Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 16


On April 30 the U.S. State Department released the latest version of its annual report, “Patterns of Global Terrorism.” The department’s website included a passage that caught Jamestown’s attention–the U.S. government’s official definition of “terrorism.”

According to this passage, “The term ‘terrorism’ means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience. The term ‘international terrorism’ means terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one country.”

What is striking about this definition is that it a priori excludes actions by national governments. It would appear that if Russia’s FSB or some other agency of a national government were to highjack an airliner and crash it into a New York skyscraper, our State Department would not view this as an act of “terrorism”-because, in official Washington’s view, “terrorism” by definition includes only violence committed by “subnational” entities.

Jamestown and others have made the point that Chechnya today harbors many terrorists on both sides of the conflict, including not a few who wear Russian uniforms. One would think that this point would be unexceptionable to any objective observer of the Chechen wars, but in fact it often (to be fair, not always) meets with stiff resistance from officials in both Moscow and Washington. Such bureaucrats reflect a systemic bias against David and in favor of Goliath, which perhaps should not surprise us; after all, they work for Goliath themselves.