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Western Press Review: The Nature Of Terrorism And How To Combat It

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 21 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis in the Western press continues to examine the aftermath of the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington. As the United States seeks to build a coalition for its newly declared "war on terrorism," many commentators consider the nature of terrorism and the options available to combat it.


An analysis in "The Economist" compares the new political thinking emerging in the United States since the attacks to its Cold War-era approach to defense. The magazine says the war against terrorism is as all-embracing a struggle as the effort to contain communism, and may come to represent many of the same things -- "a means of ordering defense priorities and national budgets at home; a way of organizing political and diplomatic power abroad; a new focus for old institutions and an organizing concept for new ones. Above all, a way of telling friend from foe."

In seeking allies, the editorial continues, the United States has made it clear that it is using a "new benchmark" to judge their commitment. "The Economist" quotes Secretary of State Colin Powell as saying that how allied governments respond to U.S. requests for help in fighting terrorism "will be a means by which we measure our relationship with them in the future."


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Daniel Warner of the Institute of International Studies in Geneva examines the underlying causes of terrorism and methods of combating it. Terrorism, he says, "is the activity of the dispossessed, the voiceless, in a radically asymmetrical distribution of power. [Growth] in inequalities of wealth and lack of political access lead to frustration which eventually leads to aggression, violence and terrorism."

Warner goes on to suggest that traditional reactions to the threat posed by terrorism are out of place here. He says: "Closing borders [and] putting up missile shields are geo-political reactions harkening back to images of the Middle Ages' walls and fortresses, and do not respond to future cyber interference or chemical/biological terrorism." He adds that the use of force will probably not succeed and questions why there has been so little mention of international law in reacting to the attacks. To speak instead of repealing the ban on political assassinations, he says, "flies in the face of the values the United States claims it champions and [which] are under attack [from terrorism]."


The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" carries an editorial on the implications facing the U.S. in fashioning a coalition to combat terrorism. This, the paper says, will lead to a broader base and provide the campaign with legitimacy, but militarily it will be cumbersome. What is important, the editorial says, is the cooperation of the countries in the Middle and Far East, without whom Afghanistan will be unconquerable. On the other hand, the editorial argues, the larger the coalition, the smaller the common denominator will be regarding the manner and intensity of the struggle against terrorism. A larger pool of diverse interests will have to be taken into account, notably the position of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, where the presence of American troops gives rise to virulent anti-Americanism. The editorial says: "Bush will therefore have to use great discretion in forging a coalition and suffer the costs with patience."


An editorial in France's "Le Monde" writes of the new "war economy." As the United States prepares a response to the 11 September attacks, it is also undertaking a series of large-scale initiatives to support the economy. Laissez-faire economic policy is no longer at issue, it says.

"From the day after the attacks, the central bank injected $190 million in liquidity to avoid pressure in financial circuits -- [this] amount will reach $300 million in a few days," the paper writes. "Le Monde" also notes that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has announced that it will also take measures to aid the aviation industry, which is experiencing the most repercussions after the attacks.

The editorial observes that at the time of the attacks, financial markets had already lost hope for a recovery by the end of this year. Waves of layoffs had also begun to undermine the morale of consumers, what it calls "the last engine" still propelling U.S. economic growth. Now, consumption has given way to the safety reflex -- saving.

"A recession is inevitable," the paper writes, "but its dimension and duration remain indefinite." The paper advises that the U.S. must do everything it can to avoid a depression that would resound around the world, and adds that everything now depends on the U.S. military response and its consequences.


In Britain's "Financial Times," Irena Guzelova writes from Belgrade that politicians in the Balkans "are concerned that [the 11 September] attack on the United States might derail efforts to rebuild their countries' shattered economies and bring stability to the region." They fear that, just as the first signs of macroeconomic stability are starting to appear, these developments "will be snuffed out amid fears of a global recession and falling markets."

This fear is underscored by a perception that the Bush administration seeks to minimize U.S. involvement overseas. Guzelova remarks that the U.S. administration "has made no secret of its desire to [let] the Europeans take over" in the region. She says that while the U.S. "has been quick to assuage concerns about current funding, [U.S.] officials say future pledges may be reduced." She quotes an unnamed Yugoslav official as saying, "I don't think people realize just how huge the implications of this crisis are. We still don't have any real concrete pledge for foreign cooperation, and this will postpone everything."


"Europe must not waver," says an editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung." It says the terrorist attack on the United States has shaken the EU out of its lassitude. In Brussels, numerous crisis meetings are being held to discuss security issues and police cooperation, as well as further political unity in Europe. "For Europe," the editorial says, "the time is over for a wait-and-see policy and the employment of [old] tactics."

It writes: "The [European] community cannot stand aside now that the U.S. is mobilizing all forces to combat terrorism. The ever-affirmed transatlantic partnership is not a one-way street. After all, the Europeans are still in the best position to prevent the U.S. from launching imprudent attacks."

The only drawback, the editorial says, is that the EU is badly prepared. The dilemma of the Nice Treaty -- which is meant to clear the way for eastward expansion of the EU -- personifies the political stagnation. There has been no progress in the decision-making structure. Nothing has been settled regarding a common foreign and security policy. And the current proposals made by the EU commission for combating terrorism constitute only a minimal program to coordinate the persecution of crime.


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," analyst Vladimir Socor suggests that involving Russia in Western anti-terrorist operations may be of dubious value. He writes: "Russia has loudly said 'Nyet' to those countries, from Georgia in the Caucasus to Uzbekistan in Central Asia, who have offered to participate in American-led measures against international terrorism. This is only one among many examples of how Moscow has displayed less interest in fighting terrorism than in exploiting it, particularly in its own region."

Socor says that Russia is seeking to gain from present circumstances and reassert its own influence in the region. He notes that the Georgian and Uzbek presidents had announced that they would approve American or NATO requests for air corridors and land facilities in Georgia and Uzbekistan as part of anti-terrorism operations, and that Kazakhstan has given similar positive signals. He writes: "The Kremlin, however, has its own priorities. Keeping the West out of those independent countries and restoring Moscow's dominance over them are goals that take precedence over effective efforts against international terrorism."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this press review)