9-11 and the Re-focusing of International Society

international societyBy Ian Howarth

The terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 (9-11) represented a shift in the nature of international society from one based largely on economic interests to one based on notions of international security. As such 9-11 represented the most significant shake up in international relations since the end of the Cold War, acting as a massive catalyst for change in how international society is perceived by the developed world.

What do we mean by international society?  One simple definition of the concept given by Hedley Bull is that ‘a society of states exists when a group of states, conscious of certain common interests and common values, form a society in the sense that they conceive themselves to be bound by a common set of rules in their relations with one another and share in the working of common institutions’ (Evans, & Newnham, 1998: 276).  Furthermore, international society is founded according to English school theorists such as Bull and Manning on ‘four key pillars international law, diplomacy, international organisations and the balance of power’ (Evans, & Newnham: 276), these four key pillars determine all the relationships between nations, and form modern international society, with the United Nations (UN), NATO and financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) representing common values and goals, and the security council representing the balance of power and implementing international law.

I do not believe international society was ever irrelevant, but that the events of 9-11 dramatically changed the nature of international society in the world, from the economic institutionally based form of international society of the 1990’s based largely around the common goals of the developed world in furthering globalisation, to a form of international society that is based on the need for global action against international terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Therefore in order to demonstrate this change in the nature and focus of the international community, I am going to explore the nature of international society before and after 9-11, and use the above definition to determine whether the ‘war against terror’ represents unilateralist actions by the world’s only superpower.  Or is it a combined effort by a majority of the world’s nations to combat a serious issue that threatens the security of all nations, and therefore the express will of international society.

The 1990’s were a decade of contrasts; they began full of hope and ended in many respects on 9-11 with terror and destruction in New York, Washington and a cornfield in Pensylvannia.  The hope that the decade began with was premised on the end of the cold war.  The collapse of the USSR was proceeded with the emancipation of Eastern Europe, the unification of Germany, and followed by the end of apartheid in South Africa, the liberation of Kuwait and George Bush (the elders) declaration of a ‘New World Order’ (Calvocoressi 2001: 67) with the three policemen the United Kingdom, France and primarily the United States ensuring freedom, prosperity and an end to tyranny and fear, all under the umbrella of the UN, IMF and other major international institutions, it seemed to represent a new era of more conciliatory international politics, based more on transnational interests compared to the old confrontational style of the cold war or the gunboat diplomacy of the age of empires.

To a certain extent this is what happened, but only for us fortunate few that lived in the developed world.  While the list of troubles facing the ‘west’ were shortened everyday with remarkable speed and twists in the course of history, the developing world where 80% of the human race lived failed to benefit from these geopolitical shifts in any significant way.  The proxy wars continued in Angola, and Algeria, only without their sponsors they were pretty much forgotten by the west.  Famine was still a continuing threat throughout sub-Saharan Africa, western corporate exploitation rose to new levels in South East Asia, and Islamic extremism let loose from its cold war bonds spread rapidly and brought down governments in Somalia and Afghanistan.

Within a short three years of George Bush’s declaration of the ‘New World Order’, there was a new order but it wasn’t what many had hoped for, the new order was not one based on international law, and human rights, but on economic imperatives and globalisation.  The new nature of international society was economics, profit and free trade.  Therefore when war broke out in the Balkans and there was genocide in Rwanda and Burundi, where were the policemen? The truth is that the west was more interested in economic interventions that could reap rewards, than costly military adventures in the Balkans.

Politicians and diplomats were more concerned with globalisation than genocide; the cry of the time was, emerging economies, Asian tigers, free markets, free movement of our people, and unlimited access to their resources, and was followed by, the digital revolution, dot-com millionaires, mobile phones, soaring stock markets, and budget airlines, the developed world had never had it so good.

In short two international societies emerged after the Cold War, a western developed international society based on the ideals of commerce and free trade, and an international society of the undeveloped world seeking aid and access to the global market, with World Trade Organization membership becoming the golden ticket, the way to move from one world to the other.  International society we began to believe was globalisation, the creation of a world market is for the benefit of all humanity.  The truth is that throughout the 1990’s we in the developed world where the money’s made and the decisions taken ignored 80% of our fellow man who continued to live in poverty, we pretended not to see the ‘1.3 billion human beings that live on less than a dollar a day’ (Australian Agency for International Development 13/11/2002), we ignored the fact that most of these Asian tigers were ruled by maniac dictators, and we ignored the fact that Saddam Hussein continued his rule and persecution in Iraq, and that India and Pakistan had gone nuclear without a blink from us, we comforted ourselves with talk of peace in northern Ireland and Israel, and of the debt limitation talks being held with western client country’s such as Morocco, and Indonesia.

My argument has been that the 1990’s despite their talk of a Global Village were a period where many of the real issues within international society were ignored, at the expense of a rich man’s club of wealthy nations and their wealthy citizens, it was a smoke screen, an illusion that we all believed and for a while it worked.  It was occasionally threatened by reality, the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania carried out by Al’ Queda for example, but after we’d blown up a deserted camp in Afghanistan and a Medicine factory in the Sudan we all felt better and carried on regardless.  However what 9-11 did was smash the screen and gate crash the party, we suddenly became aware of the rest of the world and the sorry state it was in.  We all watched our televisions stunned as the greatest nation on earth was sent into turmoil by four hijacked commercial airliners, and every one of us felt a cold shiver run down our spines, because we knew then what it all meant, the world was about to change, the good times were over.

Immediately after 9-11 George W. Bush declared a War against Terrorism, an international effort to eradicate Al’ Queda and international terrorism in general, that soon spread to focusing on the ‘axis of evil’ and WMD, in short the focus of the developed world shifted from the primarily economic drives of the 1990’s and moved to issues of international security.  Therefore, I reiterate my argument international society was relevant before 9-11 and still is, it has simply re-focused its attention and changed its priorities after a decade of neglecting the world outside it’s privileged borders.

At the time of this change the then British prime minister Tony Blair stated his belief in the importance of international society during a speech given at the Lord mayors banquet in London, he stated that “The interdependence of the modern world has never been clearer; the need for a common response never greater; the values of freedom, justice and tolerance of our diversity never more relevant; and the need to apply them fairly across the world never more urgent.” (Blair, Tony 2002).  This was a clear statement of the relevance of international society, from one of the early leaders of that new world order.

Initially this new approach saw the formation of what George W. Bush called a ‘coalition of the willing’ outside international organisations such as the UN or the IMF. However,  this coalition soon created its own legitimacy through its sheer size, and representation within international organizations, incorporating the war against terror into the agendas of organisations such as the UN (peacekeepers in Afghanistan) and the IMF, World Bank and the European Union.  Through such initiatives as tracking down bank accounts and freezing the financial assets of terrorists and their sponsors, and increasing pressure on other sources of income for terrorist organisations, such as human, and drug trafficking. In fact the irony here is that the process of globalisation that had so occupied the actions of the developed world for the past decade, proved useful in that as Thomas Biersteker states ‘the ease with which transnational actors can move funds across borders in the wake of financial market globalisation also has contradictory aspects, for the same technology that enables rapid movements of funds also enables enhanced surveillance and the possibility of tracking those funds…. global terrorism is a networked threat that invites a networked response, and the technology….is available’ (Booth & Dunne 2002: 76)

The actions of the United States since 9-11 were within the definitions of international society, for example in its campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan it organised a multi-national coalition of nations from the developed and developing world, including Islamic states, all with a common goal the destruction of Al’Qaeda and the Taliban.  It also took part in the formation of a post-Taliban government for Afghanistan with an international conference in Bonn and then the formation of an international stabilisation force for Kabul under the auspices of the UN and later NATO.  Since Afghanistan the USA and its allies within this new international society have used the instruments of this society to continue their war on terror and the battle against the ‘axis of evil’.

9-11 was a terrible event, 3056 (BBC News 2003) innocent people were killed by a band of religious fanatics, but on a daily basis more than that die from hunger, and curable disease, there is an Aids pandemic in Africa that threatens to bring anarchy to the continent, as it’s young are wiped out and its healthy population dwindles.  These are the underlying causes of 9-11, poverty, lack of hope, lack of a voice; only hopeless desperate people blow themselves up or fly into buildings.

The War on Terror, and the subsequent attack on the ‘axis of evil’ has in many ways created a new false illusion of security by ignoring the major underlying causes of 9-11.  Despite the progress in the war on terror, and the attempts to confront WMD and particularly nuclear proliferation, issues that were neglected throughout the 1990’s.  There is a lot that the international community is not doing, it is not confronting and dealing with the continuing and increasing bloodshed in Palestine, nor with global poverty, or with bad governance in the developing world.  In short we have begun to tackle some of the world’s major problems, but mostly we are attacking the symptoms and not dealing with the causes.  Corrupt oppressive regimes such as those in Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan and Cambodia continue to gain western support despite their unquestionable involvements with international terrorism and the oppression of their own people.  The recent coup and collapse of the experiment in Islamic democracy in Egypt and the failure of the USA and other powers to truly condemn the military takeover is further evidence of the wests lack of dedication to the eradication of the root causes of international security concerns. Instead the west favours dealing in expediency and easy answers through the further oppression of an entire people.

International Society like our domestic societies contain the have and the have not’s, and in order to tackle the issues of international security in this new world order what the developed world really needs to do is spend a little money, for example at the start of the war on terror the ‘combined budgets of the Pentagon in 2001 was $1.6 trillion’ (Moore 2001: 170), that was an enormous amount money, yet every penny of it went on bombs, aircraft carriers and the biggest military machine the world had ever seen..  A fraction of that money could bring clean water and decent health care to the whole of the developing world, in fact it could have made the Marshall Plan look like a drop in the ocean if we had wanted it too. Imagine just for a moment what the whole of the developed world could do if it put its mind and wallet into it, a worldwide action plan to eradicate starvation, or bring decent education and health facilities to the majority of the world’s people.

The relevance of International Society has never been clearer; the problems that effect one nation and people soon spill over in an endless cycle of unforeseen consequences that can impact every one of us.  The failure of a government to provide for its citizens should be of the upmost concern to every other government.  The helplessness and despair that failed corrupt and/or autocratic regimes fosters only leads to violent unpredictable reactions.  This is the root of terrorism, and tackling this above all else is the sole true solution to creating a stable and secure international society for all humanity.


Australian Agency for International Development accessed through the World Bank Group’s PovertyNet – Webguide – Bilateral Development Agencies: http://poverty.worldbank.org/webguide/category/3

BBC News Website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/september11

Blair, Tony; Speech to the Lord Mayors Banquet, 11th November 2002 http://www.pm.gov.uk/output/Page6534.asp

Booth, Ken and Dunne, Tim (2002) ‘Worlds in Collision Terror and the Future of Global Order’ Palgrave, Basingstoke, England, p76

Calvocoressi, Peter (2001) ‘World Politics 1945 – 2000’ Longman, Harlow, England p67

Evans, Graham, and Newnham, Jeffrey (1998) ‘The Penguin Dictionary of International Relations’ Penguin Books, London p276-277

Moore, Michael (2001) ‘Stupid White Men’ Penguin Books, London p168, 170

Stern, Geoffrey (2000)‘The Structure of International Society’ 2nd Edition, Pinter, London


Do ‘Just Wars’ Exist?

just war

By Ian Howarth

Significant sections of academia within the field of international relations dispute the existence of ‘just war’, and state that all war is unjust, because you cannot legalise and legitimise war.  In particular they point to the fact that all so called ‘just wars’ are classified as such by the victors, for example the NATO Kosovo air war of 1999 was a ‘just war’, in the words of then British prime minister Tony Blair who stated that it was ‘…a just war in a just cause for the values of civilization itself’ (Gilbert, 1999: 895).

Furthermore, in war both sides will declare their cause just and as such the two versions will compete.  In Kosovo, for example the publicly stated reasons that lay behind the actions of NATO were legitimate and largely humanitarian in nature.  However, in contrast Slobodan Milosevic also argued that his campaign in Kosovo against the Albanian secessionists was also a ‘just cause’, that he was motivated by the primary concept of national sovereignty and the right of every nation to preserve that sovereignty from internal as well as external threats.   In the eyes of Belgrade the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) represented a threat to the national integrity of Serbia and as such the KLA ‘terrorists’ had to be defeated in order to restore Serbia’s national integrity.  It is a cliché but it has become a standard retort that governments do not negotiate with terrorists.

The point here is not that Milosevic was justified to act in the way he did, he clearly was not, it is however that the very notion or classification of a war as ‘just’ is highly subjective and is almost without exception, a politically motivated move in order to justify state sponsored violence.  Have you ever heard a politician declare an unjust war?  Whenever a country goes to war it does so under a publicly stated reason that seeks to justify it’s course of action.  Whether it bears up to the scrutiny of history or truth, this is the underlying reason, the answer to any questioning soldier’s ‘what are we doing here?’

Apart from the questionable basis upon which a war is declared ‘just’, also lies the concept of ‘Just Wars’ historical heritage, which is overwhelmingly Christian.  The concept of war as a just cause became necessary after the ‘Emperor Theodosius I declared Catholic Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire in AD 38’ (Evans & Newnham, 1998: 288) it became necessary due the very militant nature of the Roman Empire and the fact that the teachings of Christ forbade murder, or killing on almost all grounds.  As such cannon law began to move towards a doctrine of ‘just war’. St Augustine (AD 354 – 430) was the first to write of ‘just war’ and stated that war in the defence of Christianity was just in it’s motives.  However, it was St Thomas Aquinas (1225 –1274) who theologically codified just war, providing three conditions which must be met in order for a war to be deemed just ‘(a) it must be waged by a proper sovereign authority (b) their must be a just cause (c) the intentions must be pure, so that they intend to promote good and not private aggrandizement’ (Evans & Newnham, 1998: 288).  Condition number two ‘that the cause must be just’ was such an ambiguous condition that it essentially gave carte blanche to every king, baron and bully in Europe to go to war as often, and with as much vigour as it liked for whatever represented in their view a ‘just cause’.

It was Grotius in his 1625 work ‘De Jure Belli ac Pacis’ (Evans & Newnham, 1998: 288) that took this theological justification of war and moved towards a more secular and modern definition of what a just war is.  He stated that a ‘just war’ can only be fought under one of the following conditions ‘(a) self-defence (b) to enforce rights; (c) to seek reparations for injury and: (d) to punish a wrong-doer’ (Evans & Newnham, 1998: 288).  However like the conditions set out by Aquinas, points (b) and (d) of the Grotian doctrine are also open to interpretation, for example, Iran under the Ayatollah Khomeini saw the ‘wrong-doer’ as the United States, and a jihad was declared, while President Reagan declared the Soviet Union an ‘evil empire’.  Therefore particularly to realists ‘just war’ doctrine is considered dangerous and open to exploitation, as it sets conditions upon war while at the same time leaving enough ambiguity to justify almost any sort of state violence short of genocide, and indiscriminate slaughter.

The effect of Grotian doctrine was to split ‘just war’ into two distinct categories ‘jus ad bellum’ (lit the law towards war) and ‘jus in bello’ (lit. the law in war) (Brown, 2002: 103).  It is from these two categories that the modern legal structure of war is defined, which has had the effect of emphasising ‘jus in bello’ over ‘jus ad bellum’ within international law.  This can be seen in the examples of the Hauge (1901) and Geneva (1926,1946) Conventions which consider exclusively the conduct of states during  war, and not the conditions upon which a war can be declared.   Similarly the International Organisation of the Red Cross/Crescent only intercedes to assist combatants during war, and does not assist civilian populations.  This can be further seen in the mass deportation of the Jews of Eastern Europe during World War II to the concentration camps.  This process was known by the Red Cross, but it was not the business of the organisation to interfere with ‘internal domestic matters’.

The only major legal framework for the declaration of war, and therefore the declaration of a ‘just war’ can be found in Article 2 of the United Nation’s Charter which states that ‘prohibition on the use of force is qualified by two exemptions (1) the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence in the face of an armed attack, preserved by Article 51; and (2) action taken for the maintenance or restoration of international peace and security authorized by the UN Security Council under Article 42’ (Baylis, Wirtz, Cohen & Gray, 2002: 56).  However  this does not really make things any more clearer than before.  It was under exemption one that Israel attacked Egypt, Syria and Jordan in 1967 in order to defend itself from planned aggression.   In short Israel claimed the right to pre-emptive defence, which is surely a contradiction in terms, a contradiction which conversely is being promulgated today by the United States in its ever widening ‘War on Terrorism’.

If any war can be deemed ‘Just’ under international law, then the 1990/1991 Gulf War is probably the best and most unambiguous example of such a conflict.  The basic background to the conflict is as follows; on the 2nd August 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait, quickly overrun the Kuwaiti defence forces and annexed the territory, the United Nations (UN) Security Council on the same day responded by calling for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, and on the following day sanctions were imposed against Iraq by the USA and the USSR banning the sale of arms to Iraq.   This was followed two days later by UN measures which extended the sanctions to the sale of Iraqi oil.   These UN sanctions came into effect on the 13th of August 1990 when British and American Warships began a naval blockade of Iraq.

On the 31st August ‘Japan offered $1,000 million’ (Gilbert, 1999: 706) towards the cost of a multinational force that might be sent to the Gulf to liberate Kuwait; following this, and much international shuttle diplomacy by the US President George Bush, in November 1990 the ‘Security Council passed Resolution 678, which authorised military action against Iraq if it had failed to withdraw from Kuwait by the 15th January 1991’ (Gilbert, 1999: 713).  An international coalition force was constructed and sent to the Gulf under the command of US General Norman Schwarzkopf; the forces began amassing in late November in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey.

At midnight on the 16th January 1991 with the coming into force of resolution 687, Operation Desert Storm commenced.  The conflict was swift and decisive starting with an overwhelming air campaign, which essentially crippled Iraqi air defences, and gave the coalition complete air supremacy within three days.   The ground attack commenced on the 24th February 1991, and by the 26th of February Iraq began to withdraw from Kuwait.  On the 28th February coalition forces entered Kuwait City and declared Kuwait liberated, later the same day ‘Tariq Aziz Iraqi Vice-President agreed to rescind Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait’ (Gilbert, 1999: 718).

The campaign had been swift, decisive and resulted in comparatively few allied casualties.  However, Iraq was in turmoil and many thousands were dead, both civilian and military targets had been hit.  In one particularly horrendous incident the motorway leading to the Iraqi city of Basra, became known to US soldiers as the ‘Highway of doom’ and to USAF pilots as ‘Turkey Shoot Alley’ (Allen, Berry & Polmar, 1991: 220). As thousands of retreating Iraqi troops blocked the highway US warplanes and helicopters picked them of one by one leaving the highway jammed all the way back to the Iraqi border with the burnt out wreckage of a retreating army and littered with the corpses of thousands of Iraqi soldiers.

The key justifications that were employed in order to declare the Gulf War a ‘just war’ complied entirely with both the Grotian doctrine of ‘Just War’ and international law through Article 51 of the UN Charter, which provides every state the right to act in self-defence against an armed aggressor, either alone or collectively.  The invasion of Kuwait by Iraq clearly represented an aggressive armed attack, and the UN coalition force that was assembled to liberate or restore Kuwait’s national integrity clearly corresponds to the ‘collective’ defence of Kuwait.   In short the Gulf War under international law and Grotian doctrine can be declared a ‘just war’. It was a war of defence, a war triggered by unprovoked aggression by Iraq against a peaceful neighbour.

However if we widen the net of the definition of a ‘just war’ in this case to include St Aquinas’s definition then we encounter a problem, he states that for a war to be just ‘the intentions must be pure, so that they intend to promote good and not private aggrandizement’ (Evans & Newnham, 1998: 288).  The motivations behind the Gulf War are much in dispute; the black and white answer is as stated above the defence of Kuwait.  However, why would the great powers, the USA, UK, France, and at the time the Soviet Union care about some small Arab kingdom?  The answer is oil.  With the Kuwaiti oil fields added to Iraq’s, she would become the principle supplier of the West’s oil at that time, with reserves greater than Saudi Arabia, a position of immense power of leverage over western policy in the region.   Furthermore, Iraq may go on to threaten Saudi Arabia.  What would the USA be able to do if for example Syria or Jordan had invaded Israel with Iraqi support, threatening to cut supplies of oil to the west if the USA intervened in Israel’s defence?   In short were the true motivations for the grand UN Coalition no nobler than the economic interests of the world superpowers, and the defence of American hegemony in the region?  If so then this wars claims to just war status can at least partially be questioned, because it used deceit to justify its motives and covered its true intent through the guise of a war of liberation.

Still further examining the conditions under which the war was fought the ‘jus in bello’ of the Gulf War, and returning to the earlier example of ‘Turkey Shoot Alley’.   The Gulf War may have been initiated as a ‘just war’, but Grotius does state that a ‘just war can become unjust if the intentions were wrong (see above) and if unjust acts are committed’ (Evans & Newnham, 1998: 288).  What justifications can the United States or the Coalition forces in general, present that gives just cause to the ‘murder’ of thousands of retreating Iraqi’s.  This in short raises the same dilemma that emerged as a result of the sinking of the Belgrano during the Falklands War (1982) was the ship sailing towards or away from the combat zone, or does it not matter which way it was going, as war is war?

The answer to the above is like all the other aspects of the ‘Just War’ debate, unclear, and is therefore much like the very nature of ‘Just War’ itself.  Arguably the Allied actions on the road to Basra de-legitimised the Gulf War, removing the right for it to be declared ‘Just’.  However, equally it could be argued that these were enemy forces within a combat zone, in a war commenced by the retreating forces and as such fair game.  It is worth noting that the carnage of ‘Turkey Shoot Alley’ did end at the Iraqi border and therefore did not violate resolution 687 that only allowed the liberation of Kuwait, in short the liberation of Kuwait didn’t turn into the invasion of Iraq.

It is clear that the concept of just war stems from a western Judeo-Christian view of the world, and in examining  the origins of this concept and its modern incarnations alongside a conflict that is arguably a ‘just war’ we are able to starkly see the dangerous and ambiguous nature of the concept.  Do ‘just wars’ exist?  Well on balance I tend to favour the argument that they do.  However, they are rare and the vast majority of conflict that has and is occurring in the world most definitely does not meet the standards of a ‘just war’. In recent times we have seen many conflicts, notably Afghanistan and the 2003 Invasion of Iraq.  Do either of these conflicts meet the standards of just war either explicitly or in their spirit?   The answer to that question would constitute a whole other essay, but it does go to highlight once again how hard it is to distinguish between wars that could be regarded as just (World War II, 1990/91 Gulf War) and those that are not.  In making the distinction between the two it may well be little more than a perspective of history and which side of it you find yourself on.


Allen, Thomas. B, Berry, Clifton. F, and Polmar, Norman (1991) CNN War in the Gulf, Maxwell Macmillan International, London, p220-221

Baylis, John, and Wirtz, James (2002) Strategy in the Contemporary World: An Introduction to Strategic Studies, Oxford University Press, Oxford, p56

Booth, Ken, and Dunne, Tim, (eds.) (2002) Worlds in Collision: Terror and the Future of Global Order, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke Hampshire, p10-13

Brown, Chris (2002) Sovereignty, Rights and Justice, International Political Theory Today, Polity Press, Cambridge, p102-105

Evans, Graham, and Newnham, Jeffrey (1998) The Penguin Dictionary of International Relations, Penguin Books, London, p288-289