9-11: The New New World Order

News at Home

Anthony D'Agostino is Professor of History at San Francisco State University and the author of Gorbachev's Revolution, 1985-1991 (Macmillan/NYU, 1998).

Historians of international relations have to take note of times when history seems to take a U-turn, when all the signs are reversed, with the intractable problem of yesterday suddenly turning into its opposite--a solution to a new problem. These historical sea changes ruthlessly embarrass all who can't abandon their old assumptions. In the 1890s the British looked for ways to work out what they considered a"natural" alliance with Germany, which made sense to them in terms of their primary problem of dealing with the threat of the French and Russian navies. Then Germany started to build its own navy and declared weltpolitik. Suddenly the Russians and the French appeared to Britain in a new light, friends rather than enemies. In 1932, the biggest problem was French hegemony and militarism, a ruthless pursuit of military security at the expense of the weak and humbled Germans. Then Hitler came to power. Things changed their colors.

September 11, 2001 is one of those times. Before that date, world politics fit the contours of what I would call the Kosovo picture. The extended American air campaign against the hapless Serbs seemed to give NATO a new worldwide mission in defense of things not necessarily concerned with national interest. It was even argued that the notion of national interest in the security sense, the"Westphalia" sense, was old hat. Some said that from now on geo-economics would set the tempo; others said we were going back to complicated non-state communities rather like medieval times.

Actually, Kosovo showed a new series of state relations. America was the hegemon, the last superpower. NATO, despite its pretensions, showed the signs of strain. Greece and Italy didn't like the bombing. Germany didn't like the idea of a ground campaign and set itself in the position of an honest broker. Russia stood up for Serbia. Inklings of a European sub-system of middle powers on the traditional lines could be perceived. China, India and various others resisted the pretensions of the Americans. Russia worried that the Americans would give support to the Chechen rebels as part of an attempt to push Russia away from the Caspian Sea. To thwart this Russia worked for an"anti-hegemony" bloc with China and India.

But, on closer observation one could see that the only thing really holding these three together was a shared fear of Islamism. Russia worried about Chechnya and its effect on the millions of Russian Muslims, China worried about insurgents in Sinkiang; India worried about Kashmir and the hundreds of millions of Indian Muslims. All wondered how seriously they would have to fear American hegemonism and a possibly opportunist attitude toward Islamism.

After September 11 everything is different and many things are reversed. No tacit American winking at Islamism is to be feared. The Americans now want the help, not only of a unified NATO, but of Russia, China, and India. In fact they want a world league. This means unity, not only with the Shanghai States (China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kirghizia), but with Iran and Pakistan as well. This implies new bargains and alignments. NATO expansion cannot be further permitted to annoy and threaten Russia. In fact the best option would be a plan to bring Russia into NATO. American policy lines toward the Middle East would have to be changed if Arab and Muslim states are to be part of its campaign against terrorism. That implies renewed peace efforts in Israeli-Palestinian relations. And many other changes go along with the idea of a world league. In the Second World War, the United States was part of a variegated coalition and even found a role for Vichy France. The resources of those who introduced this new world reality are varied. But now they may be opposed by virtually all the states in the world.

When some new fact lights up the horizon and reveals a new world configuration, the point may seem to be how best to use military strength against the new enemy. But in this world the question is usually: how many new friends can one make, not with cannon, but with politics?

comments powered by Disqus