TERRORISM, ITS ROOTS AND THREATS: CURRENT TRENDS ANALYZED
Artur Atanesian, Ph.D. (Political Science), assistant, Sociology Department, Erevan State University (Erevan, Armenia)
The issue of terrorism today looks very important and no less vague. Much of what happened in the past could have been called terrorism yet contemporaries and eye-witnesses never used the term. In fact, it came into use in the second half of the 20th century and became a household word in its last decade when the Soviet Union’s disintegration gave rise to factors beyond anybody’s control. It should be added that certain similar phenomena (such as the “dictatorship of communism”) are today described as political terror. From this it follows that while specific content of any phenomenon is unimportant its positive or negative definition is all-important.
At the beginning any new phenomenon is hard to describe in clear and unambiguous terms. At the same time, as soon as a concept acquires popularity experts and laymen alike tend to overuse it in an effort to identify their own stands on the issue. The term becomes vague, its application contradictory.
This applies to certain fairly frequently used terms the meaning of which remains vague. “Globalization” of which much has been said and written is one of such terms. Strange as it may seem it is very hard to find a comprehensible and unambiguous determination of the term.
The term “terrorism” has come into fashion among the political and academic communities; it is readily used by the common people yet one can say that it is not always correctly applied.
Let’s have a look at certain polls1 that revealed the following: when talking about terrorism and terrorists people tend to rely on their own impressions rather than on abstract knowledge. More often than not by “terrorism” they mean international terrorism associated with the 9/11 events, blasts in apartment blocks, Arab suicide killers, etc. It is common knowledge, however, that terrorism is not limited to foreign factors and that it is rooted in domestic factors as well—military, information-psychological, and others.
It is interesting to find out what has been done by the legislators to supply a clear-cut and unambiguous definition of the term and to formulate the official stand on the issue. In the last decade certain states that are “calling the tune” on the international arena passed laws and signed intergovernmental agreements that expressed their desire to close ranks in the face of terrorism and help each other to achieve the jointly formulated aim. It seems that the antiterrorist aspect of cooperation among these countries has come to the fore, which is amply illustrated by what President Putin had to say about Russia’s probable or even possible negative response to the war on Iraq. He said, in particular, that antiterrorist cooperation between Moscow and Washington is signally important for building up new relationships between the two countries and that nothing should be allowed to interfere in the process. One gets an impression that in the context of antiterrorist cooperation Russia will have to learn to ignore certain, potentially unacceptable, actions of its American partner.
In America, too, there is a lot of confusion in the way the term is used by the legislators though they do try to exercise a multisided approach to it. In fact, America responded to the events of 9/11 with a law the title of which was eloquent enough: Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (abbreviated as USA Patriot Act of 2001) signed by President Bush on 26 October, 2001.2 It divides terrorism into “international” and “domestic” and this is one of the law’s obvious merits. When defining the newly coined terms the law describes new types of terrorism: “cyberterrorism” (computer-related crimes), bioterrorism that uses biological means, hijacks, attempts on the life of the president, etc. The law provides definition of terrorism in relation to civilians, other political figures, the state, and property. This is an important step forward in defining terrorism and fighting it.
The law, however, has a very serious shortcoming typical of the contemporary treatment of terrorism today: it says nothing about the conditions in which certain actions can be described as terrorism. Indeed, the law describes a murder or attempted murder of a military as an act of terror3 yet they cannot be regarded as such during a war or an armed conflict. Neither the law nor contemporary interpretation of terrorism says anything about this. This also applies to similar actions such as information wars and deterring propaganda to which the opposing sides recur during a conflict, war, etc.
There is another shortcoming in our approaches to terrorism and its identification, namely, the causes behind the growing number of events that can be described as terrorism: such are, for example, mass killing by a German student of his schoolmates and teachers; telephone terrorism, etc. Today, people are quite willing to brand as terrorism various acts and are prepared to fight them as such. They should rather ask themselves: What is behind such acts? Why an American student emulated the 9/11 terrorists by crashing his plane against an office building? What is behind suicide killings? Why do people feel that their lives are expandable? Can a normal man turn terrorist? What is behind such transformations? I am convinced that the answers to these and similar questions will provide us with a better understanding of the causes of terrorism and its identification among other events. In the same way as conflict experts seek roots of conflicts those engaged in studying terrorism and the ways to combat it should start a systemic, varied and detailed study of its true causes.
One should point to the following phenomena conducive to terrorism:
- seats of tension on the former Soviet territory that defies official control and over which all sorts of political forces are fighting. The fight was hardly civilized; the sides recurred to all sorts of methods and weapons up to and including political assassinations, use of force against civilians designed to intimidate people and demonstrate force;
- lack of political culture and a crime wave that intensified uncivilized approach to political struggle and redistribution of power: crime became an instrument of political struggle across post-Soviet expanse;
- numerous armed ethnic conflicts: the use of force created a danger of arms proliferation among the civilians. The atmosphere of mutual mistrust and the still smoldering conflicts are a fertile soil for further aggressive actions;
- international conflicts across the world; some of them have been resisting solution for decades now; they breed terror against the local people. The Arab-Israeli conflict, the events in Northern Ireland, the Basques’ demands, Chechen separatism, the Turkish-Greek confrontation on Cyprus are a far from complete list of conflicts that have already bred numerous terrorist acts against civilians. This has made terrorism a form of political struggle used by those who have limited access to other methods;
- since nuclear weapons can annihilate the world many times over they are not used in local wars. The non-nuclear countries have to refrain from fighting against one of the nuclear powers or its allies. This makes acts of individual retribution more acceptable;
- discontent and an awareness of the unfairness of the world in general stem from the widening gap between the economically developed and economically backward countries. In individual states, including the CIS, there is a gap between the rich and poor social groups, therefore social conflicts are just round the corner. Such conflicts breed aggression against the affluent population groups;
- mass migration, mainly from the poorer and backward countries, involves members of criminal community, unskilled persons and those who failed to adjust themselves to the new social and cultural contexts. More often than not they join criminal structures;
- instability and a clash of values; aggression against colleagues, class mates, etc. is rising in the countries with transitional economies as well as in the developed countries. There were several acts of aggression in schools and colleges perpetrated by fellow students. Traditional values are crumbling, people are growing more and more apathetic, contemporary culture has acquired a transitory nature—all this cannot but affect social behavior of people disoriented by the changing values. The conflict between the traditional and imported values has produced permissive society in which everything is acceptable and in which rules of coexistence are flagrantly violated;
- the media add to social tension; people are no longer impressed by violence shown by TV; direct broadcasting from battlefield abounds in scenes of death and suffering; contract killing is presented as an exciting job involving skill and courage. No wonder boys no longer visualize themselves as pilots, astronauts, engineers or doctors—they are looking forward to a carrier of a highly paid hired gun.
The above can hardly be unambiguously described as political, economic, social or axiological factors since each of them has a political, economic, legal, axiological-normative, and psychological side to it. Globalization is a major vehicle that moves the antivalues of terrorism across the world. The process brings local values (or antivalues) within the reach of all even against the will of those who found themselves engulfed by them.
Globalization disregards state borders, it removes social and political distinctions as well as the border between the acceptable and unacceptable. It is hard to separate sometimes a value and antivalue, to distinguish between the truth and a lie, between what is right and what is wrong. The CIS parliaments never tire of talking about the inadequate legal basis and the lack of laws related to many important spheres of human activity. Constitutions of the CIS countries are constantly amended; laws are very hard to adopt; deputies spend years arguing whether this or that draft should be put on the agenda at all. The result is instability felt by all and everyone. On top of this common people have to grapple with social problems, to cope with sloppy administrators, bureaucracy and corruption; they feel vulnerable both in the social and legal respects; their living standards are low and they are neglected in the old age (old people are abandoned to their fate across the post-Soviet expanse).
People may respond in two ways:
- Being aware of their own inferiority they become despondent. They feel that nothing will change and that they cannot improve their own lives. Legal and axiological nihilism is a direct outcome of the above. People refuse to be involved in social and political activity and become indifferent to everything, including violations of law, political arbitrariness, violence, murders, wars, etc. From the legal point of view, this indifference is hazardous; at the same time, it plays in the hands of political adventurers, criminals, and terrorists. Political apathy lets terror expand. It has already became massive: Duma deputies and governors are murdered in Russia; in October 1999 several of the Armenian political leaders were killed; presidents of several CIS countries (Georgia and Azerbaijan, among them) survived attempted assassinations; civilians pay with their lives for score settling among criminal groups. This will never end if society remains indifferent.
- Bitterness, aggression, and readiness to go till the end can be expected from those who continue living under political, ethnic, social, cultural or even everyday press and whose human rights are constantly violated.
I feel it necessary to explain the difference between the struggle for rights and freedoms and terrorism. I am convinced that an aggressive response to continued and protracted oppression should be regarded as a just struggle to restore and protect rights and freedoms while terrorism can be described as purposeful, continued and consistent oppression. All this can be described as terror or as a response to terror depending on specific contexts.
To illustrate my point I shall explain here the difference between an offensive and a defensive war. We all know from history that defensive wars have been considered to be just ones. In fact, there is no much difference between an offensive and a defensive war yet the latter is waged for patriotic reasons and is therefore acceptable. It is easy to justify a defensive patriotic war. The same applies to actions similar in content but different in form. I have in mind aggression that is defined as terrorism in some cases and as defense in others.
Certain acts that claim human lives are branded as acts of terror if they are unexpected. This fully applies to assassinations. In fact, a great deal of fear and anxiety that terrorism sows among people are caused by the fact that all terrorist acts are unexpected. The 9/11 events in the United States are described as terrorism because the attack was an unexpected one; for this reason, it can be called “unprecedented.”
In this context one can justify certain actions that others hastily brand as terrorism but that are, in fact, a response to violations of human rights and large-scale oppression. For example, in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict the Palestinian terror against Israeli civilians, suicide killers that claim lives of common people are explained by those behind them as independence struggle. There is an obvious dynamics: such acts seem to respond to military acts of the Israelis (tank attacks, bombings, the military exercising control that kills civilians) and, therefore, can be described as acts of retribution.
The same can be said about Chechnia where fighters responded with violence against civilians in the republic and across Russia to the war Russia is waging there. In Chechnia terror is mainly spearheaded against the Russian military (military convoys, cars, and helicopters).
These two examples suggest that such actions (looking like terrorism but having nothing to do with it) can be described as local wars waged by specific methods with limited means. This type of war is highly possible in ethnic conflicts in which one of the sides is much stronger and has a vaster territory; it is an independent state while its weaker adversary is invariably part of this state (a republic, an autonomous region, etc.). There is another inevitable condition of this type of war: the weaker side has no army of its own. It is thus deprived of a choice of action and is forced to resort to individual terrorist acts against the enemy’s troops and civilian population. This can be described as guerrilla warfare; such wars have nothing to do with terrorism. They emerged in specific conditions of a conflict. Anybody who regards such actions as terrorism makes peaceful settlement nearly impossible. This is amply testified by the fact that the Arab-Israeli, Chechen and similar conflicts have been defying solutions for decades.
Despite the changing ideas about the types and methods of warfare (terrorism can be regarded as a method of a local war used when the forces are unequal and resources scarce) one should describe terrorism as a weapon of aggressive groups employed to scare people, spread panic among them, destabilize the situation and establish their own control over it. This shows that terrorism has adjusted itself to reality to proliferate and to organize itself.
“In the past terrorism was a weapon of highly organized hierarchical groups with clearly identified political, social and economic means and values that used violence against strictly selected people to attract attention to themselves and their ideas. They favored public statements in which they admitted their responsibility for certain acts and explained the reasons for them in detail… These were paramilitary groups with a cult of discipline and obedience; participation in collective acts was obligatory so that to ensure ideological unity and cohesion, to inculcate commitment to the symbolically deviant way of life and behavior forms. As a result the leaders and even the rank-and-file members of terrorist groups were well known to the law enforcement bodies and were acting under their close and systematic supervision. For these reasons the groups were never too large...
“Today, there are organizations of a new type with a much less obvious ideological or nationalist identity working side by side with the already familiar type of terrorist group. Such organizations profess much more amorphous religious and apocalyptic ideas; they are much less organized and have no obvious commanders…4 Meanwhile, al-Qa‘eda, a nearly mythical (according to certain experts) and the commonly recognized as a paradigm network terrorist organization can mobilize up to 4-5 thou armed volunteers with fighting experience behind them in tens of countries across the world.”5
One should pay particular attention to the concepts of a “network organization” and “network warfare” in the context of an obvious modernization of terrorism and terrorists. These two forms are emerging as the most promising ones both from the point of view of tactics and strategy in the case of a conflict or a crisis. They can be illustrated by a contemporary terrorist organization that, according to some authors, is developing into a “network” organization.6 As distinct from a structure in which all levels are hierarchically arranged and in which the lower levels are commanded by the higher ones (military and paramilitary groups are classical examples) or from a so-called star-shaped organization in which all parts are connected via the central one, in a network organization all parts are connected directly with each other. This makes an organization more flexible and less vulnerable. “Decision-making in such organizations is decentralized; quite often they do not operate according to a single plan thus making it harder for the enemy to plan preventive measures. Decentralized decision-making allows local cells to show initiative; they can act independently at their own discretion in the directions approved by the common (framework) ideology or a system of values responsible for the organization’s identity and an “us-them” system of coordinates. The same applies to the methods. As a result, the network system can undertake asynchronous and unpredictable actions realized at one and the same time at several levels of a social system. Normally, such actions never betray any logical continuity where the object, time, place and method are concerned.”7
A network structure presupposes several centers that give orders and organize local terrorist acts. They are connected into a network, hire local fighters thus extending the ranks from several sources; it is their duty to warn about threats, they adjust and coordinate their actions.
Destruction of central command leaves the classical military structure impotent while a network structure would be active in similar conditions. It sends commands to the surviving centers, sets up new ones and continues its attacks. Such structures look unsinkable. It seems that al-Qa‘eda is one of them with centers in the Middle East, Chechnia, probably in the United States or in some of its neighbors. This is confirmed by the terrorist acts of 9/11 in New York and Washington perpetrated by people who had been living in the U.S. for many years, who studied there and even applied for American citizenship.8
Today the international community is confronted with another problem created by modernizing terrorism. I have in mind the rapidly developing communication and information means and ideological support of terrorism. The media crossed state borders to become a dangerous weapon of information intervention terrorists can use actively. Their leaders directly apply to people through TV channels. They can reach the remotest corners of the world while the Internet and e-mail provide even more possibilities. Bin Laden repeatedly uses al-Jazeera to address the Arab world; Chechen terrorists call on all Muslim of the world “to revenge on the unfaithful and join the ranks of the fighters for justice” through the Internet.
It is very hard to oppose this: no democratic country will dare to close down a TV channel so that not to infringe on the freedom of speech. The Internet that cannot be fully controlled makes the situation still more complicated since one banned site is replaced with several others.
It is possible to use more reliable information channels to disseminate different information. What is needed is cooperation among all countries with the aim of identifying the sources of terrorists’ information. This is not an easy task since there is no agreement on what terrorism is and whether this particular piece of information can be regarded as terrorist. One can wonder whether a typical American thriller that contains elements of terrorist information can be described as a threatening behavior model. Is “intercultural censorship” of sorts possible? By this I mean universal principles and mechanisms identifying and banning the symbols and information containing antihuman elements and undermining the social pillars. In the age of pluralism of opinions this looks hardly realizable.
It is necessary to establish whether there are ties between terrorist organizations and religious sects that have been actively penetrating the CIS in the last decade. They are successful even though these countries have traditional religions and deeply rooted traditions of their own (the Armenian Gregorian Church, for example, has just celebrated its 1700th anniversary). The traditional religions and churches in the CIS countries find it hard to contain the rich and ideologically active sects and movements while the laws on the freedom of conscience let them legalize themselves.
In fact, some of the recent terrorist acts were carried out by religious sects (the terrorist act in the Tokyo underground performed by the religious sect of Aum Senrike is one of the examples). In the CIS these organizations have avoided control; this is amply confirmed by the fact that this sect had been functioning for many years in Russia and was banned after it carried out terrorist acts in the Tokyo underground.
There are many proven facts that sect members were urged to commit suicide for “further perfection of their souls” or to “redeem the sins of men.” After a while, the majority of sect followers start suffering from psychic disorders caused by what preachers, both foreign and local, taught them. Children whose parents are rash enough to introduce them to sects are especially vulnerable (suffice it to mention the White Brotherhood sect that deliberately crippled its members’ souls). This can be described as terrorism against which legal measures should be taken immediately.
Time has come to discuss a possibility of setting up the so-called complexes or systems of security on the former Soviet territory.9 In fact, the still wavering Central Asian and South Caucasian countries have one common fault: an absence of functional cooperation. Life has shown that the largest players on the world arena tried to win these states over to their side separately rather than cooperating with them within a strategic bloc or a regional cooperation system (this happened in the three Baltic republics).
It should be added that had these countries been functionally connected it would have been much harder for the world players to win them over separately. Today, the global political players are engaged in the “divide and rule” game. While formally encouraging regional cooperation they are opposing it outside these countries’ relations either with the U.S. or Russia. The “frozen” ethnic conflicts in Central Asia and the Southern Caucasus make it impossible to create an atmosphere of complete trust and efficient cooperation. Each of the countries learned how to protect its security. I find it hard to agree with those who say: “...both the Caucasus and Central Asia have enough attributes of a security complex.”10
The events of 9/11 altered regional priorities and changed foreign policy processes in the region. All over the world countries and their leaders had to decide whether they sided with the United States in its antiterrorist struggle or not. A negative answer meant that the country abetted international terrorism and that it was running a risk of being attacked without clear evidence of its guilt and outside international sanctions. All reasonable states, therefore, the South Caucasian and Central Asian republics included, offered their support to the United States within their very limited possibilities. The same happened in all former Soviet republics. As a result the United States greatly extended its zone of influence while Russia found itself pushed back from the spheres of its former influence. The region received no system or complex of security to fight terrorism even though terrorism threatened all countries and antiterrorist struggle required joint efforts. In fact, the United States is working with each of the countries separately thus increasing their ties with Washington rather than among themselves.
The republics are still pulled in opposite directions. On 21 June, 2000 the Council of the CIS Heads of State endorsed an antiterrorist program up to 2003. The Antiterrorist Center of the CIS members was set up on 1 December, 2000. It organized joint training exercises for staffs and commanders; trains the military in places of their dislocation; works together with the law enforcement bodies of the CIS countries; is involved in antiterrorist operations; runs a data base; process all necessary information. NATO in its turn carried out several military-technical events in the region that looked like a response to the above. Its experts are training the Georgian military to fight terrorists (in the Pankisi Gorge among other places and along the border with Chechnia). Jointly with NATO the South Caucasian states conducted military training exercises; similar exercises are planned for Central Asia. The exercises code-named “Steppe Eagle 2003,” in particular, involved Kazakhstan, the U.K. and the U.S. A peacekeeping Kazbat battalion was set up in Kazakhstan within the NATO-ran Partnership for Peace program.
In addition, the Alliance’s successful operations paved the way for American military bases to the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq; American military experts are working in Georgia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (a so-called Central Asian battalion was created in the latter three republics). On the whole, one can say that the international community and the regional newly-independent states have come to another stage of serious transformations.
One should say that the geopolitical players sometimes strive to exploit terrorism to reach their own strategic aims and tasks rather than to fight terrorists.
Back in 1981, one of the most prominent American foreign policy experts Richard Lebow outlines several models of the states’ behavior in a crisis.11 One of them was unexpected enough: a state decides to start a war not when hit by a crisis but anticipating a crisis or even before a conflict becomes evident. In such cases states unleash a war to promote their own interests. Normally such wars have no reasons—there are only pretexts.
A democratic state cannot start a war without trying first to convince the public that the war was inevitable (suffice it to recall what Premier Blair and President Bush said on the eve of the war on Iraq). To obtain necessary arguments the state resorts to provocation by formulating unacceptable demands on the enemy. The latter’s failure to comply with them is used as a war pretext. This situation that Lebow called “justification of hostility” became typical in the wake of the Soviet Union’s disintegration.
In the situation when the U.S. is pressing on and when Russia is trying to prevent Eurasia from falling apart one can say that their mainly similar stands will force them to either seize new positions or keep the old ones with the use of force. The use of force should be justified with clear arguments. Terrorism is an argument that can justify bombing of other countries. Though not allowed by international law this idea has struck root in politicians’ minds. Terrorism is dangerous—but it can be used to advantage. This explains why terrorists have not yet been exterminated in Chechnia (Maskhadov is still free and apartment blocks are still open to attacks), why omnipresent bin Laden and Saddam Hussein have not been captured yet.
Terrorism as a universal threat is used to penetrate regions, to influence politics of independent states and to be present on their territories (Chechnia as part of Russia is an exception); terrorism is used to deal with geopolitical issues and pursue geostrategic interests. No matter what Russian politicians said about Chechen fighters’ presence in Georgia it was in pursuance of their interests. Indeed, against the background of Russia’s gradual strategic retreat from Georgia (it has to remove its military bases) the Kremlin could have established an outpost on the Georgian territory under the pretext of fighting Chechen fighters in Georgia. Americans successfully played the card: Georgia invited NATO experts rather than Russian troops under the pretext of fighting terrorism.
From this it follows that we should define the concepts of “terrorism” and “terror” to identify the conditions that breed them. Antiterrorist struggle does not tolerate hastiness and rashness; all decisions should rest on unambiguous and exact understanding of what is terrorism and what is passed for it.
1 See, for example: D.V. Ol’shanskiy, Psikhologia terrora, Akademicheskiy proekt, Moscow, 2002, pp. 11-12.
2 Its context is analyzed in an article by V.A. Vlasikhin, “Novy zakon SShA o bor’be s terrorizmom i bill o pravakh,” SShA-Kanada: ekonomika-politika-kul’tura, No. 4, 2002, pp. 87-104.
3 Art 2332(b), Para (C).
4 According to certain authors, contemporary terrorist organizations, as distinct from the traditional ones, do not hasten to claim responsibility for terrorist acts; they make no public statements and have no desire to make public claims (see: S.G. Turonok, “Informatsionno-kommunikativnaia revolutsia i novy spektr voenno-politicheskikh konfliktov,” POLIS, No. 1, 2003, p. 33).
5 Ibid., pp. 33-34.
7 Ibid., p. 31.
8 One of the terrorists was officially informed that the U.S. authorities granted him American citizenship; this shows, among other things, that terrorists spent many years in the United States and were generally regarded to be decent people and law-abiding citizens.
9 It was B. Buzan who introduced the “security complex” term into the academic parlance (see: B. Buzan, People, State and Fear: An Agenda for International Security Studies in the Post Cold War Era, New York, London, 1991). Put in a nutshell this conception means that the countries unable to protect themselves independently should set up common security systems Buzan called “security complexes.”
10 J. Eivazov, “The Antiterrorist Campaign and New Geopolitical and Security Trends in the Regional Systems of Central Asia and the Caucasus,” Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 4 (12), 2002, p. 21.
11 See: R.N. Lebow, Between Peace and War: The Nature of International Crisis, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1981.