The United States and Russia announced jointly April 1 that they are aiming to put a new nuclear arms treaty in place before the existing one expires in December.

The announcement caused a dramatic stir at the London site of the G-20 summit where the heads of state of the U.S., Russia and 18 other nations are grappling with the deepening crisis in the world’s economy. They were jubilant about the end of eight years during which former President Bush saw almost any international arms limitation agreement as a threat to the United States.

President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev issued a joint statement saying “the era when our countries viewed each other as enemies is long over.” They promised to reduce the planet’s two largest nuclear arsenals, and the White House also said Obama will visit Moscow this summer.

The Obama administration has said that it wants to repair the rift between the two nations that widened dramatically after the Bush administration decided to build a missile “defense system” in Eastern Europe that Moscow opposes.

The opening of a new type of U.S. relationship with Russia, peace movement leaders around the world have said, will require cancellation of the destabilizing missile defense system the Bush administration had planned for Poland and the Czech Republic.

Obama signaled what many think is his willingness to cancel those plans when he said recently that the U.S. should “not divert resources from other national security priorities until we are positive the technology will protect the American public.” The remark is seen as a de-facto decision to scrap the system since it hasn’t tested successfully against even the most crude decoys and countermeasures possessed now by many countries.

Obama has long supported the idea of total nuclear disarmament and has made many statements on foreign policy that indicate he is an opponent of the neo-conservatives who see the world as a backyard in which America should do whatever it wants.

Cold warriors have not given up, however, and have already attacked Obama for his peace overtures.

One such recent attack involved a “secret letter” from Obama to Medvedev that supposedly extended an offer for the U.S. to axe the missiles in Eastern Europe in exchange for Russian help in ending Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. Both Obama and Medvedev deny there was any such offer, and Obama said the letter wasn’t a secret and dealt with many issues including nuclear weapons.

Reinvented cold warriors who support expanding NATO to the very borders of Russia jumped on this. Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told the Washington Post that “Moscow will use our desire to bring the temperature down to its advantage, on issues such as Russia’s hegemony over the former Soviet republics on its borders.”

Republican leaders in the House and Senate told Obama, in a letter, that reaching out to Russia was “unwise and premature” and that it “undercuts our allies.”

Improved long-term relations with Russia, however, will require a halt to NATO expansion. Stopping NATO expansion will be critical also to fixing the world economy. Russia and the United States need to cooperate to solve mutual economic problems. The economies of Western Europe are in trouble and the economies of eastern and central Europe are on the verge of collapse. The economies in the Ukraine and in Georgia have all but totally collapsed. Stopping the expansion of NATO can only help, not hinder, the cooperation needed to solve the economic disasters.

The announcement by President Obama that he is increasing the number of troops that will be part of the US/NATO operation in Afghanistan does not help the overall situation. Thousands of protestors from over 20 European countries are expected to descend on the April 3-4 NATO summit in Baden-Baden and Kehl, Germany and Strasbourg, France.

While the gathering celebrates the 60th anniversary of an alliance formed to help destroy the old Soviet Union and France’s return to that alliance, some in attendance will put forward the idea of strengthening NATO as a new interventionist force around the world. The peace activists will put forward a different view, one that highlights global peace and elimination of the economic disasters in all of the world’s countries. They will see dissolution of NATO as key to achievement of those goals.