More than terrorism: progress in the year past

IT would be a shame to allow a year-end act of terrorism -- in this case the twin attacks by Palestinian terrorists on Israeli airline counters in Rome and Vienna -- to have the final word on 1985. It was also a year in which the two superpowers began to talk again, to avoid the ultimate terrorist act, nuclear war. But first, the conventional terrorism: Granted, the deliberate use of terror by ruthless factions appeared on the increase the past year. Its compass widened to embrace more innocents (the Achille Lauro cruise passengers in October, the EgyptAir victims hijacked in November). Both superpowers in 1985 were targeted for terrorist kidnappings or reprisals. Terrorism skipped across oceans to strike on different continents (in a San Salvador caf'e in June, Beirut in August). It changed hemispheres (Ca nada in June, Colombia in November). Besides the Palestinian factions, the terrorists were numbered among the Irish Republican Army, India's Sikhs, Islamic fundamentalists, and Basque separatists.

In an important sense, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres was right this week in saying of the latest attack, ``It's one prolonged war.'' Among the progressive steps taken against ``universal'' terrorism this year was the United Nation's belated decision to condemn it -- to recognize it for what it is, a common enemy of mankind. Individual nations have taken harder lines on terrorist acts. In some cases they have moved to ameliorate its causes (for example, the British agreement with the Irish Republi c for joint influence in Northern Ireland's affairs). There is more cooperation on intelligence to forestall terrorist attacks -- reportedly even between the United States and the Soviet Union. The media have begun to consider whether the nature of their coverage abets the terrorists' game of inciting fear to gain notoriety.

The debate continues over whether broad reprisals are permissible, or whether they chiefly prolong the irrational mood and acts of terrorist defiance. In the latest case, the US was right to ask Israel to exercise restraint in retaliation for the twin attacks in Rome and Vienna; at the same time, Israel cannot be expected to accept the use of peace talks as a shield for terrorist attacks. Terrorism, however, must be kept separate from peace negotiations, if regional peace in the Middle East is ever to h ave a chance.

The year 1985 was mixed: Broad streams of conflict were set between restraining banks of discussion and some political gains. We still cannot say whether the bankruptcy of South Africa's apartheid system will be acknowledged swiftly enough to avoid a deepening of violent unrest. The Marcos succession in the Philippines is a story for 1986.

But military governments gave way to democratic rule in South America at a heartening rate in 1985. China moved to bring its economic system more into the modern, competitive mode. And the return to direct, civil discourse between Washington and Moscow suggested a more temperate international climate in the year ahead.

Terrorism would drag the world down into the grievances of the past. These must be dealt with. But they cannot have priority over a world that wants to move on to better times and more constructive relations.

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