It may seem an odd time to be thinking about anything foreign bar Gaza,but you really need to consider how you are going to treat two guys you won’t have much in common with but will be seeing a lot of-Vladimir Putin and Hu Jintao. Without the co-operation of Russia and China,the United Nations is of little use to us. But if you are seen to be letting them push you around,our right-wingers will tear you apart.
It’s important that you meet both of them as soon as reasonably possible-though not before you’ve seen Britain,Germany,France and Japan. You ought to work your charm on the Chinese first. They’ve been co-operative of late,on North Korea most obviously,but also to some extent on Iran. Above all,they keep on buying our Treasuries. Plus they haven’t rocked the boat on Taiwan. In fact,things are going pretty swimmingly across the strait,which is one big thing we don’t have to worry about. Also,our trade deficit with China is starting to look a bit better. True,that’s only because of the recession-driven collapse in our demand for their imports,but it might help keep Congress quiet.
Then there’s Mr Putin. Don’t make George Bush’s initial mistake of trusting him; but don’t start out too combative either. We all know that neither Georgia nor Ukraine are going to be let into NATO any time soon,so what’s the point of needlessly annoying Moscow by banging on about it? You might think it wise to find ways to soft-pedal that one.
With the oil price leaving his economy in the tank,Putin may be less prickly in 2009 than he was in 2008 (though his gas-games don’t bode well),so we need to capitalise on that. This would be a good time to get him to help us turn the screw a bit tighter on Iran,for instance.
Probably the toughest call you will have to make regarding Russia is whether or not you want to push ahead with deploying interceptors for the
missile shield (which,let’s face it,may not work) into Poland and the Czech Republic.
The truth is that the missile interceptors are not there to protect us or them from Moscow,but to protect us from a possible strike from Iran. Is a deal available that would allow you to delay the interceptors in return for Russia doing a lot more to help us stop the Iranians getting their hands on nukes? Or will that look like giving in to Russian blackmail? This is one call that only you can make.
© The Economist Newspaper Limited 2008