U.S. President Barack Obama's recent diplomatic effort to push past differences between the United States and Russia in order to seek cooperation on matters of mutual interest has a fascinating and little-known antecedent. In 1987, I received an unusual request. The Kremlin invited a group of American terrorism experts to come to Moscow. It said it wished to explore how the United States and the Soviet Union might cooperate in combating terrorism.
The idea seemed almost absurd. This was the bitter height of the Cold War. True, Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan had hit it off personally, and the two reached some surprising arms-control agreements. But personal cordiality did not extend to other areas of superpower competition. Many U.S. analysts suspected Moscow of backing terrorist campaigns in the Middle East and Western Europe. Meanwhile, the United States was redoubling its efforts to aid the mujahedeen in driving the occupying Soviet force from Afghanistan and backing Contra rebels against the Marxist Sandinistas who had, with Cuban assistance, taken over Nicaragua. Each side was accusing the other of sponsoring terrorism....
Brian Michael Jenkins, author of Will Terrorists Go Nuclear?, is senior advisor to the president of the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decision-making through research and analysis.
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This commentary originally appeared on ForeignPolicy.com on August 26, 2009.