The Utility and Limits on the Use of Force in Antiterrorist Operations: The Lessons of Chechnya and Afghanistan

May 28, 2002 // 12:00am

In his presentation at the Kennan Institute, Emil Payin, Director of the Center for Ethnopolitical and Regional Studies at the INDEM Foundation, used a number of examples from American involvement in Afghanistan to illustrate how the Russian government should handle the current Chechen conflict. Payin focused on three principles that political leaders should consider when determining the use of military intervention in peacekeeping or antiterrorist operations involving religious or ethnic conflict.

Payin stated that political leaders should avoid conducting military operations (especially land operations) if such operations could last longer than one year. Citing the contrasting examples of American involvement in Afghanistan with the extended military presence of Russian troops in Chechnya, he explained that extended operations pose many problems for military and political leaders. Longer conflicts are more difficult to disengage and create an increase in tensions between local citizens and the intervening military. For example, the longer the guerilla war in Chechnya drags on, the more Russian troops begin to stereotype all Chechens as terrorists. U.S. involvement in Afghanistan has consisted of precise, limited action combined with support from local and international coalitions.

Payin's second principle centered on the idea that political leaders should refrain from using antiterrorist operations to impose control over ethnic or racial groups. He stated that Russia's primary aim in the conflict with Chechnya is to prevent it from seceding, rather than battling terrorism. The large network of Russian troops throughout Chechnya increases the number of contacts between Russian soldiers and Chechen citizens, which enhances the likelihood of violence between the two sides. Conversely, U.S. involvement in Afghanistan has focused on regional stabilization and building strong ties with the local Afghan leadership, rather than imposing control over the Afghan government. While the U.S. has received support from many Afghan tribal leaders, there has been very little assistance for Russian actions from local Chechen leaders.

Payin concluded that political leaders should refrain from using force if the cost of failure would be greater than inaction. If the current Russian antiterrorist campaign in Chechnya is unsuccessful, the Russian army could lose its ability to deter separatism not only in Chechnya, but in other republics as well. He stressed that the United States' thus far successful campaign against terrorism is extremely important because it provides a model for balancing the battle against terrorism with democratic values. According to Payin, the failure of the United States to effectively combat terrorists in Afghanistan could lead to an increase in terrorist attacks in other parts of the world, while the limitation of democratic freedoms in America could provide justification for authoritarian regimes to restrict their respective countries.

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