Russia drank coffee in the garden, big, round sunglasses on and a cigarette hanging between her fingers. After a while, she let out a long exhale of smoke.
“Prague, 2010. The world was on the cusp of the Arab Spring. There was an electricity in the air–you could feel it.”
“Are you talking to me?” Belarus asked, not looking up from her phone.
“Meanwhile,” Russia continued, “I was going to change the world, but it wasn’t going to be easy. No, it was a fierce battle of resolves, but in the end, I saved us all.”
Nobody wanted nuclear war, even if the world’s superpowers spent the latter half of the 20th century building up massive arsenals of destructive weapons. But by 2010, the world looked a lot different than it did during the Cold War, and the two countries with the biggest, baddest stockpiles knew the future had to look different from the past.
One of them was just more willing than the other, so the story goes.
Russia got down to business as soon as she stepped into the conference room. “America, nuclear weapons threaten the safety and stability of this planet.”
He was at one end of the table, leaning back in his chair and arrogantly lounging. “I agree. That’s why I think you should give yours up.” He laughed at his joke.
“So you can bully and blackmail whoever you want without consequence?” She tossed her head back. “Not a chance.”
“Then we’re at an impasse, Russia.” He sat up. “We’ve had this conversation before, several times. You know why I think they never took off? Because you don’t really want to give up your nukes.”
She narrowed her eyes but took a seat at opposite end of the table, for the sake of poetic juxtaposition. “Is that right?”
He nodded. “I know you, Russia. I know you’d love to return to your former glory. Oh, the pain of losing the Cold War cut you deep, didn’t it? It burns every time you think about it.” He made a hissing sound, like oil on a hot skillet. “Admit it. You miss your empire–an empire you can’t rebuild without nukes to point at your neighbors.”
“That I want to rebuild the Soviet Union is a fabrication of yours meant to feed your hysteric hatred for me. Would you like to know what I believe?”
“Of course. Always.”
“You’re insecure, paranoid, controlling, assertive, and have a very warped perception of strength and weakness.”
“My god, Russia.” He got up and walked over to the coffee bar. “It’s almost like you and I have the same character flaws! Here’s some food for thought,” he said, swinging the sugar spoon through the air. “Is disarmament really a good thing?”
Screeechhhh. That was the sound of America figuratively slamming on the breaks.
“You can’t be serious.”
“You’re assuming that the reason everyone else–wack-jobs like Iran, even bigger wack-jobs like North Korea–that they’re pursuing nuclear weapons because I have nuclear weapons and they feel ‘threatened’ by me. So the answer to this monster of a problem is suuuuper easy, right? Get rid of my weapons, and everyone’s desire for WMDs disappears like magic! So we reduce, reduce, reduce, until we’ve got just a handful of nukes left. Maybe then the voices in North Korea’s head will finally stop and he’ll wake up one morning and realize he doesn’t want nukes anymore. So he decides to get rid of his bombs–by dropping them on his sister.”
Russia brought her fist down on the table and America’s eyebrows shot up. “Are you finished crying? Because I’d like to get to work on saving the world.”
“Oh, yeah?” He turned away from the bar but didn’t sit back down–a power move, perhaps. “Saving the world?”
“We came close to making the worst mistakes of our lives in ’62. We had our arms race and yes, yes, the Soviet Union is gone. Congratulations. That’s the past Today, at this very moment, we are both sitting on thousands of nuclear weapons.”
“You have more than me,” America said quickly.
“So I do. And yet, I’m also the one more willing to give them up.” She shoved a leather folder down to him. He barely glanced at it. “Sign the New START treaty, America. You know it’s the right thing to do.”
“Aw, shit, since when did you start being able to peer into someone’s psyche and sense their morality? Why don’t I have that power?”
“You wouldn’t have agreed to this treaty’s predecessors if you didn’t believe in it.”
“Times change, man.”
“Seven years. By 2018, we’ll cut our warheads down by almost 75%.” She folded her arms and tilted her head back.” Are you telling me that you don’t think you can’t fight off North Korea and his archaic nuclear technology with 1500 bombs? That 700 missiles won’t be enough to fend off a tiny, poor, backwards third-world country?” The mocking words rolled off her tongue with ease.
“That’s not–that’s not what I’m saying.” How nice it was to see him squirm like that.
“But that’s what everyone will hear. You could deter North Korea and Iran and Pakistan and anyone else with ten bombs, three bombs, one bomb. 6000 warheads, 1500 warheads–it’s all the same to them. But the fact that you were too scared, too afraid of countries that you dwarf in power and influence, to disarm even a tiny bit? You can never recover from that.”
America stood there with a furrowed brow and mulled everything over in his head while he chewed on his bottom lip.
“Alright,” he finally said. “I’ll sign it. I’ll sign it!” He set his cup down and grabbed the documents. “Are you happy? You’d better be pleased as goddamn punch.” Looking up, he noticed the smug grin on her lips. “Oh, shut up.”
By the end of the story, Belarus was squinting at her neighbor, and not entirely because of the sunlight. “I don’t think that’s how it happened.”
“And how would you know?”
“He was happy when START ratified. He wouldn’t stop gloating.”
“Haven’t you been listening? He agreed to the ratification only after I pushed him to do the right thing. You see, he gave up his weapons of mass destruction because I, in my unending humility and grace, was willing to do the same.”
It looked like Belarus just grimaced, but that couldn’t have been right. “It didn’t sound like you lead by example. It sounded like you embarrassed him into submission.”
Russia rolled her head and groaned. “Wasn’t it obvious? By the time I’d ripped into his soft, fragile ego, he was already persuaded by the power of my moral convictions. He just needed a little push.”
Belarus’s lip curled and she rolled her eyes, as sisters sometimes do. “If it helps you sleep at night.”
“Oh, no, of course not. That’s what the pills are for.”
While this was ridiculously biased, but the fundamentals are basically true. Russia and the US set out to reduce their nuclear arsenals and that would eventually lead to the New START Treaty. While America shows stubborn opposition to the treaty in this story, Obama seemed proud of his work on getting it ratified.
The featured image is not related to this story, but the other day one of my favorite podcasts started talking about Putin’s torso and how the “macho” persona is really integral to who he is as a leader. One thing led to another.
BTW none of these characters are actually “blood-related” (sans the Koreas) and use familial terms based only on things like culture, geography, and history.