Safety at the Olympic Games

This is the link to a piece written by Micah Zenko, which appeared on the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) website.

Zenko reveals the obstacles and lack of cooperation between the United States and Russia in ensuring safety and protection at the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, in the face of terrorist threats made by Chechen militant groups. The lack of cooperation between both nations stems from what Zenko describes as “the reciprocal distrust between Russia and U.S. counterterrorism and intelligence agencies.”

The article explains that Russia and the United States are both reluctant and unwilling to provide certain information or intelligence which could help stop terrorist attacks, such as jamming technology which would disable radio-signal car bombs, because both nations fear that any information they provide could be used against them by the other.   Clearly, this is an issue that policymakers on both sides need to consider and a greater level of cooperation must be reached in order to keep people safe.

In his second chapter, Pamment delves into the realm of public diplomacy by studying its historical role as well as its future in an age of globalization and interdependence among nations, transnational organizations, and other non-state actors. Pamment argues that cooperation amongst these entities is extremely important, particularly in the case of international security. He states: “Concerns to international security such as terrorism and climate change demand multilateral action through coalitions of like-minded nations and transnational groups” (p. 28).   

How should US policymakers proceed in ensuring the safety of Americans who will be in Sochi for the Olympics, without compromising vital intelligence? Americans, both athletes and tourists traveling to Russia, are encouraged to not display signs of being American (Olympians are told to not wear their US team jackets out in public, for example). What else has been put in place, or should be done, in order to ensure people’s safety? Should transnational organizations get involved in this issue, with the idea that safety and security are the quintessential elements to consider? I am interested to hear what you all think!

5 thoughts on “Safety at the Olympic Games”

  1. Thanks for such a succinct and thoughtful post! I think this is not only a very timely topic to discuss, but also an overarching issue in IR policy for the future.

    The United States, and our allies abroad have been grappling with the issue of how to respond and react to the actions of non-government actors for at least the last 13 years. We all insist that terrorist cells are not affiliated with particular nation-states, but they operate within State borders, making it difficult to accurately and appropriately address them without stepping on the toes of the host government (whether or not said government supports them directly or indirectly).

    So how do we deal with this in terms of the Olympics? Interesting question to pose. It seems to me that since the Olympic Games are an international event, the entire international community needs to have a stake in the safety and security—not merely the U.S. and Russia. While it is true that the host country does have more responsibility than others for creating and maintaining the security infrastructure, in today’s times of NGAs, the international community must engage in information sharing and security cooperation, or events like the Olympics will not be able to continue.

    It would be a shame to necessitate each country bringing their own security forces to protect their athletes. It would be a waste of resources to use UN forces for security. But it’s an equal waste of time and energy for the U.S. and Russia to argue over how best to protect athletes and spectators. There needs to be more cooperation, after all isn’t that one of the points of the Olympic Games—to foster international cooperation?

    To close, it is my personal opinion that Sochi was a poor choice on the part of the Olympic Committee. I believe it is important to consider the security risks before choosing a location for the Games, rather than assuming that the host country can provide the level of security and safety necessary at a high stakes international event. How can any one government, police force, military force, be able to combat terrorism? Its impossible. But the Olympic committee can do a better job at using a location for the Games that is not in a hotbed of terrorist activities.

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