War creates unexpected alliances, and in the war on terrorism none has been more surprising than the growing closeness between America and Russia. For the first time in our lives, a chance exists to forge deep strategic, economic, and cultural ties between these former enemies. President Bush and President Vladimir V. Putin should grab the opportunity when they meet for a summit on Nov. 12. A U.S.-Russian alliance is of such historic scope that it could shape world events beneficially for years to come. Indeed, the war on terrorism and a U.S.-Russian pact to fight it might well define much of the early 21st century.
The chances of a deal are good. Unlike his predecessors, Putin is not coming to Washington with a begging bowl, but with real assets. In America's battle with Islamic fundamentalists, Russia can offer geography, energy, and a willingness to fight terrorism. Its 11-time-zone land mass borders the Middle East and Central Asia. Oil output is second only to Saudi Arabia's, with huge reserves. Its KGB, which acted through the Stasi in East Germany (where Putin was stationed) to finance terrorism in the cold war, still retains good intelligence contacts. Russia has expertise in bioterrorism--with deep knowledge of anthrax. And it has for centuries battled Islamic expansionism on its southern flank.
Russia also holds the key to Bush's plan to ditch the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and build a new missile-defense system. If the U.S. and Russia can agree to a sharp cut in the number of nuclear warheads each side holds, to 1,500, Putin will sign on. The Europeans have said they will follow suit. This would be a big win for Bush.
America also has plenty of chips to bring to the table. Putin desperately needs investment and technology to modernize his country's economy. The U.S. can offer this and more. It can help Russia 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.
A U.S.-Russian alliance would change global geopolitics. It would end the Chinese attempt to cozy up to Russia to bolster its power vis-à-vis America. It would elevate Russia's status to the U.S. as perhaps the most important country in Europe after Britain. It might even mean the eventual transformation of NATO from a military to a political organization that Russia would join.
Throughout its history, Russia has vacillated between East and West--torn between joining an open world system and retreating into continental isolationism, between Western democratic values and traditional authoritarianism. Even now, there are strong forces within Russia opposing Putin's rapprochement with the West. After the fall of communism, the U.S. and Russia stumbled badly in their efforts to find common ground. Now both countries have a second chance. Bush and Putin should seize it and make history.