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


Political Cosmopolitanism and the Challenges it Faces

By Ian HowarthHuman Rights Abuse

The building blocks of the cosmopolitan international order can be found in what English school theorists such as Headley Bull and Charles Manning call the ‘four key pillars of international law, diplomacy, international organisations and the balance of power’ (Evans & Newnham 1998: 276). These four key pillars determine relations between nations, and form modern international society, and as such are the basis upon which the cosmopolitan international order stands.  The United Nations (UN), the European Union and financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) represent common values and goals.  While the Security Council enforces the balance of power, and the implementation of international law in concert with the International Criminal Court (ICC) which upholds and prosecutes that law.

Cosmopolitanism is often mistaken as little more than a framework for moral judgements rather than as a perspective political framework for world order.  ‘Political cosmopolitanism…refers in general to any position which prescribes types of political practice and institution that operate over, above or across the boundaries of the nation-state and which are at least potentially global in their reach.’ (Hutchings 1999: 153-154)

This definition is clearly very general, and although political cosmopolitanism prescribes its framework above, the moral cosmopolitanism that most people are familiar with fleshes it out.  It is impossible to separate its moral or ethical foundations, from the political ‘frameworks’ it aims to promote as these frameworks are based on certain principles and ethical assertions that western societies have come to represent, defend and seek to export.

It is crucial to highlight political cosmopolitanisms emphasis on ‘frameworks’ in this discussion, as political cosmopolitanism does not necessarily seek to create world government.  In fact ‘most contemporary political cosmopolitans are wary of the idea of a world state formulated according to the familiar principle of state sovereignty.’ (Hutchings 1999: 154)  This is due to the potential for global tyranny within such a system.  ‘In general, contemporary work on political cosmopolitanism is premised on the importance of democratising the covert and undemocratic cosmopolitan decision-making which is already going on in the world.’ (Hutchings 1999: 154)

What political cosmopolitanism seeks to establish is a trans-national system of institutions that promote and protect what moral cosmopolitans see as fundamental human rights, such as democratic governance, freedom of speech, expression, and religion, freedom from unprovoked aggression.  It aims to do this through institutions such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) the World Health Organisation (WHO) and to some extent the United Nations (UN).

The ICC is probably the single best example of a cosmopolitan political structure as it has a global reach that rises above national sovereignty.  It seeks to enforce international standards of behaviour in war, and bring the perpetrators of genocide and tyranny to justice.  In short it aims to uphold the moral certainty’s of western and cosmopolitan thought.

The International Order that cosmopolitans strive for is therefore simply defined as a secular network of global institutions that strive to establish norms of behaviour throughout the international system, based on western concepts of human rights, and representative governance.  It aims to achieve this goal through a number of means the primary and most visible one being the globalisation of international trade.  This has brought the world closer together and made nation states more dependent not only on their own economic and political stability but also on the political and economic stability of their major trading partners, and international financial markets.  This growth in international trade and the emergence of an identifiable global economy has also led to the need for structural controls, and the creation of rules and obligations that apply to the whole of the international economy in order to ensure fair and free trade on a level playing field.   This has been partly achieved through organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) the World Bank (WB) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Despite the fact that all three of these organisations are criticised by many cosmopolitan commentators as existing and operating in a moral vacuum the spread of their power and values has had a positive effect on the cosmopolitan agenda.  All three organisations work transnationally and uphold western economic ideals, which promote certain types of government, property right and individualism.  This individualism leads to an awareness of one’s self within a system creating demand and pressure for change.  These developments are seen widely by many sociologists and historians as the keystones that led to European political enlightenment and eventual democratic reform.  This therefore is what the international cosmopolitan order is, and the institutions mentioned above are the vehicles for its spread and its success.   However, this bold idea held aloft by many western intellectuals, and implemented rather cynically by bureaucrats and politicians is not without challenge.

The primary non-western ideology that gains the most media attention and creates the greatest debate is Islamic fundamentalism, and theocracy in general, but this is not the only non-cosmopolitan view of the world.   The Non-Aligned Movement that was first given voice in the ‘1955 Bandung Conference’ (Evans & Newnham 1998: 45), also has a very different view of the world.  The key principles of this movement can be summarised as a belief in the primacy of national sovereignty and consequently of non-intervention of foreign powers or international organisations in their internal affairs.  This later point when taking into account the type of government prevalent within the members of this international grouping is problematic for moral cosmopolitanism.  These governments can be generally defined as autocratic and repressive yet with diverse and rapidly growing capitalist economies.

The remaining communist nations of China, Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba also have very different opinions on the nature of the world order they wish to see prevail.  These powers are strongly opposed to international institutions that promote or aim to project what they see as uniquely western values.  Believing that the ultimate vision for the international order is a cooperative and self-sufficient society established along socialist principles.

The Non-Aligned Movement along with China argue against cosmopolitan values stating that they have equally legitimate Asian or African Values, which are promoted by state business elites within these nations; ‘turning the ‘liberal idea’ on its head, and arguing that individualism and pluralism actually negated economic success.  Asian values in Malaysia and Singapore meant liberal legislation to control the aspirations and behaviour of youth.’ (Baylis & Smith 2001: 460)  Asian Values are an explanation and justification for their systems of government and their attitudes towards western ideas of governance and human rights, couched in terms of economic benefits as a placation against the excessive aspirations of their young populations.

However many see this simply as a justification for tyranny and repression, that seeks to justify and give legitimacy to human rights violations within Asian states on the back of cultural preservation.  This is the common position of many who argue against the adoption of international norms and values with regard to human rights and the ideal of representative government.  They argue the imposition of western values on Asian or African societies is cultural imperialism, or Americanisation.  I personally believe that these arguments are disingenuous and immoral, as no one enjoys being oppressed, poor and scared, which are the brutal facts that the people who live with the realities of ‘Asian Values’ or ‘African Values’ must face in their day-to-day lives.

There is however an important distinction to be made here as regards to the nature of these non-cosmopolitan perspectives, with the Non-Aligned Movement and the Asian Values debate on one side and religious extremism on the other.  While all three represent different non-cosmopolitan perspectives on the nature of international order, the latter two are conducted within the traditional structure of international relations and diplomacy.   They do not actively seek to undermine and ultimately destroy the cosmopolitan agenda, but to maintain themselves as independent, existing outside the cosmopolitan agenda.  Their policies seek to weaken the institutions created as part of the cosmopolitan international order so as to maintain opt-out clauses to meet their specific requirements.

In short the Asian Values debate and the Non Aligned Movement recognise and operate within the international institutions established by the Bretton Woods and United Nations system, and almost all were part of the ‘Geneva consensus on free trade’ (Dunkley 2000: 17), and are members of the WTO.  With all the Non Aligned Movement states recognising the legitimate authority of the United Nations, and using these institutions to promote their interests internationally.

Religious extremism, with a particular emphasis on Islamic fundamentalism, does not operate on the bases of debate within international bodies such as the UN.  The various strands of their argument do not recognise cosmopolitan institutions and more particularly the post war balance of power.  The very aim of this perspective being to destabilise and destroy this balance and it’s supporting structures.   Whereas the previous perspectives aim to persuade and argue using the structures of international society as aides, Islamic fundamentalists preach the destruction of these institutions with the publicised aim of undermining cosmopolitan societies and doing so through terrorism and the fear and distrust it spreads.

It is a common mistake amongst the media and popular debate to portray the terrorist threat as not representing a genuine threat to the current international order.  Furthermore, the individuals behind these terrorist groups are seen as largely simplistic in their approach and possessing no overall global strategic plan for confronting cosmopolitan society.  Whereas it is true to say that the disparate bands of Islamic fundamentalism are not in intimate contact with one another through some James Bond style evil network, they are in common agreement as to their aims and methods.  They are also equally not blind to the clear vulnerabilities of our open pluralistic societies, where freedoms of speech and movement are considered sacrosanct.

September 11th (9/11) was more than just an isolated tragedy; it had a very well thought out objective.  Through the targeting of New York’s financial centre it was a strike against the capitalist bedrock of our western cosmopolitan societies.  Not only did it shake the confidence of the United States, but it also hit the confidence of all the Western Powers, and all those who believe in a cosmopolitan global order.  9/11 placed a global economy gradually climbing out of an economic downturn into a prolonged worldwide recession that hit the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people from Silicon Valley to Mumbai.

The primary goal of terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda is to establish Taliban style governments across the Middle East, and eventually the rest of the Islamic world.  With the subsequent threat to oil supply’s this would present this represents a distinct threat to international security, and the security of key nations within the international order, such as Pakistan and Turkey.

The cause of Islamic extremists is one that is utterly opposed to that of cosmopolitans; the two agendas are bipolar opposites that can only clash, as has been argued by realist academics such as Samuel Huntingdon and Benjamin Barber.  Huntingdon’s The Clash of Civilisations is in my opinion very much what we are seeing unravelling in the world today, a plural cosmopolitan international order cannot be achieved as long as fundamentalist ideology’s such as that of Al’Queda, Hezbollah, the Taliban and Wahhabism Islam still hold sway in the popular politics of a significant proportion of the populations of Muslim countries.

Osama Bin Laden was hailed as a hero from the West Bank to Jakarta by fundamentalist groups who stir up support amongst the young disaffected and oppressed populations of Islamic countries.  These are the very people that could potentially gain the most from the establishment of an international cosmopolitan political order with its moral and ethical implications for the tyranny’s that oppress them.

Benjamin Barbers Jihad vs. McWorld seeks to highlight the ‘deep crisis of modernization [that] exists in many Muslim countries.  Poor living conditions and few opportunities for improvement have created a young frustrated urban population.’ (Baylis & Smith 2001: 464)  A young population that can see the fruits of western capitalism flaunted in the media and enjoyed by their political elites, yet denied to them by crushing corruption and stagnant economies.  This lack of political and economic reform has led to a democratic deficit in the Arab world that drives these young populations into nationalism fundamentalism, and a hatred for the perceived evils of a corrupt international western regime that is weighted against them.

The answer therefore to the question of whether non-western views undermine the building of a cosmopolitan international order is dependent on the nature of the non-western perspective in question.   As I have previously argued the cultural protectionist arguments of the non-aligned movement and the religious fundamentalists is a smoke screen for unrestrained oppression and violence towards civilian populations.  However in the case of the Non-Aligned Movement it does not threaten the construction of an international cosmopolitan order.  On the contrary taking into account their economic integration with the rest of the international system in the long run it will strengthen calls for democratic and plural societies within these countries.

However with regard to the Middle East and the Islamic world, the democratic deficit a term coined by a recent United Nations Report on the state of political institutions and representation in the Middle East conducted by Arab academics, is resulting in the spread of a misplaced doctrine of hate towards Western Society and cosmopolitanism.   This must be confronted through the active promotion of political and economic reforms within these states, only then can a peaceful cosmopolitan international order be established.

If anything can stop the development of a cosmopolitan international order it is in my opinion the uncontained spread of religious fundamentalism which is spreading instability and violence not only within the Middle East and the wider Muslim world but also within Muslim communities throughout the western world. American and European Muslim communities are having a wedge driven between themselves and the wider cosmopolitan societies they live in.   This is creating a source of tension within previously tolerant societies. The recent brutal terrorist killing of Drummer Lee Rigby, a serving British soldier on the streets of his home town and the reactions of right wing political elements in the UK demonstrate this point vividly.  Events such as this are aimed at causing a breakdown in tolerance and mutual respect between different communities within multi-cultural societies.  They constitute a major threat to a way of life that we have come to consider civilised and in my opinion stand as the greatest force against the spread of cosmopolitan values in the world today.


Baylis, John & Smith, Steve (2001) ‘The Globalization of World Politics: An introduction to international relations’ 2nd Edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford p460, p461-467

Booth, Ken and Smith, Steve (1995) ‘International Relations Theory Today’ Polity Press, Cambridge p110-118

Dunkley, Graham (2000) ‘The Free Trade Adventure: The WTO, the Uruguay Round and Globalism – A Critique’ Zed Books, London p17

Evans, Graham and Newnham, Jeffrey (1998) ‘The Penguin Dictionary of International Relations’ Penguin Books, London p45 & p276

Hutchings, Kimberly, (1999) ‘International Political Theory’ Sage Publications, London p153-154

Ledeen, Michael (2003) ‘The end of the beginning’, The Spectator, 12th April 2003, p14-15

Weaver, Marry Anne (2003) ‘Qatar’s Move Toward Democracy’, National Geographic, March 2003, p89- 105