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East/West: Analysis From Washington -- An Anti-Terrorist Alliance?

  • Paul Goble

Washington, 4 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Moscow's suggestion last week that Uighurs from Xinjiang are now fighting in Chechen units against Russian troops appears to be part of a larger Russian policy drive to craft an anti-terrorism alliance among the major powers.

There are several reasons for this conclusion. First of all, Beijing has become increasingly concerned by the rising tide of Uighur-led challenges to its rule in Xinjiang or what many Uighurs call East Turkestan. By suggesting that Russia is now fighting in Chechnya China's Uighur enemies, Moscow officials obviously hope to gain greater understanding from Beijing about what Russia is doing in Chechnya. Moreover, unlike earlier charges by Russian military officials, this latest claim does not involve individuals from countries in the Middle East with which Moscow recently has been trying to improve its ties. And finally the report last week by Russian media about Uighur participation follows Russian efforts to enlist American support and understanding for Moscow's actions not only in Chechnya but against the Taliban.

Indeed, in an interview on Wednesday, Russia's Permanent Representative to the United Nations Sergei Lavrov said that Russian-American cooperation on a Security Council resolution imposing additional sanctions on the Taliban of Afghanistan showed what could be done when the major powers work together in what he called "the struggle against international terrorism."

Certainly no government wants to appear to be against fighting terrorism, and consequently, Russian diplomats have, as Ambassador Lavrov makes clear, achieved important successes in working out agreement on what would seem to be a universally accepted proposition. Moreover, as he also suggested, Russia has been able to use this issue to expand its participation in discussions about security issues.

But intentionally or not, Moscow's drive to define the basic challenge of the international community as being the struggle against terrorism entails certain risks for the future. Not only are there fundamental differences among the major powers over what is terrorism or who is a terrorist, but there are significant disagreements over what is the best response to terrorist acts and what is the best way to prevent terrorism as such.

Russia's diplomatic drive on this point clearly seeks to include under the single rubric of terrorism a wide variety of phenomena, ranging from efforts at national self-determination in Chechnya and Xinjiang to actions like the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole or those sponsored by suspected Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden against American institutions in the Middle East. And such a grouping carries an implicit suggestion that they merit a common response.

Even when there may be widespread agreement over how to respond to a particular action, however, many governments diverge on what should be done to prevent further actions that they may qualify as terrorist. Some believe that the secret lies in sharing intelligence about individuals and groups identified as terrorists.

Others believe that demonstrating a willingness to use force every time will lead most of those who may be thinking about engaging in violence to change their ways. And still others argue that some of the underlying social and political conditions that often appear to lie behind terrorism must be addressed if such political violence is to finally be overcome.

If the new international agreement that Moscow has been promoting about the need to struggle against terrorism prompts the members of this anti-terrorist coalition to reflect about these differences and to develop specific approaches to specific problems, it will almost certainly make a contribution to the fight against such violence.

But if it leads to a blurring of these distinctions among various acts of violence and thus to a blurring of distinctions about what is the best way to combat it, then this new anti-terrorist coalition could easily, if unintentionally, contribute to the very problem it seeks to overcome, leading not to a diminution of violence but rather to its further spread.

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