WASHINGTON — Before Sept. 11, the Bush administration was ready to break out of the ABM Treaty, and Russia and China were ganging up to prevent that. Now, the American government is holding up on antimissile tests that might violate the treaty, and appears to be headed for an agreement with Russia allowing missile testing. Less important than the terms of the deal is the determination on both sides to make the deal.
Now, as in the past, a war is leading to a realignment of international relationships. World War I gave us the Wilsonian principle, which divided those countries that practiced democracy from those that did not. This standard foundered with the Fascist Italian invasion of Ethiopia and the Spanish civil war. World War II was followed by the drawing of a Communist-anti-Communist line that gave us the cold war, stretching from a coup in Guatemala to a hot war in Vietnam. After the Gulf War, the mantra was stability. Human rights violations in Saudi Arabia were to be tolerated, Iran contained, and even Saddam Hussein allowed to stay in place in the name of stability.
Now we are witnessing the early stages of a realignment around antiterrorism. The shift is visible not only in a changing big-power relationship. It could be seen in the parade of government heads through the White House. Ten of them came through in a one-month period from Sept. 18 until Oct. 15, from French President Jacques Chirac to Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, all vowing fidelity to the antiterrorist coalition.
The realignment is also visible in changing attitudes toward the Middle East and Central Asia. Pakistan, once valued as the staging area for the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, now raises hackles because of the pro-Taliban leanings of part of its population, reportedly including a couple of nuclear scientists. Saudi Arabia's long protection-buying flirtation with Osama bin Laden no longer goes unmentioned. Iran, long a pariah state, is now getting transshipments of American winter wheat for Afghanistan. Yemen, Sudan, and Libya seek better relations with the US.
Foreign aid priorities are being reexamined. The Bush administration is asking Congress to suspend a nine-year-old ban on military aid to Azerbaijan, introduced under pressure of the Armenian-American lobby. Secretary of State Colin Powell has pointed to Azerbaijan's help in providing overflight permission, air bases, and intelligence.
The changing pattern of America's international relationships is a work in progress. What seems clear is that alliances keyed to oil and ideology are no longer automatic in this time of terror.
Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at NPR.