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Debate: US-Russian cooperation on counter-terrorism

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Is US-Russian cooperation on counter-terrorism possible and desirable?

Background and context

War creates unexpected alliances, and the war on terrorism gave a good opportunity for growing closeness between America and Russia. For the first time, a chance exists to forge deep strategic, economic, and cultural ties between these former enemies. For the first time since the end of World War II, Russia and America have a common enemy: international terrorism. Both countries are interested in the reduction of nuclear weapons and in making each other’s military policies transparent. The USA and newly capitalist Russia will also benefit greatly from broader economic cooperation. During their summit of May 17 2002 in Moscow, the presidents of both countries, Vladimir Putin and George Bush, agreed on cutting down their nuclear arsenals by two-thirds, bringing the number of warheads to about 2,000 each. However, less than a month later the USA withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Missile Treaty, and the next day Russia left the nuclear arms reduction pact Start II. American diplomats also point to Russian cooperation with Iran, one of the “rogue states”, while the Kremlin draws Vladimir Putin’s attention to the US activities in the Central Asia and to NATO enlargement, as a proof that you cannot build friendly ties with the United States. Long-term differences over how to treat Iraq have also recently come to a head.Thus, Russian-American relations are much more complicated under the surface than they seem to be ostensibly.

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Argument #1

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Yes

It is natural and necessary for two of the biggest countries in the world to cooperate. The legacy of the cold war ended long ago. The war on terrorism was a push that helped two states and the world community to realize that. It is also important that two countries have elected new Presidents who quickly became on nickname terms. They are both young and willing to engage with each other. Personal factors are particularly important for Bush. The dialogue between Russia and the US shows how good relations between leaders can turn policies in a positive direction.

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No

For 50 years the world stayed bipolar. After the USSR had split, a Russian Federation that was very weak economically, politically, and even culturally, lost its influence in the international political arena. However, ten years later, an independent Russia with an elected young president wants to take part in the decision-making process on the major security issues, and this, not solidarity with the US or good relations between two presidents, is the main reason why Putin re-oriented Russia’s foreign policy. Russia was really dissatisfied with the NATO military operation that began in the former Yugoslavia in 1999, without any real Russian participation in the decision-making process. Russia wants to re-establish the world order not along with the United States, but alone and in spite of the wish of the United States.

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Argument #2

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Yes

Stable good relations between two superpowers make the world much safer. By making their military policies transparent for each other, they can balance and control each other’s military potential, especially in nuclear weapons. The world community relies on the United States and Russia in the war on international terrorism. Russia's territory is vital; Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and North Korea are all near neighbours. The KGB and its successor agencies have monitored the activities of Islamic groups on Russia's borders for years, and this intelligence has been shared with the USA in the campaign against Al Qaeda.

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No

This alliance is definitely beneficial for the Russian and American governments in allowing gross violations of international human rights to go unchecked: for Russia, by conducting its war in Chechnya, and for the US, by starting wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East. They have just untied each other’s hands by signing a statement about a 'new strategic structure' during their Moscow summit of May 17 2002. Thus, such an alliance does not make the world any safer and it is just an alliance of convenience for the period of the war on terrorism.

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Argument #3

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Yes

There is a huge potential for economic cooperation between two of the biggest states in the world. Putin desperately needs investment and technology to modernize his country's economy. The USA can offer this and more. It can help Russia to get into the World Trade Organization, which would integrate it into the global economy and put pressure on Russian companies to drop their corrupt ways and adopt modern modes of operation. Russia also has plenty of chips to bring to the table. Pumping seven million barrels a day, Russia is second only to the Saudis in oil production. The Bush team sees Russia as a source for crude oil should U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia deteriorate, this is why on the eve of Moscow summit in May, 2002, a $140-billion contract was awarded to a subsidiary of the US giant Exxon to upgrade Russia's Orlan oil platform.

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No

Good economic relations are possible only as long as long as Bush believes that Putin is genuinely trying hard to bring Russia’s economy into line with the Western world. When Putin changes his tactics, Russia will stop getting any private foreign investments. Furthermore, the instruments of international monetary policy, such as the World Bank, are in the hands of the USA. Thus, Russia will be developing at the rate and up to the level that the US will allow it to. If today President Putin, seeking foreign leaders’ support, is satisfied with such a situation, this does not mean that it corresponds to the Russian oligarchs’ will: the very people who control Russia's energy assets are the ones resisting changes to facilitate foreign investment, especially American, because they know that foreign investments mean foreign control too. On top of everything, President Putin does not cease to emphasise that the country’s economic interests will always determine Russian foreign policy. These economic interests include, amongst other things, close trade links with Iraq, and exporting weapons and nuclear technology to China and Iran - even though this irritates the West. Thus, close economic cooperation between two states whose economies are driven by very different goals is improbable.

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Argument #4

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Yes

In the new conditions of today's post-Cold War, post-September 11 world, the political presumptions that require a substantial reliance on nuclear forces do not exist, and, in fact, cannot exist. Russia and the United States now must jointly face a host of wider problems, from environmental degradation to the growth of ethnic violence, and the challenges to nation-states posed by globalization. Global problems are not decreasing, but, quite the opposite, there are new ones looming on the horizon; this will forge a long-term close economic, scientific and political relationship between Russia and the United States.

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No

The contradictions between Russian and U.S. interests will always exist. The United States is not Russia's ally, and one can confidently predict that it never will be. While politically the two countries sometimes need each other temporarily to face global challenges, as long as it does not harm them politically or economically, militarily they will remain positioned as strategic enemies. America's relations with Russia will never resemble its relations with France or Great Britain. U.S. strategic nuclear planning will always envisage a potential Russian nuclear attack on targets on American territory. Likewise, Russian planners will not rule out an American attack on Russian targets.

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