Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. has accused the Soviet Union of fostering, supporting, and expanding international terrorism. This marks a profound change away from the Carter administration view, which was that there was no persuasive evidence that the Soviets in any way centrally directed terrorist activities overseas.
In the outgoing administration's view, the Siviets might have been able to manipulate or exploit terrorism at times, but they did not play a critical role in fostering or expanding it. As Carter administration officials saw it, the grievances and motivations giving rise to terrorism were largely local in origin.
Early indications from some of the former American hostages at the US Embassy in Tehran, for example, are that the Iranians who seized the embassy had genuine grievances toward the United States and were not directed by an outside force such as the Soviet Union. Despite earlier reports indicating that the captors had been given specialized training, one of the US marines among the hostages -- Sgt. James Lopez -- declared that his guards seemed to have had no formal weapons training and that his greatest fear was that he might be killed by an accident discharge from one of their weapons.
Aside from the fact that President Reagan has promised that a repetition of the Iran embassy takeover would bring "swift and effective retribution," the new administration is still discussing what its antiterrorism program will mean in specific terms. A major review of the whole subject is under way.
One of the key questions for the new foreign policy team will be whether economic sanctions should be taken against countries that support terrorists. A Senate bill sponsored by former Sens. Abraham Ribicoff (D) of Connecticut and Jacob K. Javits (R) of New York would have required just such sanctions. It could still become the basis for legislation on the subject. The bill would leave considerable discretion to the president as to a final decision on the imposition of sanctions.
Another direction in which the new administration could move would be in providing crowd-control equipment, such as tear gas, to nations that are friendly to the United States. The Carter administration had been reluctant to provide such equipment to some countries whose governments, in its view, violated human rights.
In his first press conference Jan. 28, Secretary Haig implied that international terroism has been expanding.
A new study by Brian M. Jenkins of the Rand Corporation shows that the number of embassy seizures by terrorists has, indeed, increased in recent years. But he notes the increase over the past two years has been due almost entirely to the political turmoil in Iran, where four embassies have been seized, and El Salvador, where guerrillas and militants have seized or attempted to sieze embassies on 11 occasions.
And while the impact of some recent embassy seizures and other terrorist incidents has been great, the number of such incidents apparently has declined. The Jenkins study points out, moreover, that the success rate of hostage-takers has declined with the passage of time. This, he concludes, is "clearly an indication that governments have become more resistant to terrorists holding hostages."
Increasingly stringent embassy security measures adopted by the countries most frequently targeted -- the US, Britain, Israel, West Germany, and France -- are working, according to Mr. Jenkins.
Of the 11 cases in which terrorists' demands were fully or partially met over the past decade, seven occurred in the first half of the decade (1971-75) and only four in the last half.
In terms of achieving publicity, however, virtually all of the embassy seizures were a success for the terrorists, Jenkin says.
One country whose support for terrorists is coming under great scrutiny by the new administration is Libya. Libya is a major oil supplier to the US. But Haig and other officials have indicated that, in addition to the terrorism question, they are concerned about Libya's recent military intervention in neighboring Chad.
On Jan. 29, State Department spokesman William Dyess expanded on Haig's indictment of the Soviet Union. Among other Soviet activities, the spokesman cited training and financial aid for elements of the Palestine Liberation Organization and support for other "national liberation" movements that practice terrorism. He also asserted that Soviets advocacy of armed struggle "creates a climate in which terrorism flourishes" and impedes movement toward the peaceful resolution of problems.