Asian cities may be next terror target

October 07, 2005|By JOHN C. BERSIA

For many Americans, terrorism crept in like a night fog - quietly, furtively and overwhelmingly. Terrorism was upon them before they knew it or could prepare for its wrath. As a result, they have been left to deal with the debris and death toll of horrific acts, an environment of fear and the uncertain prospects of years to come.

Actually, this viewpoint could not be further from the facts.

Indeed, it ranks among the many misperceptions that continue to distort Americans' awareness of the terrorism conundrum.

Warnings about terrorists' intentions, goals and capabilities have been ample for years. And they continue to sound out today, including a recent one on the front page of the Financial Times by France's top terrorist investigator, Jean-Louis Bruguiere. He soberly indicated that al-Qaida has plans to attack a prominent financial center in Asia - perhaps Tokyo, Singapore or Sydney.

Unfortunately, most people do not treat such details with the attention and urgency they deserve. For example, a decade before 9/11, specialists had warned that terrorists were entering a new era, freed from the artificial restraints of the Cold War, and were planning to wreak havoc upon the developing new world order. Various aviation security analysts even predicted that terrorists would use aircraft as weapons.

No defense is absolute, but stronger measures, even relatively simple ones, can thwart would-be aircraft hijackers - as we now know from 9/11.

Another common misperception is that terrorism cannot be stopped. But successful attacks, including this summer's bombings in London, represent only a fraction of terrorist initiatives. For national security reasons, we hear little or nothing about the several dozen plots that authorities here and abroad have thwarted since 9/11. That detail should at least inspire hope.

An additional misconception about terrorism is that it derives from modern times. Actually, terrorism afflicted every century before the 21st - and for mostly understandable reasons. The disgruntled of any era, whether their motivation stems from political, economic, religious, social or other concerns, often try to resolve their grievances through violence.

Therein lies still another misconception about terrorism: that it is impossible to ameliorate. Many roots of terrorism - with the exception of some of the extreme, hard-core religious and ideological ones - can be addressed through diplomacy, negotiation, the expansion of opportunity and the broadening of political, social and economic justice.

Back to Mr. Bruguiere, a globally respected judge. Why should anyone pay attention to his contention that nations of the Asia-Pacific region find themselves relatively less prepared to deal with potential terrorist attacks than the United States or Europe?

Because he knows what he's talking about, having fought a wave of terrorism in France for a generation, overseen the arrests of hundreds of terrorist suspects and warned of coming attacks in places such as Britain long before July's bombings.

His research and sources suggest that terrorism in Asia has received insufficient attention. He worries, in particular, about Japan's vulnerability. An attack on a financial center such as Tokyo would enable al-Qaida to score a symbolic and practical coup. Not only would it undermine Japan's return to economic prosperity, it would send shock waves throughout the neighboring region and eventually disrupt the United States.

What to do? The key to the war against terrorism is to regard it as an open-ended struggle, much as the Cold War was, and to deal with it consistently, forcefully and proactively. Global cooperation is critical. Some of the techniques and ideas - including how to inspire more-effective dealings between intelligence and law-enforcement agencies - that have worked in France could transfer to other countries.

The time to consider and implement such moves is now, before al-Qaida or like-minded organizations cripple an Asian financial center - and the global economy.

John C. Bersia is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, a special assistant to the president for global perspectives and a professor at the University of Central Florida.

Columnist Trudy Rubin will return Tuesday.

Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services

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