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Monday, September 06, 2004

Beslan is Russia's 9/11: it will change the world

William Rees-Mogg, in the London Times
IN THE past three years, the world has been adjusting to the consequences of 9/11. That one event has dominated American politics and policy. It has divided the Nato alliance, with France and Germany taking one line and the United States and Britain another. In both America and Britain it has been the central issue of political debate. It has been a major influence on the increasingly unstable world market for oil. It has been the crucial event in the growth of Islamic terrorism.

On the day of 9/11, I was asked to write a short piece for The Times, reacting to the event. I thought that the nearest to a comparable date was December 7, 1941, the day of Pearl Harbor, 60 years before. The American people responded to that with an absolute determination to destroy the power which had attacked them. They have done so again. President Roosevelt called it “a date which will live in infamy”. The consequences included the dropping of the first nuclear bomb on Hiroshima; in many ways they persist in influencing the present.

Many other people saw 9/11 in the same way. Clearly we were right. Like Pearl Harbor or the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, 9/11 was one of the days which changed the world. Now we have to ask whether the hostage-taking of the schoolchildren of Beslan on September 1, 2004, the 65th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, was another of these historic tragedies. In Russia, at least, that is how it has already been understood.

Beslan is for the Russians another terrible event which changes everything. It changes many of the major factors of world relations, the future of Russia itself, including the future of the Putin presidency, the war against terrorism, including both Russian and Western relations with Islam, the response to the growing threat of nuclear proliferation, the basic relationship between Russia, Europe and the US, the probable outcome of the American election and possibly even of the next British election, the future of the world oil market, the future of the Middle East, and particularly of Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia, even the economic development of the emerging superpower, China.

Beslan is what strategists call “a low-probability, high-impact event”. Potentially it changes everything.