Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 167

The September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon continued yesterday to reshape thinking about the existing global security system. They also began to force governments around the world to choose the particular role they will play in what looks to be an emerging war on centers of international terrorism. The Bush administration took its first steps to lead that global effort with a speech by President George W. Bush in which he described the attacks as “acts of war” and promised a “monumental struggle” against their perpetrators. Meanwhile, top administration officials yesterday also launched into the more practical tasks involved in lining up governments around the world behind Washington’s efforts. Bush himself placed telephone calls to leaders of the other four permanent UN Security Council member states–Britain, China, France and Russia–while Secretary of State Colin Powell conferred with officials from a host of other countries. NATO allies aided Washington’s efforts by agreeing in Brussels to invoke the alliance’s mutual defense clause for the first time in history. The decision opens the way for a possible collective military response to the Tuesday attacks.

In Moscow, yesterday’s developments appeared to confirm a number of Russian observers in their belief that the attacks and the Bush administration’s determination to retaliate against those responsible could pave the way toward an era of greatly increased cooperation with Washington. The potential for joint Russian-U.S. action in a war against terrorism was evidenced in part by separate telephone conversations Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov held yesterday with both U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.

Potentially more revealing, however, were remarks from top officials in each of Russia’s main intelligence organizations. Sergei Lebedov, head of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), was quoted as saying that his service was working closely with agencies in the United States, Europe and the Middle East to prevent new terrorist attacks. A spokesman for the Federal Security Service (FSB)–Russia’s main counterintelligence agency and, like the SVR, a successor to the Soviet-era KGB–spoke in similar terms. He suggested that, while the FSB has had some differences in the past with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency over how best to deal with terrorist threats, “we firmly say now that we can smash this evil only by pooling our efforts.” Experts are said to believe that, whatever the current weaknesses of Russia’s intelligence services, they may be able to provide their U.S. counterparts with some useful information, particularly with regard to the situation in Afghanistan and, potentially, the activities of Osama bin Laden. Just as the United States has blamed bin Laden for several earlier terrorist attacks against American targets and believes him to be the prime suspect in this week’s deadly operation, so Russia has charged that he is involved in training and supporting the Chechen rebels against whom it is battling in the Caucasus.

Close cooperation with Washington in a new war against terrorism offers Moscow several obvious benefits. For one, including Russia as a significant player in a broader U.S.-led international alliance constructed for this purpose would raise Moscow’s prestige diplomatically and potentially increase its influence in other areas. Close Russian-U.S. cooperation in battling terrorism could likewise bring Moscow some American support in Russia’s own face-off with Islamic insurgents in Central Asia. It might also help, as many Russian analysts are now surmising, to force some currently problematic issues in Russian-U.S. bilateral issues onto the backburner. One of the most important of those is Russia’s bloody war in Chechnya. Although Washington has muted its criticism of Russian operations in Chechnya as part of its effort to reach an accommodation on missile defense, the issue nonetheless remains a point of friction in Moscow’s relations with all the major NATO countries. In the wake of the attacks on New York and Washington, the Kremlin’s maximum goal in this area is probably to win legitimization for its military operations in the Caucasus as part of an international war against terrorism. But it will probably not be too disappointed if these most recent events lead Western nations to simply put aside the issue of Chechnya as they move to increase cooperation with Moscow in a broader assault on terrorist centers.

Some in Moscow appear also to believe that the September 11 events could aid the Kremlin in opposing U.S. missile defense plans. The nature of the attacks have already led a number of commentators in the United States and other countries to raise new questions about the utility of a future U.S. national ballistic missile defense system. But the Bush administration may face a more immediate decision: Does it make sense to continue pushing for international acceptance of U.S. missile defense plans–which are unpopular in a number of key foreign capitals around the globe–while it is trying to line up many of the same governments behind its push to strike back at international terrorism? The issue is likely to become more difficult for Washington if, in the weeks ahead, it moves to launch some sort of retaliatory military strikes. Although governments around the globe were quick to express solidarity with the United States following Tuesday’s strikes, there is no guarantee that they will all back a hard-hitting U.S. military response. Against this background, and absent a major shift in broader Russian-U.S. ties, Moscow would seem to have no incentive to alter its current opposition to the Bush administration’s missile defense plans (Moscow Times, International Herald Tribune, September 13; Izvestia.ru, Reuters, AP, AFP, September 12).