West must address terrorism at its root, warn think-tanks

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Series Details Vol.7, No.35, 27.9.01, p22
Publication Date 27/09/2001
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Date: 27/09/01

By Simon Coss

The European Union and the rest of the developed world need to radically re-assess their approach to world trade in the light of the US terrorist atrocities, argue a number of leading think-tanks.

The message coming from the Union's leading political thinkers is clear.

If Europe, the US and the rest of the developed world really want to eradicate the scourge of terrorism, then they must tackle the problem at its source.

Bringing today's terrorists to justice must of course remain a key priority but just as important is preventing tomorrow's potential fanatics from choosing the path of violence.

This means the West taking a long hard look at the reasons why it has become so hated in certain parts of the developing world.

According to the Paris-based anti-world-trade group Attac, the modern global trading system must take a large share of the blame for the current crisis.

Globalisation has increased the disparities between rich and poor countries to such an extent that "three-fifths of humanity live in misery", the organisation says.

It is among these desperate, angry and dispossessed people that the terrorists find their recruits, the organisation argues.

"It is in this oppression and in conflicts that are deliberately not resolved that we have to look for the anchor of fanaticism and hatred. Terrorism takes root in despair and suffering, which it exploits for its own ends," the group said in a statement released after the US atrocities.

Attac says that this month's attacks show that policies such as the controversial 'Tobin tax' are now more necessary than ever.

This levy, proposed in the 1970s by US economist James Tobin, would introduce a small charge on international currency transactions which Attac says could be used to reduce poverty in the developing world.

EU finance ministers discussed the tax at informal talks last weekend but concluded it would only work if it could be applied throughout the world - a scenario they do not believe is possible in the foreseeable future.

But while Attac represents perhaps the more radical end of the globalisation debate, other think-tanks share the group's view that left unreformed, the current international trading system is likely to foster more hatred and resentment in the developing world. "The sweeping away of barriers to global free trade and the free movement of capital - as well as the parallel economic and social transformation brought about by the IT revolution, has had complex and contradictory consequences," states John Palmer, director of the Brussels-based European Policy Centre (EPC) in a paper published on 23 September.

Palmer argued that while globalisation had brought "enormous economic advantages" to many parts of the world it had also "involved painful dislocation, insecurity and impoverishment for vulnerable individuals and even entire communities and regions".

He said that without some sort of global governance to contain the current world trading system globalisation could prove "vulnerable to conflict and increasingly hostile public reaction".

Brussels' other leading think-tank, the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPs) concentrated more heavily on traditional 'guns and bombs' issues of security, military options and power politics in its initial post-11 September paper.

But the report's authors, Michael Emerson and Daniel Gros, also stressed the importance "alliance building" with the Arab and Islamic world as part of a long-term anti-terrorist strategy.

London-based think-tank Open Democracy, which presents itself as a forum for debate with no particular political allegiance, published a short article by Scilla Elworthy, a director of the Oxford Research Group, which specialises in military conflict resolution.

Elworthy argued that the West needed to break the cycle of violence which feeds terrorism and should resist the temptation to carry out "revenge" attacks on the countries it believed was behind the US atrocities.

"One of the prime motives of the attacks on the US is to provoke a strong counter reaction. But whatever the domestic pressures, wide-ranging military action is counter-productive," the military expert argued.

The West should instead try to "analyse the underlying causes" of the antagonism that led people to commit such a terrible crime and try to reduce them, Elworthy said.

The European Union and the rest of the developed world need to radically re-assess their approach to world trade in the light of the US terrorist atrocities, argue a number of leading think-tanks.

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