Missing the Point

Two-thirds of the way through an assessment of the U.S. missile defence shield as “Russia’s Red Herring” in negotiations with a Washington administration that is sometimes seen as slow to put two and two together where foreign policy issues – particularly Russia-related ones – are concerned, Robert Amsterdam writes:

Washington’s failure to respond positively to Putin’s unprecedented security cooperation following 9/11 will go down as the greatest wasted opportunity in recent history.

One wonders whether Washington – or indeed any other Western government professing to uphold the values of democracy and human rights – could have responded positively to “security” initiatives by a regime that engendered the documented massacres committed by its armed forces in Chechnya and the North Caucasus, and – it now seems probable – the 1999 apartment bombings in Russia which killed several hundred innocent civilians and served as a pretext for the opening of the second Russian military campaign in Chechnya.


  1. Thanks for referencing the Amsterdam article – When Bob writes about Putin’s efforts to play nice with the Americans after 9/11, he generally refers to the flyover rights, not obstructing the U.S. presence in Central Asia, and briefly increased intelligence sharing. The argument (which probably should’ve been more explicit) is that the Bush administration probably could taken these opportunities to build a closer, more institutional relationship of rules and regularity with Moscow.

    As an international lawyer and a defender of human rights, Robert Amsterdam is the last person you would ever find defending the Russia government’s conduct in Chechnya. Besides, Bush indeed did not respond positively to anything from Russia, which hasn’t exactly helped the victims of Putinism, has it?

  2. Thank you for the clarification. I still find Robert Amsterdam’s statement – the one I quoted – puzzling, particularly in view of his avowed criticism of the Russian government’s conduct in Chechnya, which was surely the signal that its pledges of support for the “war on terror” could simply not be taken at face value, and raised huge questions about the possibility of Russian security co-operation with the West.

    As for Bush’s approaches to Putin – President Bush practically fell over himself in his attempts to be nice to him. “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.” (June 2001). Even after 9/11, Bush was the most prominent international voice advocating a place for Russia in the WTO. As far as I know, he is still on first-name terms with his buddy Vladimir. And Russia is currently being offered a role in the missile defence shield system, and a say in the affairs of NATO. It would be hard to get closer and more institutional than that.

  3. Wasn’t one of the goals of the Soviets during the Cold War to change the nature of the Soviet-NATO relationship, such that the USSR would no longer find NATO a barrier to expanding its influence into all of Europe?

    I believe the term for that particular goal is “convergence”. Can it be said that the same goal remains for Russia – a kind of convergence with NATO that would render NATO’s effectiveness to counter Russian expansionism useless?

  4. “And Russia is currently being offered a role in the missile defence shield system, and a say in the affairs of NATO.”

    I think that might be putting the cart in front of the horse. There is no real partnership on the missiles (Russia doesn’t want this tension to end), and it continues to view NATO as an enemy.

    Moscow is also pretty furious about post 9/11 NATO expansion. From 2002-2004, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania were all invited for membership talks, and then even Ukraine and Georgia said they were interested in joining up. Russia’s reaction to this perceived encirclement is well known: energy cut offs, accidentally dropped missiles on Georgia, resumption of bomber flights, and very angry and arrogant speeches at international security conferences. Also we may as well chalk up all kinds of other international obstruction, from Iran to Kosovo to Myanmar and Sudan.

    Amsterdam has never said that the Bush administration should have taken Russia’s talk about terror at face value – or any other aspect of U.S.-Russia relations that has anything to do with Chechnya. Bush’s Russia policy was an abject failure not only because he was friendly and naive with Putin, but because of his team’s incompetent mishandling of opportunities.

    The argument that Bush dropped the ball with Russia is not unique. The trenchant conservative Nicholas Gvosdev, with whom we disagree with passionately on many things, also pushes this view: http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=9253

  5. I’m surprised at some of these comments.

    For example, they indicate that you (and Amsterdam) consider that the enlargement of NATO to include the Baltic states was a mistake – which I can’t really believe that you do (or else I have seriously misapprehended Mr. Amsterdam’s views on global politics as they relate to the fomer Soviet Union). The “encirclement” argument was used extensively by pro-Kremlin ideologues during the run-up to the first waves of NATO and EU enlargement, and I don’t think you (or he) come under that category.

    They also suggest that you think that Russia – a state which recently, for more than a decade, was involved in a bloody war against its own citizens and has, even more recently, become party to acts of state-sponsored terrorism in Western countries, most notably the United Kingdom and Estonia – is “pretty furious” and must now be appeased. as it has acquired some kind of invincible gas-powered strength against which resistance is futile.

    That’s essentially what Gvosdev is arguing, as far as I can see. Do you agree with him?

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