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#1 - JRL 7168
May 5, 2003
Nikolai Zlobin: Terrorism, Fascism and Communism
Terrorism forces Russia to choose between Europe and the US
A View from Washington
Nikolai Zlobin is the director of Russian and Asian programs at the Center for Defense Information in Washington DC.

At the St. Petersburg summit with Chirac and Schroeder, Vladimir Putin spoke about the need to reject neo-colonialism and the exportation of democratic revolutions. "Someone fired a few shots, someone looted a bit, and now someone must pay for these escapades. It has always been like that" he added.

One could, of course, ponder the scholarly merit of such observations, but if this is how the Kremlin administration sees the war in Iraq, then we are undoubtedly on the verge of another cycle of misunderstanding between Moscow and Washington. This is particularly dangerous under the conditions of a deepening conceptual rift between the U.S. and much of Western Europe.

It would be a huge mistake to simplify the rift's root causes. Global domination by the US is not the issue here - America was more than capable of that even before the war. Nor is it about controlling the oil - there is a bitter, ongoing struggle around the world for the right to export oil to the US, a fight that Russia has now joined. Where Western Europe and the US really diverge is on the question of what sort of a threat international terrorism truly represents. It is on this issue that Moscow will have to make its choice.

European leaders view terrorists as criminals who often assemble into nefarious structures. They see al-Qaeda as a sort of modern mafia, and are convinced that these groups must be fought by strengthening the police and improving the laws, judicial organs, and visa regimes. For the Europeans, international terrorism is the same category as corruption, drugs, or human trafficking.

Washington, on the other hand, views modern international terrorism as a socio-political phenomenon, an international movement that has a political and ideological nature, not a criminal one. They see a movement that vies neither for economic gain, like the mafia, nor for concessions from particular governments, like Hamas or the IRA, but for the destruction of the very fundamentals of our civilization, the replacement of one system of basic values and priorities for another. They must be opposed not as simple criminals, but as sworn foes, using all of our might.

A particular threat is the possibility of terrorists coming to power, as happened in Afghanistan, or receiving support from an anti-democratic regime. This greatly heightens terrorism's destructive opportunities, complicates the struggle against it, and facilitates terrorists' access to weapons of mass destruction.

In other words, the US sees contemporary Islamist extremism and terrorism in the same vein as communism and fascism. That's what George Bush means when he says that whoever is not with us is against us, or when he declares that the US has entered a war that will be prolonged and arduous. For him, terrorism is what communism was for Ronald Reagan, and what fascism was for Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Fascism and communism might have been become historical footnotes if their rise to power had been opposed from the start. Only recently, the Europeans were seeking ways for peaceful coexistence with the communist bloc, apparently having learned nothing from the bloody attempt at peaceful coexistence with German fascism. No one knows where Europe might be today if the US had listened to their suggestion to avoid declaring a war on the Evil Empire, to avoid pulling the USSR into an arms race. In those days, America understood its duty, as the leader of the free world, to liberate humanity from communism, just as today it considers its new historical mission to be the defense of civilization from radical Islamism and international terrorism.

The US cannot forget that it was Europe that served as the base for preparing the attacks of September 11, nor can they ignore the fact that al-Qaeda views the old continent not as an object for attack, but as a base of preparations for new assaults on America. The last year and a half has shown that the US cannot count on Europe for unqualified support. The European approach, oriented toward combating particular groups in response to particular acts, is at odds with the American strategy of unleashing a mass-scale war against Islamist extremism and terrorism.

What is Russia's strategy in the struggle against global terrorism? Does it even have one? Islamist extremism is striving for historical revenge, attempting to recapture what it had lost under the last few centuries of Western domination. It would be nave to think it will stop on the Russian border because of Kremlin's threat to veto the Security Council resolution on Iraq. It would be even more nave to suppose that Europe will suddenly concern itself with problems of Russian security, when it's not in a hurry to help even its main ally. The US can, after all, grow tired of a Russia in the throes of another anti-American hysteria, set against the background of Kremlin's accusations of occupation and colonialism.

Translated by Seva Gunitskiy.

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