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Diplomatic Fault Lines Shift With Terror War


WASHINGTON — A decade ago, Russia's nuclear missiles were a mortal threat to the United States and Afghanistan was a backward country that Americans could safely ignore. Now, Afghanistan is the focus of U.S. foreign policy and Russia is an increasingly close ally whose nuclear arsenal is shrinking.

That seemingly abrupt change was dramatized Wednesday when President Bush welcomed Russian President Vladimir V. Putin to his Texas ranch after talks on joint action against terrorism as well as nuclear arms control.

To some, the week's tumultuous events are evidence that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon changed "everything"--at least, everything in U.S. foreign policy.

"Since the end of the Cold War, we've been looking for a central organizing principle for our national security policy," said Terry L. Deibel, a professor at the National War College. "The war on terrorism isn't another Cold War, . . . but as a central organizing threat, it's pretty close."

But in other ways, Deibel and other scholars argue, the striking images of the past week are not just products of Sept. 11. They also reflect long-term trends that have been gathering strength for years.

"American policy was already changing," Deibel said. "But Sept. 11 radically accelerated the change."

Among the changes: The world's main fault line is no longer between East and West, democracy and communism, but between successful states and failing ones. Economic globalization has made successful states richer, but it has also made it easier for terrorists who might be angry at the U.S. dominance to strike around the world.

At least one rule of the new world politics is a very old one: When you're in a fight, it's good to have an ally or two.

So is another: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Thus the Bush administration has moved swiftly to adjust its foreign policy to the demands of the war on terrorism. Language that smacks of U.S. unilateralism is out; alliances and coalitions are in.

And Russia, although no longer a superpower, is still a major player.

"This may be a new world we're in, but Russia still matters more than any other country," said Michael Mandelbaum of the Council on Foreign Relations think tank. "In the 21st century, we may be concerned more with rogue-state mosquito-bite issues, but Russia's connected to all of them. They border on the most dangerous parts of the world. They are the world's largest repository of dangerous material. On the issues we care about, all roads lead to Moscow."

The war on terrorism has impelled the Bush administration to strike tactical alliances with other countries in the region as well: Pakistan, which until last month was the target of U.S. sanctions because of its decision to build nuclear weapons; Uzbekistan, which has faced complaints over its human rights record; and even Iran, which is getting cordial U.S. attention despite its place on the State Department's list of terrorist-supporting nations.

But the alliance with Russia may be the most tangled.

Before Sept. 11, Bush was headed toward a confrontation with Putin over U.S. plans to abrogate the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty, which Russia wants to preserve. After Sept. 11, the Bush administration's rhetoric quieted noticeably, and the two countries discussed ways the United States could stage limited tests of missile defense systems without breaching the treaty.

Earlier, U.S. officials said this week's meetings in Crawford, Texas, were a virtual deadline for Russia to accept the U.S. position; now the deadline has slipped.

Meanwhile, the two presidents agreed with relative ease to dramatic cuts in their nuclear arsenals, achieved not through laborious negotiations but simply by ordering thousands of missiles and bombs destroyed. "This is a hugely important and positive thing," said Strobe Talbott, who managed U.S.-Russian relations for President Clinton. "I think Bush genuinely and sincerely wants Russia on our side on the big issues."

As important as Bush's approach, Talbott added, is Putin's decision to put Russia firmly on the side of the United States.

"I was astonished by the decisiveness with which he seized upon Sept. 11 as a pretext for bringing Russia more into line with the West--and for putting to rest some previously intractable issues," Talbott said.

"The notion that the Russians would acquiesce, as they have, to the deployment of American troops [in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan] on the territory of the former Soviet Union . . . is amazing."

The real test of the effect of Sept. 11 will come in the choices the Bush administration makes after the war in Afghanistan ends, these scholars said.

Will Bush increase U.S. aid to Russia's sputtering economy, to make sure Russia joins the ranks of successful nations? Will he turn a blind eye toward Russian military misconduct in Chechnya?

"We're going to get ourselves in all kinds of trouble if we say that anything our allies do is OK," Talbott said.

Will Bush pursue the war on terrorism with military action against Iraq, Sudan or Somalia?

"One thing Sept. 11 has changed is that it's now much easier for the president to send troops into harm's way," Mandelbaum said.

"If Bush goes to the country and says putting troops on the ground against Iraq is what we have to do in the war against terrorism, he'll get a lot of support."

Will Bush put pressure on Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians in a way that goes beyond what he was already planning before September? "How hard are they going to push the Israelis?" Deibel asked.

"That's a litmus test on how central an organizing principle the whole terrorist threat is."

And will the administration still listen to its allies if Osama bin Laden is brought down? "One of the big questions is whether the change from unilateralism to multilateralism is a one-night stand," Talbott said.

"Do they really love the rest of the world? And will they respect the rest of the world the morning after?"

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