Publication: Prism Volume: 7 Issue: 10

By A.V. Buzgalin

Could the attacks on New York and Washington have happened if the Soviet Union had survived? Much has been written in the world press, with full justification, about the events of September 11 as a sort of turning point in the development of geopolitical contradictions in the modern world. And whereas in those first days and weeks, the event itself and the possible reactions to it seemed–and were–the main questions, a month after the explosion, faced with the prospect of “local” wars directly related to it, it is strategic issues that now occupy the foreground.


One of Russia’s key strategic problems in the realm of geopolitics is the extreme ambiguity of its position in relation to the United States on the one hand, to its historical alliances within the Muslim world on the other hand, and thirdly to international terrorism. At first glance, there are no particular problems here: For six years now Russia has been fighting against the “terrorists” of Chechnya. And while, prior to September 11, the North and particularly the human rights activists of the Council of Europe, who are also NATO members, repeatedly indicated to the Russian president and government that Russian military operations in Chechnya violate the rights of the population, their reproaches have abated noticeably since the attack on the United States. It might appear that the time has come to rejoice and act in unison with NATO against extremist terrorists from the Islamic world in both Chechnya and Afghanistan.

However, things are not that simple.

Putin, as we know, came to power in large measure because he appropriated the opposition’s jingoistic rhetoric. In Russia, this mode of thinking is associated with criticism, to put it mildly, of the current geopolitics of the Pentagon and NATO, which goes so far as treating these organizations as potential opponents in the struggle for influence over world affairs and over the division of spheres of influence in the South in particular.

Moreover, those who support an escalation of military operations in Chechnya and a radical armed solution to the problem there, have always stressed that what the Russian army faces in Chechnya is not so much fighters struggling for national self-determination, as mercenaries financed from abroad–the suggestion being that Turkey and even NATO are behind it. Russian supporters of the war in Chechnya in fact regard the opposition as terrorists. This might seem all the more plausible given that the Council of Europe has prevented Russia from resolving the Chechen problem once and for all with the use of appropriate force. It should be noted that in the patriotic Russian perception, the Council of Europe is barely distinguishable from NATO, that is, Turkey and others indirectly providing supplying money and weaponry to the “terrorists” in Chechnya. I must emphasize that this is not my view but that of a number of influential Russians from the corridors of power.

From this it is clear why, given the widespread growth of such anti-Pentagon and anti-NATO attitudes across an influential section of the electorate, the “patriot” Putin, while waging war in Chechnya, will lose popular support if he gives America and NATO direct support for their military operations by allowing them to use our territory or even entering an alliance with them. Russia’s liberal-democratic elite finds itself in an even more ambiguous position. Coming out clearly, though less actively, in support of the Council of Europe on the Chechen issue, and stressing in principle the completely reasonable thesis that “you cannot wage war on a country simply because the authorities there are directly or indirectly offering support to terrorists,” they have at the same time always supported the United States and NATO in their geopolitical undertakings, and the war in Yugoslavia in particular. But now they face a dilemma: Russian air and ground attacks on Grozny, the terrorists’ capital, are unacceptable, but it’s all right for the United States to attack Kabul. So both the right-wing patriots, in the person of Putin and his political supporters, and right-wing democrats find themselves in the position of the fabled ass between two bundles of hay. Both options–to support or not to support the United States in Afghanistan–are equally bad.

I have no intention of using this analysis to offer advice to any of these influential politicians. I give my views below on the reasons for the tragic situation that has developed, from the outbreak of terrorism to the outbreak of counterterrorist operations by the military. But, as an analyst, I will not give a detailed exposition of my own standpoint, though it is impossible not to express some opinion.

Let us start by noting that, as always when he has to make a radical strategic choice, Putin chooses to delay. And he is beginning to play complicated tactical games in order to preserve the current ill-defined state of his team. On the one hand, he has determined “statists,” intent on making Russia a leading geopolitical power in Russia’s interest, and on the other hand, in the North’s interests, he has members of the “civilized community,” who are well equipped to join the G-7, given that they know how to conduct themselves in a suitable (modest) manner at the geopolitical table. In practice, this means Putin must assure Bush of his full support in the war against international terrorism, as the main threat to the civilized world in the twenty-first century, and assure Russia that no NATO soldier will ever set foot on Russian soil during the current operations.

It would be interesting to add that the Russian government has been discussing the situation with the leaders of Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and so on, but here I can only conjecture that they have also probably been reassured that, whatever happens, Russia will continue to support its strategic geopolitical partners in the South. However, I stress that this is purely analytical conjecture. What is more important for us is that the radicalization of the United States and NATO in their geopolitical attitude to the South–including the systematic use of their armed forces, without UN approval, in the resolution of their problems–obliges the Russian government sooner or later–and the longer they take, the more damaging it will be for their prestige and for the country–to give a coherent answer to the question: Who is Russia’s friend, and how close a friend, and who is her enemy in her geopolitical purview? It is no use trying to sit on the fence, because the world is beginning to see a reconfiguration of opposing global powers. It would be an oversimplification to see this as a confrontation between “international Good,” or the “civilized community” (represented in practice by NATO) and “international Evil,” or uncivilized fundamentalists (referred to by Russian chauvinists simply as “niggers”), as represented by extremist organizations and “international terrorism.” In reality, neither the NATO commanders nor the terrorists are remotely independent players in the current geopolitical arena, and the alignment of forces within it is a great deal more complicated than it seems.

Before addressing this most complex of problems, and dwelling for a moment on the collapse of the Soviet Union as the starting point for the redrawing of the geopolitical map, I would note that the opposition in Russia is also facing a dilemma.

In the first place, based on some admittedly not particularly representative opinion polls carried out across the country after September 11, and also on the author’s personal impressions from contacts with representatives of various strata of Moscow society, the general attitude of ordinary Russians towards the attacks on the United States was as follows: “We’re very sorry for the victims, but the United States only got what had long been coming to it.” I do not propose to evaluate this attitude now: I merely state what has already been widely broadcast.

In this context, the moderate opposition took a very similar line. I refer here to well-known official statements and views expressed by numerous Communist Party activists. The position taken by supporters of the Russian Communist Workers’ Party, a pro-Stalinist organization with 3-5 percent of the popular vote, however, was much more brutal. They regarded both the explosions and the outbreak of war in Afghanistan as a natural manifestation of the decay and crisis of imperialism and its reactionary nature.

The views expressed by Islamic religious leaders in Russia were cautious in the extreme, but, apart from condemnation of the massive loss of civilian life in the United States, there was also a note of condemnation of America’s international policies, and the fact that the establishment of this one remaining superpower has assumed the role of supreme judge in matters of war and peace. Whatever the differences between these various views, there is in all of them a note–actually more of a crescendo–of condemnation of the United States’ geopolitical attitude to the Third World.

Under these circumstances, I repeat, Russian politicians who want to be able in future to give a proper strategically measured response to the rapidly developing military clashes of the new century, must have a clear understanding of the new alignment of forces that is emerging (but not yet established) in the international arena in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.


Is the collapse of the Soviet Union a threat to the security of the United States and to the rest of the civilized world? The provocative heading of this question reflects a fundamental strategic problem: What are the reasons for the development of the phenomenon we call terrorism on such a large scale specifically now, in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, and how is this phenomenon linked, if at all, to the emerging geopolitical configuration? In particular, is it accidental that the vigorous growth of terrorist activity by radical political, extremist religious and other such organizations coincided with the collapse of the world socialist system and the relatively rapid transition from an initial optimism that this was “the end of history” to the pessimism articulated by Huntington, but long familiar from the experience of conducting local wars, about the clash of civilizations?

I am prepared briefly to articulate positive answers to these questions. Both the world-wide defeat of “real socialism” and the sharp increase in North-South clashes (concealing differences that are about much more than standards of living and religion), accompanied by the growth in terrorism, are in my view the consequence of much deeper but essentially common causes.

I am not trying to rediscover America here: These causes are well known and have in recent years acquired the now fashionable appellation of ‘globalization.’ I will set aside for the time being what is in principle the most important set of problems, which are strictly beyond the scope of the current article, linked with new technologies and the rise of postindustrial society–the information society, the knowledge society and so on. Instead, I will address the socioeconomic, geopolitical and military aspects of the present-day model of globalization as the fundamental cause of the new geopolitical world order and, in particular, of the explosion of terror.

The fundamental feature of the world’s global structure today is the extremely high degree of control that major transnational organizations enjoy over the prime areas of the economy (high-tech production, IT, finance and so on), the international movement of capital and goods, and the organization of human resources and mass culture. This is common knowledge. Just as widely known is the fact that these structures–both private transnational corporations (TNCs) and the supragovernmental institutions of globalization, such as the IMF, WTO, the World Bank and so on–are interwoven with the government establishments of a select few of the leading First World states, first and foremost the United States. Rather less apparent, but still beyond doubt, is the fact that key powers in both the military-strategic and the ideological-propagandist spheres are concentrated in the hands of these same agents of globalization.

Let me observe that this is less true of the TNCs–though their role in the creation of certain controls on the flow of information is now greater than ever–than of the G-7 countries’ national state machinery and the supra-governmental “superorganism” of NATO. The role of NATO as the world’s policeman, the term used by supporters of the organization’s activities, or gendarme, to use the antiglobalists’ term, is today generally accepted, though the former consider that, while NATO may sometimes need to play the role of tough cop, it is still indispensable, whereas for the latter, NATO is a policeman who is involved in murder and therefore the worst type of criminal.

But this leads to a banally obvious conclusion: If several tens of millions–maximum–of First World “professionals” control the economy, the money market, weapons of mass destruction and the main sources of information, then the remaining billions of the world’s population are effectively reduced to objects for economic, political, ideological and even military manipulation. But a significant number of these “puppets” will not willingly accept this state of affairs for historical, social, economic, ethnic or ideological reasons. And it is this contradiction that holds the key to the new geopolitical state of the world.

Those billions of people around the world who are reduced to puppets find not only that they live in visibly worse economic conditions than the citizens of the North, but also that they have no legitimate means in the eyes of the world community of resisting armed aggression, should the agents of globalization decide that, in their own opinion, based on their own criteria and on the decisions of their various power structures, the use of force is necessary.

Ten years ago, in a bipolar world, it was possible for a relatively independent third tier to evolve. This was represented partly by the movement of nonaligned countries. The UN, meanwhile, as a balancing instrument between the two world systems and the two superpowers, proved relatively effective as a mechanism for working out compromises. The triumph of the current model of a global “monopolar” world has the effect of reducing this already relatively limited possibility to nil.

As a result, the economic, technical, informational, cultural and, above all, the military superiority if not the diktat of the NATO countries, combined with their monopoly on truth in the resolution of geopolitical arguments within a legitimate framework, presents every social structure, however strongly it rejects this system of rules, with a choice. Questions about what kind of force, and to what extent it satisfies the requirements of the “civilized community” in the years since the war in Yugoslavia are in fact being addressed by NATO’s governing bodies. Either use nonviolent forms of civil opposition, as with the antiglobalization movement, or adopt the illegitimate–in terms of the formal rules established by the North–use of force, that is, terrorism. The first option, if there is vigorous growth in a democratic antiglobalization movement from below and a corresponding movement by the agents of globalization towards social compromise, may go some way towards mitigating the aforementioned contradictions and creating an atmosphere in which radical terrorist action will be rejected by the masses. If there is no effective democratic world alternative, or (as in the last two years) efforts are made by the agents of the current model of globalization to suppress this rapidly developing movement, the greater part of the world’s population will inevitably find themselves in a qualitatively different position from that of the “golden billion.” Their reaction will be similar to that of the majority of Russians: Terror is an awful thing, of course, we have sympathy for the victims, but…. And the longer things continue, the louder that “but” will sound. In the present circumstances, those social and cultural groups that are incapable–for either economic, social, political or other reasons or because of their religious and cultural traditions–of following that first path, have no option, when faced with a monopolar globalized world, but to take the path of radical action.

If there were a genuine new and positive alternative to the dictatorship of the North, they might, however, be able to seek some compromise.

Previously, they would have had more options: They might either have signed up to the alternative world system–that is, to NATO, benefiting from its protection, or swung between the two poles, or gone to war. In a bipolar world the lesser countries felt entitled to use open, and what the world community might view as “legitimate,” force–however monstrous this might sound–against the countries of the First World. I refer here to anticolonial wars against the United States, Britain, France and others in the 1950s and 1960s. In the current circumstances, no “official” war by any country–and especially by any defined social force–from the Third, or ex-socialist, World against the united system of the agents of globalization, as represented by NATO, is possible. The use of legitimate force against NATO member-states is actually a monopoly held solely by those NATO member countries. Instances of war within NATO, for example, between Turkey and Greece, are familiar: That war was a fully ‘legitimized’ conflict, and nobody would have used terms such as terrorists, extremists or crimes against humanity to describe either the Turkish or the Greek protagonists, even though their victims included innocent civilians.

I do not seek to equate war with terrorism here: I would emphasize only that it is impossible for extremist sociocultural groups to use the legitimate weapon of war. But we cannot fail to see that in the opposition of such groups to the standards set by the establishment of the North, tension levels are nearing boiling point, and there is a willingness to make systematic use of violent methods.

I stress again: From the point of view of the rules laid down by the governments of the North, violence of this kind is something “extra-ordinary.” It is no accident therefore that the perpetrators of violence–those who step outside the framework of the established rules–are labeled as extremists and their actions defined as terror. These actions really do lie beyond what “civilized society” regards as acceptable forms of violence–such as the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the napalming of Vietnam and Cambodia, the precision bombing of Yugoslav and Iraqi towns, and many more. In the present analysis, the author will refrain from evaluating whether any of these actions were humane, progressive or ethical (and if so, in what way): Taken in the abstract, blowing up the homes of thousands of civilians is always evil and always a crime. Although, in the course of the twentieth century, the governments of almost every nation have repeatedly given direct orders for the execution of just such explosions.

In making an objective analysis here, it is important not merely to judge those who, like the Kamikaze, took thousands with them to the grave, but to retrace the reasons for these events. They can be summarized as follows:

1. Confrontation between the agents of globalization and a significant proportion of the most oppressed–not simply impoverished–and radically inclined citizens of the developing world is the inevitable result of the First World establishment’s current model of economic, political and such-like behavior.

2. Given their sociohistorical circumstances, a range of socially–economically, culturally and religiously–oppressed groups in the Third World find it impossible to assert their own values using purely peaceful means, and are prepared to use violence to defend their interests against global domination by the North.

3. The current state of the modern world is not conducive to the development of positive counterweights to the hegemony of NATO and the TNCs. In particular, a constructive, international antiglobal movement is only now evolving, and is subject to various forms of persecution by the authorities; there is no sign of any significant efforts by the agents of globalization to find a compromise, such as was reached by the western world in the 1950s and 1960s when they opted for a social market economy and social democracy rather than fascism.

4. Extremist groups are unable either to seek protection under the wing of an alternative bloc of world powers to NATO, or to use these powers to find a third way.

5. The monopoly on the use of ‘legitimate’ force against NATO countries is in fact exclusive to the NATO bloc.

6. There are no international democratic institutions with sufficient authority among the majority of the world’s population which might be capable of finding a peaceful means of resolving conflicts between the agents of globalization and those sociocultural groups–national, religious, community, political–that oppose them (including from a reactionary, fundamentalist position).

Hence, with the precision of a mathematically proven theorem, it follows that it is inevitability that extremist groups will use illegitimate force (terrorism) to the extent that factors 1-4 apply.


By way of conclusion, I quote a recent conversation with a Russian businessman. “I live as if I’m in prison,” he complained, “with grilles on my windows and doors like a bank vault; without a security guard neither I nor my children can walk around town safely. It’s a different matter in Sweden or Belgium-they have peace and quiet in their towns, and glass doors which they don’t even bother to lock when they go out.” I asked: “But would you like to pay 50 percent income tax to fund benefits for those on low incomes, or to maintain free social services and so on?” He didn’t take to this idea: “Why should I give any of my money to someone else? That’s robbery!”

In today’s world, as it becomes ever more integrated (just as in the past fragmented principalities and dukedoms were united as a single state), there seems to be a growing need for an obligatory compromise, as a minimum, in order to achieve a transition if not to some fundamentally different socioeconomic model, then at least to a guaranteed world-wide resolution, implemented securely by independent supra-national organs, of all the problems of social welfare, environmental protection and the leveling of living standards and quality of life for all nations and peoples, which the socially oriented states currently resolve themselves for their own particular disadvantaged social and ethnic groups. This concept was suggested in this form by my colleague K.V. Makarin.

As pointed out repeatedly by UNESCO and other nongovernmental organizations, even a fraction of the world’s military expenditure would be ample to bring about a qualitative move towards resolving this problem. The tens of billions of dollars allocated by the U.S. Congress for dealing with the consequences of the terrorist acts would alone be enough to provide a minimum level of essential medical and educational supplies and a minimum quantity of food and drinking water for all the underprivileged children of the world.

Here another long-familiar rule operates: Averting the causes of terror is not only more intelligent but also cheaper than trying to deal with its consequences. If the golden billion, like the Russian businessman, do not want to be constantly on guard against terrorist attacks, living in homes with grilles, steel doors and security guards (who might kill you themselves if you don’t pay enough), then they must at the very least reform the system which permits the domination of a limited group of agents of globalization. Otherwise, there will be no stopping the growth of terror.

Aleksandr Buzgalin is a doctor of economics and a professor at Moscow State University. He is a leader of Russia’s Democratic Socialist Movement.