Alexander's Column

Winning the arms race

Mark Alexander · May 31, 2002

This week, as Mark Twain reminded us, “Life is just one damn thing after another.” The ink was barely dry on the nuclear arms reduction pact President Bush signed with Russian President Vladimir Putin late last week – acknowledging the end to the Cold War’s bristling nuclear standoff – when tensions over the Terror War’s nukes ratcheted upward. And the domestic outcry had barely died down over possible alerts of the impending 9-11 attacks, when more ignored warnings surfaced to fan the flurry again.

On Tuesday, President Bush along with the leaders of the 18 other NATO nations met in Rome to sign the agreement for a NATO-Russia Joint Council, formally – and ironically – recognizing Russia as an honorary member of the Cold War alliance. NATO Secretary General George Robertson recognized the historic significance of the new alliance: “What’s happening today turns completely on its head everything we’ve lived with up to now because here is the Russian president as an equal, round this table today. … The responsibility and the credit for today’s meeting, which by any measure is historic, lies with the president of the United States. He took an opportunity, he took the unique cooperation that happened after the 11th of September, and made it into something that looks to the future, builds a base for future cooperation with what were the former adversaries.” The bilateral arrangement allows Moscow to weigh in on issues important to all parties, especially international antiterrorism efforts and WMD nonproliferation, though the Russian state will not be able to veto NATO decisions. President Bush touted the moment as a diplomatic milestone, saying, “Today marks an historic achievement for a great alliance and a great European nation. … Two former foes are now joined as partners, overcoming 50 years of division and a decade of uncertainty.”

President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a joint statement after their summit, reaffirming their commitment to fight terrorism “in all its forms wherever it may occur,” noting: “A successful campaign against terrorism must be conducted by nations through bilateral, regional, and multilateral cooperation, and requires a multifaceted approach that employs law enforcement, intelligence, diplomatic, political, and economic actions.” They stressed that antiterror initiatives “must be conducted in an atmosphere of rule of law and with respect for universal human rights.”

Regarding “bilateral, regional, and multilateral cooperation,” there are now 37 countries providing engaged in the war against Jihadistan, and others nations are providing law enforcement resources and exerting diplomatic pressure.

President Bush’s European tour attracted some protesters, particularly during his visit to Germany. Taking a cue from the French, who quickly forgot who saved their derrieres in WWII, a growing number of reunified Germans have forgotten who saved their keisters from their Cold War Stasi commissars. (Perhaps the protestors have not seen German intelligence analysis concluding that al-Qa'ida still has active terrorist cells in Germany with substantial capabilities.)

On the overseas war fronts, Jihadis fleeing across the border from Afghanistan into Pakistan have fanned out into cities to foment further terror troubles, even linking up with the Kashmiri separatists running up tensions with nuclear neighbor India. President Pervez Musharraf has been moving soldiers to the eastern faceoff with India, away from the western border where they had plugged escape routes for al-Qa'ida and Tailban terrorists. Hostilities between these two Third World nuclear powers could get very hot very fast. They have historic rivalries commensurate with those of Jews and Palestinians (even though Pakistan and Israel were not political entities until 1947 and 1948 respectively, compliments of the Brits). President Bush is sending Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to the region in an effort to assuage those hostilities.

Former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn assessed the gravity of the situation there and elsewhere: “We are in a new arms race. Terrorists and certain states are racing to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and we ought to be racing together [with Russia] to stop them.”

And a poignant reminder of why we need to win this race: Tuesday evening, workers at New York’s Ground Zero cut down the last standing steel beam of the World Trade Center towers. Arduous recovery efforts ended this week, with solemn remembrances Thursday marking the event. The earthly remains of fewer than 40% of the victims are identified to date, and the recovery workers no less than the victims’ families need our prayers for their comfort and their own recovery from the harrowing and daunting experiences these long months.

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