Learning to Fight International Terrorism
No. 4 2004 October/December
Anatoly Adamishin

Deputy Foreign Minister from 1986-1990, Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister from 1993-1994, and Russian Minister for CIS Affairs from 1997-1998. Presently, he is a member of the Board of Advisors of Russia in Global Affairs.


The main
fact about international terrorism is a sad one: the civilized
world is losing its war against terrorism despite its seemingly
overwhelming superiority. This conclusion is shared by most
policymakers and analysts. It is backed by the huge number of
victims, which have been accumulating like an avalanche. The
cold-blooded murder of children in the Russian town of Beslan has
imparted a new, more ominous dimension to terrorism. Yet, the
international community is far from united in the face of this new
threat. I would even say it still has a somewhat carefree attitude
toward it. “Terrorist acts are inevitable as they are an age-old
weapon used by the weak in their struggle against the strong,” some
politicians reassure themselves. “Terrorism cannot be defeated,
like it is impossible to eradicate evil.” However, this postulate,
which rather belongs to the domain of psychology, can hardly apply
to what is now described – for the sake of brevity rather than
accuracy – as international terrorism. No doubt, it is a special
phenomenon which has become an integral part of the present stage
in the development of civilization, described – again, for the sake
of brevity – as globalization.


First lesson: the common struggle against
international terrorism is impeded by the vagueness of the enemy:
it often has no face. Moreover, there is an influential view that
declaring war on international terrorism, as the United States has
done, was a mistake. The proponents of this view argue that there
is no globalized terror because it has no national or territorial
basis. There are the so-called regional terrorisms which have
almost no links between themselves, they say. Behind these
organizations are different political forces pursuing different
goals, such as separatism; transnational organized crime, usually
in the form of drug trafficking; and religious extremism. Each
force has its own reasons to resort to terror. What link is there
between, for example, the Irish Republican Army, the Corsican
separatists and Japan’s Aum Shinrikyo sect? They have no common
headquarters that would coordinate their terrorist activities. Or
take al Qaeda, which seeks to take the credit even for bombings it
has had no relation to. It is political motivation that each time
predetermines ways that are suited for neutralizing terror. But
war, as a universal means, always leads to an invasion of one
country by another and, consequently, to a fierce rebuff of the
invaders and collaborationists. The times of colonialism and
neo-colonialism are over.


rationale of such reasoning is difficult to dispute. But it is also
obvious that the aforementioned categories of terrorism intertwine
in real life, forming various kinds of combinations, with one type
of terrorism dominating over another. This is what is taking place
in Kosovo, for example. It is possible that the leaning toward
separatism there will create a very negative precedent.


Or take
Afghanistan. There, the antiterrorist coalition has carried out an
operation against Taliban extremists, which is believed to have
been quite successful. At the same time, however, no decisive blow
was delivered against the drug barons. The coalition lacked an
orderly approach, and the drug business was not suppressed. Now,
together with its revival, the Taliban is reviving, too.
Incidentally, a very large part of the 300 tons of heroin produced
in Afghanistan each year is trafficked to other countries via


It is true
that terror is a method. But when, in the contemporary world, it is
widely used to suppress intellect and distort human consciousness
en masse, it is already something more than a tool. It is an
ideology, now proliferating around the world.


In light
of these facts, is there a danger of overlooking a merger of
separate terrorist groups into an army, even if this is done by
non-traditional methods? And how much time remains before such an
army is controlled, if not from one, than several centers? This
army could simply be inspired by such an idea, which is now
beginning to prevail more and more over local considerations. Where
there is a common idea, sooner or later there will appear a common
strategy, and this strategy is taking an increasingly distinct
shape. Radical Islamism has been coming into the foreground ever
more confidently. Its recent strikes at Russia and at the unity of
its multiethnic population were delivered with strategic


The theory
of regional terrorism has yet another shortcoming. In practice, it
prevents people from uniting into a single front against the unseen
yet very dangerous enemy. Deflecting the threat away from oneself
and causing it to turn against someone else looks more attractive
than struggling against this threat jointly: “If this does not
concern me directly, I can sit it out and save myself.” Hence the
advances made to “half-terrorists” and the tolerant attitude toward
various kinds of foundations and associations that provide money
and shelter to criminals. Double standards – old as the world –
flourish in such practices and only serve to abet terrorists. There
have even been cases when terrorists’ demands were fulfilled. If
the choice is made in favor of a policy of appeasement (a kind of a
1938 Munich Pact of the 21st century) then the chances for losing
the war against terrorism will increase. There is a large
proportion of Europeans who are simply not prepared to take part in
it, considering it as someone else’s war.


dilemma can be resolved by taking steps along two avenues. First,
the United Nations should speed up its analytical efforts to find a
generally acceptable definition for international terrorism. The
India-proposed draft of a Comprehensive Convention on International
Terrorism can help achieve accord on this issue.


On the
other hand, time is pressing, and it is not necessary to wait until
all countries come to agreement on the definition of terrorism – a
highly politicized problem closely linked with nationalism. A wide
range of measures have already been worked out for international
interaction in combating terrorism, and these measures must be used
without delay.


Second lesson: the former Cold War enemies
are still more preoccupied with a tug-of-war between themselves
than with combating the new threats. Each new terrorist act causes
them to make certain steps toward each other, both bilaterally and
multilaterally (within the frameworks of the UN, the G-8, NATO, and
the EU). A short time later, however, their zeal for cooperation
subsides and they return to their accustomed mutual mistrust. Both
parties provide justifications for their actions, of course, but
how many more times will they repeat the same mistakes in choosing
their priorities? Hopefully, after the Beslan tragedy the
enthusiasm for cooperation will not decrease between the


During the
Cold War era, it was unscrupulous methods that promoted the spread
of the Islamic jihad. In those times, as a French journalist put
it, the United States struck a deal with the devil known as Moslem
extremism. This was done at the detriment of its relations with
more moderate circles, with the only intention to do damage to the
Soviet Union. Unfortunately, many of those who advised Ronald
Reagan at that time have not quit big-time politics, but have
joined the ranks of the neo-conservatives in the U.S. Similarly,
some critical words could be said against Russia, too.


The old
differences between Russia and the West have been coupled with
differences inside the Euro-Atlantic community. Washington gives
top priority

to the war
against Islamic terrorist groups and countries supporting them or
giving them shelter. Europeans argue that terrorism can be stopped
with ‘soft force,’ by combining political and policing methods and
using military force only as a last resort. Russia, which is waging
its own war in Chechnya, initially gravitated toward the European
approach. This was graphically manifest in its appraisal of the
U.S. actions in Iraq. Now, however, Russia has toughened its


Two years
ago, I wrote in Russia in Global Affairs: “Former enemies in the
Cold War must become seriously aware of the fact that their very
survival depends on their ability to address new dangers.” These
words, perhaps, are even more important today, especially if we add
the words “and allies” to the word “enemies.” Stopping the discord
within the civilized community has become an imperative.


The best
way to unite the approaches of different countries is for them to
engage in practical work in the coordination of their antiterrorist
efforts. Russia, the U.S., the EU and its individual members,
Japan, India, China and Israel must display the political will
which would allow them to proceed to a basically new level of


practice, they may take the following measures:

  • establish closer and more trusting relations between their
    secret services;
  • agree on
    mutual supplies of modern equipment and armaments (Russia, with its
    huge territory and extensive transport systems, including
    pipelines, desperately needs a renovation of its antiterrorist
  • expose
    and shut down channels of funding to terrorist
  • carry
    out joint operations to hunt down and detain
  • take
    military measures, including the joint training of troops.
    Moreover, the allies may wish to consider building joint bases and
    forming joint Special Forces.

The U.S.
and Russia should set an example of such alliance-like cooperation;
they have advanced along this path farther than many other
countries. The two countries have set up a special high-level
antiterrorist working group which has already held more than a
dozen fruitful meetings. Russian-U.S. achievements also include
some successful field operations. But this is not enough. The two
countries’ efforts are impeded by their mutual inability to
concentrate on what is most important.


The U.S.
and Russia need to stop complaining about how difficult one partner
is for the other, as well as publicly lecturing each other – not
because Russia and the U.S. do not need this, but because these
complaints and didacticism are producing an unwanted effect. The
parties seem to forget that there has emerged the most dangerous
common enemy since World War II. In those times, the members of the
anti-Hitler coalition were in much disagreement with each other
(suffice it to recall the heated debates about the need to open the
second front), suspected each other of attempts to enter into
separate negotiations with the Nazis, and adhered to diametrically
opposite ideological values which formally ruled out any
co-existence of socialism and capitalism on the Earth. However, the
main result of World War II – the defeat of Nazi Germany – was
achieved owing to the joint actions of many countries, above all
the Soviet Union and the U.S.


has already become a horrible monster, while the international
community has yet to find an antidote against the monstrous
“discovery” of living bombs. The terrorists’ inventiveness, severe
discipline, mafia-style methods of influencing the population, and
relatively inexpensive operations – all serve to increase the
destructive effectiveness of their activities. And it is horrible
to even imagine what would happen to the world should terrorists
achieve their long-cherished goal of acquiring weapons of mass
destruction. The very thought must certainly cause top-ranking
statesmen to cast aside questions of minor importance in order to
ensure the reliable protection of nuclear, chemical, biological and
other weapons from criminals. In this context, Russia needs real
help from its Western partners, above all the U.S. Thus far, this
help (about U.S. $780 million a year) does not nearly correspond to
the scale of the task of destroying weapons and preventing their


Third lesson: the international community
should amend its antiterrorist legislation by coordinating national
laws as much as possible in order to create a homogeneous legal
framework. At present, national antiterrorist laws are quite
different from each other, especially as regards the principles of
extradition. The legal environment where punishment for any
terrorist act would be inevitable has not yet emerged.


Furthermore, the international community has yet to define
situations where the use of outside force to stop genocide and
human rights violations in a given country would be justified. One
of the main questions is what should the legal basis and the
mechanism be for implementing such measures? Moreover, the very
principle of sovereignty must be rethought, because its former
absolute character has become archaic. The new agenda must also
include the possibility of establishing international trusteeship
over states whose governments are unable to fulfill their


Lesson four: since the current struggle is
for people’s minds, especially the minds of the younger generation,
it is vital that the international community strengthen the climate
for the total rejection of terrorism. This absolute evil cannot be
justified by any political, religious or other reasons; there
cannot be “good” or “bad” terrorism. There must be no room for
neutrality or appeasement in the struggle against terrorism, and
the international public at large must be roused against terror. A
decisive role in these efforts must belong to civil societies in
various countries.


Lesson five: it is of paramount importance to
distinguish religious fanaticism, which sometimes acquires inhuman
forms, from religion per se. This refers, above all, to Islam.
Mistaken are the analysts who have begun to hark back to Europe’s
past experience of Fascism, only dressed in Islamic clothing.
Italian Fascism and German Nazism developed within the frameworks
of their national borders, while Islamic extremism is just a small
part of the fairly civilized Moslem world. Also mistaken are those
who argue that Islam does not accept modern economic development
and is a stranger to democracy. Indonesia, Turkey and Malaysia
provide good indications that reforms in the Islamic world are
possible. This is a common civilizational task. 


The view
that we are witnessing a clash of civilizations must be dispelled.
This requires modernizing the vast Moslem world and redressing
injustices, such as the Israeli-U.S. persecution of Palestinians,
which is viewed as a crusade against the Islamic world. There will
be little hope for deliverance from the plague of terrorism unless
peace is established in the Middle East.


should not be demonized; instead, people must learn to separate the
wheat from the extremist chaff. Also, al Qaeda must not be made a
spokesman for all oppressed Moslems. Radicalism is baneful in any
religion and, unfortunately, there have been many occasions when
Judaic and Christian fundamentalists, too, behaved as if they alone
knew the ultimate truth and must affirm it whatever the cost – even
by the sword.


Lesson six: military actions alone, however
inevitable under certain circumstances, cannot solve the problem.
The developments in Iraq or Chechnya have shown that such actions
only aggravate it. Politics cannot completely entrust its mission
to war. The approaches of both the U.S. and Russia need a major


the difficult problems of inequality, backwardness, instability,
the decline of many countries, drug trafficking, and many other
plagues of the contemporary world are now knocking at the door of
humanity. When will the international community find time to begin
draining away this nutrient medium of terrorism?


Lesson seven: organizational frameworks are
required for coordinating states’ efforts to uncover and eradicate
international terrorist networks.

The world,
which has left the state of relative stability of the Cold War
times (sometimes described as negative stability), is now passing
through a zone of turbulence; it is unstable and uncontrollable,
which encourages a struggle for control over it.


developments again bring the United Nations into the limelight as
the only universal forum, as the keeper of international law, and
as the organization (in the person of its Security Council)
authorized to solve the issues of war and peace. It should be
admitted, though, that the UN is not coping with this task. In the
fundamental issue of preventive war against Iraq, the Americans
simply ignored the Security Council, thus inflicting damage on
themselves and the international organization. Yet, the UN, too,
bears part of the blame, because it should not live according to a
Charter that was drawn up 60 years ago. The vacuum in international
rules, filled by unilateral actions, must be removed in a legal way
– by jointly working out new norms of conduct.


Major UN
member states seem to have come to understand that this
organization must be reformed. Yet, efforts in this field are
experiencing no progress. Along with providing a new impetus to the
UN’s restructuring, the international community should set up a
special world organization intended to help countries cope with the
new challenges and threats. Although there already is the
Counter-Terrorism Committee of the UN Security Council, it is
largely engaged in monitoring the fulfillment of UN resolutions, of
which there are already quite a few. The new special organization
must enable countries to promptly react to a wide range of
challenges – from the prevention of terrorist acts to the
liquidation of their consequences.


problems that the international community is facing in combating
this invisible and merciless enemy are colossal. Yet, technically
they are surmountable. Presently, what countries are lacking most
of all is the awareness of the danger and political will. It is
time that we begin to learn by our own – occasionally tragic –