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.

Bibliography:

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