May 3, 2002

May 3, 2002 | Commentary on Europe

Europe's Goofy Terrorist List

Europeans aren't known for being gaffe-prone. But when the 15 member-states of the European Union omitted the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and Colombia's National Liberation Army (ELN) from their May 3, 2002 list of terrorist organizations, it was either a major oversight or shameful politics trumping truth.

The Marxist FARC is the western hemisphere's largest terrorist organization and Colombia's most dangerous rebel group. It numbers approximately 18,000 combatants, spread over 70 fronts. The rival ELN has some 4,000 adherents. Together they make anywhere from $600 million to $1.2 billion a year from kidnappings, extortion and drug trafficking.

The FARC has links with Basque Fatherland & Liberty (ETA), a Spanish terrorist organization, and has enlisted the help of Irish Republican Army explosives experts in making gas cylinder bombs and anti-personnel mines that have killed and maimed thousands. Outside of Colombia, the FARC trades drugs for guns with terrorist operatives from the Middle East operating in South America. Both organizations should be on anyone's terrorist list -- if such a list is to be taken seriously.

Curiously, the European Union listed only two Latin American terrorist organizations: the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) and Peru's Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) guerrillas. In fact, the AUC made the U.S. State Department terrorist roster last September. In 2000, it allegedly murdered as many civilians as the FARC and the ELN combined and has since surpassed them. But Peru's Sendero Luminoso has only 400 members and is only now beginning to come back from its defeat at the hands of government forces in 1992.

Maybe this glaring discrepancy occurred because the European Union isn't serious about producing such a list. Instead of establishing criteria for what constitutes a terrorist organization and identifying groups that fit that description, the EU's member-states vote on their picks -- as if it were a popularity contest.

In the case of the FARC and the ELN, France and Sweden reportedly objected to including them believing that these groups could be enticed into another unproductive peace process like the one that ended in February 2002 because of the FARC's unwillingness to bargain in good faith.

If so, this would be the latest example of the EU yielding to instincts of appeasement when confronted by a security threat. Such a policy proved disastrously ineffective throughout the great conflicts of the 20th century, and it's unlikely to do anything more than legitimize Colombia's guerrillas rather than brand them for what they are: unabashed terrorists.

In fact, the FARC is largely a terrorist franchise with an aging leadership out of touch with its far-flung troops. It can't always control them, and it can't negotiate a peace based on a forgotten political agenda and one hardly understood by the rank-and-file combatants. Despite the seeming lack of discipline, the FARC is an enormously destructive machine fueled by drug profits when seen up close. Across the Atlantic, it's still viewed as a band of Robin Hoods robbing the rich to help the poor, which fits many European leftists' memories of their youthful, radical pasts.

The European Union could set the matter straight if it would:

· Establish realistic criteria for determining when an organization is "terrorist" rather than voting in what looks to the rest of the world like a beauty contest;
· Scrutinize obvious candidates around the world, such as the FARC and ELN, in order to prove the usefulness of such a list;
· Close offices that these groups may have in EU-member countries;
· Work more closely with the United States to share intelligence and derail global terrorist funding mechanisms; and
· Extradite suspects directly to the United States in fighting the war against terror, despite differences between America and the EU over the death penalty.

Such policy measures would prove that the EU is what it says it is -- America's chief ally in fighting the war against terror. Drawing up a half-hearted lists conveys an impression of happy-talk relevance -- of going through the motions without actually helping in the fight.

Stephen Johnson is a Latin America policy analyst in the Davis Institute for International Studies and John Hulsman is a research fellow in European affairs.

About the Author

Stephen Johnson Senior Policy Analyst
The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy

John Hulsman Senior Research Fellow

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