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date: 03 December 2020

Terrorism as a Global Wave Phenomenon: New Left Wavelocked

  • David C. RapoportDavid C. RapoportProfessor Emeritus, Department of Political Science, University of California, Los Angeles

Summary

By the 1960s the international world changed dramatically. While the nuclear balance of terror created by the atomic bomb prevented war between the First and the Second Worlds, proxy wars between the superpowers were conducted in the “Third World.” The Cold War began and the Soviet Union attempted to arouse radical groups in the Third World, an effort that grew immensely as overseas empires of Western states dissolved. The UN membership expanded because of the great number of “new” states. Two events in Third World countries were critical: Castro’s triumph in Cuba and the long Vietnam War. Vietnam was particularly crucial in animating terrorist groups throughout the West. A total of 404 groups emerged: 192 Revolutionaries and 212 Separatists. There were two Revolutionary types: 143 Nationals and 49 Transnational. The Transnationals, a product of the developed world, saw themselves as Third World agents. Nationals and Separatists aimed to remake their own states. Nationals sought equality and Separatists sought a new state that often included elements from neighboring states. Separatists were present everywhere except Latin America where all groups were Nationals.

As in the First Wave, university students provided most of the initial terrorist recruits. Women became important again except among Separatists. Cuban and PLO training facilities intensified bonds with foreign groups. The PLO was the most conspicuous group because it conducted more assaults abroad than at home. Groups from different countries cooperated in attacks, that is, OPEC ministers kidnapping (1975). At home, targets with international significance like embassies were struck. Publicity again became a principal concern, which made hostage taking preeminent for the first time, a practice that became very lucrative for some groups. Over 700 hijacked airlines intensified the wave’s international character. The Sandinista took Nicaragua’s Congress hostage in 1978, which sparked a successful insurrection. Many Third World hostages were foreigners from the developed world involved in commerce, and their companies quickly paid enormous ransoms. Earlier waves produced more deaths.

The wave began ebbing in the 1980s; new groups stopped emerging. Israel eliminated PLO facilities for training terrorist groups. International counterterrorist cooperation became effective. Terrorists now found the UN hostile. Six of the eight successes occurred when the Cold War ended and Soviet support disappeared. Most were very limited. The PLO became so weak it was allowed to return home and negotiate for a two-state solution, one still not achieved. The South African ANC produced the only real success partly because its tactics were so restrained.

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