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Western Press Review: Building A Global Coalition And Targeting Terrorism's Financiers

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 14 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press today and over the weekend emphasizes the importance of international coalition-building in waging a successful campaign against terrorism. As military options are weighed under a veil of secrecy, several commentators stress the importance of singling out financial targets to dry up the sources of funding for terrorist organizations.


A "Financial Times" editorial says European Union leaders sent out two vital signals at their emergency terrorism summit on 21 September. First, they showed their solidarity with the U.S. Second, they ordered urgent and long-overdue measures to make the struggle against terrorism more effective.

The editorial says that these developments "should provide Washington with welcome reassurance that Europe sees the attacks not simply as an assault on America, but on all open, democratic, and multicultural societies." It adds: "The response should be united, too. It should result in much closer and swifter cooperation [both] within Europe and across the Atlantic. That will require increased exchange of intelligence, greater trust between allies, and mutual support against terrorist threats."

The editorial goes on to consider the proposal to implement a common European arrest warrant to enable the speedy extradition of suspected terrorists. The paper warns: "This is not the moment to enact a single European judicial space in haste. It will be hard enough to ensure that in stepping up anti-terrorist measures, fundamental rights and freedoms remain guaranteed, as the summit rightly requires."

The editorial concludes: "[This] is a common struggle to defend universal values of tolerance, openness and justice. The challenge is to wage an unstinting war on global terrorism without harming those values."


Writing in "Frankfurter Rundschau," Martin Winter considers the crucial role of a united EU in the fight against terrorism. Winter writes that despite European pledges of support, U.S. President George W. Bush seems to view the role of the EU as negligible. He adds that although U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell seems to have grasped the message, Bush did not mention the EU once in his 20 September address to Congress. Nevertheless, he says, the EU's solidarity has been promised and the message is unequivocal: It will support the United States in every respect in the fight against terrorism.

The commentary emphasizes that conquering international terrorism requires an international coalition. Winter writes that this should not be restricted to an Anglo-American alliance at a time when a common European front is needed. He writes that France and Italy, who both have ties to North Africa and the Middle East, could be useful as mediators between Israel and Palestine. He concludes that an EU coalition can "sever the roots of terrorism." But, he cautions, "It takes a strong EU to wield that axe."


In "The Washington Post," columnist Fred Hiatt suggests that Afghanistan's current problems can be blamed in part on what he calls "America's attention-deficit disorder." He writes that after achieving its immediate objectives in a particular region, the U.S. has a tendency to leave the area before real stability is established, leaving the region vulnerable. He writes: "The United States has prevailed in a number of conflicts during the past two decades. [Yet] in each case the country has walked away or been tempted to walk away from its success, squandering the gains it might have reaped." In the new war against terrorism, he says, "America can't afford to lose interest."

Hiatt notes that the U.S. helped train and equip Afghan and Arab fighters to oppose the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Once these fighters prevailed and the Soviet Union withdrew, he writes, "Americans drifted off, leaving the Afghan people wretchedly poor and the Pakistanis with a mess on their hands -- refugees, guns, drugs [and] Islamic extremists. Out of that stew came civil war and, eventually, Taliban control. No longer [in the U.S.] sphere of interest, Washington decided."

Hiatt calls the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan "a victory for freedom." But he adds: "America's mistake was not in [fighting] that proxy war but rather in its abandonment of Afghanistan, and especially of Pakistan, once the war ended."


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," author Anthony Sampson suggests a military response to the U.S. attacks would play right into the hands of Saudi-born terrorist Osama bin Laden. He says one of bin Laden's objectives in orchestrating the 11 September attacks was surely to "provoke a display of American military might across the world. [The] Western fleets will provide just the kind of image that will inflame the Saudi fundamentalists who felt so humiliated by the Gulf War."

Sampson continues: "Nothing could be more worrying to the Saudi royal family than a new rebellion by militant fundamentalists inside their country. And if the Saudi fundamentalists were to succeed, nothing could be more dangerous to Western capitalism; for they could cut off huge oil supplies and deprive industrial countries of their most crucial lifeline." He adds: "It is hardly possible that Osama bin Laden does not have this eventual prospect in mind."

The West, he writes, has yet to look beyond the atrocity to "think more carefully" about the root causes of terrorism: "[It] is too busy portraying the terrorists as cowards and fanatics to realize that it is up against a religious movement which operates at a deeper level than hijacks and mass murder; and which is more likely to be stimulated than intimidated by the arrival of Western warships in the Gulf."


In "The Washington Times," syndicated columnist Austin Bay considers the importance of "collective will" in waging a successful fight against terrorism, calling it "warfare's pivotal issue."

Bay writes: "The motive will of a man who spends five years preparing himself and his terror cell to hijack an airliner and smash it into a skyscraper is enormous -- sociopathic perhaps, but large in big letters. Harnessed to a destructive enterprise, his hatred for modernity -- as expressed in Western culture, American power, global trade, and liberal democracy -- becomes a powerful propulsive force."

In responding, he adds, the U.S. and its allies face a distinct challenge. He writes: "The distance between individual indignation and sustained collective will is large, and bridging that chasm requires leadership. [Immediate] emotions fade. The personal challenge is to transform individual indignation, fear, and anger into resolve. When a democratic nation wages war, the collective will to sustain the conflict is the strategic key to victory -- and also the source of defeat."

The national challenge, he concludes, "is to forge the collective will to sustain the effort required to defeat the terror syndicates and the nations that harbor them despite the inevitable costs, mistakes, setbacks, and lost lives."


In a contribution to France's "Le Monde," former President Valery Giscard d'Estaing calls for "solidarity without defect" in the war against terrorism. He says that the emotion felt by the French population in witnessing the attacks on Washington and New York was not merely superficial. And this emotion, he says, "should be followed by a political solidarity in the face of the challenge that lies ahead of us, a solidarity without defect or strife."

D'Estaing goes on to say the U.S. and its allies are not currently entering a state of war, a term that implies a conflict between regular armies. Instead, action should be focused on identifying and destroying terrorist networks, including "the groups and structures that supply them with protection, resources or training infrastructures."

A major difficulty, he says, is that contrary to judicial culture, preventive actions must occur before the crime is committed. He adds that the nature of the operation, based on intense intelligence work and total surprise, makes a classic alliance almost impossible. He writes: "Consultations should be concentrated at the highest levels of national leadership that are taking part in the action," while also respecting "our common values of responsibility and the search for justice."


Daniel Broessler, writing in "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," predicts that in the fight against terrorism, Russia and the U.S. may become closer allies. Following the peaceful dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, Russia -- having lost its superpower status -- didn't know where it belonged, or where it stood economically or politically. This led to Russia distancing itself from the U.S.

But now, Broessler says, NATO expansion and conflicting ideas over the ABM treaty seem negligible since the 11 September attack. He writes: "America and Russia mistrust each other because they have not found a substitute for the old friend-foe relationship. Nothing has altered in this respect. But there is a new enemy now, and this time it is a common enemy. Russia fears American intervention in raw-material-rich Central Asia. Now, Russia must admit that without American assistance it cannot come to terms with the danger there."

Broessler writes that the situation is not without its advantages, saying, "Russia can hope that criticism of its policy in Chechnya will be mitigated." However, he adds, "The critique of war crimes must not be silenced."


In "Eurasia View," Central Asian affairs analyst Artie McConnell writes that Osama bin Laden is too important to the survival of the Taliban for them to surrender him to the West. Afghanistan's ruling militia, he writes, literally cannot afford to lose him: "Bin Laden has funded the Taliban's military machine, assured the movement's economic survival, and stoked its credibility within the radical Islamic community."

McConnell goes on to say that bin Laden's contacts with other international Islamic movements are vast, and that he has recruited "thousands of other Islamic extremists from outside his Arab base to fight alongside the Taliban. Most notably, he has enlisted the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a Central Asian insurgent group that now operates under the umbrella of [bin Laden's movement,] Al-Qaeda. Bin Laden has also used his global contacts with the Islamic underworld to procure the services of the Chechen separatists, as well as Uighur separatists from China's Muslim province of Xinjiang."

McConnell adds: "Despite [Bush's] implication that the Taliban is in a position to 'surrender' bin Laden and shut down terrorist schools, the militia is encountering opposition at home that could make [bin Laden] more vital than ever."

Furthermore, he says, "Bin Laden's close personal relationship with the Taliban's leader, Mullah Omar, also would seem to preclude further negotiations on this [extradition] issue. Omar reportedly told members of a visiting Pakistani delegation that bin Laden 'would be the last one to leave Afghanistan.'"


"The New York Times" in an editorial says: "Putting Osama bin Laden and other international terrorists out of business will require more than diplomatic coalitions and military action. Washington and its allies must also disable the financial networks used by terrorists." It notes that the Bush administration is preparing new laws to better track terrorists through their money-laundering activities and to freeze the assets of suspects. But the editorial says that "much more is needed, including stricter regulations, the recruitment of specialized investigators and greater cooperation with foreign banking authorities."

The editorial goes on to suggest that new laws "should mandate the identification of all account owners, prohibit transactions with 'shell banks' that have no physical premises and require closer monitoring of accounts coming from countries with lax banking laws. [Though] some smaller financial transactions are likely to slip through undetected even after new rules are in place, much of the financing needed for major attacks could dry up."

The editorial concludes: "If America is going to wage a new kind of war against terrorism, it must act on all fronts, including the financial one."


A "Los Angeles Times" editorial concurs that some of the most effective weapons in fighting terrorism will "probably be economic." It writes: "For the months or years they were plotting, the mass murderers who attacked New York and Washington rented homes and cars, paid for flight school, and, alas, purchased airline tickets." Government agencies, the paper says, must work to cut off the sources of funding that pay for these activities. Loosely regulated banking systems are easily exploited by terrorists. The editorial adds that "bin Laden and his associates have apparently been able to gather contributions fairly easily, in Germany and even the United States."

The paper goes on to suggest: "The power of money should be wielded on the broader strategic battlefield. The nice way to get nations to do what you want is to pay them for it. Pakistan's finance minister, for example, is eager for the U.S. to help expand Pakistan's foreign markets and restructure its debilitating foreign debt. Washington has also negotiated a free-trade agreement with Jordan." The paper also suggests using economic sanctions as a way to ensure compliance is some of its anti-terrorist activities.

The editorial concludes: "The advent of a war against terrorism has the United States on a new battlefield. But one truth remains the same: Follow the money."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this Press Review)