U.S. Foreign Policy and Chechnya

Chechnya has been and remains one of the greatest stains in Russia's efforts to move toward a more open and democratic system . The Chechen wars, as Professor Michael
McFaul of Stanford University reminds us in this important essay, "rank as the most serious scars of Russia's troubled transition." Since 1994 these wars, with their vast destruction and terrible human rights abuses, have also posed an enormous policy (and moral) problem for American administrations intent on trying to better integrate Russia into the Western community of nations. Dealing with Chechnya has aroused much debate in and out of the US government-a debate that over the years has sadly declined.

In 2001 the Stanley Foundation and the Century Foundation established a task force to look at the broad question of the impact of American domestic political forces on US-Russia relations. (A report was issued in October 2002.) The first subject the task force discussed was Chechnya, which we labeled "the dog that did not bark." Professor McFaul made an impressive oral presentation on US policy on Chechnya, which we asked him to expand and bring up to date. This essay is the result, a detailed analysis of US policy from the Clinton to Bush administrations and the impact on that policy from forces within Congress and from the NGO community who tried to generate greater public debate and secure a tougher American response toward Russia's actions in Chechnya.

McFaul's tale is a sad one. Its bottom line is that US policy has had little impact on Russia's behavior in Chechnya. Similarly, while many like Senator Jesse Helms fought very hard to toughen policy, domestic political forces had little impact on changing it.