Civil G8 2006

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A. Safonov. Combating terrorism

A. E. Safonov, Special Presidential Representative for Issues of International Cooperation to Combat Terrorism and Transnational Organised Crime

Question: Mr. Safonov, we exist in a paradoxical situation: terrorism exists as a phenomenon, yet the concept is not defined. How do you define terrorism?

A. E. Safonov: The situation can truly be called paradoxical. It is generally acknowledged that terrorism is the main threat today, yet it has no definition. As Descartes said, if our definitions coincide, we can avoid many difficulties. A point of reference is needed.

The draft Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism, which has already been under UN examination for several years, is supposed to define this concept. Unfortunately, we been unable to achieve any serious progress in this regard in the past year. There are two difficulties. The first is how to differentiate between the concept of terrorism and national liberation movements. Here we run up against the problem of objectivity. The second difficulty is whether it is possible to consider the actions of military divisions during conflicts as terrorism.

The dramatic events of recent years have pushed everyone to understand the necessity of developing a definition of terrorism. Practically everyone agrees on one thing its core factor is violence against peaceable populations. We are doing all we can, and really hope this convention will be ratified in the coming year. It is important not only in relation to technology; it will radically reduce opportunities to dress terrorism up in other clothes. And our task is to throw off the veil of mystery and heroism that covers it. After all, Al-Qaeda is not just a terrorist organisation; for many, unfortunately, it is an attractive philosophy of waging war on the West.

Question: You must admit that there is a substantial difference between the acts of terrorism committed in America on September 11 and those that are committed in Israel. In other words, there are, let's say, local specifics to terrorism. Could you describe the specifics of terrorism in our country?

A. E Safonov: It is good that you mentioned September 11. It has become a stock phrase that 'the whole world changed after September 11'. I don't think that's true. The world was already changing, and it was the very lack of timely reaction to these changes that led to September 11. Prior to it there were events in Algeria, the Balkans, Chechnya, Afghanistan.

Russia sent several signals that we would have to deal with global terrorism. When we say that on September 11, 2001 our enemy became a fully-fledged threat, we must also add that we allowed it to do so. When discussing global terrorism, it is important to understand that it is not only a geographical issue, but that the battle takes place in all spheres of human activity.

We must recognise the phenomenon of terrorism and resist it. Only a deeper understanding will allow us to to take better thought-out countermeasures. Today it is already clear that what we encounter on the front line is only part of the problem the main part is the hinterland, where everything is planned and organised.

The nature of terrorism is such that it cannot be quickly overcome. It cannot be burnt out with napalm. We need to rely on long-term work. Bear in mind that 40% of the population in the Islamic world consists of people under 15 years of age. This work must be targeted at them. This is a battle for hearts and minds.

Now, Russia's specifics. On one hand you could say that we have found our own way in the battle against terrorism. But on the other, we must acknowledge that the difference is not a large one. We are all governed by the same general laws.

Question: How do you feel about the claims that what is happening in Chechnya is a battle for national liberation, does this also define the specifics of terror in our country?

A. E. Safonov: It is important to remember that while there can be no justification for terrorism, that is not to say that it does not have causes. As soon as discussion of causes begins, there is a danger of slipping into sympathy and justification of terrorism.

This phenomenon has many causes. I believe that it is an oversimplification to reduce everything to poverty, unemployment and similar factors. Another factor is the dark side of globalisation. Terrorism is born in the material sphere. It has roots in the spiritual.

Nevertheless, all this does not justify resorting to terror in order to draw attention to existing problems. After the Agreement of Khasavyurt, Chechnya received de facto independence. But it soon became clear that this had not been the goal. It is this that shows that Chechnya is another link in the general terrorist chain.

Today's terror is different from the terror of the past two centuries. In those days terrorists would pursue definite political goals, and on achieving them form their own political movements or parties. Today we have seen apocalypse terrorism on achieving one destructive goal it sets itself another, even more destructive one. Terrorism is becoming self-sufficient. The virus of modern terrorism is highly tenacious and capable of regeneration and various mutations, which gives it the opportunity to swiftly adapt itself to any regional conflict, appropriating for itself the right to act as a commentator and mediator.

The world has become less predictable; many processes are incomplete and therefore not identifiable. The world's development has today moved into a phase where there are more questions than answers. This is a very unstable situation. It causes alarm and depresses people. And suddenly someone appears whom everyone knows. He gives simple answers to questions. These answers find favour with the majority, because simple answers particularly radical ones are attractive.

Question: From what you have said, can the conclusion be drawn that you agree with the definition of the 21st century as the century of terror?

A. E. Safonov: In a sense, yes. But I think that modern terrorism is part of a wider civilisation scenario, connected with development of humanity and its surroundings. Here one of the key conditions comes into play the rate of scientific progress has overtaken the rate of human improvement. This is a serious danger.

A scientist was once asked why humanity does not receive signals from space about the existence of other civilisations. He sadly remarked: Either we are alone in the universe, or else every civilisation that gets to the level of technology allowing it to send such a signal is doomed to self-destruct.

Today it is important to understand that dividing things into 'us' and 'them' is not productive. A criminal is also one of us he arose out of our society. All problems are concentrated on the individual. Only on this basis can we create a base for the long term.

Question: Are we talking about decades here?

A. E. Safonov: Unfortunately, yes. We shouldn't be setting ourselves false targets and false deadlines. We must understand that what is meant is working with the next generation.

Question: Another side to your activities is combating organised crime. In the West there has been much alarmed talk about the threat from the 'Russian mafia'. In your opinion, is this a myth or a real phenomenon?

A. E. Safonov: Several years ago this image was common in the West, now it is remembered more rarely. This phenomenon has both real and virtual aspects. There is also a subjective component to it, which was readily accepted in the West: the threat from our tanks and rockets had disappeared, but without some kind of threat it is difficult to attract attention, extract additional financing, and demonstrate inherent necessities.

And another thing, our specialists also had a hand in creating this phenomenon. At the turn of the 1990s many specialists, including from the legal organs, would say at international forums: If you don't help us you'll learn what the 'Russian mafia' is!. It was a no-brainer receive miserly material aid or initiate the phenomenon which troubled the West for years.

But it was also a reality. With the opening of borders and privatisation, when giant fortunes were amassed, dirty capital really was moved to the West. Our new business environment, like everything new, was mobile and aggressive, sometimes shockingly so. As a result this persistent image came into being.

That's really all there is to the Russian mafia. But it's good that you asked about organised crime. Several years ago we were telling our Western partners that terrorism was becoming closer aligned with organised crime to form a sort of villainous holding structure. They would answer: That's not what our information is telling us.

We understood perfectly well then that criminal and terrorist networks had different political goals. They made only occasional and petty contacts with one another with regard to receipt of arms, and occasional removal of competitors by third parties. But no merger had taken place.

The situation today has changed radically. Everyone acknowledges that such an amalgamation is taking place. Take the Balkans, where a pipeline has been set up for trafficking drugs and humans. But now it can also be used by terrorists to transfer weapons, volunteers, etc. In other words, a unified structure is at work. We have seen the same thing in Chechnya too. In Columbia the word 'narcoterrorism' is by no means just a figure of speech.

A monster has been created, which it is extremely difficult to split into terrorist and criminal components. It is a new and extremely dangerous web. Today it is becoming clear that corruption is taking place not only in the offices of bureaucrats a plane explodes and it emerges that by paying a bribe the terrorists were able to bring explosives on board. This symbiosis creates new problems and requires new approaches.

Question: Is our state ready for this new threat?

A. E. Safonov: It is not only a matter for the state. We must involve all the resources of civil society. Civil society is built in a network, honeycomb-type form, and terrorist networks are built in the same way. We must understand that new threats cannot be neutralised using old weapons.

Question: From what you have said, the conclusion could be drawn that your overall message is: Peoples of the world, tremble!. Do you believe that terrorism might win?

A. E. Safonov: I would draw another conclusion: People, be vigilant!. These words of Julius Fucik are entirely relevant today. I am absolutely certain that in the long term we will be able to overcome this challenge. In my opinion, terrorism as a phenomenon is now close to its high point. We should be aware that the word 'point' is used here literally. This kind of phenomenon does not peak, it plateaus. How long terrorism remains on this plateau before it begins to come tumbling down depends on us.

Now we must open up a 'second front' in the battle with terrorism by combating it in the spiritual sphere. We must be aware that terrorism is a manifestation of human nature. In combating the technological side of terrorism, we must not under any circumstances allow its spiritual dimension to slip from view. Every person must look into his soul and reach out to the souls of others.

Unofficial translation from Russian

Expert opinion

Halter Marek


Halter Marek
Le College de France
Olivier Giscard dEstaing


Olivier Giscard dEstaing
COPAM, France
Mika Ohbayashi


Mika Ohbayashi
Institute for Sustainable Energy Poliy
Bill Pace


Bill Pace
World Federalist Movement - Institute for Global Policy
Peter I. Hajnal


Peter I. Hajnal
Toronto University, G8 Research Group

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