Scene from the Boston Marathon bombing, April 16, 2013.
Aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, April 15, 2013.

Debate: Can Russia Be a Viable Counterterrorism Partner for the United States?

February 08, 2018
RM Staff

The upcoming fifth anniversary of the deadly Boston Marathon bombing serves as a reminder that U.S.-Russian counterterrorism cooperation was not easy even when the general relationship between the two countries was better than today. While no one disputes that Russia’s Federal Security Service sent information to the FBI about one of the perpetrators, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, back in 2011, U.S. officials have complained that Russia did not provide sufficient follow-up information and Moscow has responded that it gave all it had. In the decade before the bombing, the United States had been more interested in Russian intelligence sharing on al-Qaida, while Russia wanted information on émigré or exiled Chechens whom they suspected of supporting violent separatism—a disparity that complicated counterterrorism discussions.

We at Russia Matters have long believed that some of the most crucial questions related to U.S policies toward Russia have no easy answers and deserve to be debated by knowledgeable experts. Whether the U.S. should treat Russia as a viable counterterrorism partner is one such question. The two articles linked to below—the first exchange in a new series designed for just such debates—attempt to answer it.

RAND analyst Colin Clarke argues that “Russia is Not a Viable Counterterrorism Partner for the United States.” He cites practical difficulties in sharing classified intelligence, especially in the current atmosphere of mistrust between the two countries, and considers the argument that Moscow and Washington are fighting a common enemy—namely, militant Islamists—to be a specious one for cooperation: “A close look at the battles each is waging,” he writes, “reveals that Russia and the U.S. are fighting either different groups or the same groups but for different reasons and using very different approaches.” Clarke believes there is little Moscow can offer to the U.S. in the way of valuable intelligence or military support and, more importantly, that “Russia is America’s adversary and its actions, particularly attempts to fracture NATO, do not align with larger U.S. security goals.” In this context, calling Moscow a partner in the fight against terrorism, he writes, would hand it an undeserved public-relations victory.

Former CIA officer George Beebe disagrees. In his response, “Cooperate to Deescalate: Working With Russia Against Terrorism Will Make America Safer,” he cites evidence of fruitful U.S.-Russian security cooperation at times when relations were no warmer than now—beginning with World War II, on to the Cold War, and in the post-9/11 period. He writes that the U.S. has plenty of experience “protecting sensitive sources and methods in exchanges with foreign intelligence services” and can benefit from Russia’s strong capabilities, particularly in the regions from which many global terrorist threats now emanate. Finally, he believes that “pursuing a partnership with Russia against terrorism” would not “hand the Kremlin a tactical victory in its larger strategic war against us.” Geopolitically, Beebe writes, the U.S. “cannot prevent Russia’s rise” and “our vain efforts to punish and isolate Russia” have repeatedly hurt U.S. interests. Careful engagement, he concludes, “can help … incentivize an alternative Russian course that is more in alignment with U.S. interests.”

To read the full articles click above or here:

Russia is Not a Viable Counterterrorism Partner for the United States” by Colin Clarke

Cooperate to Deescalate: Working With Russia Against Terrorism Will Make America Safer” by George Beebe

Photo credit: Wikicommons photo by Aaron "tango" Tang shared under a CC BY 2.0 license.