The Biden-Putin summit was a necessary messaging exercise

By Jon B. Wolfsthal | June 16, 2021

This article is part of a collection of expert commentaries on the Biden-Putin summit held in Geneva on June 16, 2021. To read other articles in the collection, click here.

“There is no substitute for face-to-face meetings between leaders.” This simple statement from President Biden helps explain the main outcome for the first-ever summit between him and President Putin. It appears that the conversation was probably pretty sober and tough. Drawing red lines and making clear that certain actions would be met with responses are tough discussions to have. But direct and sometimes hard talk can be very effective in enhancing deterrence and stability—qualities in short supply and much in need.

That said, Biden also stated that he made clear to Putin that there are areas where it is in the interest of both countries to cooperate—not for the sake of cooperation, but because progress is in America’s interest. First and foremost, among those was a detailed discussion about how the two states can pursue arms control and reduce the risks of both conflict and escalation. This discussion, first proposed in 2016 by President Obama, floundered under the last president but may find full form under the Biden administration. There is reason to believe that this set of talks may find common ground on covering all nuclear weapons, not just long-range delivery systems, and begin to cover other systems that can affect strategic stability, including advanced conventional weapons and even missile defenses that could undermine the ability to maintain mutual deterrence. No agreement will be reached quickly, but no agreement can be reached ever if the talks don’t start.

There are of course a lot of questions about where such talks might lead and whether any deals reached can be approved by the American Congress. But it is not hard to identify that there are new weapons and capabilities that could undermine the security of both states. And Biden summed up the meeting pretty well when he said that Putin and he will know in three to six months whether they have made progress on those areas, including strategic stability, cyber, and other issues. And so, it may make sense to consider this summit more of a messaging exercise to set up future success. After four years of drift and chaos, perhaps that is as much as one might have hoped for from this meeting.

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This article is part of a collection of expert commentaries on the Biden-Putin summit held in Geneva on June 16, 2021. To read other articles in the collection, click here.


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Rob Goldston
Rob Goldston
5 months ago

Not bad for a start: We, President of the United States of America Joseph R. Biden and President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, note the United States and Russia have demonstrated that, even in periods of tension, they are able to make progress on our shared goals of ensuring predictability in the strategic sphere, reducing the risk of armed conflicts and the threat of nuclear war. The recent extension of the New START Treaty exemplifies our commitment to nuclear arms control. Today, we reaffirm the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. Consistent… Read more »

Dik Coates
Dik Coates
5 months ago

I think it’s just more ‘smoke and mirrors’ and sabre rattling… the only positive outcome is that these people are still talking.

Driss Larafi
Driss Larafi
5 months ago

Once more even if scholars will consider bipolarity a matter of the past,our security that is international and specifically strategic stability is still grounded on discussions between the two major powers of the world,USA and Russia.otherwise the apocalypse is only 100 seconds!