvy operator who, after eighteen years in power, is one of the most experienced leaders in the world.  The good news is that little of substance seems to have transpired (though the contents of the long Trump-Putin one-on-one meeting are unknown) and Trump apparently did not gift Putin with any unreciprocated concessions – as he did in his meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. In a disastrous performance at the joint press conference at the end of the summit, however, Trump ...was clearly more interested in being agreeable to Putin than in criticizing undesirable Russian policies or standing up for U.S. interests."  
Rolf Mowatt-Larssen – Director, Intelligence Project
“There has been much speculation in the media regarding the possibility that Donald Trump and/or his campaign staff colluded with Russian intelligence. There has even been a recent article that raised the possibility that our president is a full blown Russian agent, which under normal circumstances would be considered outrageous speculation. These are not normal circumstances. Today, President Trump’s disgraceful comments at the press conference at the Helsinki summit could have been read out of a script handed to him by Vladimir Putin. Not only can the US intelligence community no longer trust our president’s judgment, but ironically, any hopes of improving US Russian relations have been dashed.”
Joseph S. Nye - Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor
"Improving relations with Russia makes sense, but not if it involves weakening American institutions, undercutting our intelligence community, and damaging our credibility with allies. Trump claims to be a great negotiator, but at Singapore, Kim Jong Un won and at Helsinki, Putin won. This may be the worst U.S./Russian summit since JKK was bullied by Khrushchev at Vienna in 1961."

Nickolas Roth – Research Associate, Project on Managing the Atom
“U.S. national security priorities have not changed. The United States must find ways to cooperate with Russia while confronting Moscow when necessary. Today’s meeting between Presidents Trump and Putin has likely made that more difficult, but policymakers in Washington must remain focused on reducing threats facing the United States rather than getting caught up in political sideshows. Over the coming weeks, U.S. and Russian national security staff will attempt to find areas of agreement on arms control, strategic stability, and nuclear proliferation. First steps should include extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and resuming cooperation on strengthening nuclear security in both countries.”
Simon Saradzhyan – Director, Russia Matters Project
“It was worthwhile for the two presidents to meet if only because the sides need to talk to each other if they want to reduce the probability of an accidental war between them, which is low, but which has been rising due to the escalation of tensions between the two countries. In their remarks, both leaders stressed existence of common interests and noted the successful cooperation between their special services and coordination between their militaries in countering international terrorist networks and preventing incidents between the two countries’ militaries in Syria respectively. I think this sends good signals to the governments of the countries to build on this success as both sides share interest in dismantling international terrorist networks, such as al Qaeda and ISIS, as well as preventing incidents between their militaries not only in Syria, but also in Europe and elsewhere.”
Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall – Senior Fellow, Belfer Center
"Trump was overmatched by Putin on every front – and after a week of bleeding American power across Europe, the Helsinki finale was a hemorrhage. On vital matters of nuclear security, including both enhancing strategic stability and preventing proliferation, Trump’s fundamental lack of attention to facts and details creates growing risks to Americans and our allies and partners. Although Putin wants to extend New START – in principle a worthy goal – Trump needs to hold Russia accountable for its development of destabilizing new intercontinental systems and INF Treaty violations. But on this front Trump has already diminished his credibility by withdrawing from the JPCOA which was a model of U.S.-Russian cooperation in stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. America is stronger when we are united with allies against assaults on democracy; Trump has done the opposite by sycophantically aligning himself with the autocratic Russian leader over his own Intelligence Community and Department of Justice."

William Tobey – Senior Fellow, Belfer Center
“Better U.S.-Russian cooperation on a host of issues—including fighting nuclear terrorism and proliferation—would be a good thing, as President Trump rightly notes. But he also said of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections: “They [the U.S. Intelligence Community] think it’s Russia. I have President Putin — he just said it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be.” This willful obliviousness to hard evidence of Russian cyber attacks amounts to failure to execute his office and to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:Belfer Center Experts Comment on Helsinki Summit.” News, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, July 17, 2018.


Ash Carter

Nicholas Burns

Steven E. Miller

Joseph S. Nye, Jr.

Dr. Elizabeth D. Sherwood-Randall